Essentials and Non-Essentials
Romans Lesson #151
August 7, 2014
Let's open the Scripture and focus on the Word. Turn to Romans 14. We're looking at dealing with the difference between how we handle the essentials and non-essentials in the Christian way of life. We started out with this last week. The issue is laid down in the first four verses where Paul commands us to accept and receive in fellowship the person who is weak in faith.
The word weak in faith indicates someone who is spiritually immature. We're not to get engaged in disputes and arguments and debates over these opinions. Some people have one opinion. Others have another opinion but it's not an opinion that is specifically stated in the Word of God. Sometimes this is expressed as "doubtful things" but it's not really doubtful things, it's talking about areas where there's nothing specifically stated from Scripture.
We see in this passage that there are a couple of different issues that show up. Part of it is about dietary issues just as there's a meat issue in 1 Corinthians 8. As I pointed out last time Romans 14:14 makes it clear that this is likely to be an issue between Jewish background Christians who were brought up trained in their tradition all their lives to follow the laws of kashrut, eating kosher, not eating treif which is the opposite of kosher. This would be very difficult for them if you had been living this way for thirty, forty, or fifty years of your life. You might feel very uncomfortable if that was drilled into you. You wouldn't want to go out and have bacon-wrapped jalapeno-stuffed shrimp. That might not fit with your conscience.
In Romans 14:14 Paul says, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself." He uses clean/unclean terminology which would indicate it's probably going back to the Mosaic Law where there's clean and unclean food. I also pointed out that as we go through this there are really three types of believers. The passage only addresses the weaker or immature believer and the stronger or the mature believer. The weaker believer has humility but he's uncertain about what's right and what's wrong in these areas. He's uninformed because he hasn't studied the Scriptures so he has false norms and standards in his conscience. He's grace oriented but he is easily influenced and swayed by the opinions of others because he hasn't had time to think through the issues himself.
In contrast to the weaker believer you have the stronger, mature believer who also has humility and is grace oriented. He has studied and through his views and he has a well-thought out conviction of how he should live and what he should practice. He's basing his views on divine viewpoint but he's open to correction because he's characterized by humility. He's grace oriented but he's not easily influenced or swayed in a negative sense. He knows what he believes and he's not going to be easily swayed to one position one day and another position another day.
Then you have the third category not really mentioned here but you run into these people a lot. In fact what I discovered when I was young and I think this is an issue that concerns younger Christians rather than older Christians because they're faced with a lot of issues in life as to whether they're going to participate in certain things or not which are not mentioned in Scripture, as such. These are the legalists. These are the ones trying to impose their well-thought through convictions on others when it's not an area discussed in the Bible.
The legalist-Pharisee type tends to be arrogant. He has well-thought-out convictions but the problem is he's imposing them on others. He thinks that if he believes it's the right thing for him, it ought to be the right thing for everyone else. So he's not open to correction. He is works-oriented because these examples we have is of people still thinking that there is spiritual value to following the Mosaic Law. They think it accrues to their spiritual growth when it doesn't so they're works-oriented. They, like the mature believer, are not easily influenced. They have their convictions and they're not going to be swayed but they quickly take offense.
That last category is important. We live in a hypersensitive world today. A result of hypersensitivity is politically correct speech. You see this with all of these various minority groups, whether it's senior citizens or handicapped, which is not the correct term. I used to tell wheelchair jokes a lot but people don't understand it now that my mother's not around. She loved handicap jokes. I told you the story last time that I was born in an iron lung. I came home one day and I mentioned a "Little Johnny" joke, which you may remember. I was probably 12 years old and I said, "Did you hear what happened? Johnny came in to his mother and said he's unplugged his dad's iron lung." His mother said, "Well, what did he say?" I answered with a breathless gasp. My mother almost fell out of her wheelchair she was laughing so hard.
When you grow up in an environment like that and no one's hypersensitive and no one's running around screaming about their handicap rights and everything you have a different attitude about this. I've learned that people don't know all that and they think we're really insensitive. I'm probably more aware of these issues than most people are. We used to go on family vacations back in the 50s when no one had a restroom door that was wider than 26" and wheelchairs were 28". That was always a major problem. So those kinds of things people never think about.
Anyway, the Pharisee takes offense at everything. You say something innocently and he's going to take offense and have a chip on his shoulder. This is what has happened in our culture. It's dominated by self-righteousness. It happens on both the left and the right side of the spectrum but we hear it a lot especially from minority groups. People just can't relax anymore about anything.
