Summary: In our sermon today we will examine Paul's method of dealing with debatable matters.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of debatable matters. Let’s learn about this in a message I am calling, “Dealing with Debatable Matters – Part 1.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 6:12:
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)
When the apostle Paul said that “All things are lawful for me,” what was “all things” referring to? “All things” refers to such things as adiaphora. The adiaphora refers to those “things or actions that in themselves are neither immoral nor moral, or neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture, and thus may be permitted for Christians.” So, Paul was saying that with regard to the adiaphora a Christian is free to do whatever he or she wants to do. In this regard, “All things are lawful for me.”
As I looked ahead in our studies in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians I realized that this issue of adiaphora comes up several times. And so I thought that it might be helpful for us to get a clear understanding of exactly what things are adiaphora and how to deal with debatable matters.
The apostle Paul dealt most clearly with the issue of debatable matters in his letter to the Romans. And so we look at Romans 14:1-15:13 in order to learn how to deal with debatable matters.
Romans 12 and 13 laid emphasis on the primacy of love, whether loving our enemies (12:9, 14, 17ff) or loving our neighbors (13:8ff). Then, in Romans 14 Paul supplied a lengthy example of what it means in practice to “walk according to love” (14:15, literally). It concerns the relationship between two groups: the weak and the strong.
Note that Paul is not talking about weakness of character; it is weakness of faith: “As for the one who is weak in faith” (14:1a). We are to picture a Christian who is sensitive and scrupulous.
Paul is addressing the vital issue of essential and non-essential in this passage. Paul insists that, from a gospel perspective, questions of diet and days are non-essentials.
There is a similar need for discernment today. We must not elevate non-essentials, especially issues of custom and ceremony, to the level of the essential and make them tests of orthodoxy and conditions for fellowship.
Nor must we marginalize fundamental theological or moral questions as if they were only cultural and of no great importance. Paul distinguishes between these things, and so should we.
But what is a non-essential issue? Paul does not insist that everybody agree with him, as he did in the early chapters of his letter regarding the way of salvation. No, the Roman issues were dialogismon (14:1), “opinions” (ESV), “disputable matters” (NIV), on which it was not necessary for all Christians to agree.