Pastor David B. Curtis


Liberty & Unity - Part 5

Romans 15:1-7

Delivered 01/27/2002

We are studying the section of Scripture that runs from 14:1 through 15:13. The subject is unity of the strong and weak believers. We're beginning chapter 15 this morning, and the chapter division here is unfortunate. Paul continues his subject of the unity of the strong and weak believers.

If you've been a Christian for any length of time, you're well aware that believers have different opinions on what they think is permissible, and what is not. Some believers think it's a sin for a woman to wear pants, while most believers think it's perfectly alright for a woman to wear pants. Ken Abraham, in the book What Makes A Man?, writes this, "How sad that adultery has become an 'acceptable risk' among business travelers. But sexual immorality, as prevalent as it may be, is only one of the devil's devious devices designed to destroy the frequent traveler. Many others are equally devastating: Self-indulgent vices such as over-eating, 'throwing back a few brewskies with the boys'... Do you see what he is saying? He is saying that having a few beers with the boys is as "equally devastating" as adultery. How can adultery, which is a sin, be compared with having a few beers? As long as we're living in the physical body, we're going to have different opinions on what is permissible, and what is not. But let's be careful not to invent new sins. Let's stick to what the Bible says is sin and allow room for differences of opinions in non-biblical areas.

Paul's concern in this section is that our differences wouldn't cause division. Division, discord, and disunity strike a deadly blow at the work of God in the church. Strife, envy, jealousy, anger, bitterness all violate the unity of the church and cripple the testimony of God in the world. The unity of the church is a great concern to God:

Psalms 133:1 (NKJV) Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!
John 17:21 (NKJV) "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

Why didn't God just make us all alike if He wanted us to have unity? God's design for the church is that it should successfully manifest unity in diversity. It was His intent that people with divergent personalities, nationalities, abilities, tastes, and backgrounds should become unified in Christ without sacrificing personal distinctiveness. It's okay to be different, but we tend to feel threatened by differences.

Paul realizes that one of the great dangers to unity in the Church is the potential discord between the strong and weak believers. This section of scripture teaches us how to live in harmony.

All through this section, Paul speaks of those who are weak, and those who are strong. So in order to understand this section, we must understand the meaning of the strong and weak. The WEAK believer is recognized by his weakness in four areas of his life 1. He is weak in faith:

Romans 14:1 (NKJV) Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.

Faith is used here in the sense of a firm and intelligent conviction before God that one is doing what is right, the antithesis of feeling self-condemned in what one permits oneself to do.

2. He is weak in knowledge:

1 Corinthians 8:4 (NKJV) 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.
1 Corinthians 8:7 (NKJV) 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.

His faith is weak because it is misinformed or uninformed.

3. He is also weak in conscience:

1 Corinthians 8:10 (NKJV) 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?
1 Corinthians 8:12 (NKJV) But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

His conscience is misinformed so it condemns him for things that scripture declares are permissible.

4. He is also weak in will, because he can be influenced to act contrary to his conscience:

1 Corinthians 8:10 (NKJV) 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?

A weaker brother is a Christian who, because of his lack of knowledge, is weak in his faith, conscience, and will. Because he is weak, he can be influenced to sin against his conscience by the example of a stronger brother.

The STRONG brother, is strong in the same areas in which the weaker brother is weak: 1. Faith (Ro. 14:22), 2. Knowledge (1 Cor. 8:7 & 10). 3. Conscience (Ro. 14:22). 4. Will (1 Cor. 10:28 -29). Those who are strong are always pictured as influencing the weak - it is never the other way around.

The stronger brother is a Christian who, because of his understanding of Christian freedom and the strength of his conviction, exercises his liberty with full peace of conscience without being improperly influenced by the differing opinions of others.

It is very important that we understand that there is another type of brother. He is not a weaker brother for he is strong in his faith, conscience, will, and convictions and will not blindly follow a contrary example. But he is not a strong believer, for he is not strong in understanding. He has not fully grasped the nature and reality of Christian freedom. We'll call this believer a Pharisee! He often takes offense when no offense is given. He becomes upset, but not destroyed. A pharisee is a believer with strong convictions who, because of his own pride, takes offense at those who exercise their Christian liberty.

Five principles that can be drawn from our text:

1. Learn to distinguish between matters of command and matters of freedom:

Romans 14:14 (NKJV) I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Romans 14:20 (NKJV) Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.

Even areas of freedom become areas of command when they hurt a weak believer.