You go back into the 20s or 30s and people had fun little terms for different ethnic groups. People who were part of those ethnic groups used those terms for themselves. In World War II the Brits were the "limeys", the French were the "frogs", all of this sort of thing, and no one even took offense at those things. Now if anyone even says those things everyone gets all uptight and someone's going to accuse someone else of hate speech and on and on. That's a result of a hypersensitivity and it's a result of someone who doesn't have a relaxed mental attitude and someone who's not grace oriented.
This is why you often had these kinds of conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees because Jesus would do something that was completely permissible by the Mosaic Law but it wasn't permitted by the Pharisaical tradition and so they would get all upset and accuse Jesus of being a blasphemer because they're operating on a false set of values. So when we run into people who are building their whole vocabulary in life on the basis of politically correct speech and the hypersensitivity of certain people you know right away you're dealing with someone who is arrogant and who is a legalist and has a pharisaical mentality.
Now that's not the issue here but a lot of time and in my experience when I was a young man there were always certain believers who would tell me I couldn't do that. They were imposing their beliefs on me. It wasn't that they would stumble if I did something like that because they were mature believers. Pharisees don't stumble. So often what I observed in life is that the people who are more concerned about someone participating in one of these doubtful activities is that the people were more worried about offending the mature, arrogant Pharisees, not the immature brother who might stumble.
And so Paul recognizes that for the immature believer who is untaught that this is legitimate. One person believes he can eat all things but the person who is weak is eating only vegetables. Now this isn't a vegetarian issue. The reason this would happen in this culture was if an observant Jew was invited to the home of a Gentile, he wasn't sure if the meat was the product of kosher killing, according to the Mosaic Law or what the circumstances would be around anything else. The only thing he felt he was safe to eat was the vegetables. So he would only eat vegetables if he went to a Gentile house. That helps explain what Paul is talking about.
The issue that we see introduced in the first four verses is that because of arrogance and not understanding or applying the law of love these believers in immaturity were judging one another over these non-essentials. And by judging it's not just making a statement like, "Well, they just don't understand the issue yet". No, they were making spiritual decisions about a person that only God can make as to whether or not that person was saved, and whether or not that person was walking with the Lord. They might say, "Well, I saw that Christian go to the movie theater and it was an "R" rated movie so they must not be a Christian. That was the kind of judgmental decision that was being made.
Romans' 14:3 makes that clear, "Let not him who eats despise the one who does not eat or let not him who not eat judge him who eats, for God has received him." In other words God has accepted both because the issue here is really between the individual believer and the Lord. This is for non-essentials. If you do something that is a violation of a command of Scripture then you're out of fellowship and that's also a matter between you and the Lord. But if you are a believer and you engage in judging others then you're acting like you are God. Now this is really important.
As we talk about this context the issue here has to do with judgment. When we get a little further on we're going to see in Romans 14:10 that Paul says, "Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." See, we're acting like we're the judge at the Judgment Seat of Christ and the background is what's going to happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ. We are going to be evaluated on our decisions and how we apply the Word even in the area of so-called doubtful things.
Romans 14:4 says, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own Master he stands or falls." We are all servants of God and my master is God and his master is God. He's not answerable to me. I'm not answerable to the other believer. Paul goes on to say in Romans 14:4, "Indeed he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." What he means by being "able to stand" is to stand as a believer at the Judgment Seat of Christ receiving rewards.
There are some other ways the word stand is used aside from physical standing. One of them is that we are to stand firm in the faith. At first I thought that was the idea here that God is the One who makes us stand firm in the faith. That's possible but when you look at the overall context several times the reference is to the Judgment Seat of Christ so I think the meaning here is that we will stand in approval at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
I drew up this diagram of a triangle. At the top we have God and the Trinity. The theta in the middle represents the Greek word "Theos" for God. On the left you have the strong or mature believer. On the right you have the weak or immature believer. The arrows go in both directions between each individual believer and God and the arrow that goes from the strong believer to the weak believer has a red X through it because we're not answerable to one another. God is the one who judges us and we are answerable only to Him. That's the point in verse 4.
Our standing is indicated by how well we apply the four laws which I went over last week. The first is the Law of Love which is mandated by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 13:34-35 as the ultimate indicator as to whether or not you're a disciple. It doesn't refer to whether or not you're a believer but whether you're a growing, maturing disciple. It's a spiritual law based on consideration for others.
