Rights and responsibilites

Have you ever used the right thing in the wrong way? Think of perfume or cologne. If you use it in the right way, a small amount actually makes you somewhat appealing to most people, but use it in the wrong way—use too much—and you will be appalling to people. This is also true of salt. If you use the right amount in your food, it is a delicious seasoning, but use too much and it can ruin your meal. The same principle is true with most medicines as well. Aspirin, for example, is a good blood thinner, but use too much of it and it will thin your blood to the point that it could kill you.
The apostle Paul, likewise, argues that it’s possible to use the right thing in the wrong way. He applies this adage to Christian liberty. Previously, in Rom 14:1-12 Paul stated that we are absolutely free to decide for ourselves on non-essential issues like eating, drinking, dancing, music, and movies. We learned to “be slow to judge others; be quick to judge yourself.” Now in 14:13-23 Paul presents the “other side of the coin” in our Christian liberty. Those who are free to enjoy their liberty are responsible for not having an adverse effect on other believers. Someone has recommended to Americans that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast. Such a balance would be a helpful reminder. We need to recognize the same balance in our Christian life. Rights bring responsibility. How do you handle liberty? The answer is: you handle it with care. Liberty must be limited by love. Paul provides three warnings against abusing your Christian liberty.

1. Don’t Harm Your Fellow Believers (14:13-15)
Paul commands you to limit your Christian liberty because not all believers have the same freedoms in non-essential issues. In 14:13 he writes, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” There is a classic wordplay in this verse. The verb translated “determine” (krino, 14:13b) is the same Greek word translated “judge” (14:13a). This verse can be literally rendered: “Let us not judge one another anymore, but rather judge this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” Paul says: Stop judging other believers on “opinions” (cf. 14:1)! What are you more concerned about: what your brother or sister is doing or what you are doing? If we were as preoccupied with our own conduct as we are other believers’ behavior we would really be spiritual! Here, however, Paul is concerned that those who have liberty protect those who don’t. The word translated “obstacle” (proskomma) referred to something in the road that causes one to stumble. In this context, a strong believer who puts an obstacle in the path of a weak believer might set him back temporarily or even do permanent damage to his sensitive conscience. The term “stumbling block” is the Greek term skandalon, from which we get the English word “scandal.” It literally refers to the triggering mechanism on a baited animal trap. The activity looks enticing until those jaws snap shut.

We must not tempt a weaker Christian to sin by partaking of our liberty and thereby violating his or her conscience. We must remember that we are either stepping stones or stumbling blocks.Which one are you? Liberty must be limited by love.

Paul builds his argument in 14:14a: “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.” Paul is not saying here that anything goes because everything is good. However, he is absolutely confident that nothing is unclean in and of itself (cf. 14:5). In other words, a marijuana leaf is not sinful. A cocoa plant is not an evil thing. A gun or a knife is not wicked. Sex is not impure. These things in and of themselves are not unclean. Rather, it is how these things are used that leads to sin.

Paul confirms this notion in 14:14b when he writes: “but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” If a believer thinks anything is unclean it becomes unclean for that person. This verse leads to a shocking truth: Some things are wrong for you that are right for others, and some things are right for you that are wrong for others. This statement means that you can’t always know in advance what will be “right” or “wrong” for another Christian brother. It is a matter of one’s conscience.

A man consulted a doctor. “I’ve been misbehaving, Doc, and my conscience is troubling me,” he complained. The doctor replied, “And you want something that will strengthen your willpower?” “Well, no,” said the fellow. “I was thinking of something that would weaken my conscience.”

While this may be amusing, it is especially true in the church. Many of us are caught between traditions and preferences and what the Bible really prohibits or doesn’t prohibit. This reality should drive us to study the Scriptures to determine how our traditions and preferences affect what we believe. Like Paul, we must get to the place where we can honestly say, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (14:14a). However, it still may be that you can’t stomach a particular activity or object. If so, it is “unclean” to you and would be sinful for you to participate in. Listen to your conscience! The conscience isn’t always right, but it’s always wrong to violate it (cf. 14:22-23).

In 14:15 Paul switches to the second-person singular “your” for greater clarity and conviction: “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” Paul explains that it is possible to “hurt” and “destroy” a fellow believer. When another Christian sees you doing what his own conscience condemns, it grieves him or causes him pain. When he then proceeds to do himself what his conscience condemns, he commits sin and is destroyed. Some scholars argue that the Greek word “destroy” (apollumi) refers to eternal destruction. Yet, the word here does not mean “made to go to hell” or “made to lose his salvation.”

Paul is talking about the loss of peace, assurance, and effective ministry. He lays out two motivations for our conduct:
(1) love for other believers and
(2) Christ’s death on the cross (cf. 5:8).

If we are believers we ought to love one another. Furthermore, Christ’s sacrifice should compel us to demonstrate sensitivity. If Jesus was willing to die for believers certainly we should be willing to make the smallest of sacrifices. Remember, liberty must be limited by love.

Some believers just can’t see themselves walking freely in a certain area that they have been brought up to think is wrong; they have difficulty doing so. Thus, we are responsible to be sensitive and thoughtful toward such believers. Liberty must be limited by love.

If your spouse firmly believes that a purchase is wise stewardship but your spouse is worried that the Lord will not approve, you should restrain your liberty for the sake of your spouse. If you are out to dinner with a friend from your small group who has struggled with alcoholism you should not consume alcohol in their presence or even discuss it. You shouldn’t check the Lotto numbers when a friend who disagrees with gambling is nearby. You should never encourage a friend to dress up for Halloween who thinks it is idolatrous. Liberty must be limited by love.
Paul’s first warning is: Don’t harm your fellow believers. His second warning is …
2. Don’t Harm Your Testimony (14:16-18)
Since the world is always observing Christians, we ought to be wise in our use of freedom. Paul writes in 14:16: “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.” The phrase translated “spoken of as evil” (blasphemeo) is translated from a word that literally speaks of being “blasphemed,” which is usually used of unbelievers. The “good thing” refers to the liberty to eat meat or to do anything amoral. Paul is saying that unbelievers can legitimately speak of our freedom in Christ as “evil” if it results in the fall of another Christian or the compromise of our testimony. However much we wish it is not so, the world watches what we do.

