The Church – Unity

The Church – Unity
October 18, 2015
Romans 14:1-13

For the past 5 weeks we’ve been looking at the church and what it means to be a unified church.  It’s very easy for a church to become distracted with what is not essential.  I know you’re getting sick of this quote, but I have found it to be so true about all of life ~

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

That’s a great reminder for us.  What are the essentials in life?  It’s true at home, at work, in school, at church.  What are the essentials?  What is our common ground?  You know how easy it is to lose focus, get a group of people together and before you know it the focus of the conversation dramatically shifts.

At times the early church was stuck in disputing the nonessentials.  Paul addressed this in Romans 14-15.  Last week we began to look at the source of the problem. People were disagreeing on foods that could be eaten and on what were the right days to worship.  Paul gives us the problem in 2 verses.  Romans 14:2 and 5 tell us ~ 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.

So, this was the issue.  It’s about dietary restrictions and the observance of certain days or festivals.

So, here is the issue.  One group had a weaker faith, the other a stronger faith.  Paul was telling them both, neither of them are wrong, but they are still arguing within the church over who is right.

It’s easy for this to occur, because when we voice our opinions, we like to think we are right, otherwise, I would think most of us would keep our mouths closed!

Paul’s goal was to help the church learn how to live out the gospel when they had different opinions.  Paul tells us in verse 3 ~

3 Let not the one who eats DESPISE the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains PASS JUDGMENT on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  – Romans 14:3

The two sins issues are despising and judging one another.  Both are rooted in pride and self righteousness.  The stronger one can be tempted to despise or look down on the weaker one.  He can view the weaker brother as morally inferior, uninformed, and stuck in old ways.  He can be viewed with contempt and disdain instead of with patience and compassion.

While the weaker one begins to pass judgement on the stronger one.  So, the talking behind the scenes begins as they judge and quarrel with the stronger faith.

Notice those last words of verse 3.  God has welcomed both!  They are now brothers and sisters in Christ.  Even if they have different opinions — and remember opinions are simply self based thoughts by those who think they are wise.

This all leads us to last week, and I know this is a major review, but it is so important wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

We often believe our preferences and convictions are absolutes.  Yet, they are not!  We need to realize that.  It’s vital wherever we are, whatever we do.  Whether at home, in school, at work, in church . . . wherever.  Understanding the difference in all 3 is crucial to how we view and treat others.

Again, last week I spoke about the difference between
ABSOLUTES
CONVICTIONS and
PREFERENCES

Absolutes define the essence of the Christian life.  You must believe these in order to be a Christian.  We call them ABSOLUTE TRUTH.  It is absolute that you must proclaim Jesus to be the Son of God, the Messiah.  You must believe He died for our sins, so we could be forgiven, and He rose from the dead.  Those are absolutes.  There really is no room for a discussion on this.

Then we have convictions.
Convictions are strongly held scriptural beliefs.  A conviction is a firm or fixed belief.  Examples of convictions would be the belief that people should join a church to become members, that people should be baptize after they believe in Jesus.  These may be convictions, but I’m not going to battle over these.

The last section would be PREFERENCES.

Preferences are simply our opinions.  These are less-clear.  We have lots of preferences.  Some would rather be in warm weather, others in cold.  Some chocolate, others vanilla.  Some prefer a truck, others a car.  It’s a matter of preference.  It’s your opinion, based on your likes and wants.  That’s it.

Here’s where the problems come in, and this was the problem in the early church.

Too many people take their preferences and treat them like an absolute.  This is where legalism, self-righteousness and arrogance come in.

Others take absolutes and turn them into preferences.  That’s where we move more into a form of liberalism.  Anything goes.

In fact, one couple told me after worship last week, that I settled a dispute they were having.  One called something an absolute that really was a preference.  They saw the difference in their thinking and problem was solved.  I wish it was always that easy to see the difference.

I could say “I have ABSOLUTE CONVICTION in my PREFERENCES!”

This is what the early church was dealing with.  Absolutes were being made into preferences and preferences and convictions were becoming absolutes and everything was out of focus.

When this happens the church — or any organization — becomes a place filled with drama; and that’s very painful.  And the potential for sin issues to mount is overwhelming.

OK, everyone take a deep breath because we are moving into the home stretch.  Anyone want to say Amen on that one?!?!  So, how do we move forward and demonstrate Christ to one another and to the world?

In Romans 14:7-8, Paul wrote ~ 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.

8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.  So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

What a vitally important point from Paul that we often forget.  We tend to make the world all about us and our wants, instead of understanding and believing we are not living for ourselves, but we live for the Lord.  That is so important to remember.  It’s not about us, even though we may think it is – – – it’s not.  When that happens we lose focus of our purpose.

