That’s a good title, isn’t it? That’s the end of my sermon. Matthew, can you come up to lead rededication?
About a year ago, during the transition period when I was preparing to pastor this church, I prayed to God about what to teach. And we ended up in Romans. I thought this made sense because I wanted our church and I believe God wanted our church to start with a firm foundation on Jesus Christ. Because like a house built on sand, if Jesus is not the foundation of this church, then it will be just a matter of time before the rains come and everything falls apart. Jesus is the foundation. He is the Root of our salvation. He is the gospel embodied. That’s why we are here, to proclaim and celebrate the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ in all of our lives.
Why is the gospel good news? It speaks to the human condition that we were sinners, utterly cut off from God and deserving of eternal wrath. That there was no one righteous, not even one. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. And into this hopeless situation, the good news of Jesus came into the world. He came to suffer and die and to drink every last drop of the wrath of God in our place. And for those who repent and put their faith in Christ, there is salvation. This is the gospel. And those who understand this great and glorious gospel are called in Romans 12 to offer your bodies as living sacrifices. This implies that how we think, our theology and doctrine, are not all that matter, although that, too, is very important. But it also matters greatly how we live, the choices we make, how we invest our time. Offer your BODIES as living sacrifices. And in the very same chapter, Paul teaches that we are not just saved as individuals, it’s not just me and God, but God calls us to be members of the body of Christ, the church.
And so we, the elders, started to focus on coming up with a curriculum for prospective members a few months ago. And quite recently, we began to teach about why church membership is important. Thankfully, we just completed our first round of membership classes last month. And all of this was done, at least in my mind, with Romans 14 in view. That is the text we will be covering today.
When I started teaching from Romans last year, I had my eye on this chapter. Chapter 14 is the chapter that I was most excited to preach a year ago because it shows the glorious potential of a church living out the gospel, and working through its issues to emerge as a bride of Christ more beautiful and radiant than ever before. At the same time, honestly, I dreaded this chapter because what if we don’t measure up? And we fail, and we dishonor God, what then? And if that were the case and we fell short, into that gap between where we are now and where we hope to be, there is a lot of suffering and prayer and humbling that I wasn’t sure I or anyone else a year ago wanted to undergo.
Because after you commit to a church, what’s next? Principles are nice. Sermons are nice. But are we gathered here simply to jot down some notes, learn some new insights and then go our separate ways and live on our own the rest of the week? Is that what it means to be a part or a member of a church? No, we are members of the body of Christ. We are linked, there is an interconnectedness, a web of relationships that form and deepen. The relationships are tested, they bend, but they stand the test of time. Living out our spiritual lives can be messy business, and without the sustaining guidance of the Holy Spirit, it will fall apart. I’ve seen it. Perhaps you’ve seen it as well.
Because church is not merely a social organization. A good mission statement and a clear vision and a charismatic leader and a stellar corporate strategy is not what a church needs. Those things can help, but that’s not the glue that holds us together. Christ is what holds us together. He is the head and the church is a spiritual organism, a living and breathing body of Christ, connected to and directed by Jesus. And like a physical body, Christ is the one who is sovereign and He is the one who brings us together so that we can choose to link our destinies with one another, or however long God allows us to be together. And just as infants grow into toddlers and toddlers to adolescents and then to adulthood, church members also grow. We ought to grow. Of course, there are times when we get sick. And others carry us. Somebody gives us spiritual chicken soup. Because we all go through seasons when we need to rest and to heal. But if the church is a place where Jesus dwells and we, together, are His church, then among us, there should be signs of life, and growth, and joy, and fruit, and transformation. If not, we have to ask, Jesus, are you really here or have you left our presence?
Church is a not a building. It’s not a synagogue. It’s a living, breathing spiritual body of believers connected to one another as each of us is connected to Christ, who is our head. This is what Romans has been about. The gospel of Jesus Christ, Jesus coming and dying on a cross and everything culminates in the birth of His body, the church.
Now, we get to Romans 14. And here, Paul lays out some principles and I think it would be wise if we kept these principles close to our hearts as we strive to be a body of Christ that honors our Lord and Savior and submits to His leading.
I consider this chapter to be a kind of report card to measure the health of our church, and any church for that matter. I don’t think God grades on an absolute scale, thankfully, because He is gracious more than our professors and bosses. For example, I don’t think God gives anyone or any church an A+. But in places like Revelation, God certainly commends certain churches and critiques other churches. I think of God as a teacher handing out report cards like the ones we used to receive in kindergarten. If you have young kids, you know what I am talking about.
The report card has items on it like:
- Understands the importance of health and safety
- Listens attentively
- Recognizes basic geometric shapes
- Is considerate and respectful of others
And there are various ways to grade the kids on these items.
- Not yet within expectations. [In other words, your kid is kind of hurting but I don’t want to offend you, Mom or Dad, so let me reword this in the least offensive way. Not yet within expectations, not bad, needs a little improvement.]
- Meets expectations at a beginning level.
- Fully meets expectations.
- Exceeds expectations.
And I see Romans 14 as one of those texts that we need to keep revisiting in order to evaluate how we are doing. Where can we improve? Are there ways that we get a grade from God — exceeds expectations. Wouldn’t that be something? On judgment date, this is something like Jesus saying to some — well done, my good and faithful servant. That test on judgment day is one you don’t want to fail. And I pray that all of us pass with flying colors — Well done, exceeds expectations.
Read text. It’s a bit long so I will read every verse so please follow along in your Bibles.
This topic about the health of the church and the practical stuff about being the church and living out the gospel in community is such an important topic that I decided to divide this message into two parts. So in this message, I want to lay out some of the principles and then in part 2, I will flesh out more of the practical implications.
At a high level, Paul defines the kingdom of God first in terms of what it is not. The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking.
What is Paul referring to by eating and drinking? We know from the context that Paul was speaking to a divided church. On one side, you have the Gentile Christian majority and they are referred to here as the “strong” in faith. On the other side, you have the Jewish Christian minority that are referred to as the “weak” in faith. And I put the word “strong” and the word “weak” in quotes because what does it mean to be strong in faith anyway? We may be stronger than others in some areas, but we all have our limitations and weaknesses. So a person strong in prayer may be weak in evangelism. So this distinction of strong and weak depends on each individual issue and needs to be taken on a case by case basis.
Among them, there is a disagreement regarding matters of food and drink. First, the strong eat all kinds of food while the weak eat only vegetables. Second, the strong drink wine while the weak abstain. Sounds like a very contemporary issue. Third, there was a question about observance of the Sabbath. The strong make no distinction among days while the weak value some days more than others.
This is the classic separation between the Jews and Gentiles that we see from Old Testament history. You have the Jews upholding the Mosaic law from the Old Testament. And then you have the Gentiles who say, rightly, that we are under a New Covenant. Testament means covenant, so New Testament means New Covenant so we are under a new covenant. No longer are we held to the law of Moses but we are now held to the law of Christ. And Christ defines his law as a law of love. You could say that this split is between the religious or those who are extremely familiar with the Old Testament law, they know the rules and regulations backwards and forwards. And you have the non-religious, those who know nothing about the Mosaic law, they’ve never fasted in their lives and they’ve never restricted what they ate. These Gentile Christians had an upbringing that was utterly non-religious or they followed some other religion, but now Jesus saved them. And these Roman Gentile Christians are looking at their Christian brothers and sisters who grew up with their Jewish heritage and they are wondering, how come these guys are so uptight? You see the tension in this church?