In Community: Text – Romans 14:19 04/26/2020

In Community: Text – Romans 14:19 04/26/2020

This week I was thinking about what it means to be in “Christian Community.” It is interesting that we naturally tend to want to congregate, although often it will be for things that are more “fun” than church. Sporting events, concerts, camp-outs. That doesn’t change the fact that those who call themselves Christian are supposed to be involved in what’s most commonly described as being in “community.”

Our text today is Romans 14:19, which has practical implications.[1] In its historic context, we see that those who considered themselves to be strong in their faith were actually causing spiritual harm to the weaker members of “the body.”[2] That’s not supposed to be happening. So, Paul provides instructions that were expected to result in behavioral changes.[3] These instructions wouldn’t be necessary if “pursuing the things that make for peace” were things we’d naturally choose, but they’re not.[4] So look at the passage again: it’s too easy to read something and not actually be impacted by it.

If we’re going to “pursue the things that make for peace,” it will require the suppression of our natural tendencies.[5] It will require putting others ahead of ourselves. That does not come naturally. What Paul is exhorting is that the lives of Christians would be in alignment with the will of God. For the Christian, doing the will of God is supposed to be our first and primary focus.[6]

God’s will for each of us has always included being an active and connected part of a local congregation; if you want to debate that, I refer you to Hebrews 10:24-25 and invite you to take it up with God. J It has never been God’s will that we isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ. And yet, the Church in the West has trended towards an emphasis on individuality over community.[7] This is inconsistent with God’s stated purposes for us, both individually and collectively, as “the Church.”

The Church is supposed to be a place of close fellowship and encouragement. It is supposed to be a safe place. It’s supposed to be a place where we can grow, that necessarily means it’s a place to try things, to test our giftings, to stretch ourselves. The miracle of Christian community is the miracle of mutual surrender, sacrifice, and love.[8] We’re called upon to actively help our fellow believers grow in their faith, we celebrate their victories with them,[9] we encourage them in their failures. This is not the job of the pastor or the elders, this is the job of each individual member of the congregation, including the pastor and the elders.[10]

The word Paul uses to describe what we need to be doing is to “edify” (οικοδομης) others in our local congregations. [11] It literally means to be building each other up.[12] This is the act of one who promotes another’s growth.[13] In contrast to this, too often the Church has been characterized by petty jealousies, pride, ambition, self-interest; these things frustrate the purposes of Christian community.[14] Each of us need to be on the alert to avoid and prevent anything that would tend to tear the body of Christ apart.[15] That… does not come naturally.

The issue is not the exercise of our freedom, the issue is the two pronged problem of a lack of faith, and a lack of love.[16] The specific issues are irrelevant in the face of these two problems. The first case, a lack of faith, is a problem for the weaker believer. It can lead to an unwarranted burden of guilt ultimately leading to doubting our salvation. This puts all spiritual growth on hold. The second case, a lack of love, can be a problem for the more mature. It can result in judge-mentalism and spiritual pride.[17] Again, growth stops when this takes place. It’s almost as if Paul uses a strong dose of sarcasm in Romans 14:19. The strong were failing in the most fundamental test for maturity, love. If we know God, if we are mature in Christ, we must be maturing in our ability to love… God’s way. Through a fresh manifestation of love, the weak will be built up in spirit and be renewed in their faith.[18] At the same time, those who are exhibiting this kind of love are ministered to by the weak who provide opportunities for service and self-evaluation as well as Spirit led teaching.

So, how do we come to experience this for ourselves? You can only be on the outside looking in until you choose to become a part. As with virtually any organization, there are “admission requirements” for the Church. To enter into the community of the save, the Church, that means you have to be a Christ follower. To be a Christian means that you realize you are a sinner, you realize you have no way to avoid an eternity separated from God because of what you’ve done. It means that you have agreed with God that this is the situation, and it means that you have asked Him to forgive you. That means you must have placed your faith in Jesus Christ to receive the punishment you deserve, and to redeem you. It also means that, once you place your faith in Jesus you receive the Spirit of God, and you are converted, becoming a new creation.

Sometimes it can feel like the church is just a club. We go there, we have potlucks, we have our little rituals and practices. But it doesn’t seem like anything special is taking place. That’s not actually an accurate assessment. There is a dual aspect to our Christian community.[19] First there is a spiritual aspect as we become a new people united in Jesus Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit.[20] We are called to grow into maturity in Christ. We are called to be “on mission,” we are called to tell people about Jesus and to make those people into His disciples. Our call, individually and corporately, is to walk under the sovereign reign of Christ, put bluntly, that means we’re ready to obey Him. All of these things are supernatural in nature.

