Sunday Morning Worship Service, 4 September 2022
Sermon Text: Romans 14:1-12
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”
II. Do not forget but welcome one another
III. Being accountable to God
We’re getting closer to the end of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. Those first recipients of this letter were at Rome which used to be the centre of the world for many centuries. Compared to our world, the 1st century Rome was like New York, London, Sydney or even Perth of the 21st century where numerous people live, having their cultures and ideas all crisscrossed, overlapped and intermingled. In such a world, quarrels and strife are inevitable as numerous opinions ceaselessly collide.
Churches are not exceptional because individual Christians differ in opinions over various issues from one to another. Many congregations experience disruption and, in some extreme cases, split. Like-minded churches congregate and form denominations, and different viewpoints on various issues draw debates and arguments not only among individual members but also among churches and denominations.
Having this reality in mind, the Apostle Paul addresses the church at Rome (and to us in Perth) and gives a practical application of the doctrines he has explained. Simply put, he urges the church to welcome one another, and especially those weak in faith. This urge for welcome is to neither despise nor pass judgment on one another in God’s church.
Hearing this message of the apostle, some questions arise. First of all, should our welcome be unconditional and open to all peoples? How should we welcome anyone while we have commands such as 1 Cor. 5:9 and 11 to not associate with a certain man? The Apostle John agrees and adds in 2 Jn. 10 to neither receive nor give such a person any greeting.
If our welcoming is conditional, what are those conditions? And in what basis?
So, let us hear the apostle and see the Lord’s way of welcoming one another which is our way of fulfilling God’s law.
The main and overarching message of this section is to welcome others. This sounds like a simple exposition of what he has said earlier in this letter, such as 12:13 which says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Or of 13:8 that reads, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” This one word, ‘welcome,’ encloses the message those verses carry.
Welcoming is, in fact, virtue that is not strange to us Christians. Rather, welcoming is one of the foundational aspects of Christ’s church. Welcoming has become a part of Christian’s DNA. I believe many of you’d agree based on experience that a welcoming church is – not always but usually – a healthy church.
The church at Rome in the apostle’s time was a welcoming church. Jewish Christians welcomed Gentile Christians as their brothers and sisters. Christians from various ethnic backgrounds also looked at Jewish believers as their own. If you open ch. 16, you read about Paul asking a favour of the church at Rome to greet some people on his behalf. There, you hear names of both Jews and Gentiles. Their names are listed not in a specific order or according to their ethnicity; you cannot sense any division among them but the apostle’s love and care for them all. He even sounds like asking them to welcome them once more in addition to their usual greetings of love and care and fellowship.
Truth is that if any church is unwelcoming, that church has somehow lost the very DNA of Christ’s church. A well-known but sad story of Mahatma Gandhi of India proves it. In his autobiography, Gandhi wrote that while he studied in America, he read the gospels and seriously considered converting to Christianity. So one Sunday, he decided to attend a nearby church and talk to the minister. But when he arrived, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested he go worship with his own people. Gandhi wrote, ‘If Christians have a caste system, I might as well remain a Hindu.’
An opposite case to Gandhi is a friend of mine who visited a church many years ago. He told me later that he entered that day a world of amazing people of faith which he had never imagined existing. Welcoming people worshipped God with sincere heart and pure joy. He was baptised not too long after his first visit to that church.
Welcoming is within Christian DNA – when you and I became Jesus’ followers, when God saved us through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, we became welcoming people, and it is now our new nature.
But the apostle doesn’t make our welcome unconditional. While we welcome all, we should not associate with anyone who claims to be Christian but guilty of sexual immorality or greed or idolater, reviler, drunkard or swindler as commanded in 1 Cor. 5:9, 11. We should not even welcome such a person nor give him any greeting as we read in 2 Jn. 10. Yet again, when such a sinner repents from his sins, we should welcome him and embrace with Christ’s love.
II. DO NOT FORGET BUT WELCOME ONE ANOTHER
Having this as the general aspect of our welcoming, the apostle asks us to keep our welcoming attitude toward a specific people. That is, we should welcome, accept, receive with kindness those who are weak in faith. We welcome strangers or visitors. If a nonbeliever is in our midst, we doubly welcome that person. But, toward a fellow Christian whose faith is weak and immature, we tend to forget our welcoming DNA and readily criticise or judge him. This is what the apostle warns us against and urges us to continually welcome him. Welcoming others is, as Paul concludes at the end of today’s passage, being accountable to God. We’ll come back to this point of being accountable to God shortly.
By the way, why do we easily and readily criticise anyone who is weak in faith? What causes us to forget our welcoming DNA which is our new nature in Jesus? The answer is ‘differences in opinions.’ In other words, between the mature and the immature, between the strong and the weak in faith, there are wide differences of opinions. As Paul gives us examples in our text passage, while a believer thinks that eating a specific food is OK, another Christian considers it sinful. While one esteems a day as better than another, another Christian regards all days alike. Not only with eating or drinking or counting days, but also with many other issues are there differences of opinions. And these differences breed criticism over welcoming spirit, and cause one to easily pass judgment on another.
