God can handle your opinions and preferences, but we must be careful about how they affect others around us.
May 10, 2023
Speaker: Greg Sanders
Passage: Romans 14:20-23
If you have your Bibles, would you join me? Turn to Romans chapter 14. Last week, I put a challenge in front of us just to encourage us to step into finishing out the Fit & Finish Campaign and asked if we could try and get that wiped out in the next two months. That will allow us to move on to better things than trying to finish a building project.
I just wanted to say thank you for the immediate response. $41,000 came in this last week for that. Thank you. The work’s not done but what an incredible response. And so I just continue to ask you to be prayerful about it, be faithful to it. Thanks for that simple, quick obedience. That’s incredible. I’m grateful.
Let’s go to Romans, and let’s dig in. Last week, we took a quick look at verses 17 through 19. I just want to do a little bit of history on where Paul’s at in Romans. Paul starts in chapter 13, and he opens with this challenge to obey the governing authorities. I want to read it because I just think it’s one of those that we could write on our mirrors or our refrigerator and read it every day and it’d be good for us.
“Obey the government, for God’s the one that put them there.” You’re like, I hate that verse.
So Paul will start with a challenge to the church to walk in honor of the world around it. And then he begins to focus at the end of 13 on this challenge to carry the nature of Jesus in the way we live.
He moves on in 14 and begins to focus on the way we handle relationships within the body of Christ. He says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Paul just has this incredible pinpoint focus. Hey, let me tell you what the kingdom of God is not about. And let me tell you what it’s about. It’s about goodness and peace and joy. In other words, your life is to be lived in pursuit of what is good, what is peaceful, and what is joy-producing.
For yourself? No. You’re to live this lens for those around you. That you and I, according to Paul in this passage, have been given the responsibility and the mandate by God to live for the good of those around us, the peace of those around us, and the joy of those around us. When I read that, it irritates me because I don’t necessarily want to be super concerned about the goodness of everybody else’s situation or the peace of their situation or the joy.
How many would agree with me that at times, it’s really easy to get focused on yours? He says that if you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. So he goes and adds another layer to it and says, in case you don’t want to do this and if you do this, He’ll be happy. This is what He’s looking for.
So all of a sudden, we’re kind of locked in. The choice is, do I live to displease Him? Or do I live to please him? The right answer is to please him. So Paul will go on and say, “So then let’s aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.”
I want to pick us up in verse 20. He says, “Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with these things in themselves.” And it’s just a strange little verse. “Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat.” You’re like, what is he talking about?
Well, in the situation that was going on in this church, Paul is using a very real-time event that was happening in the Church of Rome. Rome was one of the most opulent cities in the world and was also one of the epicenters of the world. Religion had a lot of what we would call pagan temples or demonic temples — temples where they were sacrificing animals to other gods. So here’s this young, believing culture — Paul’s talking to them.
Well, what was going on was these pagan temples would sacrifice animals. Because of the nature of their rituals, all they were after was the blood. They could care less about the meat. So they would sell it to try to make a buck. And some believers were like, that’s awesome! I just cut my grocery bill in half. If you went to King Soopers, and you were like, “Hey, we have prime rib and prime rib. One of them was kind of sacrificed to a demon. It’s two bucks a pound.”
If you’re Greg Sanders, my answer is, “All things are lawful. Let’s go with the two bucks a pound. I just cut my grocery bill by a third.” That’s what was going on in the early church.
Some people in the church were like, oh, for shame. You know, that was in demonic worship. It’s going to get on you. I can’t believe you would partner with the enemy like that.
So there was a division in the church. Some people going, “Hey, according to the kingdom, everything’s legal. I got set free. I’m not under the law. I’m not under these rules. And this scrutiny, it’s all good.”
There were others that were like, “You can’t do that. You’ve got to tiptoe through this stuff. It’s dangerous.” They were fighting over it. And they were dividing over it. And they were separating over it. People were deciding not to worship together over this. Now all of a sudden, you realize where this is going, you realize what Paul’s after. He’s not after the food issue. He’s after the division issue.
He says there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. I want us to just take a quick pause and remove the food example from this teaching. Because Paul’s not really just dealing with food, he’s dealing with a much bigger idea. What he’s essentially saying to the church is, hey, this stuff you are arguing, dividing, and fighting over doesn’t matter. So knock it off. Get over your opinions and humble yourselves. Start lifting up people for what they’re doing well.
So the question we have to ask ourselves when we look at this passage is what does it look like for us to tear apart the work of God over things that don’t matter? Church, it looks like superimposing a non-scriptural perspective, preference, or even a revelation onto another person.
