Online Text Sermon - Christ's Self-Denial, Romans ch.15 v.2
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Christ's Self-Denial|
|Text||Romans ch.15 v.2|
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"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me" (Romans 15,1-3)
"Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" (text).
1. Difficulties in the early church over things indifferent
2. The attitude of Christians towards one another
3. The apostle's rule for Christian living
1. DIFFICULTIES IN THE EARLY CHURCH OVER THINGS INDIFFERENT
Now we must remember that in the early church there were problems of many kinds that arose in the lives of the people of God just as there are problems of many kinds that arise in the lives of the people of God today. It would be altogether unrealistic to suppose that we live in an age which is beset by difficulties, and uncertainties, and perplexities but that our forefathers before us lived in comparative ease as Christians without these difficulties to face. There were many problems in the early church and they were problems which often arose from people's uncertainty as to how to behave in certain circumstances. Now, in the Epistle to the Romans chapter 14, and in these early verses of chapter 15, the apostle Paul is talking about some of these difficulties. More particularly, he is talking about the subject of food which has been offered to idols.
You can understand that these early Christians were living in a very pagan and a very idolatrous society. If you went to the meat market to buy meat the probability was that the meat that you bought as a Christian would have been dedicated to some false god; Jupiter, perhaps, or Saturn, or Pluto, or some other. And so this raised in the minds of conscientious Christians the concern to know whether it was right and proper for Christians to eat meat which had been offered in sacrifice to idols, or was it right to refrain from eating such meat?
Another question which arose had something to do with the Old Testament Jewish ceremonial law. You remember that in the Old Testament there was not only the weekly recurring Sabbath, which now we refer to as the Lord's Day, but in the Old Testament God instituted certain holy days - Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, and some others - and these also were regarded as Sabbaths. Now those who had been brought up in the Jewish faith when they came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (as many of them did) had this difficult question to face: was it now their duty to ignore these Jewish Sabbath feasts or were they still obligatory upon the consciences of Christians? Should they keep those Sabbaths or should they not? Now, questions like this are dealt with in the New Testament and they are dealt with in the way by the apostle Paul which is of permanent importance to the people of God.
You can well understand that in these and in similar questions in the early church some Christians answered these problems in one way, and some answered these problems in another way. Those who felt that they could eat meat sacrificed to idols argued like this: they said that an idol is nothing; it doesn't exist. Why then should a Christian who gives thanks to God for his food scruple about eating meat which is offered to a non-entity, or a god which has no real existence? Such Christians are referred to in the New Testament as strong.
But there were other Christians and their consciences were weak. They argued in this way: they said: if we love God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength,how can we possibly eat meat which has been consecrated to some false god? And they refused to eat. And in the New Testament these Christians were called weak. Now we're not talking about Christians who were weak in knowledge, and weak in faith, and weak in other respects. We're talking about simply Christians who on the one hand felt that they could legitimately and with a good conscience eat these meats and similar things, over against those Christians who for reasons of conscience and scruples felt that they could not eat these meats. So in the early church there were people who were strong in that sense, and people who were weak in that sense. Now that is exactly what the apostle is handling in Romans chapter 14 where he speaks about the strong and about the weak he is concerned to explain attitudes among Christians to these sacrificially offered meats and drinks, and similar things to that.
Now, I should explain to you that we refer to all these subjects as 'things indifferent'. That is a technical term, and I'll spend a moment to explain it. Things indifferent - what does the term mean? I think the simple way to explain it is this. God has given us in His Word clear instruction that some things are right and these are our 'duties'. On the other hand, God has told us in His Word that some things are wrong and they are 'forbidden'. So we have these two classes of things - things which are our duty which we must do; and there are things which are forbidden which we must not do. In other words, there are things which are clearly right, and things again that are clearly wrong. But in between these two very clear divisions of right and wrong there is a third division - things which in and of themselves are neither right nor wrong. And these are given the title things indifferent.
Now what we're talking about tonight comes exactly into that class. To eat meat is neither here nor there. There's no virtue in eating meat, and there's no virtue in not eating meat. God created the belly to accommodate the food that we eat, and to digest it, and to do us good. But it doesn't matter to God in terms of religious principle whether a person eats flesh or whether they're vegetarian. In principle, it makes no difference at all in the sight of God whether a person takes a very moderate amount of alcoholic drink, or whether they absolutely refuse alcoholic drink. So these matters in and of themselves are matters indifferent.