When we use our liberty indiscriminately the world watches and shakes its head. Many unbelievers’ biggest reason for ignoring God is what they have seen a Christian do. Now certainly, sometimes they have a wrong perspective on what it means to be a Christian, but many times our liberty can harm our ability to tell the world about the Lord. What we intended for good, and what really is good in our lives, can be spoken of as evil when we do not restrain ourselves when it is appropriate. Many non-Christians say, “Why should I be a Christian? You don’t get along with each other, so why should I think becoming a Christian will bring peace or happiness?”

Let’s say you have the liberty to check your personal e-mail at work, but the unbelievers in your workplace do not share this same freedom. Or perhaps you sense the freedom to talk freely with your coworkers during work hours, but those you work with do not feel free to do so. Consequently, in both of these cases they look down on you. Your coworkers assume that you are lazy and are always trying to proselytize others. In your neighborhood, you may have “freedom in Christ” to let your yard go. Grass, weeds, and sticker bushes consume your yard while you are serving the church or taxiing your kids all over the place. Or, maybe God has given you a beautiful view, but you have allowed trees and shrubbery to block your neighbors’ view. In both of these cases your unbelieving neighbors may be rather indignant because in our crashing housing market, you are further hurting the value of their house. While you may argue that you have Christian liberty to do such things, I would caution you to think twice because your testimony could be on the line. Liberty must be limited by love.

In 14:17 Paul explains where true life is for the Christian: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The “kingdom of God” here refers to the sphere over which God rules and in which all believers live and operate. Yet, we are prone to think that God’s kingdom primarily involves what a person does or does not do. This is how the Pharisees lived, making a big deal of externals. But the kingdom of God is not mainly a matter of externals but of eternals. In God’s kingdom, freedom comes from what He tells you on the inside, not what people tell you on the outside. But we spend so much time worrying about what people think that we never get around to finding out what God thinks.

However, Paul is asking: How can you fight about such little things and miss the big things. You are fighting over a gnat and not noticing a camel! You are concentrating on a pimple and not noticing Mount Everest! Paul says the eternals are “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Righteousness refers to “ethical righteousness,” that is, behavior pleasing to God (e.g., 6:16, 18, 19). Peace refers to the horizontal harmony that believers should manifest. The result of these blessings is “joy.”

In 14:18 Paul sums up 14:13-17 and brings the reader back to the main point here: We must decide not to put obstacles or traps in other Christians’ paths. He writes, “For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” If we have a healthy balance in enjoying our liberty and limiting it when it is appropriate we will not only be acceptable to God, we will also win the approval of other people since they realize what is more and less important. When we live out our conscience before God we are accepted by God (14:3), and if we do not abuse our liberty around others we are also approved by people. In other words, they respect us for our restraint and concern for others. When we embrace kingdom priorities, our service to Jesus is pleasing to God and vindicated in the sight of people, even people who disagree with us. Our self-control may also open the door of ministry and witness to the unbelieving community (cf. 14:16).
[Paul has issued two warnings: Don’t harm your fellow believers or your testimony. Now he provides a third and final warning . . .]
3. Don’t Harm Your Church (14:19-23)
Your highest priority is the building up of the church. Paul shifts gears in these transitional verses and moves from a negative to a positive emphasis. He moves from what we should stop doing to what we should pursue. In 14:19 Paul states: “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” The verb “pursue” (dioko) pictures a hunter chasing after his prey or a runner sprinting for the prize. Paul says that we must pursue peace and the building up of one another over our own use of personal liberty. The Greek term “building up” (oikodome) is a construction term that was used to describe the process of making a building stronger.

Our goal, then, is to strengthen and solidify the church by protecting other believers from violating their conscience. It is worth noting that sometimes the authority you may be under will restrict your choices. Female teaching and discussion leaders in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) are required to wear dresses. Some women may see this as a violation of their Christian freedom; however, the women who serve in this capacity whom I have spoken with are more concerned with the joy of serving in this great ministry.

Bible Colleges, Christian organizations, and churches also have certain rules and expectations that may not be explicit in Scripture. Nonetheless, if you choose to be a part of such an entity, you need to pursue peace and honor the guidelines that have been established. Liberty must be limited by love.
Paul makes another strong statement in 14:20: “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.” There is a play between “build up” (14:19) and “tear down” (14:20). Both are construction metaphors. Paul uses the verb “tear down” (kataluo), which functions as a synonym with the verb “destroy” (apollumi) in 14:15. In 14:15 the danger was destroying the weak Christians, and here it is expanded to encompass the destruction of “the work of God”—the church as a whole. Paul reminds us again—it’s just not worth indulging yourself. Yes, “all things are indeed clean” (cf. 14:14a) but to a fellow Christian who is a weaker brother or sister they may be “evil.” The “weaker brother,” then, is not the one who simply disagrees with what I do, or who gets upset by my freedom; the “weaker brother” is the one who is likely to imitate me in what I do, violating his own conscience and convictions. The “weaker brother” is the one more likely to sin because he gives in to another’s convictions rather than living by his own.
So what are some steps we can take that will help keep other believers from stumbling over us? Paul gives three practical applications.

Be considerate. In 14:21 Paul writes, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Paul urges the “strong” to abstain, not because their example might lead the “weak” to drink to excess, but because their example might lead the “weak” to drink, and thus to violate their consciences (14:22-23). Paul himself is willing to forego any particular food or drink to avoid causing spiritual growth problems for a brother. Certainly we should be willing to do the same. We willingly alter our pace of walking while leading a small child by the hand so he or she will not stumble. How much more should we be willing to alter our Christian walk for the benefit of a weaker brother or sister in Christ whom we are leading? We must learn the sensitivities of other believers and we must respect differing convictions. Liberty must be limited by love.

