Posts Tagged 'love your neighbors'

On Loving Your Neighbor

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Exodus 20:15, 17

A case could be made that if you do not love your neighbor, you cannot love God. In the New Testament, a lawyer asked Jesus a question. The answer is profound and far-reaching and encompasses every area of life.

“Sir, which is the most important command in the laws of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all the others.” (Matthew 22:36 – 40 TLB)

That sounds good. Everything Jesus taught sounds good, but how do we actually apply those words? Just what does it mean to “love your neighbor?” If you’re like me, you probably don’t even know your neighbor, beyond his name, and often your neighbor is a complete stranger. Is it possible to love somebody you don’t know? Or more to the point, is it possible to love somebody you don’t like? What if your neighbor is a jerk? The answer to those questions is found back in the Old Testament; it’s found in the Ten Commandments. Specifically, it’s found in Exodus 20:

You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15 NIV)

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17 NIV)

Loving your neighbor has nothing to do with how you feel about him. Loving your neighbor has everything to do with how you treat him.

Don’t steal, Exodus 20:15

This is the eighth commandment and it’s a unique commandment because the others all relate back to it. For example, if you murder somebody, you are stealing their life. Adultery is the stealing of another’s spouse. When you covet, you want to steal what somebody else has. Stealing justice occurs when you give false testimony.

This commandment is unique for another reason: It is completely open-ended. Other commandments are specific. For example, the commandment to “honor our parents,” is specific; nobody else is mentioned, only our parents. And only married people can commit adultery. When God says, “Don’t steal,” He means we can’t steal anything; we can’t take anything that belongs to another person. There is no qualifying statement given. The commandment is absolute.

This means three things.

We are not permitted to steal another human being. In other words, God absolutely forbids kidnapping. Related to this is stealing somebody else’s freedom and making them a slave. Critics of the Bible love to point out that the Bible, in both Testaments, condones slavery. This isn’t the case. What the Bible refers to often is something called “Indentured Servitude.” This refers to the selling of one’s self to another person for specific period of time in order to work off a debt. “Indentured servitude” has nothing to do with kidnapping free people and selling them into slavery. In fact, slavery of that kind is expressly forbidden by the eighth commandment.

The sanctity of personal property. It has been demonstrated time and time again that private property rights, beginning with owning land, is indispensable to building a free, orderly, and decent society. Totalitarian societies have no individual property rights; the state owns everything.

In medieval societies, a few wealthy landowners owned all the land and the rest of the people worked that land, not for their enrichment, but for the enrichment of the owners. In Europe of the 19th century, socialists argued for taking away private property and giving it to “the people.” Communism ensued, and so did widespread theft of property leading to theft of freedom and finally theft of life. Essential to freedom is the right to own private property. God understood that and that’s why the eighth commands expressly forbids stealing.

The eighth commandment also addresses the many “non-material” things people own. For example, a person’s reputation and dignity. Or things like their trust and their intellectual property.

You can steal a person’s reputation – their good name – through libel, slander, and gossip. This is particularly nefarious form of theft because unlike theft of money, once a person’s good name has been stolen, it can almost never be restored.

You rob a person of their dignity when you humiliate them. The worst kind of humiliation occurs when a person is humiliated in public, and humiliation can do permanent damage to a person’s self-esteem.

Stealing a person’s trust happens when you deceive them or when you trick them. A good example of this when a person is tricked into buying something, like a house, they can’t afford. Or when a used car salesman neglects to tell his prospect that the car he’s looking at needs some major mechanical work done.

People who, for example, illegally copy software or download movies and music without paying for them are stealing another person’s intellectual property.

So, you can see how far-reaching and all encompassing this eighth commandment really is. It applies to every single aspect of your life and the life of your neighbor. Think about that next time you’re tempted to gossip just a little or when you try to sell your old jalopy.

Do not covet, Exodus 20:17

The final four commandments all address how people treat other people. People can’t murder other people. People can’t cheat on their spouses. Stealing anything is forbidden. Lying, or perjury, is a no-no. The final commandment, number 10, forbids all the above. Coveting anything that does not belong to you is absolutely forbidden.

