What about at a church level? What does judgment and gossip, mixed in with anger, do to a church? It divides people into various camps. In the church at Rome, you have Jewish Christians on one side judging the Gentile Christians. Imagine a conversation between two Jewish Christians, if you will. Can you believe sister Mary was eating that meat? I know, and I heard from sister Phoebe that Mary was also working last week on the Sabbath? You don’t say. Those Gentiles, how can they pollute themselves and break the laws so flippantly? Can’t you picture a conversation like this? A judgmental flame fanned by gossip. That’s one camp.
Then, you have the Gentile Christians judging the Jewish Christians. And I can imagine two Gentile Christians talking after service — I went to eat at a table with brother Luke and he actually stood up and moved to another table. No way! That is so rude. Why is he so uptight? Those Jewish Christians are so bound by their rules and regulations. Don’t they know that Christ came to set us free? I hope Apostle Paul preaches next Sunday about the freedom we have in Christ and I hope those guys repent. Can you picture this? I don’t think it requires too much imagination because it happens all the time.
Two factions existed in this church and for Paul to know about this problem, I don’t think these issues were raised during a neutral and peaceful discussion regarding doctrinal differences at Starbucks. I bet things erupted publicly. And I bet angry words were spoken. And judgment, gossip and anger led to a divided church.
What if this kind of judgmental spirit is part of our church leadership? Well, you would probably start hearing sermons which voiced our moral stance on various issues. And based on whether you and I are on the same side of these moral issues, you are either in or you’re out. If you disagree with the leadership, then you are either labeled as divisive or you are marginalized. And you have a choice: get with the program and conform or be left out.
And quickly, our church would become a church of elites where everyone’s social standing in the community is either reinforced or reduced by the leadership. Because the elites would be composed of those sharing a common set of values and then everyone else is relegated to the fringes. And if you have a really strong leadership group at your church and all the elites are pushing the same moral agenda, then a church culture is created where there is little room for weakness. And for those who are objectively weaker in faith, what happens? They stumble. Because they are left by themselves on the fringes. They are not properly cared for. And this stumbling leads, in some cases, to a destroying of somebody’s faith.
A judgmental spirit, anger, gossip, divisiveness, elitism — these destroy not only the unity in a church, but it destroys people. We are talking about Christian brothers and sisters. Actual people. Their faith can be destroyed. Let’s call it what it is — these are sins of the most serious nature and God who is the judge will hold us accountable.
I want to ask one simple question — Is it more important to be right or is it more important to love and preserve unity?
Of course, there are times to speak out, I am not denying that. But if you want to really take this passage to heart, I think the answer is clear. The Gentile Christians were right, we do have freedom in Christ. But was it important that they show the Jewish Christians that I’m right and you’re wrong? No, because who is right and who is wrong is not the most essential thing we need to fight for. We need to walk in love and to preserve unity at all costs. That is the stuff worth fighting for.
Rom 15:1-2 – We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
If you are strong in faith, you must bear with the weak and work to build him up. Why should we do this? Two reasons.
One, the strong should bear with the weak because Christ is our example.
Rom 15:3 — 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
Christ did not come to please himself. Instead, he allowed himself to be insulted, mocked and eventually crucified on the cross in order to save some. To Christ, who of us is strong? Really, think about that. Can any of us boast in our strength? No, none of us is strong if we are honest with ourselves. We may hide our true selves and convince others and even ourselves that we are strong, we never stumble, we are always right, we never shed a tear. But that would be dishonest. We are all weak. But Christ had mercy on us who are weak. And as Christ followers, we are to follow Christ’s example and extend the same acceptance that Christ had on us to the weak in our midst.
Second, the strong should bear with the weak because living to build others up, not only brings unity, but it gives glory to God.
Rom 15:5-6 — 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Are you building up others around you? Are you praying for your brother or sister? Are you offering them an encouraging word to impart faith and to do them good spiritually? If you are, know this — you are living in a way that glorifies God.
And we come to a verse that wraps up chapters 14-15. The key verse of those 2 chapters —
Rom 15:7 — 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
We are to accept one another in the same way that Christ accepted you. Did Christ accept us because we were perfect? No, we all fall short of God’s standard. Did Christ accept us because we were such great, godly people? No, no one is righteous, not even one. Yet, in his grace, God accepts us in Christ, because of Christ’s death on the cross. And because our salvation is built upon the solid foundation of this kind of gracious, undeserving acceptance, shouldn’t we extend the same to one another?
Now I have a few practical suggestions.
1) Don’t despise those who have a weaker faith. When we are judgmental about someone who has a weaker faith, our judgmental spirit comes out in annoyance. While the weak are stumbled by the strong, the strong are often annoyed by the weak. Annoyance is not the same thing as stumbling. Let’s call it what it is. Guard your heart against annoyance. Don’t despise, don’t be annoyed by the weak, that’s application #1.
2) How can you build up someone that you are annoyed by? You need to die to yourself. This is application #2. You need to die to your rights, your judgments, even though you may be right, die to your impatience because you think the weaker brother needs to grow up according to your timeline. Let’s remember that Christ did not demand his rights, but instead died, literally, in order to accept us. We, esp. the stronger in faith among us, need to die many small deaths through which we learn to accept our weaker brothers and sisters.
3) Don’t gossip. This means we have to be cautious in our speech. When speaking about another, you have to ask yourself the question — do you really want to build that person up, do you actually pray for that person or are you just sharing information because you want to feel close to the person that you are sharing with? And when you gossip with your friend, are you confident that your friend has the same desire to build up and pray for that person? Beware of gossip. It is a serious sin. We do not sit in the judgment seat over others. Only God is the judge and we will all stand before him one day.
4) Together, let’s create an atmosphere of openness. If you disagree with something, let’s talk it out in the open with an attitude of humility. Let’s be honest and gracious with one another. Love covers over a multitude of sins. Let’s cover each other with love. Let’s seek peace and mutual edification instead of disunity and judgment.
5) Lastly and most importantly, spend time with Jesus. Remember, the kingdom of God is about righteousness, peace and joy and Jesus embodies all of these things. If we don’t spend time with Jesus, our faith will inevitably devolve and degenerate into religion. And a kingdom that is all about eating and drinking is a place where we will devour one another because compared to God, we are far less accepting and far more critical and harsher with one another.
For young believers, spending time with Jesus might be too big of a jump because you don’t know where to start. If this is you, I would recommend spending time with other believers. Find someone who has been walking with Jesus for a while and ask them to help you. Even Paul says imitate me as I imitate Christ. Imitate others until you are able to connect with Jesus and stand on your own.
For older believers, be on the look out for younger believers in our congregation. Invite them over for dinner. Take the time to share your faith with them and build them up. Maybe it can be a more formal discipleship group where you study a passage or review the sermon together. Or maybe it can be a less formal time when you just meet over coffee. The important thing is that you are being deliberate about wanting to build someone up in their faith.
For the graduates, if you have been attending this church over the past months or years, I pray that you learned one thing, that you’ve come to see the value and importance of being plugged into a local church. Wherever God is leading you in the next chapter of your life, plug yourself into a community of faith. It’s in the context of committed relationships, brothers and sisters in Christ living out our faiths in close proximity that many of the abstract truths of the Bible get fleshed out in our lives. Most of all, find a community that loves Jesus. Because the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but it is about righteousness, peace and joy.