A lot of Christianity reflects what I was always taught were good manners. But good manners and good etiquette were actually an outgrowth of a culture that was grounded in the ethics of the Scripture and the idea of showing consideration for others. When you are taught good manners and that's grilled into you as a child, then that is to help you even if you're not a Christian to restrain the baser instincts of your sin nature. In our culture based on the Word of God that we're to show proper consideration for others including ignorant, untaught, immature Christians. We're not to look down upon them and we're not to judge them. So we are to let this law of love govern our behavior.
We also have the Law of Liberty. We recognize that we have true liberty in Christ. In areas not addressed in Scripture that are not sinful then we have the freedom to participate or not to participate. 1 Corinthians 8: 4-9. Then there's the Law of Expediency which indicates that we may remove certain doubtful things from our life just because they might cause a problem with other believers. So rather than creating a situation that might mislead or offend others we may just decide not to participate in that activity at all just because of where we live and the people we're associated with might have a problem with it so I'm just going to recognize that I'll willingly limit myself in those areas so I don't create any problems.
If you're in ministry that may be something that you do as part of personal sacrifice. When I went to Dallas Seminary they had at that time a code of conduct and it was sort of an oddly worded statement. It was introduced by Dr. Walvoord. It wasn't there when Dr. Chafer was there. It stated that they believed that a Christian leader should not participate in any alcohol or tobacco products so we expect our students to abide by this. That was kind of an odd little phrase. Everyone had to sign that and I just believed when I was there that I just wasn't going to be drinking or smoking because that was their policy. This is a basic policy that was set up.
The interesting thing I've learned over the years is that Dr. Walvoord was a prohibitionist because his mother was a temperance marcher. And Dr. Hoehner who was head of the New Testament Studies Department used to give him a hard time. He would always say under his breath as he walked by Dr. Walvoord, "Jesus turned water into wine and it was alcoholic." Walvoord preached a message from the pulpit that it was not wine, that it was just grape juice. He'd been brought up in this home where his mother was a temperance marcher and this was just drilled into him.
The way I know it wasn't that way when Dr. Chafer was president was that a somewhat well-known radio preacher later on in life by the name of J. Vernon McGee from Waxahachie, Texas had gone to Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. They weren't dispensational and they were uptight and legalistic. So he came home after his first year and he had heard about this new seminary. This was about 1932-1933 and he wanted to make sure that they weren't legalistic. He went up there. I think they just had one building at that time which was later called Davidson Hall and he decided to test their grace orientation. He brought with him the largest, stinkiest cigar he could find and when he went in to apply for seminary he lit that cigar up and walked into the admissions office smoking that "stogie". They didn't kick him out and they accepted him and the rest is history. J. Vernon McGee was quite a character.
There are different scenarios that happen over time that people come up with to try to establish these taboos. I've got a list here of taboos that we can have a little fun with. These taboos are prevalent in some parts of the country but not in other parts of the country. One is attending movies. In some part of the country you just never went into a movie. Or watching TV. If you went to Bob Jones or Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music or a number of other Christian schools you couldn't watch TV. There might be one TV on the floor but the hall monitor determined which shows could be watched or couldn't be watched.
You couldn't work for pay on Sunday. Many Christians think of Sunday as the Sabbath. When I was in my first church there was a wonderful elderly lady in her 70s who'd just retired from the mission field at that time. She'd graduated from Moody Bible Institute. She believed you just didn't work on Sunday. No one was to work on Sunday because that was a violation of God's laws. But every Sunday after church she and a group went to Wyatt's Cafeteria for lunch. I asked her one time somewhat jokingly but I wanted to just kind of needle her a little bit, "You don't really think people should work on Sunday?" "No, not at all. It's a sin," she answered. "Well, what about all those poor workers at Wyatt Cafeteria? You expect them to be there working and providing you a meal." She got a look on her face and I don't think she ever went back to Wyatt's Cafeteria again with a clean conscience. I felt terrible.
Other taboos are fishing on Sunday, drinking wine in moderation or even cooking with wine, or attending the theater for live drama. Participating in sports or participating in contact sports or eating food in the church building. We're all just going to go to hell for that. Using any musical instruments in worship. There are some denominations that are that way because they didn't have pianos in the Bible so you can't play a piano in church. They didn't have organs in the Bible so you can't play an organ in church, not to mention a guitar.
