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As Paul continues the practical outworking of our Christian faith he address an issue that is not just fixed to the first century church, but a problem that has seen damage in the church in every generation. Paul addresses the human problem of judging. In the context of chapter 14 of Romans, Paul is telling the church then and now that there is no place for judging in the fellowship of believers. He makes this clear in a number of verses that conclude each time by taking us to God’s perspective. It is God alone who is judge and as judge he sees us through his son Jesus because our faith is in him for our salvation.

Rather than judging, Paul takes us in the second half of the chapter to consider how we can build each other up. Once again, this doesn’t come without a challenge as Paul warns us that our freedom to do certain things can cause another to stumble. We are to be a church that speaks well of Jesus as we live well for him together. We are to think of others before ourselves and live Biblically as Paul directs us.

Romans – The heart of the Gospel is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. Find out more at

David McCullagh:

Let me encourage if you do have your Bible to turn there to Romans chapter 14 and follow along with those 23 verses as we take a look at it this evening. This morning I invited folks to come this evening and to see how faith in Jesus is lived out. This morning we were talking about that hope that we saw in Genesis chapter 50 even though it was a story of burial rituals and everything that went along. It demonstrated the great faith that Jacob and the children of Israel had as they brought their father back to be buried in the land of promise. 400 years later, they would settle there. None of them that were alive in that moment would see it, but yet they had such great faith. And so, that teaches us of the great faith we are to have in the land that we are promised. But what does that look like? What does it look like to wait for that day as we saw this morning when Jesus will return? And as we know in the first 11 chapters of Romans we've looked at Paul's great theology of what it means to believe the faith. Well now he does come pretty hard on us as we look from chapter 12 through to the end of this book at what it means to live the faith. And in many ways, I didn't plan it like this, but this is quite a good passage to look at on this day of Pentecost. If we believe that in Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, it is the Spirit that not only works in us to strengthen us and to spur us on, but unites us as God's people in one Spirit, then what we see here is how we, the church, believers in Jesus, are to live. And it's going to be hard reading and hard learning for us. So be prepared because I doubt that there's any one of us will leave this building without being challenged as I have been in the week of preparation for this. Because what we get in Romans chapter 14 are the standards of God's people in how they relate to each other and how they live in fellowship together. but also how we live differently from the world. And Paul takes us through two aspects of what our life together should be like, so that we may honor the gospel and show that God's way is indeed the best way for all humanity. And in my training to go overseas as a global mission worker with the Presbyterian Church, I had to consider what it meant to work in a multicultural team. We all approach life with a certain expectation, that everyone is just like us. And if they're not like us, well then they should be like us. I was going to work with a staff team in our office of about seven or eight, but a wider team of about 10 or 12, all of whom were Malawian. But just because they all came from the one country, that's four and a half times the size of Northern Ireland, it didn't mean that the cultures in which they grew up in were the same. And I found that out quite quickly. I wasn't going into an office of one culture that I had to adjust to. We were all of different cultures and practices that we each needed to understand. One approach to this that I found helpful was to consider, in this book, Biblical Multicultural Themes, how our childhood forms each of us. In fact, our childhood homes define us. Did we share a bedroom? Did we have a table to eat at? Did we have electricity? Did we have running water? Did we pray before every meal? Did we go to church together? Did we walk? Did we have a car? Are all questions that determine our perspective on life. And by the way, each of us in this building will even have different answers for that because there will be some of you who didn't have electricity in your home. who didn't have running water and you grew up living in this area depending on the shore for your survival. Whereas those of us who are younger have known all the benefits of modern life and that shapes us in how we view life. And one earlier piece of advice that I received from an old New Tribes missionary to Papua New Guinea was to approach culture in this way. It's not wrong, it's different. And that might be fine in approach to how we enter another's world, but the culture of the church is determined by scripture. It's not a, a Woolworth's pick and mix. If you remember walking into Woolworth's and turn right, and you'll see that great wall of sweets. It's not that kind of pick and mix where we get to choose the aspects of church life that we like and leave those we don't like. Because in chapter 14, Paul sets a standard for us that transcends our individual cultures and brings us to the economy of God's people and how we are to live together as children of the King. I think it would have been wonderful if you all grew up in County Armagh, particularly in Keaty. But I know you didn't. And even as you grew up in Annalong, some of you grew up on the shore, some of you grew up on the mountains, some of you grew up in the village, and dare I say it, some of you grew up in Kilkeel, we're all different. We'll all have a different