Romans 14 February 24, 2002
Jesus said in John 9:5, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
He said this in the context of the man born blind so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
The light that Jesus is, is pure and bright and clean and holy.
By it, we can see clearly since before we were blind by comparison.
Now if we take a scientific look at what light is, we see that it is composed of various different wavelengths of light waves.
When white light is refracted, we can see all the colors of the rainbow.
We had a house in northern Iowa that was built in 1890.
It had the most beautiful oak staircase I have ever seen.
Behind the first landing, facing south, was a leaded, cut glass, keyhole window that gorgeous.
Early in the morning when the sun was up and shining brightly, the light waves would break through that window in a dozen colors and fill the sitting room with all the beauty of diversity that light really is.
I would sit in wonder at God's creative display of color beyond belief.
I could never see all that color if it weren't for that window.
But what would my world be like if everything were red all the time, or green all the time, or orange, or blue, or yellow?
My world would quickly become dull and lop-sided.
It is only when God powerfully puts them all together that we have enough pure white light to see clearly.
It is the plan of God to bring all things in his kingdom together in Christ so we can see his glory clearly, just like pure white light.
Now isn't it strange that we call, and even sense, that white light is pure, when it is made up of different wavelengths?
Perhaps it seems the most pure because white light is the most powerful of the visible forms of light.
The beauty of its different colors comes forth only in contrast with the others.
We all have our favorite color.
Mine is blue, and you have yours.
But is my favorite color better than yours?
No, it merely contrasts with yours, but they all come from God.
As long as your color is part of who Christ is, at least you can see something.
The Bible tells us in 1Cor. 13:12 that, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
In this life, it is hard to see the big picture.
We must trust Christ for that.
And that is the subject of today's passage in Romans 14, "Personal Convictions."
Paul is nearing the end of his sustained argument for unity in the Roman church between the Jewish and Gentile Christians.
He is in a major section at the end of his letter now on the practical implications of the gospel.
Last week, we saw the reasons why we should love one another.
We should love one another because it is a continuing obligation.
We should love one another because it fulfills the law.
We should love one another because of the present time.
We should love one another because it is our response to Jesus.
Why love? –because it is the most reasonable thing you can do:
- in light of who God is.
- in light of salvation history.
- in light of current and future events.
- in light of what Christ has done for you.
Now, in this chapter, he focuses on one aspect of how we are to carry out that love.
The details of his exhortation are unique to the situation of the Roman church, but the lessons apply to all churches in all ages and locations, since people are pretty much the same in their struggles.
The details concern matters of personal conviction regarding special foods and special days unique to Jewish Christians – convictions that the Gentile Christians largely didn't hold.
But that doesn't mean we don't have our own issues and matters of personal conviction that can drive us apart if we let them – especially if we start judging one another in disputable matters of right and wrong.
What are some of those issues in today's church world?
They might be matters of where to work, whether to work on Sunday, whether mothers should work, whether kids should go to public school or parochial school or home school, what kind of car we should own, whether alcohol is alright in moderation, and of course what kind of foods are best for you, whether the Sabbath is Sunday or Saturday, or how one is to take communion, whether we should raise our hands in worship, the value of celibacy, or speaking in tongues, and how about the whole area of politics?
I'm sure you can think of others – matters of personal conviction – areas where you are following Christ the best you know how with the light you seem to have, whatever color it is.
But we had best make sure that whatever color is our favorite, it is the light of Christ shining in our souls and not some "invisible" wavelength.
We must be reminded that:
"Everything is permissible for me"— but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"— but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NIVUS)
"Everything is permissible"— but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"— but not everything is constructive. (1 Corinthians 10:23 NIVUS)
Our desire should always be for that which is brighter and clearer and purer and more powerful and holy.
And that is ultimately the light of heaven in our glorified state when we are with Christ forever.
I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:27-28 NIVUS)
I wonder how humbled we will be when we finally see clearly like he does?
So should you or I judge each other if I believe blue is best and you red?
But let us never forget that we have the Word of God by which all things are judged.
If our personal convictions come to be a matter that conflicts the gospel, then we drift into the area of false teaching.
This is when we believe something like the value of special foods or days as the means of salvation security rather than God's grace, and it especially drifts over into false teaching when we try to pass this off to others as the way, the truth, and the life rather than the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
False teaching in these areas are specifically condemned by Paul in 1Tim. 4:1-5.
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5 NIVUS)
But the question here in our passage today is of a practical Christian nature on how we can understand this one area of practicing love for one another regarding personal convictions.
How should believers practice love for one another in matters of personal conviction?
I. Cycle One
A. Narrative (vv. 1-4)
We should accept one another by understanding that each believer is a servant of God.
[You are not their Master.]
II. Cycle Two
A. Narrative (vv. 5-9)
We should accept one another by understanding that each believer has life in Christ.
[You are not their Savior.]
Paul puts it in absolute life and death terms – that we belong to God.
III. Cycle Three
A. Narrative (vv. 10-13a)
We should accept one another by understanding that each believer will be accountable to God.
[You are not their Judge.]
How far can we go in matters of judging one another?
No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. (1 Corinthians 11:19 NIVUS)
Primarily, judgment must be left to God.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: (2 Corinthians 5:10-18 NIVUS)
Our ministry (job) is reconciliation under Christ by becoming who he wants us to be much more than judging others by what we think they should be.
IV. Cycle Four
A. Narrative (vv. 13b-21)
We should accept one another by understanding how our own personal convictions may affect others.
[But you are their keeper.]
V. Cycle Five
A. Narrative (vv. 22-23)
We should accept one another by first understanding our own responsibility before God.
[And you must first keep faith yourself.]
How should believers practice love for one another in matters of personal conviction?
We should accept one another by understanding that each believer is a servant of God. (vv. 1-4) [You are not their Master.]
We should accept one another by understanding that each believer has life in Christ. (vv. 5-9) [You are not their Savior.]
We should accept one another by understanding that each believer will be accountable to God. (vv. 10-13a) [You are not their Judge.]
We should accept one another by understanding how our own personal convictions may affect others. (vv. 13b-21) [But you are their keeper.]
We should accept one another by first understanding our own responsibility before God. (vv. 22-23) [And you must first keep faith yourself.]
Unity in the church is a matter of love in allowing every true believer the freedom of being accountable to God first of all.
What matters most is submitting ourselves to God in good faith.
But this doesn't mean there is no place for proper teaching or that we should not all desire to be on the same page.
As so often true in the Bible, a balanced approach is best.
But what are your convictions?
Do you have any?
Do others have any that you struggle with?
I think God wants us to have convictions and be true to them, as long as we are first of all true to him.
The first matter of conviction is believing God in Christ.
Everything else falls under that.
If we all followed Christ to the fullest sense of our own conscience, would we have any unity problems?
But we are each and every one of us at different stages of fullness in how we understand God and what he wants of us.
And that is the freedom that we must allow (in confidence that each is following Christ the best he knows how) in order to have unity.
The question is: are you doing what you know (or believe) God wants you to do?
ILLUS: "Others May, You Cannot" (tract)
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 NIVUS)
Now that is personal conviction.