I broke the chapter down as follows:
KV17: The Kingdom of God is Righteousness, Peace, and Joy accessed by the Holy Spirit
1-4: Don’t pass judgement on another’s servant
5-9: We are the Lord’s – live for Him and not others
10-12: Everyone will give an account of God for themselves
13-23: Whatever is not of faith is sin – walk in conscience in the Spirit
Remember the last study where we talked about having to put on Christ, kind of like putting on a coat and sinking into the fabric? That’s Paul’s poetic prose for putting on our New Nature in Christ that every believer is given when they are saved. That is the only way any of this can be accomplished. Any attempt at doing this in the flesh breeds legalistic religiosity, and it smells very bad to anyone that has basic discernment ability.
KV17: The Kingdom of God is Righteousness, Peace, and Joy accessed by the Holy Spirit
KV17: …for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps you can recall back to our study in Ephesians where we talked about how the Lord inaugurated His Kingdom, and then left earth before actually setting up His kingdom here. We live in that crazy time we called “the in-between time” where all His chosen people are to live as if the Kingdom has already arrived in its full glory although it is coming at a future date. The term we applied here was “inaugurated eschatology.” Jesus began it, and now He expects us to live like it until His return, with all the chaos and decay around us, not to “bring in the kingdom” as some would suggest, but rather to show the character of the coming kingdom against the kingdom of destruction for what that other way of thinking is and how it will be destroyed in the coming wrath of God.
That kingdom is here now, and the Apostle Paul is now discussing the principles of His kingdom that our Lord wishes us to live by and is giving examples. In this in-between time, we are to live in the Spirit, which is the only way of living in Righteousness at all, let alone Peace and Joy. This is not possible except for a child of God that has been so possessed by the Holy Spirit after his or her conversion.
1-4: Don’t pass judgement on another’s servant
Paul referred to himself by the title doulos, meaning “slave” himself. And if a man like Paul, Jesus’ chosen apostle to the Gentiles called himself that, then how much more should we? I’ve never been down Paul’s road. Mine hasn’t been easy, but I’ve never been stoned and left for dead, or whipped within an inch of my life once, never mind the three times it happened to him. We are most decidedly slaves to our Lord and Master as Paul was. As such, we should not be of vain high-mindedness toward others, not haughty or looking down our nose at anyone, especially believers, because we simply do not have the right; we have the same master! Let’s see what the verses say.
1: Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
- Okay, do you realize the very first thing you just did? You accepted that statement with the understood bias that YOU are NOT the weaker brother, and that your position is the correct one. You just thought to yourself that you are the strong one, and that some “other” must be the weak one, largely because they don’t agree with me. I don’t care what your own internal logic says about that – you just took the higher position and in doing so, passed judgement on another’s opinions. Maybe you even think that those opinions are mine, which I can assure you are not JUST mine.
- Brethren, we do this all the time. We even use lines like “That’s your interpretation.” Well, it isn’t JUST mine, I have informed mine with the thoughts of preachers like R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Steven Lawson, and so on. These guys tend to agree with me (or I them really) because we are reading the same passage of Scripture. That isn’t just my interpretation, it is an educated opinion or persuasion. Gee, sounds like the definition of the word “faith,” a firmly held opinion or persuasion. Is that what it means to be weak in faith?
- No. Weak in faith has the specific meaning that we don’t know WHY we believe something, and this is often at the core of why we have different interpretations. Example – I used to fellowship in a place very like a Brethren Assembly (that wanted to be open, but was more closed than anyone there thought). We had certain opinions about what the bible said, and it did not include the doctrines of grace, which I know you may find surprising. I began to seriously study the scripture, and I did a LOT of reading of the scriptures, of godly commentaries and opinions. Some said one thing, some said another. I did the only thing I really know how to do – I asked the Lord to show me what His Word said about those things. And He showed me, starting with tongues and its real meaning and purpose using Acts 2.
- So when you stand there and scream (and yes you did, whether you realize you did or not) that what I had said was “my interpretation,” I’ll give you that – with the following proviso. I can trace my “interpretation” through godly source material and not wingnut false prophets. Can you say the same? I’ve already said who my sources are. Can you say the same? And if you can, how do their credentials stack up? And can YOU recite your sources and instruct me without getting angry? Because I can, and I’m not making an apology for that.