view, but the economy of God's kingdom transcends our individual preferences and our individual culture. And Paul wants to sharpen our focus on this, so that we will live well, live life in the Holy Spirit, as is directed by Scripture. And so chapter 14 helpfully divides into two parts that we must pay attention to. Verses 1 to 12 are about our consideration of others and what grace looks like in the fellowship. And verses 13 to 23 challenge us in our actions as part of God's family in the church. So let's begin with verse 1 and what really are we're asked to consider are the dangers of passing judgment. Through this first section Paul presents two seemingly opposing sides. Weak faith versus strong faith. Conscience on what we can eat and consideration of special days. Each example here sets a member of the family of the church against another in how each perceive what is a practice of faith. At the heart of it, at the heart of it Paul is trying to describe a superior attitude that some may have. There is someone who sets a standard based on their practice Their expectation, and their habit, and expects everyone else to meet that standard. Thereby everyone else can be judged, except of course the one person who's doing the judging, because they get to set the rules. It's quite a convenient position to sit in. But this is actually the problem that Paul wants to address. Look at what he says in verse four. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. See, here's a warning from Paul that must be taken seriously. Rather than giving an answer to each individual scenario that he's presented, Paul provides a principle for us to follow. We look at each other from God's perspective. None of us are perfect, and we never will be perfect, I'm sorry to tell you that, until eternity. And although we are to encourage each other along the road of faith, and keep each other accountable, we do not judge, for that alone is the right of God. The two scenarios that Paul presents in verse 1 and verse 2 are about those who are perceived to have weak faith and those who view freedom to eat one type of food rather than another, and that's the argument that this is settling in. So this must have been, as we know from other churches in the early church, an issue that was a hot topic. And Paul warns in verse 3, Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has ordered it. You see again the perspective of God. Uh, verse 3 and as we saw in verse 4. And this is where these verses Paul is pointing us to. He's pointing us to God. You see the standard is not ours. The standard. God has welcomed the one who will eat anything. And he's welcomed the one who will eat only vegetables. And it is God who receives the one who is perceived to have weak faith. We are not the justifiers. God is, and it is He who knows the heart. And this should be an encouragement to us as well as a challenge, because as easily as we can be the one in one moment who judges the circumstances of others, so our circumstances can change in an instant, and we can so easily become the one who is then judged. But this is our confidence, that it is the same rule that stands. It is the Lord who judges. So what Paul calls us to, is to live life from his perspective. We are warned against judging others, because that is not our right. That is God's right. And as one moment we can be the judge, next minute we can be the judged, based on the circumstances. That can be controlled by us, or that can be out of our control. Now this doesn't mean that we get off scot free. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and each of us are called to encourage, and as we'll see later in this passage, to build up each other in the faith, as well as keep, keeping each other on that road of faith. And that's the principle that Jesus gives us in Matthew 18 and verse 15, when he tells us how to deal with fellow believers who would sin against us, and thereby be out of step with what is the rule of faith. Amen. And Jesus says, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother, or gained your brother. See, we are to encourage each other in faith. Jesus doesn't say, go and judge him, go and tell him what's wrong and sit in a judge's seat. Jesus says, go and have that grace filled conversation. That grace filled conversation that we had with Jesus, who graciously forgive us. Amen. So that we can know the forgiveness that we can offer to others as well as true restoration in Fellowship and in unity in the spirit and this is what verses 5 and 6 go on to say Before we judge we should understand the perspective of the other person and why they believe or practice Such things when we even try to understand then we learn the reason behind the action That's why Paul in verse 6 says, The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God. While the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord, and gives thanks to God. What the heart of the matter is here, is the relationship with God. Are they doing something out of genuine worship of God, or are they simply being led astray into practices? We simply can't rush in and judge. We must understand why someone is doing what they're doing. We don't do that by listening to idle gossip. We don't do that by making up a scenario that fits what we want it to fit. We listen. We ask. And together in the Spirit, we determine what is the way of Scripture. And it's verse 8 that gives us the foundations of this. