Pastor Gary helped us to understand the process of walking in preference of others. It starts by resisting entitlement by trusting in the sovereignty of God.
June 29, 2023
Speaker: Gary Peters
Passage: Romans 15:1-3
In the first gathering, we talked about Lazarus and his death. If you understand that story, Jesus allowed him to die. They came to him two days before he was dead and said, “Your friend Lazarus is sick.” And He said, “Let’s go to a different town.”
If you understand the story, it was to prepare them for the miracle of resurrection. I just want to encourage you. I felt like in both gatherings I was supposed to encourage you. Sometimes God doesn’t come through on your timetable. Sometimes God may seem distant or even mean. Why did He wait? Why didn’t He come through?
See, the thing that we have been promised as Christians is that if things don’t happen in this life, we have eternity. A lot of things are going to be settled when we see Him face to face. I’ve had people tell me all my life, “When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask Jesus this or that.” I believe when you get to heaven, you’re not going to care. So just trust Him. Whatever is happening, if there’s a delay in your miracle, God is up to something. God is doing something. Trust Him in that.
Quit trying to figure it out. Quit trying to get an answer to your question. You may never get an answer to your question. Trust the Lord.
Second thing, a lot of people have asked about my ankle, about the boot I’ve been wearing. I have a brace on and these are the only shoes that fit the brace. I didn’t want to clunk around the stage with a boot. What happened is I had surgery 15 years ago. Major surgery with screws, they cut the Achilles to fix another tendon. For five weeks, I lay in bed. My wife was a saint.
If you know me, five weeks and beds don’t go well together. Sitting in this chair on a Sunday morning doesn’t go well together. So they told me then that there is the possibility it could stretch later on when I get older, even though I don’t feel older. But I am. So I may have to go back under the knife. It’s inflamed and they’re trying to get it under control. Plus good old government insurance. Because I have Medicare, they wanted me to wait six weeks to make sure that I’ve tried the treatment. That’s why I’m doing it, and we’ll see.
I’m not that concerned because the bone structure is fine. The Achilles is fine. It’s just the post tibia that runs the inside of your ankle that is stretching and may be frayed. If you want to pray for me, please do, but I’m not concerned. God’s going to heal me one way or the other, through surgery or healing. I believe that.
I want to continue on a theme that we’ve been discussing quite a bit lately because it keeps coming up in Romans. I’m not going to be in Romans most of the time. I’m going to mention a couple of things in Romans and then we’re going to be in the gospels in the book of Acts.
Romans chapter 12, verse 10 says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Give preference to one another in honor.” The word “preference” means to lead the way and to set or hold above or beyond in your estimation.
When I do premiere counseling, I take the couples and say, “If you esteem one another, if you hold each other in preference and honor, it’ll solve a lot of your problems. As a matter of fact, it’ll stop you from getting a divorce. If you honor one another in preference, it will not happen. It’s when we become selfish that there are issues.”
I know there are exceptions to that rule. I understand that. Jesus gave the exception clause. There’s a reason for it. Because some hurt is so deep, it can’t be healed in this life for people. I understand that. I’m not putting you down for that if you’re in your second marriage. I’m just saying this. God wants you to give preference to one another in honor. Not just in marriage. It starts in the home. The home is the incubator for the Gospel to be seen.
The second verse is in Romans 14:19 which says, “So then pursue the things which make for peace.” Pursue the things. It means to chase after the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. In chapter 15, it says, “We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this.” We must not just please ourselves.
The things they were sensitive about — if you’ve been with us in the Romans study — were whether meat should be sacrificed to idols and whether you could eat it. You’re having a barbecue for 100 people and you go down to the meat market. The meat that’s been sacrificed to idols is just as good as the meat that hasn’t, but it’s cheaper. Most good Christians are going to say, “I’m going to take the bargain because I got 100 people coming over. This is a lot of meat. So I’m going to buy the cheap meat, not knowing that somebody that feels like that meat that’s been dedicated to a pagan idol is now possessed or has some evil spirit on it and it weakens their conscience.” That’s what he’s talking about.
