In Essentials Unity, In Non Essentials Liberty, In all Things Charity
Good Morning. Please grab your Bibles with me and turn to Romans chapter 14. If you do not have a Bible, please feel free to grab one from the back table as our gift to you.
Before we get started, I want to take a quick, informal, voluntary poll. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. If you do, just raise your hand at the answers that apply. I’m going to ask how many Bible translations we have in our congregation right now. I’m not talking about when we use multiple translations to do our studies, or when we enjoy reading different one to see how the phrasing is different. Im talking about the main one that you use. The box you would check if you could only check one box.
So, We will start out with the one I am using this morning, the English Standard Version. How many of you here use the ESV as your main translation?
How about the original King James, like Frank uses for the scripture readings up here? How may of you use the King James?
Next, how many of you use the New King James?
Next, Hopes translation of choice, the New American Standard?
What about the NIV?
Lastly, how many of you use any other versions than what I listed?
Ok, so I just listed 6 different options there. And we have a normal weekly attendance of less than 40. So, does those differences of preference create disunity? What about other matters of preference? Thats what Paul is going to address here in the passage we are looking at this morning.
We are individuals. Created as unique individuals. Created and called to unity, (Ephesians 4:3) but not created and called to uniformity. Lets go ahead and read this mornings passage, Romans 14, verses 1-9. As I said earlier, I am reading out of the English Standard Version. Paul writes:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master[a] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Disagreements, disunity, arguments and division go all the way back to the earliest churches, as we see here. This is not new, and unfortunately, due to the human sinfulness of all of us, it’s not something we can completely avoid. However, Paul shows us that we are not to be content with that answer. We are not to resign ourselves to the fact that their will be division and disunity, but we are to work at driving that out of the church at all costs.
This is the same principle we touched on last week in regards to sin. We recognize that we are all sinners and justification, the moment of salvation where we put on Christs righteousness and are declared righteous by God the Father, that moment does not make us perfect (Romans 7) But we are called to be holy and perfect as God is holy and perfect. (1 Peter 1:15 & Matthew 5:48) We can not use the fact that we are not yet perfect be an excuse for our sin. We can not let our selves be resigned to the fact that we will sin. Instead, as Paul says in the last verse of Chapter 13, we put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. We do everything we can to drive sin out of our life.
In the same way, the Bible is clear that we do the same thing in regards to division and disunity within the church. But we also see, as in what I showed us at the beginning of the sermon, that differences in preferences and even disagreements don’t necessarily need to lead to division and disunity.
We need to discern and distinguish between essentials and non essentials. Thats why used this quote as the title for my sermon this morning. In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things grace. I have heard other pastors refer to them as “open handed,” or “close handed,” issues. The idea being that the non essentials are ones we hold with an open hand. We will discuss and disagree, we will hold them loosely and come together and worship together regardless of where we all fall on these issues. In theses things liberty. The close handed issues are the essentials. These are things that are fundamental and foundational to the faith. These are the things that we all agree on if we claim to be Christians. These are the things the hold tightly and we defend and we will fight for if need be.
If you are having trouble determining what an essential is, I suggest we start with Paul as he lays the gospel out simply and clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, where he writes:
Now I would remind you, brothers,[a] of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
That hits a whole lot of the essentials. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. All according to the scriptures. Salvation, which is need because we are sinners from before birth, is by the grace of God alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus is truly God and truly man. He in eternal, not created and he is the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 22:13) He is not a god, not a saviour, but He is THE Way, The Truth and The Life. (John 14:16) Those are the things that make us Christians and these are things that separate us from those who believe differently.
To put it bluntly, if you say you believe in and worship God, but you don’t believe in these essentials, you believe in and worship a different god than the god of the Bible.
On the other hand, there are a whole host of non essentials. These are things that we don’t have to agree on. We can disagree and still know that we are still brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul gives the examples in his letter of eating meat. He gives the example of celebrating certain days. He gives the examples of what were going on in the churches in Rome in those days. And those weren’t just issues in Roman, but they were issues throughout the all the churches of that time. Because they were a part of the change over from Jewish traditions and dietary laws to the Christian liberty.