- So who is the weak in faith? It is the uninformed, unpersuaded believer that just doesn’t know any better than to do what they do, because they are walking in the light they have – and that’s all any of us can ever do. You see, unless we are actually in a debate (and there would be a moderator if there was a debate), I will only try to gently instruct you, because that’s my calling. Unless you’re clearly bringing false doctrine in – in which case the kid gloves come off, and the big words come out. We are to accept each other as walking in the light we have from God, and NOT condemn each other for beliefs we hold in faith – because I can be wrong too, and then it’s your job to put up with and gently instruct me.
2: One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
- What I mean by this is that we don’t always see the same thing in Scripture. I’m not talking about primary issues of the faith like the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, or things that are central to Christianity. I’m talking about things like the Jewish dietary laws, for example. You want to eat kosher, that’s great I guess, but I like my bacon cheeseburgers, and I grew up on a farm where we made our own straight from the cow, so I clearly have a predetermined way of looking at food – salad isn’t food, that’s food’s food. Like that. You can’t tell me meat is murder, that’s just crazy talk.
- Now – there are those that will only eat vegetables. We used to call them vegetarians, although I understand the correct term these days is vegans. Sounds like aliens from the star system Vega to me, but okay, you chose the term. There have even been people that would not break their Jewish diet but ate vegetables anyway – like Daniel, and his three friends Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael. These guys did better on the vegetable diet than anyone else did on the omnivorous diet.
- Paul’s thought here is to use this issue as an example to explain what he is saying. More to come on that later.
3: The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
- I think Paul’s point here is this: Don’t you be throwing your opinions about to put other people down! God accepted that individual these days. No point in criticizing his diet if the master has made him your fellow servant.
4: Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
- And this is just making the point. You can’t condemn him for actions, only the master can – and the Lord is able to help him to stand! Let’s talk about that for a moment. We are clearly not all in the same place in our walks with the lord. I first read this passage probably within a week or two of being saved. I read the entire New Testament within 3 weeks, and for months after that, I was a walking New Testament. Jesus excited me (still does). The Word excites me still, though at times I have to drag myself along. I guess I’m not getting any younger. But if you would have told me then about everything I was going to go through to get to where I am, I would have run screaming in the opposite direction. When I was saved, I was a charismatic, Pentecostal, tongue-speaking, hands-laying maniac seeking the best way to bring the “gifts of the Spirit” into operation to “glorify God.’ More like glorify myself. I’m sure many did (rightly) fault me. So what would I do if I met a young me now? I could very easily write said lad off and move in a different direction. But the Lord has made ME stand! How can I turn away from ANYONE that seeks the Lord? How can I condemn anyone out of hand for this? The truth is, I can’t! Because the Lord is able to MAKE that individual stand and stand for Him.
- This week, I had the opportunity to watch a movie called “New World Order.” It was a fictional take on what might happen to people that were left behind after an event called the “harpazo,” or the sudden catching away of all the Christians. I found it fascinating, if not campy with poor acting. There were two young girls, late teens to early twenties, that were the main characters. The “Mark of loyalty” was made mandatory at this point, and people were getting their marks. I found it fascinating that there was still a church, by the way. Anyway, those that didn’t want to be forced into taking the mark were chased and those that survived that ordeal were rounded up and brought to a processing center. You either walked out with a mark, or you left the building without your head, as these movies are want to go. Of the two main girls, one took the mark, but the other one climbed into the guillotine and sang in very shaky voice, “Amazing Grace,” which is where the movie ended. I thought, the Lord made her to stand. May He make all His chosen people to stand, no matter what comes.
Paul is making the point that we have no right to judge another man’s servant. They must rise or fail for the master according to His perfect will. Our condemnation will only affect our standing and outcome – and we should be careful criticizing. Our lack of real faith may be reflected in the words we allow to escape from our mouths. As we say at my house, this is a no-whining zone.
