Friday, December 29, 2017

Living as a Christian in a Broken World -- Romans 14

Living as a Christian in a Broken World
[Christian Living]
Bible Study Guide Lesson for
December 30, 2017

Larry R Evans
SS Teacher
Sligo SDA Church


For three months, we’ve poured over the book of Romans.  In chapters 1 through 11, Paul lays down a theological understanding of how God has gone to great lengths to save us. Then with the little word, “Therefore” in Romans 12:1, Paul directs our thinking to why he wrote the first 11 chapters in the first place: “What does it mean to be saved—to be justified by faith and reconciled with God. In other words, given all that God has done for us, how should we go about living in a broken world. What difference does Jesus make in one’s life?”  It is fundamental to Paul that those who are “justified” live according to God’s principles. For Paul, salvation always precedes behavior but behavior is important.  However, the right behavior comes from having the right motivation which, of course, comes from understanding what God has already done for us. So, theology and practical day-by-day living need each other.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Last week the focus was on chapter 12 and 13. Here we learned that how we view our self, unity,and our relationship with others –even with how we think, talk and act toward the government—should be impacted by the principle of love.  After all, pride must be pushed aside if we are to be a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (12:1). With this in mind, Paul steps into the quagmire of conversations that could have easily been taking place in various social gathering such as church potlucks for example. Our study today will be Romans 14 and 15. Four major questions come to my mind after reading these chapters. Today, we’ll want to discuss them.
1.     “Does it really matter what we eat? (Rom. 14:1-4);
2.     “Does it matter when we worship? (Rom. 14: 5-9);
3.     “How tolerant should we be with others when we think they are doing something wrong? (Rom. 14: 10-18); and finally,
4.     “Why have church anyway, if we don’t all think the same?” (Romans 14:19-15:13)

Chapters 14 and 15 raise more questions than these, but if we resolve these  four we will deserve at least four “gold stars.”

Some Questions to Consider While Living with Others in a Broken World

1.    “Does it really matter what we eat? (Rom. 14:1-4)

A basic principle of understanding any Bible teaching can be summarized as follows: “A text without context is a pretext.” Translated, this simply means, we need to understand the times in which a passage was written, if we are to understand either the meaning or the application of a particular passage. If we don’t do this, we are likely to allow our biases or the biases of our own times to affect our conclusions. Make sense?  Here is the passage:

“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:1-3, NKJV)

Without context, we could easily impose the issues of our own time and misunderstand the point Paul is making. Hint:. Paul isn’t speaking about the pros and cons of vegetarianism! When writing to Corinthians, it appears there was a prevailing thinking that was dividing some Christians and wouldn’t you know it, it was over food! Note what Paul says in 1 Cor. 8: 1-7,

Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.
Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.”(NKJV)

In both Rome and Corinth, food was causing a division in the church. Idolatry was a real issue and Christians were living among those who believed the power of an idol was all-pervasive. The issue was not vegetarianism vs meat eating! The likely issue was the meat sacrifices that might have been offered to idols. The question of the moment was, “By eating this meat, were Christians paying homage to the idol?” Often one could not tell if it had been offered to an idol.  But what if it had been! Would it make any difference? Some believed it did! So to be on the safe side some ate only vegetables. Their consciences were sensitive so they restricted their diet to only those things could not have been part of an idolatrous worship.   It wasn’t a health principle. It was a “worship” issue. It wasn’t clean vs unclean, it was avoiding anything they might have possibly been offered to idols.  

By understanding the dilemma that faced the Christians of Paul’s time, we can see how the conflict developed. Well-meaning church members began drawing lines in the sand implying that some were more holy than others—a claim that could be made by both sides.  So, who was the winner in this controversy that was dividing the church? In some sense, the idols won the day—that is until Paul stepped in and said, “Who are you to judge another’s servant?”  For 11 chapters Paul had explained that neither side was right!  He made his case that the central point was what Jesus had done and now wanted to do through them!  (He’ll talk about the necessity of obedience in other places.) Pride, however, was now the obstacle. “Superior” and so called “weak” became divisive labels causing many to miss the real point of being Christian. It’s no wonder that Paul built such a long eleven-chapter-prologue. Name calling was to have no place in the Christian experience – no weak vs superior nor liberal vs conservative labels were to be given!

2. “Does it matter when we worship? (Rom. 14: 5-10)

“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” (Romans 14:5-10)

