Summary: There are serious consequences to believers when we fail to reconcile with others. Romans 14 provides us with some principles that help us to resolve conflict and live at peace with one another.
Holiness and Conflict Resolution
Text: Romans 14:12-21
Introduction: Terry Lynn Barton was a forest-service worker for the state of Colorado. In June of 2002, she was arrested for starting the biggest wildfire in Colorado history. She was charged with willfully and maliciously destroying U.S. property and causing personal injury. The fire destroyed 138,000 acres of vegetation southwest of Denver, 133 homes, a commercial building and 466 outbuildings. Prosecutors said it caused nearly 30 million dollars in damages. Barton initially told authorities she had discovered the fire and reported it. She later altered her story, saying she accidentally set it while burning a letter from her estranged husband. The evidence indicated otherwise, and the jury failed to believe her. She was convicted of deliberately setting the fire, and for her crime, was sentenced to 12 years in a state prison. In addition Terry Lynn Barton was ordered to pay millions in restitution. What makes this story so difficult for us to take is that we all know THE JOB OF FIREFIGHTERS IS TO PUT OUT FIRES, NOT START THEM. It makes no sense to us when someone does what is clearly contrary to their calling. Sometimes I think this is why people struggle with Christians. On occasion, we do things that are counter to what most people expect believers to do. Take the issue of conflict for example. Rather than be people who put out the fires of conflict, Christians are often the ones that ignite them.
Background: This is what we discover in the verses we’re studying this morning from Romans 14. It seems that Gentile believers were clashing with Jewish Christians about certain Old Testament laws regarding the eating of meat, the observance of certain religious festivals and the drinking of wine (See Romans 14:2, 5, 21). The converted Jews, who faith is described as "weak," were convinced that they were to continue to follow the laws regarding purity. Other believers did not share their opinion and, in fact, saw it quite differently. As New Covenant Christians (See 1 Corinthians 11:25) they were equally convinced that believers were no longer obligated to the Old Testament ceremonial laws. The result was a dispute serious enough to require the Apostle Paul’s attention. In this letter, he shares some fundamental truths that are meant to shape our thoughts and guide our behaviors when we find ourselves in conflict with other believers.
I feel the need to make two remarks before I begin with the text: (1) The principles I’m about to share cannot be applied in the same way to a conflict caused by someone’s sin. First, the offense has to be dealt with in submission to God’s Word and then the conflict can be resolved. The Bible speaks specifically to this issue in Matthew 18:15 and Galatians 6:1. We will address this in more detail next week. (2) Reconciliation can only occur if the affected parties desire to resolve the conflict. You cannot be reconciled to someone who doesn’t want to be in fellowship with you. When this happens, we need to acknowledge that the unwillingness to live at peace with a brother or sister in Christ is evidence of walking in the flesh (See Romans 8:6 & Galatians 5:19-20), and then follow the instructions from the passages that we referred to in Matthew and Galatians. Having said this, let’s consider what God wants to say to us about conflict resolution through His Word.
I. The incentive for conflict resolution (See Romans 14:12). The primary reason why we’re to pursue reconciliation is that we will give an account of ourselves to God (See 2 Corinthians 5:9-10). This has two applications for us.
A. We must not forget that God will judge others. Isn’t this the language of the preceding verses (See Romans 14:4, 8-11)? Christ’s death and resurrection established His lordship over the living and the dead. He is the One who determines not only the circumstances surrounding a believer’s life, but also his death. Paul goes on to say that every knee will bow to Christ and every tongue confess to God that we are the Lord’s and He is right to judge.
B. We must not forget that God will judge us. Each of us will answer as well for our own behavior. The word "account" takes on a commercial sense in this context. It is the idea of reaching a settlement with someone (See Philippians 4:17). The failure to resolve a conflict and be reconciled to someone will leave us in the unenviable position of having to face the sovereign and all-knowing judge of human history. It is very possible that at that time He will expose our self-righteousness and we will lose our eternal rewards (See 1 Corinthians 3:8, 12-15). So Paul reminds us to live in relationship with others with a view to eternity.