Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 1 May 2023:
Ecclesiastes 9:2 — The same life events happen to the righteous and the wicked.
We are called be faithful regardless the circumstances. God does not promise earthly rewards for our obedience, nor should this ever be our motivation, though there are certainly tangible benefits to living life as God intended it to be lived. Our obedience should be motivated by love for God, the natural response to grace. Having said that, the Bible does promise that God will ultimately bring good out of our circumstances (good or bad), while the rebellious only receive bad out of their circumstances (whether or not the circumstances appear good our bad). Again, see Romans 8:28.
Ecclesiastes 9:11 – Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
Despite our best efforts, life is unpredictable and uncertain. However, the faithful Christian can walk confidently, boldly, contently, and joyfully, knowing that God is guiding him or her in His perfect, unfailing love. The God who is Love is in complete control. Be at peace and rejoice, even when life is hard.
Romans 14:1 — As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions…. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
How incredible would it be if Christians and their respective churches put Romans 14 into practice? The body of Christ suffers from tremendous disunity and consequential disempowerment because of unproductive quarrels over various religious practices and traditions which often have little to do with the central message of the Gospel – “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.” Divisions between denominations and between churches within denominations can become quite worldly and hostile, destroying the witness of those involved, the witness for which Jesus prayed in John 17:22-23. Some church denominations even forbid certain Christians from participating in communion, not because those Christians aren’t committed believers in Christ, but because they aren’t members of that particular denomination and don’t subscribe to their man-made traditions; this is contrary to the teachings of the Bible – “Decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (Romans 14:13).”
There are some cases concerning non-negotiable doctrine on the Gospel or concerning clearly unbiblical practices where differences may be irreconcilable, and division required –
- Galatians 1:6-9 — I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
- 2 John 1:9-11 — Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 — If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
However, too often non-essential Scriptural interpretations divide denominations and churches. But why can’t we disagree without being disagreeable? Why can’t we disagree about some of the more complex, debatable theological issues while remaining united in the love of Christ? Can’t we trust God to reveal truth to His faithful servants? “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand (Romans 14:4).” We must address disagreements with Jesus’ aim for us in mind – “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:22-23)
We must remember that disunity among believers is ultimately counter to the aim of the Gospel, contrary to the ministry and message of reconciliation, and out of step with the Spirit –
- 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 — I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided?
- Mark 3:24-26 — If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.
- Colossians 3:12-15 — Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
To those who are weak in their faith, we must learn to show grace within the body. In Corinth, Paul encouraged knowledgeable Christians to show gentleness and understanding to new believers who, get this, still did not understand that there is only one God and that idols are fictitious, meaningless and powerless – “not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7).” Rather than ridiculing these new believers for their tremendous lack of understanding, Paul encouraged the enlightened Christians not to eat meat sacrificed to idols in order to remove that stumbling block from the spiritual development of those baby Christians.
Be gracious to those who are misguided in their faith but who love Jesus, and continue to lovingly proclaim the truth of God to them, guiding them gently to greater understanding as a reconciler. It is hard to be on the ministry of reconciliation when you are quarreling with others and putting up barriers or stumbling blocks.
One of the best methods of restoring unity within the Body is by getting Christians back into the word of God. I am very thankful for the Defenders Group with representation across the denominations, studying God’s word together with a heart for the Lord and for each other.
Romans 14:12 — So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
God is Judge, not man. Everyone will give account of their actions before The Lord.
Romans 14:13 — Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
Everything we say and do to others should be intended to bring people closer to Jesus and to each other. Don’t let “issues” become a distraction away from Jesus but rather use them to point to the truth of Jesus, and don’t let yourself become the center of attention either; replace “I” and “me” with “He.” Glorify Him in all you do. If you find yourself defending yourself on a matter, chances are good everyone is focused on you and the problem rather than the Gospel, and you can’t be an ambassador for Christ if you are representing your own interests. Denying self always is the first step to following Him and revealing Him (See Luke 9:23).
Romans 14:15 — For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.
If others are offended by what you say or do, change your ways if possible within the bounds of godliness to accommodate them, even if your actions aren’t, in themselves, ungodly. I will say it again, don’t let an issue distract others from Jesus. If you choose your rights over love, your actions are ungodly. Seek reconciliation first.
Romans 14:17 — For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The character of a true follower of Christ is not just righteousness, though righteousness is essential, it is also peace and joy, which are essential and inseparable to genuine righteousness. You can’t be righteous without peace and joy because the essence of all these things is a right relationship with Jesus; they are all combined the natural fruit of the Spirit, fruit from the root of Christ, along with the other attributes of that fruit – love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (See Galatians 5:22-23). If you run into a Christian who is displaying actions of righteousness without love, joy, and peace, you are seeing the fruit of works-based self-righteousness which may appear godly but really has no power to change anything at all (See 1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:5; and John 15). If you see someone who proclaims joy and peace in the LORD while living in unrepentant sin, you are seeing the fruit of the flesh from those who proclaim a false gospel of cheap grace, also void of any power but the power of darkness and death (See 1 John 3). John reminds us, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) For those in Christ, righteousness regardless of external circumstances is a peaceful joy rather than a bitter burden because of their genuine love for Christ which compels their eagerness to participate in the fellowship of His suffering moment by moment. This is the life Jesus promised when He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Romans 14:18, 19 — Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Compare this verse with 1 Samuel 2:26 and Luke 2:52. If you are serving Christ and showing grace to others, you will receive favor from others who need to be loved.
Romans 14:21 — It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
Good things become bad if they cause issues or problems for others. What are you willing to give up for the sake of others?
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 1 May 2023: Be patient with and encouraging to those less grounded in the truth than you. Remain true to the word in your own behavior; speak the truth in love to the misguided, and always display the love of Christ by example. Be patient with the immature, protecting their joy, like a parent is patient with a child still growing in maturity, not expecting enfants to act like adults when they still lack the capacity to do so. It is God, not you, who will complete the work in them He started. You have enough to handle trying to display Christlikeness for them to emulate. Remember, if you can’t stand the smell of sheep, you can’t be a shepherd.