However, I do think it is a healthy thing for a Christian who has liberty in some of these areas to indulge it on occasion. I do not think the cause of Christ is ever advanced by having every strong Christian in a congregation completely forsake their right to indulge in some of the things God has given them the freedom to enjoy. What happens, then, is that the whole question is settled on the basis of the most narrow and most prejudiced person in the congregation. Soon, the gospel itself becomes identified with that kind of view. That is why the outside world often considers Christians to be narrow-minded people who have no concern except to prevent the enjoyment of the good gifts of life that God has given us. Because we tend to major on the minors, we’re known for what we’re against, not what we’re for. Ultimately, exercising Christian liberty is very much like walking a tightrope. As you walk the rope with balancing pole in hand, at one end of the pole is love for others and at the other is Christian liberty. When these are in balance, your walk is as it should be.

Be convinced. In 14:22a Paul states, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.” If we are engaged in certain activities that are not clearly prohibited by the teaching of Scripture, then we should be confident in our thinking that they are right. If we entertain any doubts about the goodness of these activities, then we should give them up. Unfortunately, the NIV provides a rather misleading translation. It suggests that you are to keep quiet about your liberties. However, that is not quite accurate. What Paul is saying is: If you have faith, have it between yourself and God. That is, let God and His Word be the basis for your faith, and nothing else. Be sure that what you are doing is not because of pride on your part because you want to show off how free you are; you are doing this because God has freed you by His Word.

Be consistent. In 14:22b-23 Paul writes, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” You are a happy (blessed) person if, in exercising your liberty, you do not condemn yourself by harming another. You are blessed if your exercise of freedom is free from doubt. When we arrive at the conclusion that something is right, unless we receive solid confirmation to the contrary, we should not waver in our conviction. For doubts concerning our beliefs will yield condemnation, but consistency in belief will bring us happiness.

In this context, “faith” (pistis) does not refer to the teachings of Christianity but to what a person believes to be the will of God for him. If a person does what he believes to be wrong, even though it is not wrong in itself, it becomes sin for him. He has violated what he believes to be God’s will. His action has become an act of rebellion against God for him. Whatever is done without the conviction that God has approved it is by definition sin. God has called us to a life of faith. Trust is the willingness to put all of life before God for His approval. Any doubt concerning an action automatically removes that action from the category of that which is acceptable. For a Christian, not a single decision and action can be good which he does not think he can justify on the ground, of his Christian conviction and his liberty before God in Christ.

Many tales are told about the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, England’s Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He ruffled the feathers of not a few Christians in his day by his lifestyle choices—particularly his fondness for fine cigars. Compared to today, there was relatively little public awareness of the ill effects of tobacco on the human body, but smoking was shunned nonetheless by many Christians, but not Spurgeon. On one occasion, a young man approached Spurgeon and asked what he should do with a box of cigars he had been given. “Give them to me,” Spurgeon replied, “and I will smoke them to the glory of God.” Some time later, at the height of his fame, Spurgeon was walking down the street and saw a sign which read, “We sell the cigar that Charles Spurgeon smokes.” After reading this sign Spurgeon gave up the habit. He came to see that what was for him a freedom might cause others to stumble.

What Christian liberty is God calling you to give up either indefinitely or at appropriate occasions? Whatever it is, would you respond today? God wants you to prioritize other believers and follow Christ’s sacrificial example. Liberty must be limited by love.

Be slow to judge others

I can split nearly any church in less than two minutes. How can I do that? By asking which of the following items are sinful (or at best unspiritual):
o Drinking alcohol Working on Sunday
o Smoking cigarettes or cigars Gambling
o Dancing Watching R-rated movies
o Listening to secular music Watching MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)
o Using birth control Sporting tattoos or piercings
o Sending your kids to public school Observing Halloween
o Owning a luxury car or other extravagant possessions

The above practices are not explicitly discussed in Scripture. Yet, many Christians have practically come to blows over these issues! This should not be! The church must stop fixating on non-essential issues. We cannot continue to major on the minors and minor on the majors. Perhaps you’ve seen or heard the slogan, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” This is fantastic advice. But I would also add this, “The second thing is to keep second things second.” Indeed, it isn’t possible to keep the main thing main if we aren’t careful to keep second things second.” When Christians trivialize significant issues and hyper-focus on insignificant issues we must own the label “judgmental.”

In his book UnChristian, David Kinnaman highlights a number of troubling statistics of those born between 1965-2002. from an extensive study by the Barna Research Group Included are two statistics that show how those outside the church view those within: Nearly nine out of ten young outsiders—eighty-seven percent—said that the term “judgmental” accurately describes present-day Christianity. Of those non-Christians surveyed, eighty-four percent said they personally know at least one committed Christian. Yet just fifteen percent thought the lifestyles of those Christ-followers were significantly different from the norm. It would seem that you and I have some business to attend to.

Of course, we should have convictions on non-essential practices. Our convictions draw the line between what we will do and what we will not do as an exercise of Christian liberty. Personal convictions are important to the apostle Paul. In the vitally important application chapters of Romans 12-15, no subject is dealt with in greater detail than our convictions concerning Christian liberties. Paul devotes nearly two chapters to this subject (14:1-15:13). In his discussion, he addresses various controversies between “weak” and “strong” Christians in the church at Rome. Most likely the “weak” were primarily Jewish Christians and the “strong” Gentile Christians.

