Accept One Another

Romans 14:1-15:7

January 26, 2003 | Brian Bill

How many of you will be watching the Super Bowl today?  While some of you won’t even turn on your TV, according to a poll released by Time magazine, 40% of us will watch just to see the new commercials, while over 50% of Americans are just ready for some football!  In fact, there are some people who are so psyched about the Super Bowl that they won’t let anything keep them from tuning in.  A survey on eBay reports that 66% of men would skip the birth of their firstborn child in order to watch the big game!  I don’t think that’s a very good idea.

It’s been interesting this week to hear about how the two teams are sizing each other up, identifying weaknesses, and drawing up game plans in the hopes of destroying their opponent.  While the Super Bowl may be the most popular sporting event on TV, the favorite indoor sport of many Christians is sizing up each other, identifying differences, and slicing up the body of Christ.  It’s much easier to bash brothers and smash sisters than it is to authentically accept one another.

When the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec and to wait for the British land forces to arrive so he could support them when they attacked the city.  As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of some saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, and so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. When the signal was finally given to attack, the admiral was of no help because he had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.” (Daily Bread) 

Unfortunately, the same could be said about some of us today.  When God calls on us to do something great for Him we have nothing left to give because we’ve used up our ammo shelling the saints.  That reminds me of an issue of National Geographic that included a photograph of the fossil remains of two saber-tooth cats locked in combat with this caption: “One had bitten deep into the leg bone of the other, a thrust that trapped both in a common fate.”  The cause of the death of the two cats is as clear as the reason for their extinction.  They could not survive because they were too busy fighting each other.  I wonder if that picture fits our church today?  As the Apostle Paul said in Galatians 5:15: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” 

As we’ve been learning in this series, we’re each called to do some “body building” by caring for one another, being united with one another, and learning to love one another, including the preborn.  This morning our focus in on “accepting one another.”  Initially, I was going to have us look at the first eight verses of Romans 14.  But, as I’ve read them over and looked at the context, I’ve decided to expand our study to include all of chapter 14 and the first seven verses of chapter 15.  But don’t worry; I’m not going to go any longer than I normally do.  On second thought, since the game doesn’t start until 5:30, I guess I have plenty of time.  

Because we’re going to bite into a large section, we won’t have the pleasure of going verse-by-verse this morning.  Instead, I want to give you an overview and spell out six avenues to acceptance that I see in this passage.   Paul is introducing us to two distinct groups of people in the church at Rome: the weak and the strong, or as one pastor refers to them, the “weak” and the “weaker.”

These believers were divided over special diets and special days.  The big problem back then was whether it was OK for a Christian to eat meat that might have been offered to an idol before it was sent to Bob the Butcher.  Was it wrong to eat meat?  Some had no issue with this at all, while others felt that by eating meat a person could become spiritually contaminated.  This group followed a strict diet and felt that some days were more spiritual than others.  The second group had just one big hang up: group #1.  They felt they could indulge in rib eyes and worship on any day they wanted.  

A “weak” believer is one who hasn’t fully grasped the extent of his or her freedom in Christ and whose conscience is therefore bothered by lifestyle choices or preferences that don’t really matter in the long run.  A “strong” brother or sister is the one who can exercise his freedom in Christ with a clear conscience.

Most of us struggle with two tendencies: we like to compare and we want to control others.  We can easily fall into thinking that the way we do things, or our interpretation is correct, and those who differ from us must be wrong.  Some of us go out of our way to try to control how other believers think and behave, secretly judging them according to our spiritual standards.  

Avenues to Acceptance

There are at least six avenues to acceptance found in chapters 14 and 15.  They spell out the word A.C.C.E.P.T.

1. Avoid passing judgment (1-4). 

We’re to allow others the freedom to hold convictions that are unlike ours and to welcome them in spite of that difference

The weak Christians (those who clung to the Law) were condemning the stronger believers (those who enjoyed their liberty), and the strong Christians were despising the weaker ones.  Paul tells both groups to stop carping at each other and to chill out: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”  The word, “accept” means, “to take to oneself, to receive kindly.” We’re not to just put up with each other; we’re to extend warm fellowship by not turning a cold shoulder.  Here Paul is addressing the “strong” as he tells them to avoid judging those who are not as mature in their understanding.  We’re to allow others the freedom to hold convictions that are unlike ours and to welcome them in spite of that difference.