Kissing, if you're not married, you can't kiss. Long hair on men. That was big in the late 60s. Taking tranquilizers. Wearing two piece swim suits, or bikinis or something like that. Mixed swimming. They used to call it mixed bathing. I met a guy when I went to seminary who had been a youth pastor in an independent Baptist Church somewhere in the South like Mississippi or Alabama. He told me this story that I just couldn't believe. I had spent a lot of time in college and in high school going on ski trips with Camp Peniel. I don't think they do those any more but we did that a lot. Of course if you go skiing they have those bib overalls and really tight stretch ski pants. But what they did at this church is because they believed women had to dress like women so they had to wear skirts or dresses. So when this church took their youth group skiing, the girls had to wear a dress over their bib overalls, over their ski wear. This was in 1977, just amazing that they still had that belief.
How about life insurance? Some believed that you'd go to hell if you bought life insurance. Or smoked. If you smoke and buy life insurance you're sure to go to hell. Women wearing pants or pants suits to church. Using a Bible other than a King James Version. Or raising tobacco but if you go to certain parts of the Bible Belt and you smoked you were in carnality. But if you smoked in North Carolina or Virginia you were contributing to the economy and you were a mature believer. See, many of these things are culturally determined. Using guitars in worship. Women wearing makeup. Men wearing beards. Women having short hair. Dancing. Those are just some of the things on the list.
These are the kind of taboos. They're used to control people in legalistic denominations. The problem has always been for Christians going back to the 1st century, what's to keep you in line after you're saved? What's to keep you from just living a licentious lifestyle? So denominations would come up with this kind of rules in order to keep everyone in line. That always flows from a core of self-righteousness and arrogance and it creates a false criterion for spirituality. You're defining a person's spiritual status by overt behavior.
This is part of the problem in lordship salvation because ultimately what they're trying to do is quantify fruit. When the Scripture says the believer should produce fruit they want to quantify it and say they saw someone do "x, y, or z" so how could they be a Christian. I think nearly everyone in this room has probably said something close to that at one point or another. Yet if we believe in grace we know a Christian can do anything and they may continue to do it after they're saved because they haven't grown or matured in the Lord at all. Legalists create a rigid network of these taboos or systems of right or wrong that are based on personal opinion, background, tradition, or prejudice. It's just a real problem and creates these false or pseudo systems of spirituality. Instead of teaching the Bible so people can learn to make wise decisions about these things, they just go to this sort of a crib sheet. If an activity's on their crib sheet then they think they can't do it instead of thinking like a mature person and being able to work their way through the issues in different situations and different circumstances. The issue here is going to be knowledge.
In 1 Corinthians 8:7 which is an important parallel passage, Paul says, "Not all men have this knowledge but some being accustomed to the idol before now eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol and their conscience being weak is defiled." We'll get into the issue of conscience in a minute but this is a situation that here you have someone who may be doing something that in and of itself isn't sinful but because of the impact it has on their conscience it becomes sinful.
Now that's a hard thing for us. We want to think of everything as absolutes but there are some things that are relative to your conscience. So the weaker brother is weak because he's weak in faith according to Romans 14:1 and 23. Here it brings up this issue of conscience again. "He who doubts is condemned if he eats because he does not eat from faith for whatever is not from faith is sin." In other words if you were coming from a Jewish background and you've been trained that you can't eat pork. Now when you're fifty years old and you sit down and you're going to have a bacon sandwich there's something in your conscience that hasn't really been retrained yet and you feel a little guilty.
What Paul is saying is that you're wrong and you shouldn't eat it if your conscience hasn't changed yet because what you're doing is you're setting a precedent for violating your conscience. We'll get into this a little bit more. So he's weak in faith because he hasn't understood that "whatever is not from faith is sin." Second, the weaker brother's weak because he's weak in knowledge. 1 Corinthians 8:4 Paul says, "Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one." Eating something that's been offered to an idol is irrelevant but if that violates your conscience, then you've got a problem.
1 Corinthians 8:7, "However there is not in everyone that knowledge, for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled." So it may mean nothing but because it may mean something to them it defiles their conscience. I Corinthians 8:10-12, "For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?" So the weak brother caves in and eats at the idol temple restaurant but because he doesn't know you know, for him it's a sin, because he thinks it does mean something. He's still attributing something to the idol.