When I take my preferences, I even take some of the things Jesus has taught me, put them on someone else, and require of them that they align with me or we can’t have equity in the Kingdom, all of a sudden, I’m doing something that’s not biblical. Paul’s answer to the church was to keep the main thing the main thing, preach the word, honor the blood, lift up Jesus, and to everything else, go ahead and have your opinion but shut up.
Now, when my oldest son was young, we were in a gathering and Pastor Gary said something to that end, and my oldest son stood up in the middle of this kind of moment in church and went, “We don’t say shut up!” It’s seared into my memory.
We have to be very, very careful with our opinions and how much we push them on to others. Church, if it’s a genuinely clear scriptural issue, as in a scriptural mandate, share it. If not, hold it. What if somebody asks me? Then give them the kindness of an answer.
Paul’s not talking about living mute in a culture where we refuse to talk to each other. He’s talking about this incessant idea within us to overshare our perspective and force people to align with the way we see things.
Look, here’s the thing. We all see stuff. Some of us see stuff really cool. Some of us see stuff really weird. As long as we can align with the fact that the King of Glory gave His life on the cross and rose again, and because of that we’re saved, we should be able to get along just fine.
So Paul will say, but it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble. So now he does something new. He says, “I want to move a step further and tell you, yes, all those things are fine. They’re lawful. They’re legal. However, when you decide to use one of those — one of your freedoms, your preferences, your revelations — and you know, it bothers somebody else, and your answer in your heart is, ‘I really don’t care that it bothers them, it’s my freedom,’ that’s actually sin.”
Pastor Dustin did an incredible job a couple of weeks back of reminding us that the Church that we look around and see, not just this one, but the one at large, is the gift of the Father. To His son. She’s the bride gift and is to be treated as such, with incredible care and concern, as precious.
If we take that idea of this bride gift being the people that were around, that we’re stewarding each other, it gives us an incredible lens to live from. It means we’re going to work towards helping others towards Him. And we’re going to be incredibly careful with flaunting our own preferences and opinions. Because they just don’t compare with the task of protecting his bride.
Paul’s statement is, if you use your freedom and you cause somebody else to stumble, even if it was right, you’re wrong. He says, “So don’t eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble.”
You see, when we at any level live into our preferences and opinions without regard for what they do to another, we’re tearing apart the Kingdom. We’re in a dynamic tension where others matter. I don’t mean this with harshness, I just mean it with truth. I don’t think the Holy Spirit cares if we like it. It’s how He created it.
There are points we can coach obedience for each other. We can help. If they’re making a biblical mistake, I think it’s wrong to not say something. But before we step in and edit somebody else, you and I have to do the hard work of asking a question: is this a biblical mandate or is this my preference and my opinion? Is it maybe a revelation that I have it? If it’ll help them, great. Ask them. Say, “Hey, I think I have a perspective on something that might help you. Can I give that to you?” This works better instead of putting it upon them and causing them to feel like they’re less than others because they don’t walk in it.
Church, our freedoms are not in and of themselves permissions. Because you have the faith to believe something is right doesn’t make it right for you to use it at somebody else’s expense.
Paul will go on in verses 14:22 and 23, and I will look at these two verses together. He’ll say, “You may have the faith to believe that there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, but keep it between yourself and God.” You may have the faith to believe there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing.
You’re like, “What I’m doing is fine.” Great. Just lock it down, zip it up, put it in your pocket for just you and Jesus, that’s it. He puts the weight of responsibility on the person who believes they have a revelation of freedom or a fresh perspective from God that we are, when this happens, to be very cautious with it.
I want us to be clear. Paul’s statement is don’t be ashamed of it. Just don’t talk about it. Live into your freedom just quit feeling like you got to tell everybody about it.
At the risk of getting sidetracked, I want to tell you a fun story. I was a young youth pastor and we had a guest speaker come to town. So my job as the lowest man on the totem pole of the staff was that I got to drive him around town. He was a little bit of a cantankerous old guy. Very, very specific and persnickety. That’s a great word, persnickety. It’s got a lot of syllables in it.
So my job was to take him out to dinner. Now I grew up — I told you I’m a recovering Pentecostal. There were a lot of things we were supposed to do. I got saved a lot of weeks in a row. At one point in my life, I got corrected by my parents because I didn’t go to the prayer room enough. So I learned a simple trick as a young Pentecostal kid — go to the prayer and fall asleep, and everyone thinks you’re holy. Things are starting to make sense.
So I’m sitting down, I’m having dinner with this guy. I was in a forced conversation where I was like, I know I’m supposed to want to be here, but this guy is so boring.