Both groups were dividing over inconsequential issues: avoiding meat (14:2), observing sacred days (14:5), and abstaining from wine (14:21). The weak believed that if the Bible hadn’t specifically approved something, then it was probably wrong. Those that were strong, on the other hand, believed if the Bible hadn’t specifically forbidden something, then it was probably within the realm of freedom. In 14:1-12 Paul argues that both groups need to exercise humility and grace with one another. His bottom line is: Be slow to judge others; be quick to judge yourself. He lays out three keys to experiencing harmony with God and others.
1. Stop Judging Other Believers (14:1-3)
Paul argues that God’s family is big enough to encompass believers who have different perspectives on non-essential issues. In 14:1 Paul writes, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” The word “Now” (de) marks a new section in Paul’s argument as he moves into a discussion regarding neutral practices of faith between believers (14:1-15:13). He insists that we are to “accept the one who is weak in faith.” The word “accept” (proslambano) may not be the best translation. Modern Americans often equate “accept” with the term “tolerate” or “put up with.” The conclusion is that to accept one who is weak in faith is to agree to disagree. The Greek term, though, means “to extend a welcome, receive into one’s home or circle of acquaintances.” Hence, various English versions opt for the translation “receive” (NET, NKJV) or “welcome” (ESV, NRSV).

The strong believer is to welcome the weak believer even when a particular issue of Christian freedom is off limits to him or her. If you are a strong brother or sister, you need to receive with warmth your weak brother or sister. Don’t reject your brother. Don’t call your sister a compromiser. Simply show them the love of Christ.

Now bear in mind Paul is discussing “opinions” (dialogismos) or “disputable matters” (NIV). He is not talking about tolerating blatant sin. On some matters Scripture is rather pointed: Christians are forbidden from getting divorced on unbiblical grounds. Sexual immorality will be judged by God. Gossip, slander, lying, and envy are on par with the most heinous sins. Believers who choose not to attend church, serve, or give are disobedient. There are also some doctrinal issues that are not optional. The authority and inspiration of the Bible are non-negotiable. Jesus Christ (fully God and fully man) as the only way to God is non-negotiable. Salvation by faith alone in Christ alone is non-negotiable. A literal return of Christ is non-negotiable. These are all fundamental, foundational truths. They are clear essentials upon which we all ought to agree. But apart from these (and possibly a few more), there are many other things that are not as clear, not as apparent, and not as easily understood in Scripture. In these matters, we must allow for differing opinions (e.g., the gifts of the Spirit, the age of the universe, the timing of Christ’s return, predestination/free will, etc.).

The first non-essential issue of debate between the Roman Christians comes up in 14:2: the issue of diet. Paul writes, “One person has faith [lit. “believes”] that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.” The strong were convinced that as New Covenant Christians they were not obligated to the Old Testament laws and were free to eat anything. In this case, I’m definitely a stronger brother. My favorite verse is found in 14:2b “he who is weak eats vegetables.” I’ve chosen to forgo my veggies, not because I don’t like the taste of them, but because I’m concerned about being weak. I’m kidding! Children must continue to eat vegetables. This is an essential.

Seriously, this description of a vegetarian is not one on account of principle or health reasons, but because their conscience is bothered in some way by eating meat. This could be on account of kosher laws, or more likely, is looking toward meat sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. Either way this person avoids all meat in the fear that some of the meat may be tainted in one way or another.
Paul continues in 14:3 and states, “The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.” In the case of food, God has not forbidden Christians to eat any food (1 Tim 4:3-4). Eating food is an amoral matter. It is neither morally good nor morally bad. The person who eats should not view himself as superior or look down on his extremely sensitive brother with a condescending attitude. The weaker brother should not judge the more liberal Christian as unacceptable to God either, because God has accepted him (cf. Romans 14:1). All people have a right to their own convictions. The key is that God can accept both the weak and the strong. Therefore, if God can receive people who have different opinions on non-essential issues, how much more so should you and I? May we be slow to judge others; be quick to judge ourselves.
There are several principles that may prove helpful in the issue of judging fellow believers:
Recognize that believers agree on far more than we disagree on. We see eye-to-eye on those doctrines, philosophies, and practices that are most essential to Christendom. Thus, we must focus on those things that unite us, not on things that divide us. Be slow to judge others; be quick to judge yourself.

Acknowledge that disagreement over non-essentials can be healthy. If the body of Christ never disagreed, we could never express true agape love. In any relationship (e.g., marriage, family, friendship), you can only enjoy true unconditional love when conflict has occurred. At that point forgiveness and grace can be extended. Furthermore, cookie-cutter Christians would be terribly boring. Variety is the spice of the church.

Distinguish between primary and secondary issues. There is no point in warring over secondary issues. Remember: “The second thing is to keep second things second.” We must not spend precious time constantly debating non-essential issues. If Christ could return today, let’s make sure we’re not spinning our spiritual wheels fighting over things that really don’t matter.

Exercise humility on non-essentials. No one knows everything there is to know about non-essential issues. That’s why they are non-essential issues! You must always be willing to change your mind or modify your perspective. Over the years, I have changed my mind on issues such as the charismatic gifts, the age of the universe, and women in ministry. It is wise to remain humble.

Refuse to criticize those who see things differently. When I am working through a study on non-essential issues, I love to read those who hold different opinions. Often I learn the most from those who see things differently. Such men and women poke holes in my arguments and beliefs and help me to be a clearer thinker. These individuals are a service to the body of Christ and to my ministry and learning.

Allow people to come to their own conclusions. Someone once defined a legalist as: “A Christian who lives in mortal fear that someone, someplace, is enjoying himself.” In the same vein, the “weak” (i.e., abstainers) had concluded that what was wrong for them was wrong for everyone! Our culture and our background influence us more than we think. Christians have differing levels of spiritual maturity. We must realize what is best for us may not be best for everyone. We need to warmly and respectfully give one another freedom in non-essential areas. Doing so would revolutionize our life within the church as well as our testimony outside. For the sake of Christian love and community, we must leave room for people to grow and be different. Be slow to judge others; be quick to judge yourself.
[The first key to a harmonious life is to stop judging other believers. Paul second key is to . . .]
2. Submit Your Convictions To The Lord (14:4-9)
The decisions that you make regarding non-essentials should be made with the Lord in mind. In 14:4 Paul writes: “Who are you[weak believer] to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able [or “is powerful”] to make him stand.” Imagine that I am visiting the president of a major corporation and during our conversation I began to criticize his executive secretary. He might listen for a few minutes, but eventually he would probably say something like, “Who do you think you are?!”

