Building the Beloved Community by Handling Disagreements Well – Rom 14 (Nov 3-4)


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Interacting with the Sermon

Synopsis of the Sermon

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

In this week’s sermon we considered the problem of disputes and disagreements between Christians, which is inevitable in our relationships with one another. Today, as in Paul’s day, people get into fights about food. Now we may disagree about what is healthy, what is best for the environment or even what is morally right to eat. In Paul’s day the fights were more religious—what food does God approve for us to eat!

Sometimes, disputes and disagreements between Christians have led to churches splitting (the reason for hundreds of different Christian denominations today). For example, the issue of free will versus predestination, whether leavened or unleavened bread should be used for Communion or how much water is needed for baptisms. While there are real reasons for disagreement and parting ways (e.g. issues of doctrinal truth and orthodoxy) most of the disagreements that have resulted in church splits are secondary issues—matters of opinion—what Paul would consider “disputable matters.”

Paul’s approach to church splits was perhaps different from how many of us today would handle a dispute. First, he did not compromise, even if the matter was a secondary issues. He did not, for example, suggest having two food lines—one for meat eaters and one for vegetarians. He also did not criticize the weaker brother or sister and tell them to just “grow-up!” What they were upset over was just not that important!

What Paul does instead is go back to the gospel because our fellowship together is not around the table and what we eat but rather around the gospel and Jesus Christ. What unites us is the gospel. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. We all share the same sin problem. We all share the same lostness and hopelessness apart from Christ. We all share a common way of salvation, a common baptism, a new identity in Christ and a place in God’s family.

According to Paul, we just don’t go deep enough! We deal with disputes at a superficial level. We never think through the implications of the gospel. What does the gospel mean for how we are to relate to other Christians?

First, the gospel is all about God’s acceptance of us, which is based on grace. Therefore, we ought to accept one another! Second, the gospel is all about God’s judgment and there is one basis for judgment—His standards! Who are we to judge? What makes us think we can “stick our noses” into matter beyond our jurisdiction? And finally, the gospel is all about God’s kingdom, which means there is a new center—a new priority, and it’s not us and our opinions. Because of the gospel, we are no longer living for self but living for the King.

So the gospel trumps everything—our opinions about food, our opinions about proper music or proper dress, even our opinions about politics!

Getting the Conversation Started

These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.

  • Was there anything in this week’s sermon that stood out to you?  Briefly share.
  • What are some things that you have gotten into disagreements or disputes with other Christians over? How would you classify these disputes—primary issues or secondary issues? Explain your reasoning. How did you resolve your disagreement?
  • Have you ever been part of a church split? How did you feel about the process and the outcome?

Scripture Study

Read Acts 10 – 11 aloud

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 15:8 Greek ten drachmas, each worth about a day’s wages

Background and context: Caesarea was a Roman military headquarters where there lived a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Centurions commanded at least 100 soldiers and were known for their noble qualities and good character. Cornelius and his family are called “devout and God-fearing” which means that they believed in one God and respected Jewish ethical teachings. Cornelius apparently prayed regularly and gave to the poor.  However good Cornelius and his family were, they still needed to hear the message of gospel in order to be saved and so God sent an angelic messenger to him to set up a meeting with Peter who was about 30 miles away in Joppa.

 

It was however completely against Peter’s Jewish background and customs to meet with (and especially eat with) a gentile. So through a supernatural vision—something we see throughout the scripture as a way for God to communicate important messages to His people—God instructs Peter about his need to change his dietary customs. So when Peter is summoned to go to this gentile’s house to preach the gospel, he knows he must go. The result is Cornelius and all who are with him hear the gospel, believe and then receive the Holy Spirit. Later, Peter needs to defend his actions—why he went into a gentile’s house—to the other apostles and believers.

 

Questions for discussion:

  • Summarize the angelic message to Cornelius. How did he respond to this message?  How would you have responded if you had been Cornelius? Have you ever had God speak to you an unexpected message in an unusual way? Describe your response.
  • Describe the experience Peter had while praying on the roof. Share why you think it was necessary for God to go to such lengths and into such detail about an issue like food. What is a comparable issue for us today?
  • In obedience to what he believes is God, Peter does something he had never done before in his entire life—enter the house of a gentile! Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. What might he be thinking and feeling? Has God ever led you to do something that was entirely new for you—totally out of your “comfort zone?” Describe.
  • What is the outcome of Peter’s meeting with Cornelius? Are there any surprises to you in this story? What additional things does Peter learn through his experience?
  • What is the response of other believers to Peter’s actions? Why were they so disapproving of what Peter did? Have you ever found yourself in sharp disagreement with the actions of another Christian? Explain. How does Peter reason with them to help change their minds?

Ministry Application

Below you’ll see some options for ministry time with your group. We always encourage you to reserve time in your group to pray for one another and wait on the Holy Spirit.

  • It took an angelic visit and a supernatural vision to bring Cornelius and Peter together. This was an important moment in the life of the church—a significant barrier to the advancement of the gospel was torn down. As your group waits before God, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any similar “barriers” that exist today that may be hindering the advancement of the gospel. What may be some ways members of the group can be used by God, as Peter was in his day, to bring Jesus to those on the outside. Pray for wisdom and anointing.

We live in a time and culture of heated debates over many issues. It’s everywhere—on TV, radio, the internet. It’s almost impossible to avoid. Sometimes we find ourselves locked in a dispute with someone over an issue that, while important, we must admit is not primary—it is secondary. Perhaps it’s with someone at work, in our family or in our neighborhood. Allow a time for honest and opening sharing and confession. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work as He did with Peter and Cornelius—in an unexpected and unusual way—changing hearts and intervening in relationships