We don’t even understand it because we buy at Costco. We must not please ourselves. We should help others, do what is right, and build them up in the Lord. The same word is in chapter 14 verse 19 as in chapter 15 verse two. Building up, edify. It means to bring them strength so that they can stand erect, for even Christ did not please himself. And we’re all supposed to follow Jesus, right?
Matthew 17. Capernaum was Jesus’ hub when He was in the Galilee area. “On their arrival in Capernaum the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Does your teacher pay the temple tax?'” What is the temple tax? Every Jewish male at the age of 20 and older had to pay a tax to keep the temple in service. Peter was a Jew and so was Jesus. There’s this temple tax, and I believe Peter didn’t have a clue. But he says, yep, He does.
He’s going to go back and ask Jesus, have we paid it because they asked me? Jesus knows what he’s thinking. So when he came back to the house, before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked, “What do you think Peter? Do kings tax their own people or do they tax the people that they have conquered?”
They’re talking about Roman culture. They are Jews, but they understand the culture because Jews are taxed by the Romans because they’re a conquered people. 60 to 70% of the Roman Empire was conquered people. They weren’t Romans. The Romans taxed people, sometimes very heavily. They demanded tribute. It was something that was done over and over again.
Peter answers Jesus saying, “They tax the people they’ve conquered.” “Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free. However, we don’t want to offend them. Go down to the lake, throw a line in, open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin.”
We know that the tax was about two days’ wages per individual. This coin he finds in the fish’s mouth is four days’ wages. He’s saying, take it and pay the tax for both of us. The key is this. We don’t want to offend them. It says the same thing in Romans. Don’t be an offense, don’t offend people needlessly.
Acts chapter 16. We’re laying the foundation. There’s a reason we’re reading all this text. Paul went first to Derby then He went to Lister. And there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was Jewish because the Jewish line came through the mother, but his father was a Greek. Timothy was well thought of by the believers and Lister and Iconium. We know through First Timothy that the Gospel had been planted first by Timothy’s grandmother, then his mother, and then him, but the dad was an unbelieving Greek. Also, even though they were in a Jewish household, he wasn’t a Jew.
“Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. They went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.”
I want to share with you this morning in the time I have remaining about how to walk in preference. How does the church walk in preference? How do we prefer one another? The first thing is this: resist entitlement. None of us are entitled, are we?
We understand entitlements. Entitlement is I deserve that. We hate it when somebody else gets something we deserve. How many of you love a promotion for somebody else when you deserve it? We don’t at all. We resist entitlement by trusting the sovereignty of God.
Jesus says, “I don’t have to pay taxes because it all belongs to Me. I’m the king of the Jews. Why should I be having to pay a temple tax?” That’s what He’s saying to Peter. But He says, “Because I don’t want to offend the Jews, let’s pay the tax.” Many Christians will say forget it. I’m not paying that tax because it’s not about me. I’ve had Christians say, “I’m not going to pay my income tax because the government supports this or that and I disagree”. We’ve already covered that in Romans. Pay your flippin’ taxes. Pay your taxes. Pay your taxes. Fair enough. Do it righteously. Don’t cheat.
He says go find this fish. Whatever God speaks to you, however foolish, you should listen. Does anybody in here ever pray, “God, this fish I’m catching, please let there be enough to pay my taxes in its mouth?” It sounds stupid. But God always asks for stuff that sounds stupid to the natural mind.
I read a lot of commentaries when I’m preparing for teaching. I read this about three months ago, and I’ve been chomping at the bit to share this with you. It just landed with the Romans passage. I love when a plan comes through. My explanation is this. They said God miraculously opened this fish’s mouth, threw a coin in it, and it was sitting there for Peter, and Peter threw a line in, or maybe a net, and this fish was sitting right there, and it already had the coin in the mouth by the hand of God. Peter picked up the fish and opened its mouth. Lo and behold, four days wages were in this fish’s mouth.