Paul is saying: “Back off. Cut others some slack. They are serving Christ; and He can take care of them.” We must always recognize that the Lord can take care of changing others where they need changing. He cares about the maturity of His kids more than we do. Moreover, God is able to keep the strong believer from falling into sin while participating in an amoral activity. God’s grace provides both the possibility and the power for standing favorably at the judgment seat of Christ.

In 14:5-6 Paul brings up another illustration: days. He writes: “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” The Christians in Rome disagreed on the significance of days (e.g., Sabbath, holy days). Today Christians disagree on whether or not churches have the freedom to add Saturday night services (or for that matter, Friday night or Monday night services).

There is also disagreement as to whether or not it is permissible to celebrate Halloween and Easter because of their pagan backgrounds. There is also a question as to whether or not a believer can work on Sundays. In these issues pertaining to worship, we are to develop personal convictions before the Lord. God no longer regulates the issue of what day we worship. Regular worship is an issue (Hebrews 10:25), but the day of worship is not.

The principle that is found in 14:5 is critical: We must determine what we believe to be appropriate even with the non-essentials. However, we must recognize that our responsibility is to do this for ourselves not our brother. “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” This means that every believer has the freedom in areas of non-essentials to make up his or her own mind. Of course, this should not be done haphazardly, but with great care. The word that is translated “fully convinced” (plerophoreo) means “to accomplish, carry out fully.” This requires careful personal study and corporate discussion. But in the end, know for sure that at the judgment seat of Christ, there’s one thing our Lord will never ask you: “What did your pastor or teacher believe?” We must all come to our own convictions and opinions of what Scripture is teaching from our own study of the text.

The beautiful thing about 14:6 is: “Two believers can disagree and both be right (that is accepted by God). Given that we disagree, it is not necessary that you be wrong in order that I should be right.” The key is giving thanks to God, which is repeated twice. Whether your conscience allows you great freedom or no freedom, God’s goal is for you to be able to give thanks to Him. If you can’t give God thanks, you need to reexamine whether or not you are “fully convinced” in your own mind. If there is any doubt ask the Lord to reveal this to you. But please remember: Be slow to judge others; be quick to judge yourself.

Now having said all this, the fact of the matter is that very few of us fit neatly into the category of a strong brother or a weak brother. All of us like to think of ourselves as strong and we like to think that we have no legalism in us. I know I like to think that of myself. But the fact of the matter is that if we’re really honest with ourselves we will admit that we’re generally quite inconsistent in this area.

The one who has a conscience against going to the movies will often watch them at home. The one who has freedom to enjoy an occasional glass of wine with supper wouldn’t be caught dead with a can of beer in his hand. The one who believes that chewing tobacco is the devil’s bubble gum doesn’t hesitate filling himself with coffee, refined sugar, sodium, and all sorts of other alleged poisons. The one who wouldn’t think of sitting at a blackjack table in Las Vegas will, nevertheless, gamble on a football pool at the office, or go to a bingo parlor, or even gamble on speculative stocks. If we will recognize and admit these inconsistencies it will probably be a lot easier for us to accept our brothers and sisters in Christ when their lifestyles don’t happen to coincide with ours.

When I am thinking through various issues and trying to determine if a doctrine, philosophy, or practice is an essential or non-essential matter I like to ask myself these three questions:
(1) Would I be willing to lose lunch over this issue?
(2) Would I be willing to lose my house over this issue?
(3) Would I be willing to lose my life over this issue?

With regards to the latter, I would only lose my life for an essential doctrine (e.g., the Bible is the God’s Word, Christ is the Son of God, salvation is by faith alone). Surprisingly, there are very few things I would lose my house or even a lunch over. Hence, I need to major on the major, not the minors. I need to be slow to judge others; be quick to judge myself.
In 14:7-9 Paul provides the theological rationale for why we should submit our convictions to the Lord. In doing so Paul pens one of the strongest passages on the lordship of Christ. He writes: “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Please note that the word “Lord” (kurios) occurs seven times in 14:6-9. All that we do, we are to do “for the Lord.” No Christian, however, is an island. Our actions affect others. Therefore, we must limit our personal freedom in love (cf. 14:13-23). But why is there such an emphasis on life and death, living and dying? Because this makes Paul’s teaching all-encompassing. Life and death circumscribe the whole of life—nothing lies outside these boundaries.

Paul meant that we should not live to please ourselves alone but we should live to please the Lord. This desire to please the Lord will continue beyond the grave, so Paul could also say that we do not die for ourselves. Our whole existence this side of the grave and the other, in life and in death, should express our commitment to please the Lord.
[Paul now issues a third and final key to Christian harmony . . .]
3. Remember That Judgment Belongs To God (14:10-12)
Instead of being concerned with the neutral decisions of other Christians, you need to prepare for how God will judge you. As you read 14:10-12, pay careful attention to Paul’s use of pronouns, particularly “you” (four times). Paul writes, “But you [weaker brother], why do you judge your brother? Or you [stronger brother] again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written [Isaiah 45:23], ‘AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.’ So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” In 14:10 both the weaker brother and the stronger brother are guilty of the same offense, namely, judging prematurely and unwarrantedly.

