SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 11 September 2022
Sermon Text: Romans 14:13-23
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”
I. Walking in sanctification
II. Walking in love
III. Growing in love
This passage we’ve just read is an elaboration of the first twelve verses of Rom. 14 which we looked at last Lord’s Day. In the first twelve verses, the Apostle Paul urged Christians – especially the strong in faith – to welcome others who are weak in faith. The mature ought to receive the immature and, in perseverance, help the weak brothers/sisters to grow in faith. And the apostle explains his point further in this section that begins from v. 13 and runs to the end of the chapter.
As Paul explains this in detail, he makes himself as a model of what he urges. He is a strong in faith who welcomes and receives us – you and me as well as those Christians at Rome – who are weak in faith, and persevering with our slowness in comprehension, he expounds and interprets his words to us.
I mean, he could’ve said to us as a brief but firm command, like, ‘I command you to welcome the one who is weak in faith,’ then, period, and move on to the next point, implying, ‘I’ve delivered the Lord’s message to you, and now you must do what you heard.’ But he didn’t do that. Instead, he explains, clarifies and illustrates what welcoming the weak is and why we ought to do so. In a sense, he is like a human father speaking to his child, matching his eye level to that of his child and kindly waiting for the child to nod his head – at last – and smile, looking at his father’s eyes, as a sign of both understanding and willing compliance. In fact, this is what our Heavenly Father does through His servant and disciple of Jesus Christ, that is, Paul.
So, in the first twelve verses, Paul told us to ‘welcome one another, especially the weak in faith.’ And now, in the following eleven verses, starting from v. 13, he explains to us that welcoming one another is what the Lord wants us to be and to do. And as the apostle pointed out in v. 15, if we do welcome others, we’re ‘walking in love.’ Welcoming one another is ‘walking in love.’ And I want you to think with me what it means in more practical ways.
I. WALKING IN SANCTIFICATION
In order to do this, we need to begin with our walk in sanctification. By ‘walking in sanctification,’ I mean how we grow in faith. After all, considering our walk in sanctification needs to be the beginning point for us because every Christian has a moment of new birth through faith in Jesus, and ever since that moment, grows in faith. And this process of growing in faith is sanctification.
Every Christian differs in sanctification. It is like every infant and child grow differently from one to another. Whereas a baby starts walking before her first birthday, another crawls till his eighteenth or nineteenth months. A Christian begins his new-life in Jesus at his 40s whereas another believer starts following and worshipping God through Christ at her early 20s or younger. Then, the one born again at his 40s grows quickly in the knowledge of God and of Christ while another gains the same in a slower pace. Everyone grows in different pace in trusting God and following Jesus, and I believe you get the picture of difference among individual Christians in terms of sanctification.
As each one grows in different pace, everyone grows constantly. No one instantly becomes holy but grows gradually. No one goes backward either, becoming less holier in his faith and life. Everyone moves forward, getting closer to the Lord Jesus daily. That’s what God wills for His beloved and does in our life. We might look at a Christian who lacks evidence of growth, thus, think that he isn’t growing. But God never leaves him alone; instead, the Lord guides him through a careful process of strengthening in faith. We don’t have the big picture of how God sanctifies each one in His household, but it is sure that He leads each and everyone to grow gradually and constantly. So, everyone differs in sanctification, yet all alike grow constantly in Christ.
Interestingly, as each of us grow and become holier, coming closer to Jesus daily, something interesting takes place among us. That is, one who is stronger in faith is obliged to help another who is weaker and the weaker expects help and seeks support from the stronger. This is a natural process in each one’s growth that takes place almost unconsciously in Christ’s church.
This points out an important truth; that is, each Christian’s sanctification or growth in faith is interwoven with others. It is like a fire. Some firewood burn brighter than others, but each one never flames alone. They flare up together. Likewise, one who is strong in faith grows strong in the midst of fellow believers who grow in various paces. The strong build up the weak and the weak add joy to the strong and both upbuild each other. So, Christian’s sanctification is much more than individualistic self-discipline; it is a holistic interaction taken place among the members of God’s household.
II. WALKING IN LOVE
In this way, we all walk forward in our sanctification, being interwoven with one another. One walks and we all walk together as God leads us. In our walk, there’s a principle we should follow. In v. 15, Paul the Apostle refers to this as ‘walking in love.’ Our walk is conditioned in love.