But, as with any gathering of people, there is also a very real and important social aspect.[21] We need this social aspect to build relationships, to learn how to love, to mature. It is in the messiness of human relationships that God has chosen for us to grow, love and serve.[22]

Now, in the push and pull of human relationships, some will inevitably get hurt. We try to prevent this, but it happens. When it does, the individual has a choice. They can follow the directions for conflict resolution found in the Scriptures, and lovingly follow them to seek to restore the relationship. They can turn to Jesus, forgive as they have been forgiven, and continue to mature in true and meaningful relationships.[23] Or… they withdraw from the church, to their loss and ours. Our job, in the midst of the messiness, is to love and point to Christ.[24]

Together we can do what we could never do alone, we can share and express the character of God with those who do not yet know Him.[25] We can urge each other on to spiritual maturity. We can make disciples and be discipled.

All of this requires Christian community.

[1] L.L. Speer, Romans: Hope of the Nations, Understanding God’s Word Verse-By-Verse, The Easy-to-Read Commentary Series, (Green Key Books, Holiday, FL.: 2005), 305. [2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1996), 856. [3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1996), 858. [4] L.L. Speer, Romans: Hope of the Nations, Understanding God’s Word Verse-By-Verse, The Easy-to-Read Commentary Series, (Green Key Books, Holiday, FL.: 2005), 306. [5] L.L. Speer, Romans: Hope of the Nations, Understanding God’s Word Verse-By-Verse, The Easy-to-Read Commentary Series, (Green Key Books, Holiday, FL.: 2005), 306. [6] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology Volume Two: Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christina Living, in Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Three volumes in One(Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1996), 411. [7] Douglas Bursch, The Community of God: A Theology of the Church from a Reluctant Pastor, (Fairly Spiritual, Seattle, WA.L 2017), 16. [8] Douglas Bursch, The Community of God: A Theology of the Church from a Reluctant Pastor, (Fairly Spiritual, Seattle, WA.L 2017), 24. [9] L.L. Speer, Romans: Hope of the Nations, Understanding God’s Word Verse-By-Verse, The Easy-to-Read Commentary Series, (Green Key Books, Holiday, FL.: 2005), 306. [10] Everett Harrison, Romans, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary in Twelve Volumes: Volume 10, Romans – Galatians, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. Ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript ed., Richard Polcyn, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1976), 148. [11]Thomas Newberry and George Ricker Berry, The Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2004), Ro 14:19. [12] Everett Harrison, Romans, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary in Twelve Volumes: Volume 10, Romans – Galatians, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. Ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript ed., Richard Polcyn, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1976), 148. [13] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995). [14] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology Volume Two: Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christina Living, in Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Three volumes in One(Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1996), 429. [15] L.L. Speer, Romans: Hope of the Nations, Understanding God’s Word Verse-By-Verse, The Easy-to-Read Commentary Series, (Green Key Books, Holiday, FL.: 2005), 306. [16] Clarence Bence, Romans: A Commentary for Bible Students, Wesleyan Commentary Series, ed., David Higle, (Wesleyan Publishing House, Indianapolis, IN.: 1996), 228. [17] Clarence Bence, Romans: A Commentary for Bible Students, Wesleyan Commentary Series, ed., David Higle, (Wesleyan Publishing House, Indianapolis, IN.: 1996), 228. [18] Everett Harrison, Romans, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary in Twelve Volumes: Volume 10, Romans – Galatians, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. Ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript ed., Richard Polcyn, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1976), 148. [19] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology Volume Three: The Church, the Kingdom, and Last Things, in Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Three volumes in One(Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1996), 20. [20] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology Volume Three: The Church, the Kingdom, and Last Things, in Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Three volumes in One(Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1996), 21. [21] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology Volume Three: The Church, the Kingdom, and Last Things, in Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Three volumes in One(Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1996), 21. [22] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology Volume Three: The Church, the Kingdom, and Last Things, in Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Three volumes in One(Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1996), 22. [23] Douglas Bursch, The Community of God: A Theology of the Church from a Reluctant Pastor, (Fairly Spiritual, Seattle, WA.L 2017), 216. [24] Douglas Bursch, The Community of God: A Theology of the Church from a Reluctant Pastor, (Fairly Spiritual, Seattle, WA.L 2017), 217. [25] Douglas Bursch, The Community of God: A Theology of the Church from a Reluctant Pastor, (Fairly Spiritual, Seattle, WA.L 2017), 230.

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