Scripture: Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35 and Call to Worship (Psalm 114)
Title: Grease the Wheels!
1. Focus on being a People of Agape Love
2. Focus on being a People Living in Light of God's Ultimate Judgment.
A message on how to confront tough issues and possible disagreements in the Body of Christ.
Grace and peace from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
Every now and then while you are traveling or just shopping you come across a book or two that are full of pithy little sayings from the past that very quickly plainly speak the truth. I came across some of those little sayings a few days ago. Here are some of them:
+ To be successful - Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.
+Don't dig for water under an outhouse.
+A lady is a woman who makes it easy for a man to be a gentleman.
+Don't go in if you don't know the way out.
+A sharp axe is 100 times better than a set of big muscles.
+Sometimes you have to grease the wheels twice.
That last one has fallen a little out of use these days. I remember as a boy helping my dad pack the wheels on our car which back then had drum brakes rather than disc brakes. We would pry the grease cap off the end of the hub, remove the cotter pin and slide out the nut and lock combination off the spindle. Then we would take out the bearings and any other parts and make sure everything was okay. Then we would clean everything up and as we put it all back together we would pack grease around everything as we put it back together.
As a young boy I loved being able to play with all of that grease. It was a wonderful way to get all dirty and messy and of course, help out at the same time. So, when it came to putting grease on everything and putting as much grease as possible I would volunteer. Afterwards, dad had this white cleaning stuff called "GOOP" that you could use to clean off your hands and it smelled really good as well.
The key was to put enough grease on and around everything. Without that grease to lubricate everything the wheels would eventually lock up and you would be stuck. A little bit of grease therefore went a long way and a little bit of grease could save you a lot of time and money.
It appears from our Roman's passage this morning that that Apostle Paul knew a great deal about grease. Perhaps not the type of grease that my dad used to pack those wheels but the spiritual grease of "agape" love. One could say that it was the spiritual grease of "agape" love that enabled a community of believers to find common ground in the LORD JESUS CHRIST.
Like most communities or social groups that get together for any length of time there comes a time when some disagreements or arguments can arise. This was what was happening among the different groups of early Christians in and around the area of Rome. They were experiencing some growing pains. They were having some difficulties understanding one another and getting everyone on the same page.
It shouldn't really surprise us that this would happen because the same thing happens today. When you get people together from various religious, social, cultural, racial, finacial, educational and generational backgrounds it is quite natural for some disagreements or even arguments to arise. Actually, it would have been quite unusual for some dissimilarities not to come to the surface.
In Paul's case here the major disagreement arose over the eating of certain foods and the celebration of certain holy days.
In particular, some of the collected group were not sure whether they should be eating meat that had been previously offered as part of a sacrifice to some pagan god or goddess. Some felt that it would be a sacrilege to eat such meat. They believed that since they had turned from their pagan ways to follow Christ they should also turn away from any meat that had been a part of a pagan ritual or sacrifice. They believed to eat such meat would be a denial of their new life in Christ.
For others it was just meat. And any meat whether it had been a part of a ritual sacrifice could be eaten with a good conscience. Meat was merely meat. And the more one could eat meat the better one would be so please fire up the grill, pass the rice or the potatoes and let's all get ready for a big ole feast.
Others refused to eat any meat that they believed had not be properly handled. That is to say any meat that was not kosher. They believed that eating such meat would be a sacrilege as well. They adamantly believed that the Old Testament had specific rules how meat was to be handled before it was eaten. And since they could not be sure that the meat was kosher they had decided to not eat any meat and had therefore chosen to become vegetarians. They believed that others should therefore follow their example.
You can see how all these different beliefs could create some tension.
A similar situation arose around the celebration of certain days. There came to be some rather heated discussions concerning whether they should observe the Sabbath day or observe the Lord's Day. Which day was considered to be the one that people should gather on to worship the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY? Sabbath or Lord's Day?
Furthermore, what does one do with all the pagan holy days that the Gentiles use to celebrate before coming to faith in Jesus? Is it possible to be faithful to Jesus and still be with family and friends who still celebrate those holy days? Can one still be with them on those days or should one strive to avoid all contact? And what about all the Jewish feasts? As a Gentile follower does one now pick up all of those days as replacements or are they only for Jews who have or have not decided to follow Jesus?
As you can see it could get all confusing very quickly. And it could get quite emotional and heated as well.