2. On debatable issues, cultivate your own convictions:

Romans 14:5 (NKJV) One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

3. Allow your brother the freedom to determine his own convictions - even when they differ from yours:

Romans 14:3 (NKJV) Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

4. Let your liberty be limited, when necessary, by love:

Romans 14:15 (NKJV) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

Look at what Paul has to say about this to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 10:25-27 (NKJV) Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience' sake; 26 for "the earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness." 27 If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience' sake.

Paul is saying, "Enjoy your freedom". The stronger believer is not required to go around taking surveys to determine if a weak believer is in the vicinity.

1 Corinthians 10:28-30 (NKJV) But if anyone says to you, "This was offered to idols," do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience' sake; for "the earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness." 29 "Conscience," I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man's conscience? 30 But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?

If a weak believer identifies himself, or if specific clues make the presence of one a distinct possibility, then immediate restraint is necessary. It is not always necessary that we limit our liberty. We must use wisdom.

5. Follow the example of Christ - self-sacrifice for the benefit of the one loved.

Romans 15:1 (NKJV) We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

This verse is a summary of chapter 14 and is addressed to the strong. The obligation is on the strong, they are responsible for unity. He doesn't say that the weak should reflect on the load which they are imposing on others, for if they had the power to reflect, they wouldn't be weak. The strong are obligated to make changes for the weak, the weak can't make the changes because to them the liberties of the strong are sin. The strong must make the adjustments the weak cannot.

The word "scruples" used here is from the Greek word asthenema. It is used of physical or mental weakness. The word "ought" is from the Greek word opheilo, which means: "to be a debtor, to be under obligation, bound by duty." It's a strong verb, it means we owe as a debt. We who are strong are obligated to bear the weakness of the weak. The word "bear" is from the Greek bastazo. It is used 25 times in the New Testament. It's not the idea of "bear with", "endure" or "put up with" their weakness, but the word means: "to get under and carry the load, shouldering the burden". This word is used of: carrying a water jar, stretcher, stones, yoke, man and woman. So it means: "to shoulder a burden". The point is, you don't just bear with them in some sort of intolerant tolerance, but you get under the load and help them in their weakness. How do we do this? When a strong believer foregoes an action which he knows is right, but which a weak believer thinks is wrong, and he does it for the sake of not hurting that weaker believer, he limits his own freedom of action, denies himself something that is legitimately his. This is bearing the burden of the weak. We are to do this until they grow to understand their freedom.

1 Corinthians 9:22 (NKJV) to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

This is the same principle. We are to get under the load of the weak, helping them carry it until they're free to drop it.

The normal course of humanity is that the strong use their strength as a means of easing their burdens and making the weak bear them as well as their own. We're to be different!

We are talking about non-moral areas, taboos, preferences. Let's say a believer moves in next door to me (a weak believer), and in talking to him, I find out that he views Halloween as an evil that Christians should not participate in. I have liberty to participate in Halloween, but I am obligated to bear his burden, and therefore, I don't participate in Halloween even though I have perfect freedom to. I bear his weakness in order not to injure him. I'd rather participate in Halloween, but the Word says, "I'm not to please myself." We're not to use our liberty just because it pleases us. Our constant desire is to please ourselves, we are very selfish creatures.

Philippians 2:20-21 (NKJV) For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.

This is still true today. Is it true of you? If we live only to please ourselves, we will destroy unity and cause war.

James 4:1-2 (NKJV) Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

Paul goes on in Romans to say:

Romans 15:2 (NKJV) Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.

We are to please our neighbor (weak believer) and not ourselves. But we are to please them "for good leading to edification". A genuine concern for the weak will not only limit liberty for their sake, but will also attempt to make them strong through teaching them the truth about liberty. The word "edification" means: "to build up".

1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (NKJV) All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being.

We are not just to please our neighbors to be men pleasers, but to help them grow spiritually. The main interest here is in their spiritual growth.

Look with me at Luke 14, and we will see how Jesus dealt with the Pharisees:

Luke 14:1-6 (NKJV) Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely. 2 And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" 4 But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go. 5 Then He answered them, saying, "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?" 6 And they could not answer Him regarding these things.

The Pharisees felt that it was wrong to heal on the Sabbath. Did Jesus give in to their taboos? No! Why not? He didn't want to confirm them in their legalism but to bring them out of it. The sacrifices of liberty we make are for the weak, not the Pharisees.