This leads Paul to explain that every believer will stand before “the judgment seat of God.” The Greek word for “judgment seat” is bema, meaning the place where the judges stood at the athletic games. If during the games they saw an athlete break the rules, they immediately disqualified him. At the end of the contests the judges gave out the rewards. Here, Paul suggests that criticizing other believers will be called into account at the bema. So don’t judge your brother or sister because God is going to do it. Be careful how you think about your brother because God is going to judge you too. When you stand before the Lord, He won’t quiz you about what Mr. Jones did or how Mrs. Smith lived. You’ll answer for yourself and for no one else. I don’t know about you, but I have more than enough to answer for myself! I should be more concerned about me than anyone else.

God will judge your friends, why should you get involved? He knows them better than you do, He loves them more than you do, and He reads the thoughts and intents of the heart, which you can’t read at all. Furthermore, if we all spent more time worrying about ourselves, we’d have very little time left to worry about other people. Be slow to judge others; be quick to judge yourself.

If you have multiple children you know that kids don’t always get along. In our home we have two “big brothers” and one “mother hen.” My three children are all guilty of telling me when one of their siblings sins or commits an inadvertent transgression. Of course, they want their brother or sister to be judged. I inevitably ask the question: “Do you know who I am? My title is ‘Dad.’ I am the one who judges and brings discipline, not you. Your brother or sister does not answer to you; they answer to me. You are the house servant (cf. 14:4)—the child. Let me do my job.” Likewise, God says: “I am God; you’re not. Let Me judge My children. They answer to Me, not you. Give Me my job back!” Make a commitment today to be slow to judge others; be quick to judge yourself.


Romans – Answer the call

  1. A Ministry Mentality (Romans 1:1–7)

Glen Coffee was a great football player. Like many young men he dreamed about playing in the NFL. After a successful high school career, Coffee accepted a scholarship to the University of Alabama. In 2008, he concluded his collegiate career by leading his team in rushing. Coffee then realized his NFL dream when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. During his first season with the 49ers, Coffee was the team’s number two running back. Many fans had high hopes for him going into the 2010 season. But in August of 2010, the twenty-three-year-old Coffee shocked the country when he walked away from his 2.5 million dollar contract. Why did he leave the NFL? He believes that the NFL is not God’s will for his life. Coffee became a Christian his junior year of college, and that decision changed his views on everything. He determined that the NFL wasn’t where he needed to be.


Coffee’s life-altering decision demands personal reflection. Would you be willing to forsake your hopes, your dreams, and your goals for Christ? Or do you resist His will because it’s not what you want for your life. Today, God may be calling you to leave your current occupation and serve Him in a new way. It’s more likely, however, that God is calling you to remain in your current occupation, and to adopt a biblical mindset. True ministry isn’t about occupation or location, it’s about vocation. Your vocation is to glorify God and represent Him; your occupation is a temporary platform for your vocation. There’s no such thing as secular jobs versus sacred jobs. You’re in full-time Christian ministry whatever your job is.


You have a calling, and it isn’t your career. Your career is what you’re paid for; your calling is what you’re made for. Answer the call and abandon all.

The apostle Paul exemplifies what it means to answer the call and abandon all in his introduction to Romans. In 1:1–7, we find Paul’s longest introduction. In his other twelve letters his greetings range from one to four verses, whereas his greeting in Romans takes a whopping seven verses. These first seven verses are all one long sentence in the Greek text. This lengthy greeting permits Paul to identify his calling, his message, his mission, and his readers. Two very important invitations come out of these verses: (1) Imitate Paul’s calling and (2) Appropriate your calling.

  1. Imitate Paul’s calling (1:1–5)

While it is easy to assume that these words are only relevant to Paul or to a pastor, these verses are applicable to every believer. Paul wants you to imitate him in all things, including his calling. Read carefully the opening words of Romans: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul, meaning “asked for.” But he used his Roman name Paul, which means “little.” His name change is recorded in Acts 13:9, 13. When I write a letter, I begin with a greeting: “Dear whoever.” I then conclude with “Love, Wayne or Sincerely, Wayne.” In Paul’s day people did it differently. The writer placed his name first, the identity of his readers second, and a formal greeting third. In Romans, Paul is writing a church that he didn’t know. So how did he introduce himself? He identifies himself with three strategic descriptions.

First, Paul declares that he is a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus.”7 He could have introduced himself as “Paul, the premier theologian, the Old Testament scholar, the master church planter/evangelist, the front-line spiritual warrior,” but he chooses doulos—meaning “bond-servant” or “slave.” The most important thing that we can know about Paul is that he is a “slave.” In America we avoid the term “slave” because of our national history, but the word “slave” fits the idea that Paul is trying to express. It means a person who is wholly and completely owned by another. A slave has no rights, no ability to decide their own activities or the direction of their life. A slave lives and functions to carry out the will of his or her master. Paul saw himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. Elsewhere Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). He was another person’s property. Jesus owned him lock, stock, and barrel. It’s like the sign on the back of a rental truck that said: ANY LOAD-ANY PLACE-ANY TIME. A true slave says, “I’ll do anything my master mandates, no matter how hard, at any place, at any time.” Paul’s serving spirit goes all the way back to his first words to Jesus, spoken right after his conversion and found in

Acts 22:10: “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul’s conversion to Christ resulted in a radical response of zealous obedience. He went from persecuting the church to perfecting the church (see Phil 3:15; Col 1:28).

Do you see yourself, first and foremost, as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is He at the forefront of everything you do? Answer the call and abandon all.


At the time Paul was writing Romans, there were an estimated sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire; and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. To be a slave in the Gentile mind was to be at the bottom of the social order. Slavery was something to escape; freedom was a goal to attain. How arresting it must have been to the Gentile believers to learn that Paul had “given up” his freedom and willing submitted himself to Christ Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.