Of course, it is easy to look at this passage and conclude that they sure had some strange issues to argue over back then. Surely we have nothing like that today. What they needed to do was to get their act together like we have today. Except, the truth is that we have some issues today that have the potential to lead to some explosive arguments and disagreements. For example:
+ In the area of music - What constitutes authentic worship music - is it traditional hymns, praise and worship music or can one add more modern styles like Hillsong, hip hop, reggae or dare say even more urbanized forms of music including Christian rap? Which ones are proper or are they all proper as long as they lift up the name of our Savior, Messiah and King?
+How many tattoos or how much body art is permitted as a follower of Jesus? One, two, three or a complete sleeve as long as they are made up of mainly Christian art, Bible verses or have some type of Christian or family theme?
+How much of a skin difference does it make when it comes to a racially mixed couple either dating or getting married? Can porcelain be with chestnut or only with an almond or is being with a golden skinned person allowed? Or are such things merely foolish - let's just allow God to put two people together (male and female) and rejoice in His choice?
+Are drinks allowed in the worship area? Is coffee or soft drinks allowed or only clear liquids? Or is the worship area off limits to any liquids at all (aside from baby bottles of course)?
+Can one smoke? Or at least use a electronic cigarette? Or is Christianity totally a smoke free zone?
+Can one have a beer or two or a glass of wine during a social dinner? Or should Christianity be alcohol free? What about Communion - grape juice only or a little wine?
+How many divorces and or remarriages are too many today - one, two, three or more? Is any number okay before coming to faith? What about after coming to faith?
+Should the attire be shirt and ties, polo shirts and slacks, T-shirts and jeans or does it really matter?
+Closed toed shoes or are flip flops okay? Sleeveless or full sleeve? How low is too low and how high is too high?
+Women preachers or men preachers?
+King James Bible only or can one use the NIV, RSV, NASB or some another translation or paraphrase?
+Offering plates, offering buckets, kiosks, giving on line or a giving box on the wall?
+Pastor led, elder led, some form of combination of the two or orders from on high?
+Tongues, no tongues, tongues only with interpretation, healings and miracles or no healing and no miracles?
+Rapture or no rapture? Pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation or no thoughts concerning a time of end time tribulation?
+Immersion, sprinkling or pouring? Infant or believer? Once only can one enjoy multiple times of being baptized?
Wow! I think you can see while we may not have some deep feelings or emotions when it comes to the eating of meat (although we could) or the celebration of certain days (what about Christmas or Easter?) any number of those things mentioned above could cause quite a stir. There has been more than one denomination, association or group of people that have taken each of those areas to such an extreme that they have split apart or have decided to exit right and have started their own little group. In fact, according to the most recent statics there are now over 215 different denominations in the world and in those 215 different denominations there are over 40,000 different groups that do not always see eye to eye with one another.
Think about that for just a second - 215 different major denominations. Over 40,000 different groups that do not see eye to eye on some things. I think we can safely say that we need to hear Paul's words here in Romans 14:1-12 this morning. We need to see what the Apostle has to say so that it can help all of us this morning.
For while we may not have 40,000 different opinions this morning here in our fellowship, I am sure this morning as I shared those different areas that could cause problems there were many of us who have some rather strong opinions concerning some of them. Opinions that some I am sure that some here would not mind sharing with others. Opinions that could cause quite a stir and a potential worship battle if not all out war.
So, let's spiritually and mentally leave all of those things alone for a few minutes and see what truths and advice that the Apostle Paul wants to share. Let's see what he wants us to focus on this morning:
I. We are to first and foremost Focus on AGAPE LOVE
"None of us lives to ourselves; none of us dies to ourselves"
We would do well to focus on Agape love - loving God and loving one another. While life has a way of either building or rebuilding walls, agape love has a way of tearing down walls and leaving them torn down.
You see it in times of war or in times of great natural disasters. People put aside all the silly stuff and focus on the main thing - helping one another, supporting one another and being there for one another. They focus on people as people and not as different groups or people who have vastly different opinions.