Verse 5 continues the same theme, namely, the problem of judging others.  We should point out again, understanding the context of the time is critical.  In our times, it is often a discussion of the Sabbath vs Sunday but neither the Sabbath nor the first day is mentioned. What we do know about Paul is that he held obedience and the 10 commandments in high esteem. (See Rom. 13:8-10; 7:12,14).  The problem, as Paul had already said in 7:14, “the law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual.” The spirituality of the law was not at stake here nor was the validity of the seventh-day Sabbath since it was one of the ten commandments which he had already been upheld.  It was the judgmental spirit that Paul was addressing. The principle of the law of love was being violated but over what? Paul isn’t explicit but there are reasons to believe it had to do with the ceremonial system comprised of feast days and yearly Sabbaths. We learn from his writing in other places why this may have been the division: “You observe days and months and seasons and years.” (Gal. 4:10), “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (Col. 2:16,17). These are references to the appointed festivals listed in Lev. 23. The validity of the 7th day Sabbath is rooted in Creation (Ex. 20:8-11) and redemption (Deut. 5:15f), the 10 Commandments were to be valid as an expression of God’s character “until heaven and earth disappear” (Matt 5:17,18) and was to be in force after Christ’s own resurrection (Lk. 23:54-56; Matt 24:20).  Christians, of course, honored the resurrection but not by changing the day of worship but through baptism by immersion. (Rom. 6:1-4).  The challenge that Paul and the early church was facing in Romans 14 (and in other places in the NT) was attitudinal. The same problem can also apply to any Christian doctrine whether it be the 10 Commandments, the Sabbath or a vegan diet. A judgmental spirit will create division and is not helpful. Suspicious attitudes were creating a sense of disunity and that is still a concern today.  Note the following insight by Ellen White when she addressed similar issues in her time:

“We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same light. The church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down all disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will, and thus root out disagreement. These resolutions may conceal the discord, but they cannot quench it and establish perfect agreement. Nothing can perfect unity in the church but the spirit of Christlike forbearance. Satan can sow discord; Christ alone can harmonize the disagreeing elements. Then let every soul sit down in Christ’s school and learn of Christ, who declares Himself to be meek and lowly of heart. Christ says that if we learn of Him, worries will cease and we shall find rest to our souls.”—Ellen G. White, Biblical Counsel on Solving Church Difficulties–Letter 29, 1889.* (Written November 8, 1889, from Battle Creek, Michigan); 11MR 266.1; 15MR 150.1; 1888 1092.1.

3. “How tolerant should we be with others when we think they are doing something wrong? (Rom. 14: 10-18); and finally,

“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” (Romans 14:10)

 It has been said that “For every mile of paved road there are two miles of ditch!”  One ditch, in the case of Romans 14, would be being judgmental but there is also another ditch--disregard for the well-being of others. There is an intended tension between the two causing us to review our own motivations.  Is it because of “superior” knowledge that we feel someone is “weak.” Such counsel given from such an attitude is likely to do more harm than good. The spirit of Jesus does not ignore that which would harm another but when given it flows from a heart of love for that person. (John 11:35; Luke 19: 41-44) Even with a contrite, humble spirit, wrong words can be spoken at times. Such a reality will cause us to speak slowly, carefully and prayerfully should the time come to speak words of correction.

4. “Why have church anyway, if we don’t all think the same?” (Romans 14:19-15:13)

“Therefore, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” (Romans 14:19-21)

Paul is not speaking of compromising truth but he is talking about speaking truth in love.  But there is more. What if both individuals, both groups, don’t change their minds?  What then? Profoundly Paul says, “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.”  A person may realize that food offered to an idol is powerless or they may think that even if it is powerless we still should not be eating it. But Paul interrupts such talk with a time-out.  Think bigger than your disagreement, think about the “work of God” and how such arguments work towards its defeat.  Quit thinking aboutd or trying to defend yourself.  

The Concluding Appeal

We now conclude our study for the quarter of the book of Romans. As I do, I reflect on what I have learned.

I spend most of my time working with and for those with “special needs.” I have become dismayed at the attention given to issues that divide. I am alarmed at the 54 million baby lives that were aborted in the United States alone between 1973 and 2014 – concerned not only for the babies but also for the mothers whose trauma in life led them to make such a decision, a concern that is bigger than the abortion itself. I’m concerned about the lack of dignity given to the cerebral palsy person who has no control over his or her body but with drool running down their chin can give a smile for the simple acts of caring shown to them. So, how can I be silent?  But then again what about the 258 million widows in the world with 1 in 7 (125 million) living in extreme poverty.  Eighty-six million widows have suffered physical abuse and 1.5 million children whose mothers who have been widowed will die before reaching the age of five. Am I being fanatical by raising awareness?  What about the 18 million orphan children trying to survive without either parent, what should I or we be saying and doing? Far too often we take hearing the sermon on Sabbaths for granted but I am reminded of the 70 million deaf in the world of which less than 2% have a hope in Jesus. Of course, I don’t want to ignore our responsibility to obey or eat that which is right and healthy but there is a message bigger than merely the food I eat. I want to eat right that I might serve longer and better.

We live in a broken world and, in fact, we are all broken. The search for wholeness found meaning when I found Jesus. Along the way, I have not only been misunderstood, but I too have misunderstood others. It is that sense of brokenness that can bind us to the needs of one to another. Chapters 1-11 of Romans humble me. A life has been given to me and you because God loves. Some will try to derail our desire to return God’s favor by giving to others what we ourselves have received. Division among us gets us off track but getting back on track can begin with two of the shortest phrases or verses in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35) and “God is love” (1 Jn 4:9). Think on these things. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Adam and Christ--Peace in a Troubled World

Bible Study for November 11, 2017
SS Teacher: Larry Evans

Note to Reader:  
Romans 5 is a pivotal chapter in the book of Romans.  It takes us a step beyond justification by faith by revealing the results of such a faith. Paul is adamant that neither good works nor sinful works be allowed to depreciate God’s gift to us. We must never try to add to nor take away from the gift.