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. Again, the perspective here is heavenly. It is the Lord's perspective. If someone does something that we don't agree with from our perspective, but isn't contrary to Scripture, then we entrust them and ourselves to the Lord. Amen. And this again is good news for us, because it releases us from the risk of judging others. And Paul concludes this section by once again forcing us to take the heavenly perspective. We may think that we are defending the faith, but in reality we are a judge wanting things to be done our way because of our preference. Paul cautions this by reminding us that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. And in verse 12, he goes on to say, So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Rather than judging, perhaps our response as the fellowship of God's people is to ensure we maintain such strong fellowship together that we grow and mature together in biblical faith. This means we attend together Sunday worship morning and evening. It means we attend the prayer meetings together morning and evening on a Sunday. It means we attend the midweek where we gather around God's word and we take time to pray together. We take part in the times of the week that we have the opportunity to be together, not in a serving capacity where we don't have the time to fellowship, but in the moments when we can listen and share the truth of God in our lives. This is what Paul's calling us to, to live together as the church is supposed to live. We're in the Spirit on this day of Pentecost. We know true unity and true love, where we actually approach people. We talk to them and not about them. And so having considered what is a natural part of our humanity, to be the judges of others, and setting us on the path of building up others, we move on to the second half of the passage and consider what it means to support one another. Paul only takes a breath in verse 13 and tells us that the outworking of not judging is to decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way I don't know what's wrong with me, but I will trip over absolutely anything and always have. When I was three, I tripped over a hoover and gashed open my chin. On going to the doctor's surgery and getting stitches, my father fainted at the sight of the blood and stitches. Even today, with the children's toys, I'm going to take out private liability because someday I'm going to break a neck. I know what a stumbling block is. It can be the smallest stone that I'll trip over, or it can be a hoover. And you know what it's like too. That's the image that's been painted here for us. That in fact, not that there's a stumbling block out there, but that we don't become the stumbling block. The stumbling block that will make someone trip and falter in faith. We perhaps don't think of ourselves like this, and indeed we don't intentionally desire to put up stumbling blocks for others. But nevertheless, they are things that can hinder others in the faith, and in due course, hinder us. in the faith. I don't think any of us would want to consider our practices and our ways of worship that they would be a stumbling block to the faith. Verse 14 is a verse that gives us some perspective on this, where Paul says, I know and I'm persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. What Paul is doing in this verse is he's implying that he is among those. whom he considers strong, and he gives us a personal testimony. He has a firm conviction, grounded in his relationship with Christ, that Jewish food laws and their clean or unclean restrictions are no longer binding. Not only does Jesus teach this, but Paul's vision in Acts chapter 10 and And the further interactions that he has with Cornelius confirm that Peter should not declare unclean what God is now giving his people permission to partake of freely. And Paul is living out this same conviction. This is where the weak can stumble. Their own misguided conscience can make them feel guilty when objectively they're actually not. Any particular food is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. And as much as he has said in verse 3 that we should, that we shouldn't judge what someone eats. He goes on to say in verse 15, that we do have a responsibility to be careful in what we do. In this case, in what we eat. Just because we think it is okay, doesn't mean that it won't cause someone else to stumble. And we know how it's gone in the past. Without going into any real controversial areas, we know what was said of the cinema. It's good for a Christian not to go to the cinema because in the cinema, in the darkness, nobody knows what you're watching. Because of course it will be judged that even though you're going in to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, people will assume you're going in to see The Terminator or some other movie that is inappropriate for an age group or has violence that is counter to the Bible. And of course, we lived by that, or I grew up in that, that you didn't go to the cinema because you didn't want to lead other people astray. And it might be that that is still something that should be practiced today for some of you. But it goes against, or it goes with the principle that what Paul is saying here. We have to be careful in what we do. Be careful that we don't put ourselves in a place where someone will then judge us, which Paul has said they shouldn't do. But even if we're going in to see Snow White. We shouldn't have someone believe that we're going in to see something that we're not. And so Paul again draws our focus to what is really the whole argument of this passage, the economy of God's kingdom. In verse 17 he helps us understand what he's saying. He says, For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Do you see what he's saying here? We can easily pick up on the perceived faults and practices of others, and completely ignore the kingdom that we are both part of. Look at what the currency of the kingdom is in this verse. Righteousness. and peace and joy. And don't we want all three of those? Don't we want to know that we're right before God through Jesus Christ? That we don't have to pay the punishment ourselves that our sin deserves? Don't we want peace? Not just a fleeting peace of this world, but a deep seated peace that only Christ can give. And don't we want joy? Don't we want more than happiness? A joy that takes us from this world and assures us of the next? Notice that our joy is in the Holy Spirit. It is the life giving contentment in the Gospel that the Holy Spirit gives us, that keeps us in unity and fellowship together. The commentator Iain M. Duguid says this, Where righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit are present, the strong and the weak in a congregation will not be clashing, but the weak And perhaps damaging firstly each other and secondly the mission of the church by their attitudes and actions. I think Dugood does a good expression here of what happens when we don't keep the fellowship, when we're not living by the Spirit, when we are judging others. It brings us to disunity and it hinders the mission of the church. The challenge, as Paul directs us in verse 19, is to pursue the things that ensure our peace together as God's people and to build us up as the church. This might mean that we have to let certain things go and accept that that fella from Katie is, he's always going to do it that way. And I'm going to have to be settled that Analong people are always going to do the things they do their way. It's not that it's not biblical, it's not wrong, it's just different. And But this is how we live together, united in the Holy Spirit. And so to conclude this chapter, where Paul has been directing us about how we live and should live as the church, he concludes in verses 20 to 23, again returning to the example of food and how it is consumed. And what he drives home here is that we need to sacrifice self in order to edify others. To sacrifice self in order to edify the world. We still build the church by watching how we speak and how we act when fellow believers disagree. And Christians do disagree. And we disagree about food and drink, the use of our time and the use of our money. They did it in the early church and we still do it today. But at the heart of any debate or discussion should be the gospel. Insisting on personal rights at the expense of others is one way to forget the gospel. Paul's counsel for the church, facing controversy, is whatever the controversy may be, we should pursue the truth in the gospel. Ever being led by the Holy Spirit, so that we will be faithful to that calling that is placed on our lives. And in verse 22 he tells us, The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. We are to preserve the integrity of the gospel in our walk with the Lord. We are called to maturity in faith and not to settle for a shallow faith that will be tossed around by influences within and outside the church. We must affirm that everything we do is grounded in scripture. It is scripture and scripture alone that is our supreme standard and so it will be our guide. That's why Paul finishes this chapter with saying, For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Now that should wake us up. Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. And so if you aren't reading your Bible, please start to read it. And if you don't have a Bible, I'll get you one. And I'll get you Bible reading notes so that you can grow and mature in the faith. We make sure that our teaching resources are available online so that you can listen again or you can catch up on what you miss. We don't do that because we think it's good to do, we do it because we want people to grow in faith. We want you to grow deep in the word so that your faith matures. Now, I invited you to come this morning to see how that life of hope lives out in faith and you could be going, well, I know what the church is like and it ain't like this, so why would I be part of it? And so the question could easily come, is faith worth all of this? Well, yes it is. Because tonight, if you're here because of my invitation this morning, we as the church don't always get it right, and I will be the first to put up my hand to admit it. And our judgmental spirit and my judgmental spirit can overtake how we are to live by God's standard, as has been told to us this evening by Paul. Please don't judge the value of faith. Faith on human beings because we will fail. We are all sinners and we all need God's grace. Faith is worth it because it comes from God. And if you're exploring faith, well, trust. in Christ this evening. And together we will learn how to live. We will mature together and we will grow in faith because this is the encouragement from the writer of Hebrews as they say in Hebrews 10 verses 24 to 25. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you. See the day drawing. We are presented this evening with what the church should be. I wonder can we strive, not in our own strength, but in the strength of the Lord. Oh, we'll not get it right. I know we'll not get it right every time, but let's be dependent on the Lord. Let us be together as often as we can so that we truly get to know each other. And that not only do we know that growth and maturity and faith together, but we will stand firm on the gospel because it turns out our faith is worth it. And indeed, if you're exploring faith, come on to Jesus, draw near to him, and be part of what is his blessing to us. the church of Jesus Christ. So let's grow to be the church that speaks well of Jesus as we live well for him together. Let's think of others before ourselves and let's live biblically as Paul directs us. Let us pray. Our Father God, too often we think the heart of the gospel is about coming to Jesus and being saved and that's it. But as Paul opens up the heart of the gospel to us, the gospel is as much about how we live as followers of Jesus as well. So those who have faith, help us to live better for Christ. Forgive us for the ways that we have failed this standard and help us to stand strong in the days that are ahead because we will need to stand together as the world's persecution ever increases upon us. And for those here tonight who are asking, is faith worth it? Father, convince and assure this night that indeed it is, and that in coming to faith in Jesus Christ, we know not only the blessing of salvation, but we know the fellowship together of your people, united in the Holy Spirit. And so Father, how good it is that together we worship and we continue to grow. So as we pray and as we respond, may we take your word seriously and we ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

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