For example, when the Cajun Nation a few weeks ago came to the coastal areas of Texas that were being flooded they didn't refuse to help someone because they were Republican, Democrat, white or brown, young or old, tattooed or pure, wearing a confederate flag T-shirt or a Michael Moore T-shirt. They just picked up people who were stranded on their housetops and who were in danger of drowning. And the people who were being rescued didn't look at those Cajun Nation rescuers and ask them if they were married to someone of mixed race, if they had a beer or two the night before or if they believed in the rapture or believed only in believer's baptism. They just got on their boats and thanked them for being there to rescue them.
Now, we are not dismissing the importance of any of those things that we looked at earlier. We are not merely trying to be cavalier. Each of those things have a measure of importance but many of them are not imperative. At least not to the level that we may think.
What is vital is to love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind and soul and then love your neighbor as yourself. What is vital is knowing that in Christ there is no "Greek or Jew", "circumcised or uncircumcised" , "barbarian or Scythian" , "slave or free" or even "male or female". What is vital is to know that in Christ everyone can be rescued, redeemed by the blood of Jesus and be restored into the image of Jesus. What is vital is to know that people can repent, be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and be infilled with the Holy Spirit. What is vital is that the Holy Spirit will convict, cleanse and lead people into a life of spiritual transformation called holiness.
In our Gospel passage this morning, Jesus puts forth another factor in all of this by reminding us that we need to practice the spiritual discipline and art of forgiveness. Not just forgiveness once or twice but forever.
1 Peter 4:8 reminds us
"Above all, keep absolutely firm in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins."
Now, that does not mean that you don't live by your own convictions. No. Whatever the Holy Spirit says for you to do or not to do then by all means do it and live by it.
It just means that not everyone may be at the same point in their spiritual journey. 1 John chapter one talks about some disciples being little children while others are fathers and others are young men. The Apostle John recognized that people can be at different points in their journey with Christ.
Also, it is important to remember that these differences are on the finer points of our walk in Christ. Things like the 10 Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of Paul that we find in Colossians chapters 3, Romans 12 and Philippians 2-4 for example are not on the list of debatable items.
As disciples of Christ, we don't condone or accept acts of sexual immorality, stealing, hatred or idolatry. We don't accept that one can adopt a lifestyle that is based on lies, manipulation, greed or selfishness. That's just common spiritual sense. What we do however, is to help one another read the Bible and understand its core truths. We help one another grow in Christ and in the walk of holiness. We do our best to share agape love and bear one another's burdens. We do our best to welcome one another, accept one another and love one another. best to share agape love. We do our best to be Jesus to one another both inside the faith and outside as well.
II. Secondly, we focus on living our lives in light of God's Day of Judgment - verse 10ff
Paul had this wonderful way of taking us to the core of reality. He shares with us in this passage the various ways that we are to share love, look after one another and do our best to accept one another's differences. And then just to make sure that we get the point he reminds us of the coming day of Judgment.
"We must all appear before the judgment seat of God"
"We must each give an account of ourselves to God"
Wow! Paul has a way of bringing us back to what is important.
The only one who has a right and will in fact exercise that right of judgment is the Lord God Almighty. Each one of us will stand before Him and not before one another. Whatever we do in this life we will face God's ultimate judgment. He will give the final answer.
Therefore we are to see ourselves in the same light. We are all:
+Sinners who need to be saved by grace through faith alone
+Sinners who need to be rescued, redeemed by the blood of Jesus and restored into the image of Jesus Christ.
+Sinners who need to repent, be baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit.
+Sinners who after accepting God's grace, love and mercy are no longer sinners but New Creations in Christ. We are therefore Children of the New Day - Children of God's New Age - People of the Holy Spirit - People of Holiness - People who are constantly being renewed and restored into the Image of Jesus - People dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission and being the means by which people of every tribe and nation can experience the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth through a life in Christ Jesus.
Paul wants us to know this morning that there are two major ways we will stand before the LORD. We will either stand alone on our own merits or we will stand with Jesus our Savior, Messiah and King. We will either stand believing that our works of righteousness will save us or we will stand believing that Jesus Christ only is our Savior and Redeemer.
It is in light of that fact - that we will one day we will be standing in front of God that enables us to:
+Be concerned about our own spiritual noses and faces first and foremost. This morning, we should be concerned first and foremost that we are up to prepared and ready.
In the closing his letter to the congregations around Corinth, Paul writes these words in 2 Corinthians 13:5ff
"Test yourselves to see if you really are in the faith! Put yourselves through the examination."