There is something quite unique about this commandment which ties it to Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament. Commandment number ten, unlike the other nine which legislate behavior, legislates thought. Here’s how Jesus worded it:

The laws of Moses said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say: Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27 TLB)

Jesus is talking about coveting, and so is the tenth commandment. This is significant because of the over 600 laws throughout the Torah, the tenth commandment is the only law that legislates how believers are to think. The reason may not be readily apparent, but coveting – a thought – often leads to acts of evil. Coveting leads a person to breaking the preceding four commandments. This was something Jesus well understood but the Pharisees and teachers of the law apparently forgot.

Why do people murder, commit adultery, steal, and lie? All of those sins begin as a thought; they begin when a person begins to covet something or someone he doesn’t have. Coveting is such a serious sin, it is the only thought in the entire Bible that is prohibited; in the Old Testament under the Ten Commandments and in the teachings of Jesus in the New.

To “covet” is more than just “wanting” or “desiring.” The Hebrew verb in behind our English word, “covet,” is a strong one. It means “to want to the point of seeking to take away and own something that belongs to another person.” In other words, coveting something involves scheming a way to obtain something you want through illegal or immoral means. It is far more than envying or lusting, two things that are problematic in their own right but are not prohibited in the Ten Commandments, although they are issues Jesus deals with in His teaching. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, our Lord on several occasions framed His teachings like this: “The Law of Moses says this, but I say something more.” In other words, Jesus takes the Law as only a “starting point” for righteous behavior. A true, devoted follower of God will go beyond what the Law requires. Jesus understood that things like envying and lust, though not dealt with specifically in the Law, are self-destructive behavior that almost always lead to coveting. But it is coveting, not envying or lust, that ends in murder, stealing, lying and adultery.

It is not sinful to look at your neighbor’s house or car and want a house or a car like his. In fact, that kind “envying” can lead to very productive behavior. You’ll work harder and save your money so you can better your situation and maybe own a home or car like your neighbor has. That’s not necessarily wrong (although it can be) and that’s not coveting. The tenth commandment doesn’t prohibit noticing what your neighbor has or even discouraging you from wanting what he has. What it does prohibit is finding an illegal and immoral way to get HIS.

The Ten Commandments as they were originally given represented God’s law for an orderly, free, and decent society. The religious laws would come later. In an orderly, free, and decent society, the Ten Commandments always work, they never fail. And the tenth commandment tells us that we are not allowed to covet what belongs to our neighbor; that we must consider his private property as sacrosanct.

When Jesus spoke about loving your neighbor, He didn’t have in mind you serenading him with love songs and sending him roses all the time. Respecting his person and his property go a long way in expressing the kind of love Jesus has in mind.

SERMON ON THE PLAIN, Part 2

 jesus-preaching

BE…JUST AS YOUR FATHER

Luke 6:27-38

True love, in spite of what the songs tell us, is the love of God, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us that “Love is of God,” and “God is love.” Therefore, is it a surprise that our Lord teaches us to “Love our enemies,” and “to bless those who curse you?” Nothing shows the world that we are children of God more than when we love unexpectedly. It’s easy to love those who are lovable, but when we love those who are not, that gets noticed.

Luke is concerned about people, so once again it is not surprising that he devotes a significant number of verses to show how Christians ought to treat people, especially those who, from another perspective, deserve to be treated the exact opposite way to the way Jesus taught.

1. The Precepts

These “made-in-heaven” laws established for us by Jesus are mirrors that reflect the merciful character of God the Father. Their purpose is to make us more like Him. While the world may love parts of Jesus’ teaching, especially the “Golden Rule” part, these laws are for Christians, not for the unsaved. No doubt the world would be a better place if everybody followed the “Golden Rule,” following it does not earn one a place in heaven. These laws are to be followed after one has repented and confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior. The temptation is to reverse this order: live right, then get saved. The Bible, like the hymn, stresses the correct order:

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

To stress the moral and ethical parts of the Gospel, to make them the law, is to lose the Gospel. This teaching is given by Jesus as a way to manifest salvation; to show an unbelieving world what a “new creation” looks like.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:27—30)

The phrase, “to you who are listening” tells us that Jesus is about to get very, very serious. He is not addressing casual listeners, but those who are paying attention, soaking up His teachings this day. So, what Jesus is about teach is for those who are following Him or will be following Him.