One of the big questions in the early church was whether one could eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol. Today, a direct translation would be similar to, can we eat kosher and halal foods? Paul responds to this issue in 1 Corinthians 8 & 10. Essentially, because other gods, Idols, don’t actually exist, and/or, have no power, you are sacrificing something sacrificed to what is essentially nothing. It’s really not a big deal. HOWEVER, if you personally feel like you shouldnt eat that food, then you should not eat that food.
He makes another point as well, some new christians come from a place in their life where those idols or false gods were very real to them. Eating those foods may cause them to fall back into old sinful behaviors. If that is the case, if you are around those people, don’t eat those foods around those people. We don’t have to agree that eating those foods is wrong or that it is right, but if we are stumbling block to one another, we are in sin. And if we impose our conscience in these areas of liberty onto others, than we are in sin.
We as Christians, are not bound by the dietary laws that God gave the people of Israel in the Old Testament. We see that in Acts 10, where Peter has his vision regarding clean and unclean things. Some see the only application of that passage, however, as the inclusion of the gentiles into the family of God as full heirs. I see that as the main application, but thankfully that’s not our only text that shows our release from the dietary laws.
If we look at Marks Gospel, in chapter 7, we see an explicitness and a clarity that cannot be refuted. Reading verses 14-19, we see Mark write:
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”[e] 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”[f] (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
So, again, we are not under the Old testament dietary laws anymore. That does not mean that some of us are not individually convicted to not eat certain foods or drink certain drinks. If that’s the case, if you are convicted not to do something, for you to do it is sin. And if you are not convicted, but to cause those who are to stumble, that is sin.
Paul next example, he talks about different days. He is actually speaking about a few different things in this. We worship and gather together on Sundays for two intertwined reasons. In Acts 20, it shows the early church gathering on “the first day of the week,” or Sunday. The related reason is that they were meeting on the first day of the week, on Sunday, because that was the day of the week that Jesus rose from the grave.
So, that’s why, traditionally, christian churches meet on Sunday morning. But we also need to see clearly that this is not command in the scriptures. There are some who, because the jewish sabbath was on Saturday, feel that Saturday is the correct day to meet in worship. Fine. Churches used to have many different services, many different days of the week. Some of you can speak to that.
The point was not which day we were supposed to gather together in worship, that’s an open-handed, non-essential issue. The point is that we gather together, as a church body, as a church family and we worship Christ. That is a close handed, non-essential. (Hebrews 10:25)
The other part of what Paul is referencing here has to do with the Jewish festivals. Were the still required to observe them? Paul’s answer harkens back to what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23, Whatever you do, do unto the LORD. Here, he tells the churches in Rome, The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
If you do continue to celebrate the festivals, celebrate them not as if you are still required to, not as they were originally instituted for, looking forward to the someday appearance of the coming messiah, but if you do celebrate them, do it unto the LORD, celebrating and recognizing that Christ has already come, and that he was the fulfillment of all prophecy and festivals.
As an example, Hope and I celebrate Hanukkah and Passover. And we do so unto the LORD. We do so for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that, for us as a family, specifically, it brings us closer to Christ. We are not required to. And we are not to celebrate them as Israel celebrated them. But we are to recognize and draw closer to christ through them, if we choose to celebrate them. Both those who partake in the festivals, those who eat, and those who abstain from the festival, both do so in honor of the LORD.
Those are the two examples that Paul gives here. And his point is not to address these two examples specifically, but instead to give us a principle from which to work through. Unity, Liberty, and Charity.
We have many, many rights and freedoms as Christians. But our freedoms are to take a back seat to unity, love and charity towards each other. Read again the last three verses of our passage this morning.
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
We do not live for ourselves. Our purpose is not for ourselves. Our death is not for our self. We have Christ, and he brings us together. He gives us our life, he gives us our purpose and he gives us our life after death. And in return he says to give them to him. Our life is for him. Our purpose is for him. Our death and the life afterwards is for him.
And so we have freedom and liberty. We have preferences and opinions. And we may disagree on them. hats why there are so many denominations. Because of differences in non essentials and preferences.
Now, we don’t live in a community with a number of different denominations. If we were in a real big city, like Sacramento, like some were, you would be able to pick and choose. You would be able to be a part of and serve in a church that most closely meets your theological beliefs, your preferences, your convictions, so long as it was faithful to the essentials, the closed handed issues. Technically, you could also chose to pick unfaithful churches as well, there are many so-called Christians churches that do not hold to the essentials. But staying faithful to Christ, you would have a number of options of churches to be a part of and to serve at and to worship with.