By the way, let me point this out to you that, in this passage, the Apostle Paul is talking to the one who is mature and strong rather than weak in faith. And he asks this mature Christian to welcome a fellow believer who is immature. Welcoming is, in fact, virtue of the mature, thus, is offered by the strong to the weak in faith. Consider what flows between us and Christ who has welcomed us and still welcomes sinners. As He accepts us, we can receive one another with kindness. As God grants us His grace through Jesus, we in the Saviour’s name accept and welcome one another. So, it is not strange at all to hear from the apostle that those strong in faith should welcome the weak.
So, when a mature Christian finds any sign of immaturity from another, he should not readily engage in a quarrel over opinions, thus, jump to criticism or passing judgment. Instead, he should acknowledge the need of growth in faith and seek the Lord’s grace and wisdom for the weak. Meanwhile, see in what way he could be in help to the immature brother/sister.
Having said, let me point out to you a serious error people often make as they misunderstand the apostle’s message. This section does not teach Christian’s liberty in opinions or personal convictions. This section is not to justify individual’s preferences in various areas of faith and life. Quite a number of people take this section of Rom. 14 as a biblical warrant for having various personal convictions. People falsely quote this section, more specifically v. 5, to claim a biblical credential for their personal preferences. So, some argue any day of the week as equal as the Lord’s Day, have in public worship service whatever that would make their congregation happy or follow human leaders, accepting their views, than God’s word. These are just a few obvious examples of misinterpretation of this section.
Listen to what v. 5 says: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” This verse does not mean, ‘if you are fully convinced in your own mind, doing certain things are OK.’ Rather, it means, ‘you do certain things, knowing and being fully convinced in your mind that God teaches those in His word, thus, you do them in honour of God, giving thanks to Him.’
For example, a minister wears a gown to lead public worship service and preach God’s word while another preaches without wearing one but with a tie or a clerical collar or simply a shirt, each one should be fully convinced in his own mind that either or is taught in the Bible – and it does so. Also, at which hour a church will meet for worship on Sunday – 9 am or 10 am or both 9 am and 12 pm in addition to 6 pm – instead of choosing any other day for the church to meet and worship the Lord. A Christian drinks and enjoys wine while another abstains from any alcohol. Each one should have a full conviction in his mind that either drinking or abstaining is warranted by the Bible. The same is for all kinds of food. But, in terms of drinking and eating, the Bible also draws a guideline, that is, you should always remain sober and in control of your appetite. In addition, if anything you eat or drink gives an ill effect to fellow Christians, that should be stopped on behalf of others.
Instead of liberty of personal convictions, the apostle talks about the differences among Christians in terms of maturity in faith. We all grow in trusting in Christ; our knowledge of God and Christ becomes more solid and deeper as God leads us daily in His grace. But God leads each of us in different paces according to His goodness toward us. So, we all differ from one another in our sanctification, and this difference in our sanctification causes differences in opinions. So, one who is mature should have patience instead of quarrelling over opinions; he should receive and welcome another who is weak in faith. Be kind and gentle toward him but to build him up in Christ so as to deepen his joy in the Lord. This is how to keep the unity among fellow members of God’s family as much as fulfilling the law by loving one another. This is, in fact, building up Christ’s church.
III. BEING ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD
Most importantly, we must welcome one another, especially the weak in faith, because God has welcomed him who is yet immature. If God welcomed him, who are you to reject him or despise or treat him poorly? If God accepted him, what are you to judge him? That’s unthinkable because it’s impossible!
Here, ‘passing judgment’ means to condemn or decide a person to be guilty and liable to punishment. ‘Despising someone’ means to consider him worthless or of no value. Then, never can we despise nor pass judgment on a fellow believer because God has accepted him/her and considering such a person worthless is an act of denying God and of claiming to be better than God! A sheer blasphemy!
Moreover, as v. 9 adds, Christ died and lived again for each of us, including the weak in faith. Each of us are the Lord’s, and we cannot consider another as worthless because he/she belongs to the Lord. This is what the apostle means when he says, ‘whether we live or die, we’re the Lord’s.’ This is the point he makes, saying that ‘we’ll all stand before the judgment seat of God.’ The good Master will do with His own whom He dearly loves according to the plan He has set which is good and perfect. What is asked of each of us is to trust our good and gracious Master, and welcome one another, especially the weak in faith, and wait to see the goodness of our common Master, the Lord God Almighty through His Son, Jesus our Saviour.
Therefore, being accountable to God is not so difficult. You know that God had a plan for each of us; and according to His plan, at the right time, He called you and me and made us His own. As He the Lord washed us clean with Jesus’ blood, He will lead us to His glory, making us holy as He is holy. So, trust in Him and what He does to each of us. In the meantime, welcome and accept each other as He accepted us in Jesus, and rejoice in the Saviour together with fellow Christians. By this, Jesus’ church grows and His kingdom expands till the day of His glory! ***