That seems very limiting, very binding. What this does is take the strong and makes him a servant to the weak. That's where we rebel, "I'm free, I'm not going to be his slave." If that's your response, which is quite natural, look at verse 3 which gives us the model of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Romans 15:3 (NKJV) For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me."

Who was more free from taboos and inhibitions than Christ? Yet, who was more careful to bear with the weaknesses of others? Where would we be if he had pleased himself?

Luke 22:42 (NKJV) saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."

Jesus didn't want to drink the cup and be made sin and lose the fellowship of the Father as he hung on the cross. But he said, "...nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."Christ lived his life not pleasing himself. That is the pattern of the Christian life. It's the pattern for the husband and wife in the home. It is the pattern for the parent and child. It is the pattern for the individual believer. It we were all Christlike at this point, what would our homes and churches be like?

Jesus Christ is our pattern, example, and model. God wants us all to follow the example of Christ. Jesus said to his disciples, "Follow me," and that command has not been changed. The whole matter of the Christian life is the matter of following Christ, to become more and more like him.

1 John 2:3-6 (NKJV) Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

Are you walking as Christ walked?

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

Walking as he walked and imitating Him means we don't do what pleases us, but we do what will please others to their edification.

At the end of verse 3 Paul quotes a Messianic Psalm:

Psalms 69:9 (NKJV) Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

In pleasing the Father, Christ received the reproaches directed at the Father. Christ endured all of this for the sake of doing the Father's will. He is our example, and we should be willing to suffer anything to please God:

Romans 14:21 (NKJV) It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.

Christ didn't please himself. Should we insist on pleasing ourselves in the matter of liberty to the detriment of God's saints and the edification of Christ's body?

Romans 15:4 (NKJV) For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

Not only is Psalm 69 helpful to us, but all of the Old Testament is helpful. Old Testament Scripture was written for New Testament people. Scripture in all its parts is for our instruction.

1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV) Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The instruction which Scripture imparts is directed to patience and comfort. The word patience is hupomone, which means: "steadfastness, endurance". We gain endurance from the Scripture. The word "comfort" is from the Greek word paraklesis, it means: "consolation, exhortation". The Word gives us encouragement. And endurance and encouragement are said to be the means of something more ultimate, namely hope. The reason we have hope is because of what the Bible reveals. Would you have hope without the Bible?

Ephesians 2:12 (NKJV) that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Apart from the promises of God, we would have no hope.

Paul's point is if we're going to be like Jesus Christ, we need to learn from Scripture. It alone reveals Jesus Christ. Where else are you going to see Jesus Christ?

Romans 15:5-6 (NKJV) Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

These verses are in the form of a wish addressed to men that God would accomplish in them Christlikeness. It's an exhortation to man and a prayer to God... "God of patience and comfort"... - point back to the terms "patience and comfort" in verse 4, and mean that God is the source and author of these. The close relation of God to the Scripture is clearly seen here. Patience and comfort are derived from the Scripture, verse 4, and they are also from God. It is through them that God imparts patience and comfort that are His. If we are going to be Christlike, it will only happen as we spend time in the word and in prayer.

Paul prays that God would grant them to be "like-minded" - this is the Greek word phroneo, which means: "to think"- here, "to think the same way." We are to all have the mind of Christ:

Philippians 2:5 (NKJV) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,

We can only get the mind of Christ from Scripture. It is the attitude of mind that seeks to please others above ourselves.

I think that these verses suggest that if the local church is gong to be like Jesus Christ, we must major in the Word and prayer.

Romans 15:6 (NKJV) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our consuming desire should not be our pleasure, but God's glory. The words "one mind" have the meaning: "rush along" and "in unison". The unity of the Church brings glory to God.

Romans 15:7 (NKJV) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.

This verse picks up the same emphasis as 14:1 where the same verb occurs, but here the charge is directed to both groups rather than to the strong alone. The word "receive" is the Greek word proslambano, which means: "to take to ones self, to take into friendship". Just as Christ accepted you, in order that by means of that acceptance God might be glorified so and with the same ultimate purpose in mind, we should accept one another.

Christ is our example, he bore our sins out of love for us. We are to bear the weakness of the weak and not to please ourselves. Liberty is a gracious gift of God, enjoy it! But limit it if it will harm another believer. Let your exercises of liberty be Christlike that God may be glorified: unity before pleasure. Please remember that the obligation for unity is on the strong.

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