2. THE ATTITUDE OF CHRISTIANS TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER
All right, that then brings you into the subject. My text goes like this: "Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" (text). What the apostle is talking about here is the attitude that all Christians should have towards one another in the circumstances of life and particularly with regard to things indifferent.
I could explain it like this. Let us suppose that someone was to come into the meeting who was a strong Christian in the sense I've just explained. This is how they would argue: The meat that I have bought in the market is meat consecrated to an idol, but an idol doesn't exist; why then should my conscience be bound by something which has happened to the meat when the idol to whom it is consecrated is a nothing? a vanity? I give thanks to God for my food. Why then should I not eat it heartily and thank God for it? Now that is a true and proper point of view. The weak man on the other hand (as I've indicated earlier, and say it really again to make it clearer) says exactly the opposite. Ah, he says, but if I were to eat meat or drink wine which has been offered to some false god, will there not be association with the evil and will I not displease God? And his conscience will not allow him to eat or drink in that way.
The apostle Paul tells us that there is a possible danger from both the strong and also the weak. Let me say what that danger is. The danger is that the weak Christian, in this sense, will criticize the strong Christian in his heart; and the weak Christian will judge the strong Christian in his heart. He may not say anything opening and outwardly but in his heart of hearts the Christian who feels he cannot eat or drink will be critical of the brother or sister who feels they can.
On the other hand, the strong Christian in this sense, who feels he can eat and drink this wine and this flesh in spite of its being consecrated to an idol, his danger is he will despise the weak man and he will think in his heart: this brother who cannot eat is over-scrupulous. And of course both of those things are a danger. Why? Well because Christian fellowship depends upon very sensitive issues of life and mutual understanding. And the fellowship of love is broken very quickly when people harbour secret thoughts of criticism one against another. Or, where a group of Christians in a fellowship have a rather dismissive attitude towards some of those in the midst. And the apostle tells us that neither attitude is right. It is not right for the strong to be dismissive of the weak. And it is equally not right for the weak to be inwardly secretly critical of the strong.
He argues in chapter 14 of this epistle every one of us must give his and her account to God (Romans 14,12). Every knee must bow to Christ (Romans 14,11). My fellow Christian is not my servant; he is the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Who am I then to criticize the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ? If he feels that he can eat that meat and drink that wine with a good conscience, who am I to be his critic? And on the other hand if the brother feels he cannot in good conscience eat and drink, who am I to dismiss him or despise him?
One thing is very clear in the New Testament that if we cannot do a thing with a good conscience we should not do it. And that means that we are not to follow one another in the things that we allow in our own lives. So that's why the apostle explains this point. There is harm in doing anything which weakens our brother. There is harm in thinking anything which may damage the fellowship and unity and love of the people of God. Where there is suspicion between Christian and Christian, or where there is loss of affection between Christian and Christian it weakens the bond of love between us all.
Well you do see how relevant all this is in Christian churches and Christian congregations. You can see how absolutely up to date this is, and it really is a rebuke to us all that sometimes we have allowed ourselves to have hard thoughts of fellow Christians who in other respects deserve our highest esteem, and we have allowed ourselves to have these critical thoughts not realizing that they stand or fall to their our master (Romans 14,4) and are not answerable in the last resort to us.
3. THE APOSTLE'S RULE FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING
Now then the apostle in my text lays down a rule as to how we should behave with respect to meat, and drink, and everything within the Christian's life. And this is what he says in verse two: "Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" (text). In other words, he says, as far as possible every one of us as Christians within the church we should live so as to please one another. Now let me explain what that means, negatively first. We must never give in to another Christian in the sense of doing what is wrong so as to please him. This is not what was meant by the apostle Paul. I'm going to take a very practical example of this because it may help.
Supposing a Christian has a Roman Catholic friend, and supposing that Roman Catholic friend has a bereavement; someone in the family dies. And the Roman Catholic friend invites the Christian to come along to the funeral service which consists of a requiem Mass. It would be possible for that Christian to say to himself, Well I must go to this service of Mass because although I don't believe in the Mass, yet I owe my neighbour, my friend, the courtesy and I must please him because it is my duty to be courteous to my neighbour. Now what are we to say to that? The answer is: we are never to do anything sinful in itself to please our neighbour. We must never please anyone in anything in which it involves us in sin. It is never our duty to go against the light of the Word of God.