5-9: We are the Lord’s – live for Him and not others
Okay, I can hear the commenting already. “But he was mean to me! I need to make sure people know the truth!” Question: Do you think that God doesn’t know what is going on? You cannot tell me that we have read this epistle and studied it together so far, and not seen how this is all God’s doing, and our sufferings are supposed to purify us for His glory, can you? Of course you can’t! He is SOVEREIGN. And better, we also belong to Him! If we could just keep that in our minds, we might find it easier to do what He wants us to do, and that involves living for others.
5: One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
- Paul here takes up another example for us. This time, we have special days, also known as holidays! Some people have this need to keep them, and some people think it’s all lunacy, and every day should be the same. A modern example that always comes to my mind is Christmas. Some people love it, and their homes reflect it, as do their wardrobe choices. You know what I mean. Others think that this is all just a Christianized version of the pagan practice of Saturnalia, a week-long binge-orgy for the strongest warrior, ending in his ritual sacrifice. I think I’ve been to parties like that in younger years, minus the human sacrifice. Although the hangovers…
- The point is, both individual choices are correct. The key here is that each must do what their conscience dictates. If you believe that the birth of the Saviour is an event worthy of a special celebration with your family and/or friends, then by all means, beloved, celebrate it! If it doesn’t bother you to leave it alone, then treat it like any other day as much as possible. The Brethren Assembly I was at didn’t celebrate Christmas, but we did a TON of witnessing in the market, open-air preaching, carol-singing, and on Christmas day, we all had a pot-luck fellowship, unless it was a Sunday, in which case we worshipped as normal, and did that the following day instead. Either or both always worked for me, because somewhere along the line, the Lord gave me permission to think that if Christ’s birth is an occasion, then it should be Christmas every day. That’s how I still look at it. Think about it. What does your conscience inform you about it, or about things like it?
6: He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
- Paul deals with both matters of conscience here. For the one that participates in the eating of meat or the celebration of a holy day, such a one does it to the Lord. For the one that does not eat or celebrate the day above others, they do this because they are persuaded that this is what the Lord told them! These are matters of conscience, and they should be prayed about, and then acted on in faith.
7: For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;
- Think about this. No Christian who is walking with the Lord should be living for himself, or dying for himself. Ever hear that phrase go through your mind, or worse slip out of your mouth? I’m doing this just for me. Ouch. No. Wrong direction. It isn’t bad to enjoy oneself, but it is bad to be selfish. I’m not talking about a needed holiday or times of self-education and improvement – that’s always done to make you more effective or recharge your spiritual batteries. We don’t do things for reasons of selfish motivation.
8: for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
- Bottom line, we do it for the Lord, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, because we are not our own, we are bought with a price. Jesus Himself died to redeem us to Himself, and we belong to Him, in living or in dying, whatever we find ourselves in.
9: For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Christ bought us with His own precious blood by dying the most horrible form of execution ever devised and then rose again. In doing this He became the master over those who are dead and those who are living. As long as you are still breathing, you are not your own, you are his slave, just like Paul.
Because we are not our own and because we are bought with a price, we should be trying to live and be pleasing to our Lord, who has given us a new nature that wants to do just that. However, I do think that Sanctification is a choice, and is synergistic between us and God, so if you will not, that’s fine, but you are going to miss out on God’s best for you. Why is that? The same reason that was given all the way through the Old Testament.
10-12: Everyone will give an account of God for themselves
Everyone who has ever lived will stand before God for judgement. The Redeemed as a whole will be judged according to the righteousness of Christ, as God has promised. The Reprobate will receive their judgement later, after the 1000-year reign of Christ on earth, but they will be judged by their own deeds. I know, people lose the plot here on this topic – wait, aren’t we always talking about salvation by grace through faith in Christ? Well, yes, that’s because we are saved by grace through faith in Christ – but we will all be judged by our works. The Redeemed are no different, and I could say a lot about it, but we’ll save that for our study in 1 Corinthians in a few weeks. It’s just that the Redeemed have had the price of their transgressions paid in full by Jesus on the Cross.
Given that we have been talking about the behaviours we should have in our recent analyses of the previous chapters, let me ask – how are you really doing on this point? You don’t need to tell me, you don’t need to tell anyone – but you will answer to God, if not now, then someday when you stand before Him ultimately. That isn’t a day where you’re going to want to be just figuring this out. My dad always used to say he’d cross this bridge when he came to it. I always thought that might be a bit late in the game. I hope my dad figured it out before it was too late for him on Aug. 24, 2011. Everyone will give an account. Everyone. No exceptions.
