Summary: Unity should be sought in the local church and in the body of Christ. We must lay aside secondary matters for the cause of Christ.
Trapped In Potholes, Romans 14:1-12
I recently read the story of a man who, in 2006, was driving along a road in Pune India, a city located in the Maharashtra province of central India. The man was driving a common mode of transportation in India, his motorcycle with its mighty 2 stroke engine, through torrential rains on a road that was less than well paved. He did not travel alone, however, seated atop his gas tank with its paws resting on the handle bars was his pet cat; apparently Indian cats enjoy riding in this fashion.
He came to a point in the road where he fell into a ditch more than 10 feet deep that had been created by the incessant rains. The man and his disgruntled soaking wet cat stayed in that ditch for nearly half an hour until some local law enforcement officers took notice of their plight and eventually rescued them out of the muddy ditch where they had been trapped.
Often, we get trapped in muddy ditches of fruitless activity. In Romans 14:1 the Apostle Paul writes, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.” (NKJV) Or “not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” (NASB) Or “without passing judgment on disputable matters.” (NIV)
When we get trapped in conflicts within the church, be it the local church or the body of Christ at large, over disputable matters, it is like getting trapped in potholes out of which we can not seem to climb.
As the God’s people we do well lay aside matters of preference in favor of matters of eternal value. We do well not to allow secondary matters of faith distract us from the goal of seeing unity thrive among us, unity in the local fellowship and unity in the body of Christ, just as Jesus prayed in the garden on that fateful evening for believers everywhere, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21 NKJV)
This morning we will be walking through the first section in Romans chapter 14. This passage outlines what some have called the law of Christian liberty or “soul liberty.” That is the biblical mandate for each believer to walk in accordance with his or her own conscience as they walk after Christ. Today our focus will be on Christian Liberty as it is written in Leviticus 25:10 “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
The historical context of Romans 14 is incredibly important. You see, the Apostle Paul is exhorting Jewish and Gentile Christians toward unity in spite of differences of opinion on secondary matters. In this passage the Apostle Paul deals primarily with two of these disputable matters; diet and the precise time for the Sabbath.
Jews living in the Roman Empire stood out because of their dietary restrictions. In fact, they were at time ridiculed for their abstaining from pork, which was a meat that the Romans ate commonly. For an orthodox and committed Jew the matter of kosher dietary laws was serious business which they lived out with zeal.
Leviticus 11:44-45 says, “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (NKJV)
The trouble was that when many Jews converted to Christianity, when they accepted Christ as their long promised Messiah, many of them brought their dietary restrictions with them. While they accepted Christ atonement for sin, they felt compelled, most likely as part of their national identity, to maintain their separation as God’s people by way of their dietary laws.
So, what the early church had were Jewish converts to Christianity who were not quick to give up their dietary customs and Gentile Roman converts who were equally slow to adopt the Jewish diet or give up their own; specifically here in Rome but no doubt in other locations as well, which caused division.
In Acts chapter ten and eleven we read of Peter, a devout Jewish convert, disciple, and Apostle, who is shown a vision from God of non-kosher animals and told to rise and kill and eat. This was a radical departure for a devout Jew and certainly something that caused a lot of division among believers in the early Church.
In Acts 10:11-15 the Lord says to Peter, “and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (NKJV)