Concerning blessing

Loving your enemies was a revolutionary thought in Jesus’ day. This teaching went completely contrary to what the scribes were teaching at the time: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” Matthew 5:43. This must have caught “those who were listening” by surprise. The question we should ask ourselves is, How far do we take this admonition? The answer lies way back in the Old Testament. In this teaching, Jesus was really clarifying part of the Law, the part that had been misinterpreted by the teachers of the Law.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)

For generations, the religious teachers had been teaching that this meant a Jew was responsible for loving a fellow Jew. Jesus is correcting this misunderstood admonition. His followers were not allowed to treat an unbeliever or even an enemy in a way differently than they would treat fellow believers. As is Luke’s custom, he makes the “upside down” (or maybe “rightside up” is more accurate!) nature of the Kingdom clear.

If we note what Peter wrote, we see that this revolutionary teaching was really just as old as Judaism itself.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)

From there, Peter goes to quote from the Law of Moses. A good example of “loving your enemy” is given by none other than Moses himself. Maybe our Lord had this in mind as He was teaching this day:

“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it.  If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help your enemy with it.” (Exodus 23:4, 5)

Concerning Prayer

…bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:28)

Not only should believers have love in their hearts for the unbeliever or an enemy, they must go even further than that. We ought to pray for those who may oppose us or even do us harm.

If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. (verse 29)

How literal do we take Jesus’ “slap on the cheek” comment? Should Christians let everybody else just abuse them and walk all over them? Some would say yes, pointing to Jesus’ example. Others suggest the “slap on the cheek” is really referring to an insult or a slight. In light of the rest of the New Testament, and looking at the example of Paul, it seems that Jesus is not suggesting His followers sit back and let society, especially the judiciary, take advantage of them unless that advances the cause of the Gospel. If our suffering causes the glorification of Christ in some way, then we should suffer as Jesus did. If not, Christians should claim their civil rights, even as Paul did, because anarchy itself is unbiblical.

The essence of Jesus’ teaching is simple. We may not “like” the criminal who just robbed us; we may not “like” the person at work who gossips maliciously about us, but we must see them as Christ sees them: a sinner in need of prayer. God is not calling us to make these kinds of people our “best friends,” He calls us to pray for them and treat them as we would treat a friend.

As Jesus prayed for His enemies while He hung on the Cross, and as Stephen prayed for his enemies, we should be prepared to do the same. It’s the highest of roads to take.

Concerning Giving

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:30)

We need to read each word in this statement carefully. This admonition is very specific. Jesus is NOT teaching that Christians are to give everything they have to just anybody. If a person comes to us asking for something from us, we shouldn’t be stingy, we should freely give to them what they have asked for, as long as we are able to. But we have to be good stewards at the same time. For example, if a drunkard on the street hits you up for money, the odds are good he will use the money you give him to buy more booze. In his case, while he is asking for money, what he needs is the Lord. In his case, buy him a meal and share Jesus with him. It would be wrong to enable the sin of another.

Jesus is teaching that it is better to be taken advantage of (being robbed) than to give into feelings of anger or revenge. So, if somebody takes advantage of your generosity, don’t get angry with him, just let it go.

However, as we asked previously, how far do we take this admonition? This sermon is full of extreme, startling statements. It was Jesus’ intention to drive home His point—his punchline—with extreme language. Of course, there are times when it is quite correct to stand up and claim your rights (see John 18:22, 23 and Acts 16:37—40 as examples). For the Christian, though, our motivation should never be revenge. That’s why Jesus said that if somebody takes something that belongs to you, just write it off. There are times when it is just Godly to forego our rights, just like there are times when we should claim them. Christians, as taught elsewhere, are citizens of Heaven. We are obligated to follow Heaven’s rules of conduct, not the earth’s. But sometimes, obeying the rules of earth may glorify God in some way. That should be our guide: does my conduct glorify God or make me feel better?