So I was trying to be kind. Now, he orders a glass of wine to which I go, oh. Because where I grew up, you’re going to hell for that. And he looks at me, he’s like, “Would you like glass wine?” I’m like, “I don’t drink.” He’s like, “Oh.”
So we get into this long conversation. He vets out of me that the reason I don’t believe in drinking has nothing to do with a personal choice, preference, or revelation. It has to do with the fact that good people don’t do that.
Then he just drops this bomb on me. “You know someday, you’ll understand that moderation is far more spiritual than abstinence.” And I went, “Shut your mouth.”
Four years later, I go in camouflage to the store. Belinda and I were going to have pizza one night. And I’m like, I think a beer sounds really good with this. I wore a hat really low, coat up, tiptoe into the store, grab my six-pack, run home. Then it sat in the fridge and I stared at it.
I’m thinking of this guy in my head and how much he upset my world. The Holy Spirit just said, “Would you like a beer with your pizza?” I said I would. He’s like, “Go for it.” I was like, “Are you serious?”
Three years later, I’m in a job interview to come to a church here in Colorado. We go for pizza. The pastor from here flies out to meet me. We go 15-20 miles out of town. I didn’t realize what he was doing. He was setting me up.
We order pizza. I have no idea where this guy stands on the Pentecostal thing. But he kind of gave me all the vibes of being very Pentecostal.
So I’m on my best behavior, like, “Yeah, I’ll take a water.” We sit down.
After a couple of bites of pizza, he’s like, “So if I wasn’t here, would you order a beer with that?” And I’m like, oh. Because I had kept it on lockdown up to this point.
The only person at this point that knew was my wife and Pastor Gary. I just sat there and I put my head down. I was just so ashamed. I’m like, “Yeah I would.” So he says, “Great, let’s order some.”
I realized this incredible lesson that I had been raised being told somebody else’s preference and perspective was a sin. If I didn’t obey what they said, I was in sin. No one had ever challenged me to study the Scriptures and figure out what the Scriptures says about them.
I think Scripture is really clear. Wine is a mocker strong against raging. If you’re deceived by it, you’re not wise. We are taught as a people to be healthy, practicing moderation. If you don’t like alcohol, great, don’t drink alcohol. I don’t care.
My point is, we have to stop superimposing what we think is holding us onto somebody else. If it’s not a biblical issue, we stop saying it. Maybe what we should say is, “Hey, I don’t know, you should study the Scriptures. I’ll study them with you. Let’s go learn. Let’s let the Bible be our discipleship. Let’s let the Holy Spirit be the one who disciples us.”
Paul says don’t talk about it. Don’t be ashamed, but just don’t talk about it. Why? Because sometimes we talk about it because we need approval from others.
It’s our insecurity because we don’t just trust our ability to hear God. You can hear God. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” You may also say, “I don’t think I hear God very well.”
I agree with that. That’s probably true. It’s intended to be a relationship of conversation that you grow into. Here’s the crazy part. God, in His mercy, released the Holy Spirit on humanity to be the guide and the teacher.
He understood we were going to screw it up, and He’s okay with it because He’s that big. He’s that good. He’s that courageous to go, look, you can walk with Me and keep leaning in towards Me. You’re going to goof it up and I’m here to cover you.
The second thing is that sometimes when we announce our freedoms and superimpose them on everybody, we start giving away our perspective. We force people to start judging themselves, and we force people to start judging us. It makes an incredible platform for the enemy to bring division into the church.
Paul’s statement was to stop it. He said, “Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by doing something they know is all right.”
Now this word is in English and this translation makes some sense. But in Greek, there’s a word he uses. It’s the same word that shows up in James when James says, “don’t be double-minded.”
In soccer, there’s a term — how many soccer fans do I have in the room? In soccer, there’s a term they call “being caught in two minds.” Being caught in two minds means a player couldn’t figure out what to do at the moment. So what he ended up doing was nothing that mattered because he couldn’t commit to one direction or the other.
For instance, a guy’s coming. Maybe he’s coming down the line, and he needs to cross it and put it on the six or he needs to play it back to the midfielder, but he can’t figure out what to do. So he just shanks it over the goal.
Paul’s idea here is that you’re so caught between two decision points. One being, it’s okay here but then I show up with a different people group who would never do that. It’s not born of faith. He says, to not second guess yourself or be of two minds. His goal is to encourage you that if you believe something is right, then trust it. And if you’re not sure then don’t do it. But live by your convictions. Don’t play games in front of people where you change what you believe before different crowds.