So that's the negative. Paul does not mean that we should do that. What he does mean (positively) is this: that in our daily life as believers we must not only think of ourselves, but we must take into account the feelings of other Christians within the fellowship. We must take into account their convictions and we must even take into account their prejudices (up to a point). There are many times in the Christian life when we must do without something that we would like to have because if we were to have it (although it's lawful in itself) it may be a source of offence to others who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Take, for instance, verse one of this chapter: "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves". Our duty to our fellow Christian is that we are to seek his good even though in doing so it involves us in a certain amount of self-restraint and even the loss of the enjoyment of some things which are in themselves matters indifferent and neither right or wrong.
So the sense in which we are to please one another, says the apostle, is to "please one another for his good". We must never to please one another for our hurt. We must never please one another for our harm. If a fellow Christian does or says something which is wrong then the duty of a Christian speaking to him is to say, 'My brother you are wrong. I cannot agree with you because you are wrong, and you mustn't do that because it is wrong'. We must never please our neighbour in the sense of giving way to him in things which are against God. Nothing in the Bible ever suggests such foolish advice. What it does mean is that we are to do everything we can to accommodate ourselves to the good of our brother even to our own disadvantage in matters which are indifferent, because the rule of the Christian's conduct is to strive to benefit one another; to strive to strengthen one another's faith, and one another's knowledge, and to respect one another's consciences.
In other words, the rule of duty for the Christian is to try within the fellowship of the church to do everything we can to make our brother both holy and happy. Anything which interferes with his holiness or his happiness is a disadvantage, and the apostle puts it in this way therefore: "Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" (text). Now the word edification, as of course you know, means this: it means to build somebody up. It's really a Latin word coming from the word for a building, and to edify is to build somebody else up. It is therefore the misuse of Christian freedom ever to do anything which harms, or hurts, or weakens another Christian person.
All of this is very important because in the generation in which we live, sadly, there are many Christians who are shouting loud about Christian freedom. Now there is such a thing as Christian freedom - Christ has set us free in many ways. And we do have freedom and liberty to do many things as Christians. But we have to be very careful, says the New Testament, to use your freedom in a manner which does not harm, or stumble, or weaken your brother within the church. "Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died" (Romans 14,15). If we allow ourselves in things which weaken one another, says the apostle, then what we are really doing is we are failing to love our brother and we are sinning against Jesus Christ who is the Lord. What we should do rather is to seek the good of our brothers and sisters for their edification, that our brothers and sisters in Christ may be helped to know more, and helped to know God better, and helped to more comfort and more assurance, and to be encouraged in the right way to glorify God more than they did before. "Let every one of you please his neighbour for his good to edification".
In order to strengthen his argument now the apostle uses this great example of Christ, in verse three: "for even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on me". You will know your New Testament well enough of course to remember that it is common with Peter and Paul and other writers when they're pressing duties upon the people of God to point to Christ as being the supreme and ideal example and motive for carrying out their duties as Christians in this world. And that is the argument and the example that the apostle Paul here uses. You must do this, he says. You must set your own wishes many times on one side and rather choose that action which will best help your brethren because - Christ behaved in that way.
How did He do that? Well, Christ came into the world because of the great dishonour done to the name of God. The reproaches that fell upon God the Father have now fallen upon Christ. That's what is meant. Putting it simply it means this: that all the hatred which this world had for God, Christ took it upon Himself. By coming into the world and permitting the world to crucify Him, He suffered all that not because He needed to but he suffered that for the glory of God - to take away from the world the reproach done to the great glory and honour of God, so that all the hatred that the world showed toward God Christ took upon Himself. And in that way the reproaches of those who reproached God the Father fell upon our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is the perfect example of how one person of the Godhead loved another - to His own disadvantage.
And if the blessed God behaved like that how should we poor mortals behave? We should be ready to die for one another! let alone live for one another! And so John tells us in his first letter: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (I John 4,11). He laid down His life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another (I John 3,16).
As I close my brief meditation on this text, my friends, let me make this practical observation. If this spirit were to be found in all the churches in the world, they would never split! And they could never divide, and the devil would never get in the door ;because there would be no room for him, anywhere. So, I beseech you as I also beseech myself in the name of God: let us live by this rule. It is a wonderful text: "Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification". What a rule! What a standard! What an excellent code of conduct! May God Almighty help us to make it our own.
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