The German philosopher/theologian, Johann Herder, wrote
“We cannot know ourselves without a reference point outside ourselves.”
In many ways, this thought provides an important restatement for much of what we’ve learned so far in Romans. Our study this week is based on Romans 5.  Leading up to this chapter, Paul has brought us to an understanding of two very important points:

  1. God counts our faith as righteousness.
  2. God does not count our sins against us.

Both points defy human reasoning. Both thoughts are made possible by God offering Himself in the person of Jesus. Without seeing what the problem is we will have a hard time understanding the solution. To say that the problem is “sin” is an understatement, a cliché.  Without grasping what God originally had in mind for us and Him, without seeing what has happened to our relationship with Him (Gen. 3:9) and our relationship with ogthers (Gen. 4:9), we will have a hard time grasping the “wrath of God”.

Up to now, Romans 1-4, Paul has placed a lot of emphasis on our faith and trust in the God’s gift rather than on our efforts or accomplishments. That’s because a trust relationship was broken in Eden. Justification, or our being accounted as “righteous,” comes by God’s intervention and our trust in the provision that He has made.  This, of course, raised concerns about the relationship of the law to our own salvation. Paul points out that the law, simply stated, serves its purpose by revealing the problem. It is not intended to be the solution. Evil is not overcome by doing more good. The law is a diagnostic tool provided by God. The 10 Commandments, for example, begins with who God is and what He had done (see the preamble and Genesis 1 & 2) and then outlines where we have fallen short. The problem, we shall see, came initially because of Adam’s sin.  The consequences are seen in the reality of death even before the law was explicitly given.  The problem is not something we can solve but there is a response that can bring peace of heart and a hope that will be realized where there will be life where sin will be no more.

In chapter 5, Paul shifts the emphasis from faith to life, to the experiential results of having a faith relationship with Jesus.  Now that he has established how we are made right with God through a trust relationship what is the fruit of such an experience?

The Fruits of Justification by Faith
Romans 5:1-5

  • What are the fruits of justification?

1. Peace with God (v.1)
2. Access to God (v.2)
3. Joy (v.2)
4. Hope (5)

  • Are there by products associated with these fruits? See verses 3-5.

  • If these are the fruits of faith, what is it like to live without having been justified and having a trusting relationship with God?

  • How does the law complicate things?

  • How does the law help resolve the problem? 

  • Is there any tie-in with Adam and Eve’s sin and our sinful ways today? How are we similar? (What happened in Eden that is still prevalent today?

      • The tree became a symbol of independence from God.
      • Adam and Eve determined what was good by what was pleasing to them at the moment regardless of what God had told them leading them to choose a different source for wisdom. (Gen. 3:6).

No One Left Behind, Unless . . .
Romans 5:6-11

  • Who is an enemy of God? (Romans 5:10)
    • Note how the description progresses to that of being called an enemy:
      • “weak” (6a)
      • “ungodly” (6b)
      • “sinners” (8)
      • “enemies” (10)
      • [An enemy is not simply someone who falls a little short of being a trusted friend but someone who is opposed to what one is doing.  Is that what Hebrew 11 describes and what Revelation 13 prophecies

  • How bad do we have to be to lose out on eternal life? (Romans 5:8,10)
    • Sin is best understood when it is contrasted with God’s love!!

The Legacy of Adam or Christ’s? We Choose!
Romans 5:12-17

  • What possible hope do we have when we are so sinful? (Romans 5:5, 11)

  • What key word in verses 12-17 provide the basis of justification by faith?
    • The word “gift” is used 5 times in these six verses!
    • The righteousness that counts is not ours but Christ’s and it comes as a gift.

The Good News and the Bad News
Romans 5:17-21

  • The good news is that God’s grace unlocks what sin has held captive. (LRE)
  • The good news is that Christ died for every human being who has ever lived. The bad news is that not all receive or accept (17) God’s gracious gift. (G. Knight)


God is aware of our problem, of our weaknesses, and has made provision for our salvation. The anxiety of being at odds with God and with ourselves regarding our own inadequacy is replaced with a sense of “peace” even though we have not arrived to the point of being sinless.  How? Our trust is being placed in Jesus rather than in ourselves or in what we have done or will do.

Herder had it right:
“We cannot know ourselves without a reference point outside ourselves.”
 The good news is that we do not need end the paragraph with the realization that we are indeed sinful. No! Don’t stop there!  Because we have access to God through Jesus, because God Himself loves us too and has made available to us the gift of His righteousness.   Our acceptance of that gift brings peace and assurance. (Romans 5:1; 1 John 5:13). The “hope” that results is a certitude without wavering with assurance.