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.
The 16th century Reformers called such things adiaphora, “matters of indifference,” whether (as here) they were customs and ceremonies, or secondary beliefs that are not part of the gospel.
In either case they are matters on which Scripture does not clearly pronounce. In these and other issues, the problem is how to handle conscientious differences in matters on which Scripture is either silent or seemingly equivocal, in such a way as to prevent them from disrupting the Christian fellowship.
Let me suggest a list of items that may constitute “debatable matters” in our day:
• Giving and receiving of wedding rings (which was hotly contested by the Puritans in the 17th century)
• Wearing jewelry
• Use of make-up
• Consumption of alcohol
• Mode of baptism (immersion or sprinkling)
• Some aspects of Old Testament fulfillment of prophecy
• View of eschatology (especially the millennium)
• Attending movies
• Watching television
• Aspects of Sabbath observance (such as work, play, and worship)
• Eating food in the church building
• Letting children participate in Halloween
• School choices (public, private, or home)
• Mixed swimming
• Playing cards
• “Gambling” for recreation
• Buying insurance
• Wearing pants (for women)
• Using a Bible other than the King James Version
• Playing guitars in church
• Men wearing their hair over their ears
Well, with that as an introduction, let’s look at Paul’s method in Romans 14:1-15:13 of dealing with debatable matters.
I. The Fundamental Principle (14:1)
Paul lays down the fundamental principle of welcome (especially the welcome of the weak), which undergirds the whole discussion, in verse 1: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”
This fundamental principle is in two parts.