This is what I believe. I think it’s more practical. Some dude was playing on the rocks or on a dock or on a boat. And he was fishing and they wore robes. And he forgot that he had some coins in his pocket. And as he’s playing around or splashing around or fishing, all of a sudden, one of the coins flips out and goes down. Why do they put shiny things on lures? Because fish are attracted to it, thinking it’s a bait fish, which means a fish smaller than them that they can eat. And lo and behold, this fish swims along, sees this coin going down, and eats it. I think maybe it had that coin in its mouth for a while. I don’t know. The miracle is this, the fish that had the coin was ready for the hook. It’s just amazing to me how God does all of these things. Trust His sovereignty.
Ten years ago, yesterday, last night, something incredibly bad or evil happened to Karen and me. But if that wouldn’t have happened, I wouldn’t be here today. I’d still be In California. God, in His sovereignty does stuff that we don’t understand. Something that the enemy meant for evil God turns around for my good. The reason I remember the date is not because I’m still acutely hurt. It’s because of this. The Chicago Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup in three years on that night by scoring two goals in 17 seconds. That’s why I remember the day. Some of you are going to remember the date two Mondays ago when the Nuggets won the championship.
I’m not acutely hurt by that. I’m just saying the sovereignty of God is something that He does in our life that we don’t understand. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. For 13 years, he waited for God to do something. His brothers ask, “Why aren’t you angry with us?” And he says, “You meant it for evil. God meant it for my good and for your good.”
We don’t like that. We don’t like how sometimes God takes evil things and blesses us with them. God’s not freaked out by sin. He hates sin. And He already provided for our sins. But He’s not freaked out by sin. I’ve told people all the time. Satan and God are not fighting back and forth, thinking, “Who’s going to win?” It’s like an ant crawling up on this desk and challenging me to a fight.
Light and darkness are that much different. Satan is a created being. God’s all-knowing, all-powerful. He created everything. Everything. And I’m not going to talk to pastor Dustin when he gets back from paternity leave about the problem of evil. If you have a problem with evil, I don’t. It’s bad.
Trust the sovereignty of God, church. I talk about it all the time. I think my wife would tell you, it’s not just something I talk about. It’s something I try to live. I’ve always had the ability to trust God in the midst of things that other people may not. I don’t know why. I just know He’s good. And He’s going to come through. And if He doesn’t, He doesn’t want me to understand it. And when I die, I’m not going to care. And I get to spend eternity with Him. Is that simplistic? Yes. But the fact is, it works. That’s who God is.
This world is evil. We weren’t intended to live in this evil. Adam and Eve sinned and the world is evil because of that. By the way, guys, for all you that are pitching on your wives this, “I can’t believe that, you know, you were deceived.” Adam wasn’t deceived, he chose it. He chose the woman over God. And it’s never stopped. Fact.
The second thing is we need to learn the difference between personal choice and Biblical conviction or a Biblical absolute. There are certain things in the Scriptures that I will never ever relinquish. We sang about the blood of Jesus. There is no other way. If you don’t like songs about the blood, I’m sorry. It’s gained our salvation. Thank God for Jesus. There is no other solution. If somebody came in here and said, “Here’s one of many ways,” I would be opposed to that. He’s not one of many. He is the way.
There are certain things in Scripture that we do not compromise on, period. Life. We don’t compromise on it, period. We need to understand that. There are other things that we need to understand that we may have a choice or a preference that other people don’t. We’ve got to understand chapter 15 of Acts before we understand chapter 16. Does anybody know what happened in chapter 15? Let me explain.
Paul and Barnabas had their first missionary journey. That’s where they probably met Timothy’s mother and grandmother. They find out that there are certain people that say in Jerusalem to the elders, “You’ve got to be circumcised to be saved.” Paul says, “Wait a minute. How many of you were raised somewhere where you had to have something else besides Jesus to be saved??