10: But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
- The word for “judge” here is the Greek krino, the same word used in Matt. 7:1. The word here has the negative meaning of “calling into question,” all for the purposes of making condemning pronouncement upon a person. This has the idea behind it that you are finding fault in your brother for no reason. And we should be able to recognize faults in our brothers (I know how difficult it is to see in oneself) when God shows them to us. But we shouldn’t go hunting and fishing for them. Why are you setting your brother up to fail when you already have a log in your own eye, so to speak? Now, if they are plain, sometimes, God will lead us to sort them out. But don’t ever do that without the Lord present to help you be gentle and filled with His mercy.
- Otherwise, you could be accused of holding your brother in contempt [Gk., exoutheneo, “to make of no account.”] I have to admit I know what this fells like from the wrong end. It was done to me for a number of years by leadership that were into something known as “hard shepherding,” and it’s awful to experience. And I can still do it to others! What did Paul say in Romans 7? “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord.” This is something that is usually done because you disagree with a point your brother holds so that you don’t have to listen to him, and it’s wrong. You should always listen to your brother and treat him (or her) with the utmost of respect. Why?
- Because we are all going to have to give an account to God for everything we will have ever done someday. Can you imagine standing there before that great throne of the universe and the Lord asks you, “why were you angry with your brother when all he was doing was trying to help?” Personally, I will have to throw myself on Christ’s mercy, because I will have nothing to say for myself. I will find myself in the now-familiar position of bending my knee and confessing with my lips that Jesus is Lord to the Father’s glory; that is something you can either choose to do now ahead of time willingly, or then to do from broken and painful knees and from behind broken and bleeding teeth. Beloved, I’m choosing to do that now, even though I know I’m going to need a ton of mercy in that day.
11: For it is written, “AS I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to ME, And every tongue shall give praise to God.”
- See what I mean? And this is Paul once again quoting from the Scriptures for him, the Old Testament, from Isaiah 45:23, which reads:
- “I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.”
- You will notice here that the text differs in Paul’s version, and this may be seen as “Paul’s interpretation of Scripture.” The New Testament author is under the same inspiration of the same Holy Spirit that Isaiah was under, and has the right (under the Holy Spirit) to use that interpretive difference, and not be wrong. Paul here has equated the idea Isaiah expresses of “swearing allegiance” to the Most High to giving “praise to God.” I’m just fine with that, really, because that is a legitimate form of worship.
12: So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
- Paul knew it was true of himself, and we should know this also. This brings us to a rather pointed principle. In every single one of the Pauline letters, there is a point where the Apostle calls upon us to “walk in a worthy fashion” of our calling in Christ. For what purpose would he do that if it were not mission critical? I am of the impression that Paul did not want to see a bunch of weak-willed, stubborn, failing, mediocre sinners filling the seats of Christ’s church. I am positive he does not want us to be constantly struggling with besetting sins, or fighting with one another, or compromising doctrine for popularity with the world. And beloved – I’m talking about us! We are like that! WE DO THOSE THINGS! And we are bold enough and DUMB enough to convince ourselves we are right, and that we’ve done right for the shallowest of reasons. He was mean to me! You heard him! Or how about this old favorite: “That’s just the way I am!” Or how about this one: “No one wants me to be me!” Both of those statements are usually true, by the way – and I thank my God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that He will not LEAVE me the WAY THAT I AM. Sure, He loves me, “Just as I am, without one plea.” That’s how we all came to Him! But He loves us FAR TOO MUCH to let us STAY that way. He is telling us in advance that He is going to have a time of accounting from us at the end. There will be NO excuse for us. ALL of us will give an account to God. Oh, beloved – repent of your sinful nature! Put it to death! Kill it! We can help each other to be faithful here, so don’t put each other down in condemnation, but rather stand faithfully in each other’s lives. And don’t you dare be that one that says “no thanks” to this by rejecting that input. Because we will ALL give an account to God for ourselves – and some of us – your pastors and elders – will also give an account for you.