1 Corinthians 8:11, "And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ." Now that is a hard verse and it's not one of the popular verses that you hear people talk about very often. But it's true. If there is a weaker brother, not a Pharisee or a legalist but someone who's weak and you're in a position where they see you doing something, such as a religious activity in an idolatrous temple, then because they haven't been informed in terms of their concept of right and wrong this leads them to stumble. So that creates an insensitive situation.
Paul is talking about stumbling here with the phrase "wound their weaker conscience". So now the weaker brother thinks it's okay but he's thinking it's okay for all the wrong reasons. So that takes us back to basic principles such as "A right thing done in a right way is right. But a right thing done in a wrong way is wrong and a wrong thing done in a wrong thing is wrong." So what happens here is the stronger brother is doing a right thing in a right way but because the weaker brother hasn't learned the truth which redefines his norms and standards in his conscience he's going to do the right thing but it's for the wrong reasons so that makes it wrong.
Let's discuss conscience here. As unbelievers we all learn a variety of norms and standards which may or may not be compatible with Scripture. Let's say you don't become a believer until you're 30 years of age and you grow up in a libertine atmosphere with pure relativistic morals and ethics which makes you think that anything goes. You have a certain idea of what's right or wrong. When you get saved, these norms and standards are still ingrained in your conscience because you haven't studied the Word to tell you what's right or wrong. Your norms and standards haven't been changed.
Ten minutes or six months after you're saved you're still operating on a set of standards that haven't been transformed by God's Word yet. Since you're living in the 21st century and go to your average generic evangelical church you may be a believer for twenty years before you learn that some things you think are right are really wrong because you're not taught very much. The presence of absolutes in the soul is an indicator of the existence of God. The argument that Paul uses in Romans 2 isn't that the absolutes in your soul are right or wrong but the very fact that you believe there's something wrong and something right means that you have a sense of absolutes and that's an indicator that there are absolutes in the universe.
If you think lying is wonderful such as the film we showed many years ago on the Peace Child and the book on the Peace Child written by Don Richardson. He and his family were with New Tribes Mission and they went to Papua, New Guinea and they worked with a group of people called the Sawi Indians. The greatest thing that one Sawi could do to another was to deceive them, to set up an elaborate deception and walk others through that deception and if it worked, they were successful and that was the highest thing they could do. So lying for them was a really good thing. Well, lying was an absolute in their culture and because it was an absolute, it indicated there was an absolute sovereign God who created absolutes, even though their absolutes were wrong. The fact that they had absolutes indicated the existence of God.
Even unbelievers have absolutes and Paul uses that in Romans 2 to argue for the existence of God. A weak conscience is one that has norms and standards that are not derived from the Bible. So the weak brother has a conscience that isn't correct but it's still a conscience. Therefore when someone with a weak conscience discovers a rationalization to go against his conscience without Biblical support, such as thinking lying is good, once he's taught from the Scripture he's going to change that to think that lying is wrong.
Lying is bad but until he learns that, he still thinks lying is good. Then if he violates that in his conscience Paul is saying that's wrong. He says it sets a precedent for rationalizing against your conscience. That's hard for some people to get their thinking around. If you believe something is wrong and you create a practice of violating that and going against it and breaking that norm in your soul then what you've done is teaching yourself how to rationalize against your conscience. That's why the Scripture says that's a sin because if you become a believer it will be easier for you to violate your conscience when it's right because you've already taught yourself how to rationalize against an absolute, even if that absolute was wrong. Now you've set up a pattern where you can deceive yourself.
[A question is asked: "In the area of gray areas, how can we help weaker people to grow?" Answer: You do help him grow by teaching him. Like I said this is a situation that really has more in common in our culture if someone was an alcoholic and you knew they had a problem with alcohol and you go out to dinner and you order a bottle of wine for the table. That's creating a certain set of circumstances that might make it easy for them to stumble. In both of these scenarios in the Bible they're different from our culture. One is the meat sacrifice in Corinth which had a religious dimension to it. And the issue to the dietary laws and the observance of days and feast times had a religious dimension in the Mosaic Law. That list of all the things that have become taboos in American Christianity most of those things are not done in a religious context. Take dancing. Going to a movie. Watching television. These are not things that have religious connotations to them. Buying life insurance. Playing pool. Playing cards. Gambling. These are not things that have religious connotations attached to them whereas the examples of these opinions we see in Scripture are all areas that are deeply involved and enmeshed with a religious system.]
Anyway, next time we'll continue this and summarize this a little bit as we go on in the chapter.