Arnold Palmer experienced this in the 1961 Masters Golf Tournament.  It was the final hole and he had a 1 stroke lead.  He hit a great tee shot and felt he was in great position to win.  As he approached his ball, he saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery.  The friend motioned him over, stuck out his hand and said, “Congratulations.”

Palmer later said, “I took his hand and shook it, but as soon as I did, I knew I lost my focus.”  His next shot went into a sand trap.  His shot after that went over the green.  He missed his putt to tie and lost 2 strokes and the tournament because as he said, he lost his first priority and focus. (Carol Mann, The 19th Hole, [Longmeadow], quoted in Reader’s Digest)

Arnold Palmer was not on that golf course to renew an old friendship.  He was there for one purpose and one purpose only — to win the tournament.

We are not on this earth for the purpose of being served.  We are here for one purpose and one purpose only — to live for the Lord.  To serve Him!  If we exercise our freedoms, we do so for the Lord.  If we adhere to strict religious convictions, we so do for the Lord.  If we live, we live for the Lord.  If we die, we die for the Lord.  And if we ever lose focus on that purpose then we, like Arnold Palmer, are in serious trouble.

His friend may have been offended if Palmer ignored him, but Palmer would have fulfilled his purpose.  Some people may be offended if you’re more concerned with pleasing the Lord than you are with pleasing them, but that’s what you’re called to do.

Paul then adds ~ 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Ah, isn’t that the point!  Let us pursue – – – which literally means “aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing his prey; pursuing with haste.”

Isn’t that a great movement in the church.  Aggressively pursue, chase and hunt down what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding.  How amazing any organization would be if that were the case.  This is how the church is supposed to be.  We’re called to be a place of safety and security, a place where we truly love one another, and want the best for one another, and build up one another.

It’s a place where love is real and genuine.  It’s a place where we practice sacrificial love, because our Lord and Savior showed us what love really means, as He laid down His life so we could have life.

I found this poem while researching for this message.
It’s called “A Builder or a Wrecker.”

As I watched them tear a building down
A gang of men in a busy town
With a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and the side wall fell

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
And the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.”

“I can easily wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken years to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan
Patiently doing the best I can?

Or am I a wrecker who walks to town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
“O Lord let my life and labors be
That which will build for eternity?”
-Author unknown

The question is: “are you a builder or a wrecker?”

As we move to the end, Paul wrote ~
2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

3 For Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,

6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Romans 15

Paul is saying we should not insist on doing things our way.  Insisting on doing things my way is the world’s way, not the Christ followers way.  Paul reminds us  Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of someone who, rather than pleasing Himself, gave up Himself for our benefit.

So, the goal is to ~~    please our neighbor
build up one another
live in harmony
glorify the Lord . . . .and
welcome one another.

Over the past 6 weeks I’ve spoken about the unity of the church.  What makes for unity, what makes for disunity and how we can have biblical unity.  It’s always our choice about how we act and how we demonstrate the power and presence of Christ in our lives.

I believe we do a great job at loving one another.  Yes, there are times we miss out and fall short.  We can learn and we can grow in Christ and live as He did and give sacrificial love to one another.  We are a church of different families, different faiths and church experiences and histories, and education and viewpoints . . . and more.

But . . . we are called to love one another to proclaim the love of Christ with one voice.  It is my hope and prayer we never lose sight of Jesus.  In all situations and at all times we are the Lord’s and we are called to open our hearts as we welcome one another.

ALEXANDRIA CANDIDATE DEBATE / FORUM

Discuss the reason the debate was cancelled.
– Two sides could not come together.
– They argued over the non-essentials
– There was a lack of trust.
– The goal was to help the community.

That is not going to happen!

The call is to be the church.  To fight for what is essential — to fight and agree upon what is absolute.  Yet, too often we find ourselves fighting over what is not essential.  We are called to love one another.  To build up the body, never to tear it down.

Jesus came into this world for you and I.  He died for you and I.  Which of you has Jesus rejected?  Can anyone tell me that He has rejected you?  Of course, He offers Himself and He offers life to anyone who calls upon His name as Lord and Savior.

In the same way the church is filled with brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are called to love one another and never to reject one another.

Notice how Paul wanted love to be of greatest importance.  We love one another because we have experienced the love and power of Christ in our lives.  That is so central to who we are called to be.  It’s not always easy, but when we are the church we have been called to be, and we do the hard things to maintain and grow the unity, then as Jesus told Peter and the disciples in Matthew 16, the gates of hell will not prevail.

May we always be the church God has called us to be because at the end of the day, the church is most lovely when, despite all of our differences, we are able, with ONE VOICE, to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We hold onto the essentials, we share in the common bond of love, we open our hearts, we celebrate the power and presence of Christ.

And we welcome one another with glad and sincere hearts as Christ has welcomed us.

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