Some Examples

The world loves its own. Sinners are capable of wonderful acts of kindness. But our love for the world is NOT to be like their love for each other; it is to be like God’s love for them.

Love

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32)

The love of the unsaved is given, generally speaking, only to those who love them in return. God wants us to love others with the same kind of love with which He loves us: agape love; unconditional love. The love of God embraces even those who hate Him. There was no hatred in Jesus as He hung on the Cross. It is of no credit to us if we love those who love us back.

Works

“And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” (Luke 6:33)

Again, worldly people, sinners as Jesus called them, can do good things for other people. In Jesus’ mind that’s no big deal. It’s completely common and understandable why anybody would want to help a person who has helped them in the past or may be helpful in the future. We call that the “Godfather Philosophy,” or, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” But the motives for the Christian in doing good works must be way, way above the motives of any worldly person. The ungodly will show kindness to those who show kindness to them, but Christians are obligated to treat all people mercifully, as God treats them.

Grace

“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” (Luke 6:34)

The unsaved have no problem lending things to anybody as long as they get them back. This is a most common exchange in the world. But Christians need to act as God acts:

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)

3. The Promises

If the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts so that we able to love our enemies and treat them better than they deserve, God will reward us. Of course, we aren’t obedient for what we can get out of God, but God is fair and will openly reward the obedient.

A great reward

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)

This sounds like Jesus’ summary statement, and it sort of is! Verses 34 and 35 are not found in Matthew’s version of this sermon. Matthew adds some phrases that would would have been meaningful to his Jewish readers, but Luke’s reader, a Gentile, needed to read these passages on “loving enemies.”

There is an eternal principle in Luke 6:35 that applies to anybody in the faith. If we treat people well, even our enemies, and if we don’t treat them with contempt, God will reward us. When we treat people like this, we are acting like God’s children, because that is how He acts.

Children of God

Believers are to act like what they really are. If we claim we are children of God, we have to start acting like children of God. It’s natural for children to take on some of the characteristics of their parents, and so it should be Christians.

God has high standards for His children:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

Here is the clincher. A person may be able to act right and do right, but he will probably fall short. Remember, the Pharisees? They did much of what Jesus taught, but for all the wrong reasons. They tithed spices, for example, but had no “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 5:20). The righteousness of believers MUST exceed that of the Pharisees, and everybody else. Our righteousness should be measured against God’s. Are we as righteous as God is? That’s the most important consideration we should take away from Jesus’ sermon up to this point.

 

PRIORITIES AND VALUES, Part 3

Loving Others

“Love your neighbor.” Those words are so easy to say, yet so hard to do. Do you really have to love all your neighbors? Can’t you just love the ones you like? Jesus seems to be making a blanket statement: Christians are supposed to love all their neighbors. But we can’t blame Jesus for inventing such a hard thing to do. The concept of “loving your neighbors” is as old as the Old Testament:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

In all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus advised His followers to “Love your neighbor.” This is admonition is found in Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; and Luke 10:27.

The Hebrew word used in the Leviticus reference means “tenderness and fullness of affection.” For the ancient Hebrews, their challenge was to love other people as God loved Israel. In the Gospels, the word Jesus chose to use is agape. Yes, we are to love our neighbors unconditionally. It seems the more we talk about this, the worse it gets! Let’s discover what it really means to “love others.”

1. Love your neighbor as yourself, Matthew 22:37—40; Romans 13:8—10

a. The biblical social ethic, Matthew 22:37—40

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37—40)

In answer to a question about which commandment is the greatest, Jesus gave the perfect answer. However, in giving this simple, yet profound answer, Jesus is really teaching us seven things:

  • The entire duty of man, the whole moral-spiritual law is summed up in a single, all encompassing word: love.