Here, he is talking about a slavery undertaken voluntarily out of love, unlike the forced slavery well known to many in the Roman Empire. If a person could find a master that he or she enjoyed serving, then voluntary slavery makes sense. There is a picture of this kind of willful subjection in the Old Testament in Exodus 21. If a man had to sell himself as a slave, he could serve a Hebrew master for only six years. In the seventh year, he had to be released and sent away with gifts that would enable him to become economically independent. An exception was made for the person who had grown attached to his master. He could refuse his freedom and stay with his master permanently because he loved his master. If that happened, he was to have a hole bored in his ear, marking him as a permanent slave. This is what Paul declares he has done. Paul found that pleasing Christ gave his life such pleasure, purpose and meaning that he willfully bound himself to Christ out of sheer joy.


Paul calls himself a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus” because he wants to communicate to his readers his commitment and devotion to Jesus the Messiah. “Christ” is a title which means “one who has been anointed.” “Jesus” is a personal name meaning “the Lord saves.” The Old Testament uses the phrase “the servant of the Lord” of men like Moses, Joshua, and David. Paul’s substitution of “Christ Jesus” into the Old Testament expression “a servant of the Lord” shows that he considers Jesus worthy of the same obedience and devotion as the Lord God—Yahweh. Moreover, 1:1 demonstrates the priority of Paul’s life and ministry. The apostle’s consuming passion was Jesus. In all thirteen of his existing letters, the name “Jesus” comes in the first verse. Paul always makes a beeline for Jesus. This is the goal of great preaching, great churches, and great believers. Jesus must be supreme and paramount in everything that we think, say, and do. Answer the call and abandon all.

Paul is a slave who has been sent on a mission. After becoming a “bond-servant,” he became an “apostle.” Paul moves from humility to authority demonstrating that service is always a prerequisite for leadership. In the New Testament, the term “apostle” (apostolos) is used with a general force to designate someone who is sent. It is also used by Paul to speak of someone who is specially gifted to communicate revelation from God, and by implication, someone to whom the churches were responsible. This latter, more elevated meaning is the sense Paul intends here. He is preparing to communicate revelation from God, and the Roman church needs to know that as an apostle he has the authority to do so. This word “apostle” means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. Paul is saying, “I have been sent with the authority of King Jesus to speak the very words of God to you.” Like Paul, are you where Jesus Christ has “sent” you to be? Has He directed you to your present ministry or vocation? Have you sought Him in this matter? Have you prayed for His direction and guidance? Is anything standing in the way of your going where you feel you are sent?


The final characteristic that Paul shares with his readers is his mission of being “set apartfor the gospel of God.” Being “set apart” has in it the idea of consecration and total devotion to the service of God. It was used of the offering of the first fruits (Num 15:20) and of God setting apart Israel as His special possession (Lev 20:26). One of the great failures of Judaism was that the Jews considered themselves separate from everyone else. They considered themselves too good for the rest of the world and retreated into their own closed circle. Yet, God did not intend for the Jews to be separated from, but separated for! He intended them to be separated for service (Gen 12:1–3; Isa 42:6; 43:10, 21; 44:23; 49:3, 6; 60:3; Ezek 28:25).


The verb “set apart” (aphorizo) means “to select one person out of a group for a purpose.” The make up of the word literally means “off horizon,” which conveys the idea of being removed from one sphere and placed into another. In Paul’s case, he was removed from the sphere of sin to the sphere of salvation, from the horizon of rebellion against God to the horizon of service under God. This Greek word has the same root meaning as “Pharisee” (“one who is separated”). A Pharisee set himself apart for the law, but God set Paul apart for the gospel. Perhaps you don’t feel like your life and ministry is significant. I can assure you that if you are a believer God has set you apart to fulfill a specific purpose. As you faithfully serve the Lord, He will reveal your ministry niche in your occupation and in your local church.


Paul concludes 1:1 by stating what he was set apart for—“the gospel of God.” The key word in Romans is “gospel” (euaggelion) and it appears twelve times. The “gospel” or “good news” encapsulates the message found in the entire book of Romans. This good news is the truth that God has for both believers and unbelievers. It is not limited to salvation but encompasses the full counsel of God’s good news to man. This leads to the following questions: Do you increasingly view your life as set apart for the gospel? Does your life revolve around getting people the good news and then helping them live out that good news? Do you go to work or school with a sense of urgency to share God’s good news? Are you strategically looking for ways to help others grow in their faith? This is your calling, and it is the reason you’re still on planet earth. Answer the call and abandon all.


In 1:2–4, Paul launches into a parenthetical statement that elucidates the good news. He writes, “[This good news] which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The only other place where Paul mentions this is 2 Tim 2:8. It is possible that both passages may have been quotes from a creedal formula of the early church. From the very beginning of Romans, Paul wants to make it clear that his message didn’t originate with him. Instead, it was “promised beforehand” (proepaggello) by God. Furthermore, the gospel didn’t just suddenly burst upon the scene of history with the birth of Christ. It has always been the theme of the “prophets,” which is shorthand for all the Old Testament authors. Paul relied heavily upon the Old Testament Scriptures to give authority to his gospel message. In Romans, he quotes the Old Testament approximately fifty–seven times, which is more than he did in all of his other letters combined. I would argue, therefore, that if you and I want to understand Romans and fully appreciate the gospel, we must grasp the Old Testament.


During the days of World War II, the French underground used a very simple means of identification to know who their secret agents were. They simply took a piece of paper and ripped it in half, giving one man half the paper, and they then mailed the other half to the other agent. When they met, all they had to do was compare the two pieces of paper. If the papers lined up, the agents were identified without any doubt. In a similar way, Jesus fulfills all of the prophetic promises found in the Old Testament. The pages of Scripture line up; there is no other match but Him. This good news comes from the “Holy Scriptures.” This is the only time in the New Testament this phrase is used. This means that the Bible is no ordinary book and that it has the ability to make us holy as we get it into our hearts.