What is to walk in love? It is to ‘never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a fellow Christian.’ It’s not difficult to understand why. We’re walking not alone but together – hand in hand, rubbing shoulders, encouraging and strengthening one another. If such is our walk, you cannot, I can never put a stumbling block in the way of my brother/sister who walks next to me, can I? What would happen if I do, if you do? He falls and YOU FALL also! It’s a simple story. Because we all are unbreakably interwoven in terms of our growth in faith, in our sanctification, one stumbles, then, all falls! You and I need to make every effort to walk together, alongside each other. If your brother walks well, it means you walk well. If your sister is joyful next to you, you too become jubilant. It’s as simple as that.
Then, what might be a stumbling block or hindrance that we must put away instead of laying in the way of a brother/sister?
The apostle talks about ‘eating food’ in this passage. He also talks about ‘drinking wine.’ What he means with eating and drinking is this; in the 1st century AD when Christianity expanded and churches were built, a certain issue bothered and troubled many Christians and that was eating meat. As all do, they needed to eat and many of them had to buy meat that was good in quality yet cheap in price. Such meat in Paul’s time in most populated cities was supplied to the market from various temples of pagan gods/goddesses after being used as offerings to pagan idols.
While that meat was an important source of protein for many Christians in the 1st century, some Christians criticised others for eating it. They refused to extend their fellowship with anyone who ate meat formerly sacrificed to idols. It caused much trouble among churches and the one at Rome was not exceptional.
But the Apostle Paul’s teaching on eating and drinking was different from the views of those who caused troubles in the early church. Eating even such meat is no problem for Christians because God gave meat plus all sorts of food to men to eat and drink. In addition, there is no other god/gods than the God of the Bible who alone is God and Creator of all beings and things. So, sacrifice to idols means nothing because they don’t exist. Moreover, he tells us in v. 17 that God’s kingdom is not a matter of eating and drinking but of higher values such as righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, placing anything that is of petty or superficial nature like eating and drinking in the way of a brother in the Lord, causing him to stumble is what we must not do. If we do, we cause both – that brother and ourselves – stumble. Doing so is to destroy the one for whom Christ died; doing so is to destroy the work of God in us. Doing so is to break the unity and peace of the church. So we must never put a stumbling block in others’ way, especially the weak in faith among us.
Walking in love is, therefore, as Paul states in v. 19, pursuing “what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” In other words, seeking and implementing what makes everyone to walk better with joy, agreeing to and encouraging one another all the way.
Try to picture this in your mind. You and I and all of us are walking side by side, before and behind. Someone leads the way; another helps anyone who falls behind; and each one cheers another in this forward march. What would you consider the most important in this walk? I’d say two things, that is, the direction we’re heading and how well everyone proceeds. Anyone’s strange gesture or frequency of steps in the way would never be a trouble to me as long as he is coming along and enabling others to continue in this march. I don’t think any of you would be interested in imposing anyone next to you to focus on your pace and synchronise his with yours.
What I’m getting at is that we must focus on what enables us altogether to grow in faith, and become mature in the knowledge of God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour and Lord. We ought to aim what is important, what is urgent, what is essential for mutual growth. What can be placed second or third or fourth should be considered later.
R. C. Sproul in his book, ‘In the Presence of God,’ pointed out the importance of focusing on the most important than trivial matters with a story of Albert Einstein. A student once asked Einstein how many feet were in a mile. Then, he was astonished when Einstein replied, ‘I don’t know.’ The student was sure the great professor was joking. Surely Einstein would know a simple fact that every schoolchild is required to memorise. When the student pressed for an explanation, the professor declared, ‘I make it a rule not to clutter my mind with simple information that I can find in a book in five minutes.’ Einstein was not interested in trivial data. His passion was to explore the deep things of the universe. His passion was to focus on the urgent and essential matters.
We ought to be like Einstein and our passion ought to be on exploring the deep things of God’s kingdom, that is, ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ Instead of being picky with petty things, we’re to focus on one another’s relationship with the Lord and fellowship in Christ’s church; we’re to focus on living the gospel of Jesus out in our daily walk. Instead of imposing one’s own taste or view on another – especially the weak in faith – we should pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. This is ‘walking in love.’
III. GROWING IN LOVE
When Christians walk in love, priorities become obvious to everyone’s eyes. For the first thing to hold onto, we as one body will pray and cherish. In this process, we realise that how and what to bear with one another and what not to tolerate among ourselves in order to upbuild the whole church, to continue this forward march in Christ. It becomes clearer to each one how to accept and guide one another in love. Moreover, we may grasp what Heb. 12:6 teaches, that is, the Lord disciplines the one He loves and even chastises every son who He receives!
This is what Paul means in his saying in v. 18, “whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” When we welcome one another, we walk in love and that is our walk of following Christ. ***