The key here is the phrase, “disputable matters.”  This word refers to that which is debatable or doubtful.  It’s those “gray” areas of the Christian life.  There are really three categories specified in Scripture: things that are right, things that are wrong, and issues of freedom and preference.  A disputable matter is an honest difference of opinion between Bible believing Christians on how best to apply a biblical principle.

Look at verse 2: “One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.”   This could be referring to the Gentile who got saved and feels like he can eat whatever he wants, while the Jewish convert, who has been raised on the Old Testament dietary laws, wants to avoid any possibility of dishonoring God by eating something that is not kosher. 

Verse 3 helps us see that the real problem had nothing to do with meat; it was an acceptance issue: “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.”  Those who loved prime rib looked down on the vegetarians and the veggie lovers condemned the carnivores.  The phrase, “look down” is really strong.  It literally means, “to utterly despise and regard as nothing.”  And the word “condemn” refers to the punishment reserved for those who have broken God’s laws.  When we condemn we often make assumptions that are exaggerated, erroneous and even damaging to one’s character.  Both groups had become polarized because they had taken a “disputable matter” and turned it into a moral issue.

Notice the key phrase at the end of verse 3: “God has accepted him.”  Friends, we have grace in the gray areas!  I love how Peter summarizes God’s attitude toward people who have different backgrounds and viewpoints in Acts 10:34: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” Since God accepts both viewpoints, we must avoid passing judgment on those who think and behave differently than we do.  Jesus put it this way in Matthew 7:1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Verse 4 makes it clear that we must not take the place of God in someone’s life: “Who are we to judge someone else’s servant?  To his own master he stands or falls.  And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  God is God and we are not.  He’s perfectly capable of directing the lives of those who follow Him.  Let’s avoid passing judgment.  

Now, let me say that this is fairly easy for us to do when it comes to eating meat because it’s far removed from our culture and situation.  But let me bring it closer to home.  We need to avoid passing judgment in some of the “disputable matters,” or taboo topics today.  Here’s a limited list that I came up with that believers disagree on today.  Some of these topics are non-starters for you; while others probably light you up quite a bit.  The principle still stands – we’re called to accept one another even when we disagree about debatable topics.  The call here is for both sides of the issue to respect the freedom of the other by giving them the right to be different.

  • Music styles
  • Drinking of alcohol
  • Parenting
  • Schooling of children – Home schooling, Public, Parochial, or Christian
  • Politics

Remember this.  You don’t have to like it, look like it, or listen to it.  But don’t look down on those whom God has accepted.  You are not better than others, nor are they better than you.  It was Augustine who said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  

2. Commit to live for the Lord alone (5-12).  

We need to avoid passing judgment.   The best way to do this is to live for the Lord alone and to recognize that we’re all at different points in our spiritual journey.  I’m reminded of the relationship between two of England’s greatest preachers, Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker.  They were good friends until they had a disagreement.  Spurgeon accused his buddy of being unspiritual because he went to the theater.  Parker pointed out that Spurgeon was suspect because he loved to smoke cigars.  Unfortunately, all of this hit the newspapers and discredited the cause of Christ.

Verse 5 tells us that each believer must be “fully convinced in his mind.”  We’re not to automatically adopt the convictions of others but instead are to give careful thought and prayerful consideration to all the principles taught in the Word of God.  As we commit to live for the Lord alone, we should strive to see our fellow saints as members of the same team, growing in grace just like we are.  Sometimes we launch assaults on people by putting a spiritual label on them like, “I don’t think he’s really a Christian.”  Or, “If she was really growing in her faith, she would do this or that.”  Saying something like, “I don’t think so-and-so is very spiritual” may be code for, “Since he doesn’t see things the way I do, there must be sin in his life.”