I was raised in denominations where you had to be dunked. You got saved, you got dunked. If you didn’t get dunked, you weren’t saved. There are others where you have to speak in tongues or witness or know the four spiritual laws. Paul says he opposed that strongly. Matter of fact, that argument, they debated it in the Council of Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas went back to Jerusalem to debate this to say, “No, there is no other means of salvation. You don’t need to be circumcised.” Why circumcision by the way? Come on. Why is it only dudes?
The thing is, circumcision was a sign for the Jews. So there were Jewish Christians, genuinely born again, that had come to know Christ after the resurrection. They came to know Christ, and they were demanding that all new Christians — Gentile and Jew alike — be circumcised. Paul says, “No way. That’s not going to happen. You can’t add anything to Jesus.”
They came up with four rules, which I’m not going to get into. Two for the Gentiles and two for the Jewish Christians. They brought the Gospel down to four things. And then it says this, “It seems good to us the leadership and to the Holy Spirit.” Do you want to not have church disputes? Have leadership that hears God and can say, “It seems good to us. We’re in unity. But more importantly, we’ve heard God on this thing.”
Now I know that’s been abused. If somebody tells you, “You’ve got to do something, or you’re not saved,” they’re trying to abuse your life. Period. It’s Jesus. Jesus. One name. I say it all the time, when you slam your finger or thumb with a hammer, you don’t say, “Buddha.” You say, “Jesus,” or you speak in tongues. Or you keep your mouth shut. Why? Because there’s only one name.
He’s trying to blaspheme the name all the time. Paul, because he doesn’t want to offend his fellow countrymen, has Timothy circumcised. First of all, Paul got circumcised as a Jew on day eight of his life. Timothy is 20 to 30 years old. It’s a painful, painful process at age 20. If you don’t know what circumcision is, ask your mother.
Paul says Timothy, “I want you to get circumcised because we don’t want to put anything in the way of causing offense for your Jewish non-believing people that we’re going to.” They didn’t have the first church of Thessalonica or the first church of Corinth yet. They went to the synagogue. They preached the Gospel on street corners. If they knew that Timothy was brought into a synagogue and he was uncircumcised, it would have caused an uproar and would have shut that door for them.
My point is this. God is going to ask you and me to do things where we may have such a deep conviction, but it’s not so scriptural or to the point where it’s our personal preference, but we need to prefer somebody by laying our personal preference down. We are not to lay down absolutes. Not about who Jesus is. Not about how you become a Christian. Not about things like that. But this, how are you baptized? Do you speak in tongues? Do you believe in miracles? I love these things, but they are not absolutes. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t pray in the Spirit. I’d blow up. I drive my car and I’m praying in the Spirit. I’ll look over sometimes at somebody sitting at the stop next to me and they think I’m talking to myself. I’m talking to God.
The fact is, I prayed with pastors in Washington for 19 years before we left. Nineteen years and hardly missed a week. There were Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians, and Catholics. There were all denominations and walks of life. Because we came together with two things in mind. Jesus is the only means of salvation, and our community needs Jesus.
That’s what God wants us to see. Paul vehemently opposed the Judaizers. Those that said you had to, fill in the blank. You must, fill in the blank, before you’re a Christian. Paul opposed those. And then later on, he comes back and asks his young cohort, “Hey, will you do this? Because we don’t want to needlessly offend people?”
My question is this. What is God asking you and me, whether it’s your marriage, whether it’s your job, whether it’s another Christian, and especially with unbelievers and pre-believers (they’re just not believers yet)? What is God saying? Maybe your soapbox shouldn’t be a soapbox, but maybe you should get on your knees and realize that God is saying something to us. We can lay that down for the sake of bringing them.