One thing is clear – we cannot do any of this in our old nature. We MUST walk in the Spirit. We must put aside things like murder in the deeper sense of being angry at someone without cause, committing adultery in the larger sense of lusting in our hearts about someone we are not currently married to, or stealing, or lying, or some of the so-called lesser things like corrupt communications, or coarse jesting – and that doesn’t just mean dirty jokes, saints, that also can translate in “ready wit,” like trying to get a laugh all the time, be it by pun, short-stand, stand up, or toilet humour. We need to give it up! And when a brother says enough, it should be enough. We will all give an account. Call out to the Lord. If you are His, the Holy Spirit is that great Paraklete, the One who comes alongside to give aid. So how do we do that?
13-23: Whatever is not of faith is sin – walk in conscience in the Spirit
We walk in conscience in the Spirit. If it isn’t coming from a base of faith, or that firm persuasion that Christ has died for your sins and you now partake of His divine nature, then it is walking in sin. And I have to say, the flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit wars against the flesh. No one is saying any of this will be easy – it never is.
13: Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
- There is that word krino again. This is something we are supposed to lay aside. No condemning brothers and sisters anymore. So neighbour, no calling me a “dangerous man that could snap at any moment and do real damage” to people’s lives presumably. It’s okay, I know you didn’t really mean it, and even if you did, all the saints that know me know it isn’t true. And I CANNOT respond with like words and/or actions. What are we to do instead?
- We are to NOT put obstacles in the way of another Christian. That can range anywhere from no name-calling like the above example to not standing in the way of consequences incurred for wrong actions. If you think that’s easy, try letting your kids stand through consequences they have incurred by making bad choices sometime. THAT’S hard. No obstacles, like making a brother not choose a job that will make him work during the weekly meetings. People need to live, beloved. Droning on about how evening jobs will keep you from meetings might be true, but it creates a feeling in that individual of unworthiness because they can’t find something better, and maybe that isn’t their own doing. No stumbling blocks like, Brother, we know you’re interested in sister so-and-so, but we think you should pray about that instead. That’s bordering on what is known as “hard shepherding” or “abusive shepherding,” and Apologia Church under Jeff Durbin has been charged with that by its peers, and I’ve seen the evidence. I’m not saying don’t go there, but beloved, don’t have conversations with leadership there that YOU don’t ALSO record. That’s a stumbling block to me, that abusive stuff. It makes me uncomfortable whenever I hear the name of the church, knowing they have done those things.
14: I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
- Paul is introducing the concept of conscience here, specifically the redeemed conscience. To speak of the unredeemed conscience will do no good here, because there is nothing to talk about. I once heard it explained that the conscience is likely the las vestige of what is left of the spirit of man after the fall – the thing that knows what is right and tells us about it. Unregenerate people can easily drown out this voice many times, to the point where it becomes seared, but we speak specifically of the redeemed conscience here.
- This is the only way we can actually speak of how a conscience is supposed to operate. Look at what Paul says. He is convinced in Christ that nothing is itself unclean. Here’s a controversial example in my past. When I was a new Christian, where I fellowshipped, there was a (thankfully) small group of people that though rock and roll was the devil’s music, in fact, it wasn’t music at all, it was noise. There were only two kinds of music to these folks – country AND western. In fact, Conway Twitty was going straight to heaven. It’s kind of sad that no one will expose themselves to things because there might be a hint of darkness about them. And I could get into the arguments for music in general, and explain with examples why there is godly rock and roll, as well as the other kind (nonsensical and evil). Paul will stop me here though.
- You see, if that’s the way they felt in their hearts, or their conscience, another way of referring to the inner man where choices and decisions are made, then to THEM, if they were to listen to rock and roll, to THEM it WOULD be sinful. Understand that there are things that you may feel the liberty to do that others may not. Here, the issue was what food you ate, specifically meat that had been sacrificed to idols that was sold off at a discount after the ritual sacrifice. Some in those days would have said, NO! Do you know what that was used for? We can’t participate in that kind of darkness! And if they were to go against their consciences on the matter, then it would literally be sinning for them. I would personally call it good financial stewardship, unless I knew that money was being funneled into terrorism, and even then, I can’t be accountable for money I spend on survival products and how it is used after it leaves my hands unless I absolutely know where it’s going. Why is this important?