  • This love must be directed both up and over: up to God and over toward our fellow man.

  • All parts of man—heart, soul, and mind—must involved in loving God. The heart is the mainspring of all man’s thoughts, words and deeds. The soul refers to the seat of man’s emotions. And the mind has reference to man’s thoughts, his disposition, and his attitudes. What all this means is that man must love God with all of his being; in his thoughts, his attitudes, and his actions.

  • In loving God, man must not hold back. Note the use of the “all.” We cannot love God in a half-hearted manner. We can’t claim to love God with our words but never think good things about Him, for example. We can’t pay lip service to God. Our actions must flow from our confession of love for God.

  • This commandment is called “the greatest” because if flows from our response to God. Because God loved us so much, we ought to feel compelled to as lest aspire to love Him with the same intensity of love.

  • That “second commandment,” says Jesus resembles the first one because it involves love. This time, it is loving a fellow human being, who has been created in God’s image. Our love for him should be motivated out of our love for God.

  • The two-fold admonition (love God, love your neighbor) is the hook upon which the entire Old Testament hangs. Take away that hook, and the Old Testament falls apart.

b. Paul’s expanded statement, Romans 13:8—10

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Paul had just commanded submission to ruling authorities as part of the believer’s obligation to live at peace with the world around him. Now he turns to another commandment: love one another.

The underlying thought behind all of Paul’s teaching in this chapter is to live submissively as living sacrifices in light of the fact the Jesus could return at any moment. The very concept of “submission” means doing something you’re rather not do. Loving others does not come naturally to most people; it requires a conscious effort to do so. What’s more (or what’s worse, depending on your temperament!) this admonition to love others is much bigger that merely loving fellow believers! The context favors the broader interpretation of loving all our neighbors, even those who are far outside of the Church.

Loving your neighbor as yourself does not suggest a sick infatuation with self! It’s a way of saying: “Look after your neighbor with the same effort with which you look after yourself.” Paul said roughly the same thing to husbands and wives:

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church… (Ephesians 5:28, 29)

2. Brotherly love described, Romans 12:9—21

The essence of Paul’s teaching in Romans 12 is the dedicated Christian life—a life of sacrifice. It is only when believers are living sacrificially that they are able to live according to God’s will. God’s will is not knowable to those who are not living the dedicated, sacrificial life.

But what does “living sacrificially” look like? It is manifested in a million small ways, in the day-to-day relationships we have with each other. Love of other people, including love of enemies!, is the acid test. If one is loving those around them consistently, they they are in reality a “living sacrifice.”

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (vs. 9, 10)

The “love” Paul is writing about is the unconditional, selfless kind of love that only Christians are capable of demonstrating: agape. We are to love all people, especially fellow believes, but all people, with agape love. Why? because that’s how God loves us!

In Romans 8:35, Paul asks a pointed question: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? The answer, of course, is NOBODY. Well, just as nobody and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, so nothing and nobody should keep believers from loving each other or loving the lost. But this love must be “sincere.” The Greek word means “genuine,” not hypocritical. In other words, Christians should like open books; what you see is what you get. And other people, when they look at us, should see love. But what does agape love look like? It looks like verses 9 to 21, with verse 21 acting as a kind of summary:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Christians must do their level best to live like Paul has outlined in verses 9 to 20. The temptation, though, is to meet evil with evil; to hit back and hit back hard. We can’t afford to do that because we are supposed to be “living sacrifices,” meaning since our whole being is dedicated to living for God and living like God, we must always strive act in a way that is usually opposite to our natural inclinations: overcome evil with good. The world’s philosophy is the opposite to God’s; it leads people to treat others as they have been treated. However, to treat other with love when they are expecting something else can sometimes warm the coldest heart!

The foundation of living as sacrifices is that God is ultimately in control of our lives:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

If that can be our attitude, then we learning to leave outcomes in God’s hands should be our goal. Learning to let the Holy Spirit control our behavior, especially during times of contention, allows Him to work not only in our lives but also in the lives of others and He will bring about God’s desired result.