Verse 6 serves as a great reminder that none of us has a corner on commitment and therefore we should not question another believer’s motives: “He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.  He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”  The one who basks in barbecued ribs and the lover of legumes eats to the Lord, and give thanks to the Lord.  Both thank God for the food they receive, and both live out their convictions as an expression of their devotion to Jesus.  Everything we do is to be done to please the Lord.  Friends, we need to give the benefit of the doubt to other believers because we are not the only ones dedicated to the Lord.  If we focus on that, and cut others some spiritual slack, then we’ll be able to echo Paul’s aim in 2 Corinthians 5:9: “So we make it our goal to please Him…

Verse 10 gives us the reason why we shouldn’t judge or look down on others: “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”  When we evaluate another person on disputable matters we place ourselves in the position of judge over that person.  In other words, when we judge, we are really usurping God’s role.  The phrase, “judgment seat” comes from the place where the judges sat at athletic contests.  Those who broke the rules were disqualified and the winner was given rewards.  The only one allowed on this elevated seat was the judge; everyone else was at the same level.  Likewise, you and I will appear before the exalted judge of the world, and only He will be able to judge the thoughts, intentions and actions of every human being.  

Friends, last time I checked, God doesn’t need any help judging people because we’re all at the same level.  The Message translates it this way: “Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side-by-side in the place of judgment facing God.  Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position one bit.”

Have you ever noticed that almost without exception, the people with the greatest number of faults are themselves the most merciless in their criticism of others?  I recently read about a group of 53 residents from a town in Connecticut who signed a neighborhood petition to stop reckless driving on their streets.  As soon as it passed, the police set up a patrol and pulled over five violators.  All five of them had signed the petition.

We like to focus on what others are doing, don’t we?  After the Resurrection, when Jesus had graciously restored Peter and revealed some shepherding plans for him, Peter immediately wanted to know what Jesus was going to do about John.  I love the answer Jesus gave in John 21:22: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  You must follow me.”  Our responsibility is to make sure the Lord is #1 in our lives and not to worry too much about other people.  The real question has nothing to do with what others are doing but, “Am I in a right relationship with the Lord and following Him faithfully?”

Do you know where the expression “Mind Your Own Beeswax” comes from?  Around the time of the American Revolution, women would spread bee’s wax over their face to smooth out their complexions.  When a woman would begin to stare at another woman’s face, she was told to, “Mind your own beeswax.”  By the way, when women would smile, the wax would crack, which is where we get the phrase, “Crack a smile.”  Also, when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt, leaving us with the expression, “losing face.”  Friends, let’s mind our own beeswax and crack a smile before we lose face with one another. 

3. Control yourself in love (13-18). 

the conscience isn’t always right, but it’s always wrong to violate it

If we want to accelerate our ability to accept one another, we must avoid passing judgment and commit to live for the Lord alone.  The third avenue is to be controlled by love.  Verse 13: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.  Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” Our liberty must always be tempered by love as we recognize that our attitudes and actions often have an affect on others.  Verse 15 is more specific: “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”  The word “distressed” has the idea of grieving when a loved one dies.  I am out of bounds if I use my freedom in such a way that it causes another believer to trip up spiritually so much so that it causes him or her anguish.  Remember this: the conscience isn’t always right, but it’s always wrong to violate it.

Picture a married man named Joe who’s been taught all his life that if he ever takes off his wedding ring he’s breaking his marriage vows.  This belief about his wedding ring, that we might consider odd, has been passed down in Joe’s family from generation to generation.  He never took off this ring because to him it would be tantamount to trashing his vows.  

Now imagine that Joe has a friend named Randy who’s never heard of this belief.  They get together on a Saturday to work on Joe’s car, and as they get ready to work on the engine, Randy takes off his wedding ring and puts it in his pocket so he doesn’t get any grease on it.  Can you imagine Joe gasping as Randy takes off his ring?  In Randy’s mind, he’s not even thinking about what he did because to him it has no correlation with how much he loves his wife.  

That’s kind of like what the food laws were to newly converted Jewish believers.  In their minds, to eat meat violated their vows to God.  When they saw other Christians munching on filet mignon, they were aghast, because to them it meant unfaithfulness to God.

Now let’s go back to Joe and Randy.  Imagine that Randy pressures Joe to take off his wedding ring.  Joe gives in to the pressure and takes it off, but in his heart he feels as though he’s broken his marriage vows, and been unfaithful to his wife.  When he goes home, he feels guilty because for the first time in his life, he’s crossed that line, at least in his mind.