15: For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
- It is because the conscience of others is in fact your loving responsibility to care for. If you are eating the food that is sacrificed to dead idols, even though you know nothing is actually happening there, if your brother has a problem with that meat, don’t you dare serve it to him, and don’t you dare eat it in front of him if he knows what it is. You will stumble your brother, and you really don’t want to do that. Listen to these words of Jesus:
- but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
- That is such an important concept, it occurs in all three synoptic gospels, and is found in Matt. 18:6 (above), Mark 9:42, and Luke 17:2. Don’t stumble the brethren. At least not on purpose. I know a fellow, and so do some of you, that strongly opposes a certain card game called Magic: The Gathering. I personally do not, and I do enjoy playing sometimes. However, this fellow has let me know in no uncertain terms that he feels that the game is satanic because it uses the principles of sorcery in its play. Suffice it to say I wouldn’t play it in front of him, nor would I EVER invite him to a place where it was being played. Now, I respectfully disagree with his point of view, and I have told him so respectfully. I cannot stumble my brother. Does that give me licence to continue playing the game? Not really, I have to conclude. Why? It says in 1 Cor. 8:13, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” Likewise card games or any other thing that will cause my brethren to stumble.
- But Gerry, you say, doesn’t that cross a boundary for you? Doesn’t that make people able to manipulate you into doing or not doing things? Maybe, but they cannot manipulate me into a position where I will sin, because the Lord is clear on what sin actually is, and how it must at all costs be avoided. In loving my brethren who would do so and not doing what will stumble them, who is benefitting? EVERYONE. They benefit from not being stumbled, I am benefitted by remaining and practicing longsuffering in humility, the people around me benefit from seeing a real Christian testimony, and God gets all the glory for it. If I just blow off my brother because I don’t agree with him in this trivial thing, he is offended and stumbled, I am proud and in danger of a fall from pride, everyone around me thinks of me as a jerk, and God is blasphemed because of my poor testimony. Look, I’m sorry if you don’t like the idea of having to give things up that offend other people, but it’s scriptural, and it’s what the word say – right here.
16: Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
- Let me put this into the form of a question. How would you like to known as a puffed up jerk that pretends to be Christian? That’s what this is saying. It’s okay that you enjoy this action or thing, whatever it is, excluding sin, that we are discussing. But why would you ever want anyone to speak evil of you because of it? You might think it makes you longsuffering and not walking according to the will of man, but you would be wrong – the man whose will you are following is yours, and worse, it is not you subjected to the will of God, it is you in all your vainglorious pride. And this is where brother Paul Washer would say something like, “I don’t know why you’re clapping – I’m talking about you.”
17: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
- Paul is telling his readers and listeners here that the kingdom of God is not issues-oriented! It isn’t about what food you eat, or what you drink, or what you do to entertain yourself (again, barring sinfulness) – instead it is about maintaining what is right! Righteousness is the Greek dikaiosune, the character or quality of being right or just. How is it right or just to rub an issue of conscience in the face of your brother or sister? Not very. That kingdom of God is about PEACE – Gk., eirene, which here describes a harmonious relationship between men. How much harmony does it generate to disrespect your brother on an issue that clearly disturbs his or her conscience? It certainly generates no JOY – Gk., chara, meaning delight and gladness. It seems to me that this care of another’s conscience is about hard word and patient suffering. If you do this, God WILL reward you when He comes. Don’t, and I cannot speak here as to what awaits you. We’ll look at it more closely in 1 Corinthians.
18: For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
- Did you hear that? The one that serves the Lord Jesus Christ in THIS way, the way of respecting issues of conscience of other people, as opposed to those irritating little questions about “Why do you say things like ‘abortion is evil’ or ‘homosexuality is sin’?” And those issues according to Scripture are clearly sin – not issues of conscience, like we’re speaking of here. No, it is a service to Christ and is acceptable to God when done this way – and also gains the approval of men. This shouldn’t matter to us in the sense of ego and self-respect (a lie from hell), but SHOULD matter in the sense of the testimony we are giving to Jesus. I’m sure Paul had his detractors at this point in his life. But in practicing humility and service toward others in respect of their consciences, he knew he was glorifying God, instead of worrying about what men thought of him.