3. Brotherly love in action, Romans 14:1—10

Martin Luther once observed:

A Christian in a most free lord of all, subject to none. a Christian is a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

In Romans 14, Paul continues talking about living sacrificially in a most practical manner. Apparently thee was a problem in Rome between Gentile and Jewish converts over the matter of food and holy days.

a. Convictions regarding diet, vs. 1—3

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.

This group of verses concerns believers behavior among themselves, not relationships between believers and unbelievers. The real secret behind Paul’s admonition in verse 1 is a simple one: focus on who, not what. When believers get together and their focus wanders away from the center of their faith, Jesus Christ, and settles on peripheral matters, then pretty soon disunity appears. E. Stanley Jones put it succinctly:

Talk about what you believe and you have disunity. Talk about who you believe and you have unity.

The church in Rome had been around long enough to have some minor problems that were threatening to become major problems. Differences of opinion about what believers should eat and what they shouldn’t eat were pretty common in this era and, as we all know, people love to give their opinions and defend their opinions. Paul describes the believer who was obsessed with diet as “one whose faith is weak” because that person’s faith isn’t strong enough to perceive the extent of the freedom he has in Christ. He thoughts, attitudes, and behavior are still governed by somebody else’s rules and regulations. This kind of believer may be doctrinally sound but full of doubt when it comes what he should have for lunch or whether or not he should wear man-made fabric. The advice to stronger, more mature believers is to “accept” this weak believer. This means that strong believers are not to judge the weaker ones, but to wholeheartedly fellowship with them and do nothing to make them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.

The issues that the Roman church were encountering were non-essentials and therefore not worth fighting over. Issues not involving Biblical doctrines or theology can often, though not always, be deemed “non-essential.” Oddly enough, these inconsequential things, like what to eat, for example, are things that cause the most problems in a church and lead to disunity. This should never be allowed to happen in a local church because unity among believers is how the world knows that Jesus is our Lord and unity among Christians is an attribute that draws unbelievers to Christ.

This was a real “hot button” issue with Paul; one that he fought against his whole ministry. Here was a man gloriously set free from the shackles of legalism, and Paul wanted all believers to experience the freedom he himself experienced in Christ. So convinced was Paul of this, he once had a rough encounter with Peter over it:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. (Galatians 2:11)

So sometimes even great church leaders, like Peter for instance, who may be full of wisdom and spot-on when it comes theology and doctrine, can be completely out in left field when it comes to matters of inconsequence.

b. Holy days, vs. 4—6

What was true of food was also true of holy feast days. Jewish converts still believed in their special days and thought it was important to observe them even though they had become Christians.

Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

The principle is the same. The church may be full of weak, immature believers, yet genuinely living their faith, but the only person Paul chastises is the one who would look down on or condemn that other person who holds a different view than his own.

c. Be dedicated to the Lord, vs. 7—10

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.

The issue of whether or not believers in Rome should eat certain foods or abstain from them seems like one of those mundane issues that can be quickly settled over a cup of coffee. But in this group of verses, as John Stott noted, Paul “lifts up the very mundane question of our mutual relationships in the Christian community to the high theological level of the death, resurrection, and consequent universal lordship of Jesus.”

So, in fact, these mundane issues are very important to the extent that they have the potential of ripping apart a church. If Christ is going to judge every person some day, why should Christians be doing it now?

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. (vs. 10)

It’s God’s job to judge, not ours. Paul’s observation in verse 7, “none of us lives for ourselves alone” is often thought of in the same sense as John Donne’s famous statement, “No man is an island.” However, that is not what Paul is teaching here. Paul’s point is not a sociological one but a deeply theological one. All Christians live out their lives accountable to God. Decisions about food or holy days should never be made apart from a desire to be faithful to God’s will.

The “weak” or immature Christian needs to stop passing judgment on the other believer who does not share his convictions about disputable matters and the “strong” or mature Christian must stop looking down on his brother who may be clinging to them. Both mature and immature believers will stand before God to give account of how they lived their lives, so let God do the judging.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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