Paul is telling us here that if we’re really serious about pursuing love, we’ll think about how our liberty will affect someone else’s spiritual growth.  Once Randy knows about Joe’s beliefs about wedding rings, love would dictate that he keep his ring on – at least when he’s with Joe.  Verse 16: “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.”  The bottom line, when it comes down to it, isn’t whether someone feels the freedom to eat meat or abstain, or take off a ring or leave it on, but that the kingdom of God, according to verse 17, is “not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” 

We’re not to emphasize our personal rights but instead we’re to focus on what really matters.  It’s not the externals, but the eternals that must be first in our life.  If we major in a godly life, we won’t fight over minor matters.  Righteousness speaks of our right standing before God because of what Christ has done.  We have peace with God, the peace of God, and peace with one another.  And, we have the joy that comes from knowing Him.  These are the things Christianity is made of.

4. Edify everyone you can (19-21). 

Loving others leads to the fourth avenue to acceptance: edify everyone you can.  Look at verse 19: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”  The word “edify” is a construction term that was used to describe the process of making a building stronger.  It’s the idea of retrofitting a structure to improve its usefulness and extend its longevity.  The opposite word “destroy” is used in verse 20, and was also a construction term for tearing down a building: “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.  All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.”  

Are you a constructor, or a destructor?  Do you build up, or tear down?  Whether we like to admit it or not, our actions either strengthen or weaken the church. Paul is challenging us to be builders instead of demolishers.  My highest priority in relationships with others should be their edification, not their demolition. 

And, if that means we abstain from something for the sake of a brother or sister, than that’s what we better do.  As someone has said, “Your freedom ends where my nose begins.”  Friend, do you love people more than you love being right?  The question is not, “Can I do this?” but rather, “If I do this, how will it affect another believer?”

5. Personalize your convictions privately (22-23). 

There are certain truths that all believers must accept because they are explicitly taught in Scripture.  However, some of us may feel like we have to tell people what we’ve decided about different debatable topics.  Actually, according to verse 22, the way of wisdom is keep some things private: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”  Your personal convictions are just that – personal.  If they were meant to be for everyone, God would have included them in the Bible.  But He didn’t.  He gave them to you personally and they should stay between the two of you.  

In his book called, Grace Awakening, Chuck Swindoll quotes an unknown author: 

To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring; it means I can’t do it for someone else.

To let go is not to cut myself off; it’s the realization that I can’t control another.

To let go is not to try to change or blame another; I can only change myself.

To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.

To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all outcomes, but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.

To let go is not to deny, but to accept.

To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue, but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.

6. Treasure people like Jesus does (15:1-7). 

Chapter 15 begins with a call for us to be more like Christ when it comes to dealing with fellow Christians: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For even Christ did not please himself…” (1-3). The admonition here is not to become “people pleasers” instead of God pleasers, but to please people instead of pleasing ourselves.  This is very similar to what we read in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  

Are we making a huge sacrifice when we give up something for the sake of another believer?  Compared with what Jesus did for us, nothing is too great for us to do.  No sacrifice we could ever make could match Calvary.  If we want to treasure people like Jesus does, we’re going to need some help.  

Jesus is both our model and our motivation in this regard.  We see this in verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”  Jesus accepts us unconditionally and irrevocably and we should therefore accept others the same way

You Are Accepted

I’m convinced that some of you have a difficult time accepting others because you don’t really accept yourself.  You feel that you’re just so unworthy because of the things you’ve done, or the things you’ve left undone.  Maybe you feel like you can never be forgiven.  Perhaps you’ve been trying to follow a list of do’s and don’ts in order to be accepted by God and you’ve just given up because you always fall short.

I heard a story this week about a guy who took his last college exam for his Logic class.  The professor was known for giving really hard tests and the students were nervous because his standards were impossible to meet.  On this particular day, the professor made one concession, however.  He told them that they could bring as much information as they could fit on an 8½ by 11 sheet of paper.  The students crammed notes and formulas on their pieces of paper and nervously began taking the exam.

But one student came into class accompanied by someone who had his PhD in Logic, pulled out his piece of paper, put it on the floor, and had this brilliant scholar stand on the paper next to his desk.  This student was told everything he needed to know and aced the final!

Friend, your final exam will only have one question on it: “Why should I let you into heaven?”  When your time for judgment comes, it won’t do you any good to cram all your good deeds on a piece of paper.  The only way you’ll be accepted into heaven is if you’ve accepted the one who alone has passed the test.

Jesus has accepted you.  He loves you just the way you are.  He now waits for you to accept Him by receiving Him into your life.  John 1:12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  Once you accept Him, then you will be able to accept yourself…and others.

Are you ready to do that right now?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?