- I hope you are not offended by what I am saying, and I know who I am preaching to when I say these things. I hope you do not get the sense I am preaching “at” you. I really want what is best for you, and I will have to give an account for your souls as a pastor that has had some care over you, those of you who fellowship where I do. We cannot afford our selfishness if we wish to live the gospel out in glory to God alone.
- I need to pause here to say something. I have been accused occasionally of being “easily offended” by “well-meaning” questions. I have also been accused of speaking “Christianese,” a language common to people found in a church setting, and I acknowledge that it can be confusing to outsiders or eve to new believers. The accusations of being overly sensitive and taking offense easily are usually from those that see my writings or postings, and for that I apologize. Please understand that you only have 8% of my communication in just the words. What is missing is the other 92%, tone of voice (about 38%), body language and facial expression (about 54%), and if we were face to face what I say would be more easily received. Also, I don’t always think those so-called innocent questions are always so innocent. Especially when someone tells me to answer in English, not Bible-ese like I usually do. That ALWAYS makes me think there is some kind of agenda behind the question, even when there is not. To combat this, I will invite anyone that needs me to further define something I have said to contact me for clarification, and I’ll get as specific as you need me to, and we can discuss issues for as long as you need to, with this one caveat – if we are local, we should video chat or speak over the phone, so that you can hear more than just the words, which I admit can sound a little curt and short. You can use the number or the email address at BereanNation.com to do so, both go right through to my cell phone. It might take me a little to get back to you if I have to think about and answer for a bit, but I will respond.
19: So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
- So instead of our petty, pitiful defense of our own old nature (also known as our self-respect, also known as our ego), our pursuit is to be something else, and it is two-fold:
- The things that make for peace. Things that make for harmonious relationship between people. If you’re always prickly in your personality, that could be a problem. If all you ever do is crack jokes, people get irritated – particularly what my kids call “dad jokes,” meaning the kind of jokes I tell, usually puns, and I know I’m not the only one. If all you want to do is argue and correct people with doctrine all the time, people are generally not going to want to talk to you. Who likes all that stuff non-stop? I know I don’t – so I try not to do it. Instead, I hold Bible Studies. They seem to be well-received from what you all tell me. We conduct prayer meetings, officially and non-officially. We fellowship – in-person when we can, online or on the phone when we cannot – so that we can keep our fellowship rooted and grounded. All of these things help make harmonious relationships.
- Interestingly, the things we have just mentioned also contribute to the building up of one another in our most holy faith (Jude 20), “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit…” Those things that are integral to the faith that can be found in Acts 2:42 – a continual devotion to the Apostles’ Teaching (the Word of God and the study of it), by ourselves, and together like we are doing now; in fellowship, alone with God and together with each other; in the breaking of bread (worship), both worshiping God by ourselves and corporately together in the ordinance of the Lord’s Table; and in prayer, again alone, and corporately together. And beloved, that list is NOT exhaustive, but is a fantastic place to start. Those are the things we are to be doing as His church. Not OUR church, HIS church. His corporate new man on earth, stretching through all time and across the globe, in every human language, regardless of ethnicity, education, or economics.
20: Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
- Now I ask you – what are these paltry issues of conscience in comparison to all of that? We MUST not use these issues to criticize and tear down the work of God that He is doing in the lives of other believers – and if you do, you are nothing but a hypocrite, seeking to impose a false form of worship that acknowledges the form of God but denies His power. NO, IT MUST NOT BE! Paul here flat out says that all things are indeed clean – meaning that these things are clean according to Christ – but if someone does something that violates their own conscience, that is their own sense of what is right and wrong, it is evil for him, and it gives an offense to God! Is that what we should be doing? Are we residents of Thyatira? Of Sardis? Of Laodicea? May it never be, as Paul would say. “No, not ever.”
21: It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
- Think about what Paul has been saying! Look at the emphasis in the sentence itself. It begins with the phrase, “It is good…” Look, a negative has become a positive: “It is good NOT TO…” It is good not to what? Eat meat, drink wine, or do ANYTHING by which our brother stumbles. Play cards. Tell “dad jokes.” Smoke cigars. Listen to worldly music, including Conway Twitty, by the way. (Conway Twitty was a Country Music star that had 17 number 1 hits, none of which could be even considered to be about anything Christian, by the way. As is typical, songs like “Slow Hand” glorify fornication and sensuality, “It’s Only Make Believe” dealt with fantasy relationships – the kind of if-onlys that we should avoid, because they DO not lead to peace or joy according to Paul here. Conway Twitty wasn’t even his name – he was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, and tragically died from an abdominal aortic aneurysm on June 5, 1993. See, I really do look stuff up.)