When my brothers and sisters were growing up my mom use to have a rather simple but very annoying saying - "Don't worry about what they are doing, mind your own business."
Now, that wasn't very much comfort at all. It was a lot more fun for me to check on my brother and sisters and see if they were doing something wrong. It was a lot more fun for one of us to make sure that the other ones got into trouble than it was for one of us to mind our own business. After all, we knew we couldn't hit one another. But if we could get the other one in trouble then we knew that mom or dad would take care of them. We could hit them by proxy so to speak. But the older we all got the more we understood the full meaning of mom's words - it took all our time and energy to mind our own business which left us little energy to go and make sure our other siblings were towing the mark. It also made us love one another more and get along better. Mom's advice was as sound as the Apostle Paul's was to the people living in and around Rome. Mom's advice is still sound for us today.
Part of the reason we all have some of the issues we do is perhaps we don't fully trust God or one another. We don't believe that the Holy Spirit is doing a good enough job in convicting people of the right things and we don't believe that people are doing a good enough job in reading their Bibles, taking time out to pray and to listen to the directions of the Holy Spirit.
Plus there may be a part of us that really likes helping out God when it comes to straightening out a brother or sister in Christ. It makes us feel good to put someone back on the straight and narrow. It gives us a sense of accomplishment.
However, the Bible wants us to understand that the Holy Spirit really does know what the Holy Spirit is doing. In fact, the Holy Spirit is God. And God is the best person to convict, to correct and discipline one of His Children. Oh, there may be those occasions that we are asked to co-partner but I can assure you it will be in the interest of loving that person, restoring that person and forgiving that person.
When we find ourselves tempted to be judge, jury and executioner we have to take a spiritual time out. We have to make sure that we are working with God and not against God.
It may be true that the person that we are thinking about or praying for is really in a great deal of trouble. They may in fact be backsliding and heading in the wrong direction. But before we do anything we need to spend some time with the LORD. We need to make sure that we are going with the flow of the Holy Spirit rather than against the Holy Spirit.
Just because someone got a tattoo or begins to listen to hip hop Christian music doesn't mean that they are suddenly hell bound. Just because someone begins to wear flip flops to church or doesn't believe the way we do does not mean that they have fallen off the spiritual cliff. Sometimes we just see things differently. Sometimes we don't need to major on the minors.
However, if we begin to ostracize people over race the it is not them that has a problem it is us. If we begin to our way is the only way then we may definitely have a problem. If we begin to think that in our church it has to be done our way then we have to take a moment and remember that it is Jesus' Body (Church) and Jesus is the Head of the Body and we are not.
At the same time if we see a man flirting with a woman not his wife then we need to pray, ask the direction of the Holy Spirit and then if led begin the process of biblically going to that person to help them. If we see someone stealing, or being hateful or doing something else that is not honoring Christ then we do the same thing - pray first, be led by the Holy Spirit and seek the counsel of other godly people - pastors, lay leaders, elders and mature people in the faith. All with the intention of helping that person come back into a proper and right relationship with the LORD. We are not given a license to spread gossip, back bite or to start a campaign to get rid of someone.
Wow! The Apostle Paul has a lot to say to us this morning doesn't he.
He reminds us that our focus is to be that guided by and driven by "AGAPE LOVE".
He reminds us that our focus is to be living our lives in light of God's Ultimate Judgment.
He reminds us that at times we need to have a big quantity of spiritual grease that enables us to keep the wheels of our fellowship in communion with one another. Focusing on love and not on the minors. Focusing on helping one another and not on judging one another. Focusing on forgiving one another and not being someone's lord and master. Focused on being an encourager and not an accuser.
It is easy this morning to focus on the faults of others than on our own faults. It is easy this morning to get our attention off of Jesus and on to things that really don't matter.
In closing this morning let's take some time to pray for one another. Let's take some time to ask the LORD to help us help one another. Not to judge, not to condemn but to encourage and to assist and help one another. To be Jesus to one another. That doesn't mean that we avoid all confrontation or that we avoid all teachable moments. It just means that we do everything with an "AGAPE HEART" and that we do everything knowing that
"For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:2 ESV)
Paul believed that "Agape Love" provided some very needed spiritual grease. He also believed that living in light of the judgment enabled us to focus on the majors and not the minors.
This is the Message of the LORD for His People - let us pray
Closing Hymn/Open Altar/Benediction