There are times we need Priscillas and Aquilas in our life. If you know the story of Acts, they were a husband and wife team that took this young disciple and explained to him the ways of God more excellently. If you come to me for advice or if you come to me and ask, “What do you think the Scripture teaches?” I’m going to say, “All the miracles are for today. God didn’t stop doing miraculous things because the Bible was written. God wants to do this book every day.”
But I want to tell you something, if there’s somebody that is a non-Christian — a pagan, as I like to say — and they’re your boss and they act like a pagan, why are you freaked out? They’re a pagan. We expect non-believers to come to our convictions when we won’t even live our convictions in front of a non-believer.
2024 terrifies me to some degree. Yeah, it’s a long way away. But I think we as a church need to prepare. Amos says, “I will do nothing without telling first my prophets.” I follow a lot of prophetic voices. I love the prophetic voice. I believe I move sometimes in the prophetic voice. But I didn’t hear one person say, “Beware there’s going to be a pandemic and a crazy election in 2020.” I heard the exact opposite. “It’s going to be great. 20 times 20 is grace times four. It’s going to be grace quadrupled.” Did anybody have grace quadrupled in 2020? Now looking back, you maybe can see God did some things. But certainly not at the time.
My concern is this. The church does the same thing we did in 2020 in 2024. And we blame those that don’t go to church when it’s our responsibility to be to the church. That’s my concern. As the old guy here, as pastor Greg’s one-time pastor, and now he’s my pastor.
Ask yourself what would happen if, in Paul’s day, there was Facebook and TikTok and Instagram and Twitter and email. Paul would have been the devil incarnate by asking Timothy to be circumcised by some people.
The last thing, I’ll close with this. Remind yourself that everybody has a story. It’ll change the way you love people, minister to people, and understand people. I met this guy one time in one of the churches I pastored. He was a little different, a big burly dude and a little standoffish. His wife was much more involved in the church than he was.
We went to dinner at their house one night and heard his story. At age five, he was pushed under his mother’s bed by his mom and listened to her boyfriend murder his mother. That story changed my perception of him. All of us have a story. I don’t know how he lived. I just can’t wrap my mind around it. Once again, grace is given to the offense that we ever had in our life. And somehow God had graced him to be able to walk through that. And he was fairly normal.
Maybe that person you work with that irritates you so much that you’re like, “Why don’t they come to know Jesus?” Maybe they have had tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy in their life, and you haven’t even taken time to listen to their story before you try to evangelize in their life. I’ve had to learn this over 50 years. I was an obnoxious, obnoxious early Christian. I was obnoxious. I look back, and I say, “God, how could any of those people I pastored still be saved?” Because some of the things that I thought were probably wrong.
There is power in taking time to listen to somebody’s story. By the way, it’s not going to be one cup of coffee. It’s not going to be bringing them a donut. Maybe walking with them for months or years. See, God is not slack or impatient. He is long-suffering because he doesn’t want anybody to spend an eternity without Christ. I encourage you — and I’m talking to myself because people still irritate the crap out of me. They do. People still irritate me. Sometimes you irritate me. Full disclosure, but I guarantee this, I irritate you sometimes.
If we take the time, start with somebody, even in the body, to listen to their story. And listening to their story doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say. Learn to love somebody enough to listen to this story before we try to bring correction or bring judgment. If the church does that, we will change Fort Collins. Fact.
I pray with pastors every Thursday now. Do I agree with every one of them on doctrine? Nope. Don’t care. They love Jesus. I love Jesus. Our town needs Jesus. We have a common denominator. His name is Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords. If one of them got squirrely and started saying, “You know, there are many paths to God, and I want to start praying to another god,” I’d say, “Dude, come on, let’s talk about this.”
I’ve learned their stories. Listen to the stories of others because you have compassion. It says in Matthew nine, Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd. And He had brokenness and compassion for them. That’s why He was different. We have the same spirit as Christ raised from the dead. We have that same spirit. Thank you.
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