I’ve sometimes thought nursing might be OK without patients, teaching without students, and Christianity without Christians!
However, ‘There is no way of belonging to Christ except by belonging gladly and irrevocably to that marvellous and extraordinary ragbag of saints and fatheads who make up the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.’ (Geoffrey Paul)
Unity: prayed for in the Gospels, modelled in Acts, urged and encouraged in the epistles.
Conclusion of the section beginning at 14:1, about the weak and the strong. The ‘weak’ were those (mainly Jewish) Christians with sensitive consciences. They couldn’t bring themselves to give up Jewish dietary practices and holy days. The ‘strong’ were those (mainly Gentile) Christians with robust consciences. They rejoiced in the liberty that they have in Jesus Christ. They knew that there is nothing in the gospel that prevents Christians from eating meat or which requires them observe certain days as more ‘holy’ than others.
1. A plea – ‘accept one another’
The weak should accept the strong, and the strong accept the weak.
What does it mean for the ‘strong’ Christian to accept the ‘weak’ one?
V1 – ‘Bearing with’ his weaknesses and failings. Himalayan trek: the strong will support the weak.
V2 – Seeking his good, to build him up. Am I a builder, or a wrecker?
I saw them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a dusty town.
With ‘yo heave ho’ and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam and the side wall fell.
I asked the foreman if these men were skilled
As the men he’d hire, if he were to build.
He laughed and said, ‘Oh, no indeed.
Common labour is all I need.’
‘For those men can wreck in a day or two,
What builders had taken years to do.’
I asked myself as I went my way,
Which kind of role am I to play?
Am I the builder who builds with care,
Measuring life by the rule and square?
Or am I the wrecker who walks the town,
Content with the role of tearing down?
Why do we go to church? Worship? Edification?
2. The basis for this plea – ‘just as Christ accepted you’
V3 – ‘Even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have falen on me.” (Psa 69:9)
Of all people, he had the greatest right to please himself. But he had nowhere to lay his head. He lived on the charity of others. He refused to be made a king. He washed his disciples’ feet. He allowed himself to be spit upon, cursed and scourged. He endured the horror of God-forsakenness. He suffered a shameful and agonising death.
If Christ endured all that for us, then surely we can endure a little for one another?
Kent Hughes asks: ‘How did Christ accept you and me? He accepted us with our many sins, prejudices, and innumerable blind spots. He accepted us with our psychological shortcomings and cultural naiveté. He accepted us with our provincialisms. He even accepted us with our stubbornness. This is how we are to accept one another.’
When we come to receive the bread and the wine we are reminded of the fact that our Saviour did not please himself. And as we kneel side by side, at the rail we act out this great truth, that we accept one another, because Christ has accepted us.
3. The purpose of this plea – ‘in order to bring praise to God’
Three contenders for highest purpose:
(a) pleasing ourselves – after all the gospel brings liberty; but v1 – not pleasing ourselves;
(b) pleasing others, v2, ‘Each of us should please his neighbour’;
(c) glorifying God, v6, ‘so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
JOY – Jesus first, others next, yourself last.
How do we praise God? Singing loudly? Accepting one another!
Then, it was about diets and days. What might be some ‘disputable matters’ (14:1) for us today?
- Inerrancy: some regard the Bible as totally without error; others struggle to square this will some of things they read, especially in the Old Testament.
- Charismata: some have a high expectation that God will work miracles through his people today. Others think that miracles are the exception rather than the norm.
- Women’s ministry – some believe that God desires all roles within the church to be equally open to women and men. Others think that this is an unhelpful blurring of God-given gender distinctions.
These are not trivial issues. But do they prevent us from recognising one another as fellow-Christians? Are they gospel issues?
Paul refused to compromise when it came to the gospel, Rom 16:17; Galatians 1:9 – ‘If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!’
On any issue where the gospel itself is not at stake, let’s work hard to include one another in.
‘He drew a circle that shut me out!
Heretic! Rebel! A thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that brought him in.’
Sibbes: ‘It would be a good contest amongst Christians, one to labour to give no offence, and the other to labour to take none.’
What should we do when we disagree?
- Remember that not every disagreement is even worth mentioning, let along breaking fellowship over.
- Examine your motives: self-interest? love? edification? God’s glory?
- Respect the other person’s conscience.
- Meet face-to-face. Share a meal, share your stories, share your understanding of Scripture, share your vision.
- Listen before you speak.
- Express your view with passion and conviction, but also with gentleness and respect.
- Keep coming back to the centre, which is Christ and his gospel.
‘May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’