- The idea here is NOT to do anything that will stumble anyone in terms of their walk with Christ. Speaking up about sin in someone’s life is not the subject here. It is senselessly arguing over meaningless drivel that has no spiritual import that is at issue here.
22: The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
- What are you saying here, Paul? Are you telling us that heretics have a right to their beliefs? That they should hold that wrong doctrine as solid faith? Actually Paul is saying quite the opposite. Holding a false position knowingly is one definition of heretic I have come across, and that is sinful. This is not speaking of things that are of primary concern to Christianity like the Trinity or Justification by faith alone (Romans 4). We aren’t really even talking about secondary issues like a belief in a Rapture or a literal 1000-year kingdom of God on earth (yes, they are secondary, there are several positions you could hold and only a few of those would make you a heretic like post-millennial full preterism. Ask me if you need me to define that further, there’s a lot of definition in that mouthful.)
- Look at the statement here. Paul is saying if you have a belief that you shouldn’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, or that Christians as citizens of heaven shouldn’t vote in earthly elections (we would disagree), go ahead and hold that as part of your faith – but realize it is a matter of conscience – and think carefully about it, because it also says “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” If you know for a fact that money donated to the Irish Pub, for example, will fund IRA terrorist activity, you should NOT donate to it, because you are actually approving with your donation its terroristic agenda and actions. Your money was knowingly used to buy explosives that murdered people in cold blood. That’s a dramatic example, but it does illustrate the point well. Know what you believe, pray about what you believe, constantly analyze your issues of conscience, and verify things for yourself. Don’t condemn yourself by what you approve. It would be like me donating money to Antifa, now recognized by the US government as a Terrorist Organization. Don’t do things like that. But hold to your issues of conscience and make them part of your faith when appropriate. This is not wrong, though it can be limiting. We all do this.
23: But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
- And if you have an issue that you are concerned about, brethren are to follow their conscience as to what is right for them. If they are wrong, God WILL show them in His mercy. He’s shown me and saved me from Charismaticism AND Legalism which I see as the ends of a kind of continuum. He has shown me the truth in all cases. Have I arrived? No. To think that would be foolish. But if you have a position of conscience that you can relate to what is right, hold it until and if the Lord shows you otherwise – because whatever is not related to your position of faith – is sin. If you do not have that firm persuasion that Christ has paid for your redemption and the Holy Spirit is not giving you that confirmation about something – do not do it, and do not sin against God. Why? Well, this is speculative, but maybe you are not ready to receive that truth from the Lord just yet. I still tell “dad jokes” because I’m dad. But there is a point at which I know I have to stop (and it is the point before people are telling me to stop and threatening to leave me on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere during the night).
I can tell you that this has been a more difficult passage to exegete, but I trust the Spirit has spoken to your hearts as He has mine. Some of the things I saw here admittedly shocked me to a reality that what you believe about EVERYTHING actually matters. Does the Lord have a view about Ukrainian Easter eggs? You bet He does. How about Entomology? According to J. B. S. Haldane, “…He has an inordinate fondness for beetles.” How about Hockey? I’m sure He does, though I don’t know what it is, if He likes it, or if He is a Jets fan. I personally thing He thinks the sport is irrelevant, it is His people that play it He would be concerned with. Are they being built up in faith where they are? One thing is very clear from all of this. The overriding principle of the kingdom of God that concerns itself with the conscience of others rather than personal and petty hurt feelings of imperfect people has as its primary Law, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”
All of this consideration leads me to the inescapable conclusion that NONE of this is possible without walking in the New Creation in Christ, given to us at our New Birth by the Holy Spirit so that we can learn to walk according to the Law that is written in our hearts, according to Jeremiah 31:33 which reads, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” There is of course more to the passage in Jeremiah, but I’ll let you look that up yourselves. That’s chapter 14.