In both of the stories that I talked about, I had two older men in the Kingdom who were willing to let me know where they stood on something and share with me their perspective. Neither forced it upon me. That’s healthy discipleship.
It’s not wrong for you to share what God’s taught you. It’s wrong for you to force it upon somebody else when the Holy Spirit has yet to ask them for that. Does that connect? What I’m trying to explain here has been a lifelong, difficult journey for me. When I read 14, I was like, wow, it’s just right here.
Our God is so loving and kind and His answer is, “I want you to learn how to follow Me by trusting My voice. I want you to give a ton of grace to each other to do that. Keep the main things the main thing, but don’t worry about the things that aren’t the main thing.”
Paul will go on and say, “But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn’t eat it.” So simple. If you’re not sure, then just don’t do it. I always err on the side of caution.
But if you’re pretty sure you feel a real green light for the Lord, great, go for it. Now obviously, we are not talking about systematic sin issues. We’re not talking about the things the Scriptures paint clearly. And if you take this teaching and go apply it to those things, shame on you. Because that’s not what Paul’s point was here. Paul’s point was about this tendency we have to nuance the life out of everything instead of coaching people towards freedom.
He says if you eat something you think you shouldn’t have, those people will be condemned for not acting in faith before God. Because if you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. I think we miss this. It’s so simple. If you feel like you shouldn’t do it, then don’t. But don’t judge others who do. That’s the point.
The point is you and I are learning to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Church, faith pleases Him. Faith, regardless of what it’s applied to. He loves it when we have the guts and the courage to follow Him.
Let’s put it all together. I want you to consider that Jesus is okay with your opinions and your preferences and your revelations. He likes them. But He’s asked you not to make them into points of tension with others. If you find yourself willing to step into an argument over something, and it’s not a black-and-white faith issue in the Kingdom (i.e was Jesus actually God?), that’s a big deal. The answer’s yes.
But outside of those things, don’t make them tension points. You can smile and go, “I see it a little differently. But man, I want you to dig into the Holy Spirit. Praise God for you having the courage to follow that.”
Do it or don’t. Just do it or don’t do it in faith. Never let pressure from others cause you to violate what you believe. Do not give anyone more place than the Holy Spirit in your life. I don’t care if it’s me. Doesn’t matter who it is. You have God living in you. Give Him the highest rank. Let His voice be the one you listen to the most.
Don’t be arrogant because of what you believe. Don’t see yourself as better. Maybe you’re further in your journey. Praise God for you. Handle it with a lot of grace so people that aren’t still want to keep traveling on the journey.
Paul’s big advice would be this: if your gut instinct and your faith say yes, then trust your gut instinct of the Holy Spirit, because He’s fully capable of growing you into who you’re supposed to be.
If you have the faith to trust what you’re doing is right, then don’t doubt it. If your gut says no, don’t do it. You are responsible for your convictions. And how do we walk into that? How do we live in that? There are three things to remember.
Number one, God is not punitive. God is not looking for a place to get you. He’s not itemizing your life trying to figure out where you failed. He gave you the Holy Spirit to walk with you, to coach you, and to guide you. The more you learn to lean into that relationship, the safer you’re going to be in the Kingdom.
If the Holy Spirit brings conviction for something, whether that’s through his voice or another trusted source or if you read the Scriptures and you’re convicted, great, relax, repent, and let Him change you. Don’t accept any shame for it. Don’t grovel.
I kind of wish the Holy Spirit was like Grogu and IG 11. You know when he’s got the “No” button. So every time something happens he’s like, “No, no, no, no.” I kind of wish that He would do that for us when we get to this place. We start doing stupid things and you just hear a “no, no, no” behind you. You just stop.
If you’re not getting convicted by the Holy Spirit, then relax and just keep pursuing and trusting Him. If you have a check in your spirit about something, don’t do it. And don’t let anybody talk you out of it. But don’t put it on blast to everybody that you had a check in your spirit. Don’t show up in a situation and go, “I can’t do that!” Just be quiet. Bless them to walk their journey out in faith.
There are going to be times when we’re going to need people to walk alongside us and coach us. It’s why we need relationships. Be open to that. Be teachable. But when we’re teaching others, let’s be very, very, very careful with how we superimpose what we see onto them. Would you stand with me, please?
Jesus, we love You. We honor You. Sometimes we really love the Scriptures. Other times they’re not so much fun. But the takeaway today is, Holy Spirit, we desperately need You. We need You to teach us how to walk with each other in relationships in a way that promotes goodness and peace and joy.
Thank You for today. Thanks for all the fun things You did today. You’re such an incredible God. You’re so kind and so gracious. We love You and we honor You. May Your face shine upon us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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