Even in Oroville, I’m learning more of them, I don’t know all of them, but I we could find churches in Oroville of every major, faithful denomination. And if its your prerogative, you are free to drive in there to attend the church you feel called to. My concern is not the numerical attendance of Bangor Community Church, my concern is the biblical faithfulness of Bangor Community Church and that all Christians are attending and connected with a Bible believing, Bible teaching, faithful Church.
We are not the only church within driving distance. However, we are Bangor’s Community Church. Bangor doesn’t have a bunch of denominational options. So instead, we have a community church. We focus on the Essentials. We discuss and celebrate the non essentials. And we unite and love each other in all things.
We have people in this room from an incredibly wide variety of spiritual and denominational background. And yet, we are all worshipping together in this room. We likely all have something about the church or the service or the music or the pastor or whatever, that doesn’t perfectly fit our preference. At yet, here we are, all together in this room worshipping Christ together.
And that’s because we recognize what is our preferences, and what are our essentials. If Im up here and start teaching against some of those essentials, for example, If I start saying that Jesus was not God while he was here in earth, as some mega popular so-called christian churches teach from the pulpit, just 2 hr north of here. If I were to start teaching that, I would expect to be run out of here post-haste. If I start teaching that Jesus never rose from the dead, I would not be around for long, at least I pray so.
However, If I’m reading out of a translation of the Bible you don’t prefer, or if we sing songs you don’t care for, or if we think the service is too long or not long enough. Whatever the case may be, we set aside our preferences for the sake of unity.
Psalm 133 speaks directly to church unity. David writes:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity![a]
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
I heard one pastor sum up this psalm by saying that church unity smells good to God. I like that. No, we can not attain church unity in our own ability and power. Look at the situation Paul is writing to. Eat meat or not. What days are better than others, to have latkes for Chanukah or not? Something little in the grand scheme, but important to the individuals.
And because human people were involved, hurt feelings, likely broken relationships. Potential and likely disunity and division. When we let our preferences and non essentials come ahead of loving each other, when we let our feelings come ahead of unity, we place stumbling blocks in front of fellow believers AND in front of potential believers that may or may not be here, but will see. They dont have to be in this room to see division and disunity.
And ultimately, we have two goals as a body of christ, two main reasons to pursue church unity. First, to worship him and to follow his commands. Can you worship next to someone, can your mind be truly set on things above, truly set on God, if we are dealing with hurt feelings and division next to us, or een across the room? Unity brings a holier, more worshipful gathering of the saints.
But we also want to follow the commands of the God we are worshipping. Im not even talking about the command for church unity in this specific context. But the Great Commision and the Great Commandment. (Matt 22:36-40 & 28:16-20) Love God and Love your neighbor and go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us.
And we will not draw anyone to Christ if we are fighting and dividing and putting ourselves above each other. One of the greatest blessings of this passage this morning is the emphasis and reminder of the freedoms that we have in Christ. But that freedom, again is not our own, but to by used for Christ, who it belongs to, who gave it to us.
John MacArthur says, Immature Christians are concerned with how much freedom they are entitled to. Mature Christina are concerned with how many freedoms they may gladly set aside to make the gospel attractive… How willing are we to give up any freedom that we might win some to Christ?”
that s the big thing. Paul has been establishing the importance of love in the life of a follower of Christ, and what that practically look like. And he has more recently been specifically reminding and instructing us to love others like our selves. This means giving up our freedoms if they become a stumbling block to others.
Now, as we finish up, I want to recognize some of the wording in the early part of this passage, talking about weaker or stronger. We will get into that in a few weeks and especially, specifically look at how this all applies to discipleship and the spiritual growth of young and new christians.
But here and now, I want to point out what Paul is doing here and challenge you to take it seriously. Paul is writing, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, in order to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:29) He is trying to show us how to transform our minds (Romans 12:2) and to act out and live our faith. He is calling us to lay down our lives for the sake of and the purpose of what Christ has called us to. He is reminding us that we are not to be served, but to serve. And that, as he said just a few short chapters ago, Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)
He is challenging and encouraging us, In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Liberty.