The good news of the gospel is focused upon Jesus. Notice the phrase “concerning His Son.” The gospel concerns Jesus. It’s all about Him. The word “concerning” is the Greek preposition peri, from which we get our word perimeter. Since this means “fully around,” the Lord Jesus is not just a part of the gospel; He is the gospel. He fully engulfs the good news of God. Some do not see Jesus the way we do. They mistakenly assumed that there are many equally viable paths to God. However, Jesus is the whole gospel and the Christian life, and He must be everything in our preaching, our teaching, and our very lives. We need to understand that Jesus is supreme. We then need to look for ways to speak more freely about Jesus.


Verses 3–4 describe Jesus’ relationships in two spheres. The phrase “according to the flesh” refers to the fact that Jesus was born in frail humanity and limited Himself by taking on human nature (Phil 2:7). The phrase “according to the Spirit of holiness” means that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (see 8:11). Christ was raised in the same way that we will be raised by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. A critical phrase in 1:4 is that Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The verb translated “declared” (horizo) is more accurately rendered “appointed” (NET). The key phrase in this verse is “with power.” Although Jesus was obviously God’s Son before His resurrection from the dead, the resurrection put the exclamation point on His deity.


It is also important to note that Jesus Christ is called “our Lord.” Unfortunately, much confusion has arisen regarding the issue of lordship. Yet, it is relatively simple: When we trust in the gospel message we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord—He is God. Whether our lives demonstrate His lordship or not, the truth remains: Jesus Christ is both Lord and Master. That fact remains unalterably true. We don’t make Jesus Christ “Lord”; He is Lord! Yet, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of accepting Christ’s lordship in every area of our lives.

The kingship of Jesus grants Paul the privilege of carrying out his mission. In 1:5 the apostle writes that through Jesus “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Paul begins by making sure he puts grace in its proper place. Paul first received grace on the Damascus Road, and then later he experienced the call of God on his life to become an apostle to the Gentiles. Although Paul’s call was certainly unique when you read 1:5, put your calling in the place of the word “apostleship.” You might put, “Through Christ I have received grace and the teaching role, or grace and singing, or grace and studentship, or grace and singleness, or grace and widowhood, or grace and motherhood.” In doing so, you will be declaring that God has given you the power to fulfill a calling. Answer the call and abandon all.


Paul’s mission is to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” The expression “obedience of faith” (eupakoen pisteos) means obedience to the command to believe the gospel (cf. 16:26). Faith is obedience to God because God commands everyone to believe in Christ. Paul linked obedience and the gospel in 10:16, but possibly the closest parallel is 15:18–20. In this passage, Paul indicates that Christ has sent him “to make the Gentiles obedient” and so he concludes, “I have made it my aim to preach the Gospel.” Paul’s mission is to proclaim faith as an act of obedience to God’s command to trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hart agrees: “Obedience is required to become a Christian! But the obedience that is required to become a Christian is obedience to just one command—the command to believe in Christ.” Have you obeyed His command to believe the gospel? If not, do so today. Give Jesus your sin in exchange for His righteousness. Cross over from death to life (John 5:24) and spend eternity with God and with those who love Him.

[The first invitation in this text is: Imitate Paul’s calling. In 1:1–5, Paul has identified his calling, his message, and his mission, and we’ve been invited to imitate his ways. The second invitation is . . .]

  1. Appropriate Your Calling (1:6–7)

In the closing verses of this section Paul fleshes out the calling of every believer. He puts it like this: “Among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The addressees of this letter (the “you also”) are connected with “all the Gentiles” mentioned at the end of 1:5, indicating that the church at Rome was predominantly Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish). Speaking to those Gentiles, Paul shares three truths about their identity and calling in Christ that are equally applicable to you and me. First, we are loved by God (1:7a). One of the greatest truths in this universe is that we are unconditionally loved by God. Perhaps you have been abused and rejected by parents or siblings. Maybe a spouse has left you. Or maybe a church has sinned against you. God wants you to know that when people disappoint, and even devastate you, His love is the one constant in this life. There may be times when this promise is what helps you make it through the day.

Secondly, we are called saints (1:7a). Three times in the first seven verses, the words “call” and “called” appear. Here, Paul states that we are called “saints.” However, we are not saints because we are so good; we are saints because God is so good. The words “saint,” “sanctify,” and “holiness” all refer to the same word group, which means “set apart” (cf. 1:1). Thus, a saint is a “holy one” or “set apart one” on account of his or her faith in Christ. Consequently, even when you feel that you are unworthy to pray or be in a relationship with God, He sees you through the perfect righteous of Christ. As a result, He can call you “saint.” You are not individuals trying to get by. You’re a saint. God wants you to act like one.

Lastly, we are recipients of “grace” and “peace” (1:7b). Real peace (eirene) comes only as a result of God’s grace (charis). Grace is what we receive; peace is what we experience as a result of God’s activity on our behalf. The word “grace” resembles the familiar Greek greeting which means “favor from me to you.” In a theological sense the word grace refers to God’s unmerited favor and gifts to humanity. The word itself is used one hundred fifty five times in the New Testament—over 100 times by Paul, 24 of which occur in Romans. We cannot understand this book if we don’t comprehend grace. Therefore, we must be certain that we understand that we are saved by grace and then are given grace to live the Christian life and fulfill our mission. The word “peace” is the typical greeting used in Jewish letters to refer to the wholeness and well being in all relationships. Paul will say much more about both grace and peace later in his letter. In a figurative sense grace and peace are twins, grace being the firstborn. Where grace abounds, peace thrives. Where grace is stunted, peace shrivels.

Today, can you honestly say that you have grace and peace? If not, you can. But you can’t have the grace and peace of 1:7 unless you first believe the gospel. As we’ve seen, Romans is all about the gospel, and the focus of the gospel is the person Jesus Christ. Therefore, nothing is more important today than knowing who He is, without question, without doubt. What do you say about Jesus? Who is He to you? Do you know that there is someone who loves you unconditionally? He loves you so much that He died for you. The Apostle Paul called him “Jesus Christ our Lord.” Can you say that as well? Is He your Savior? What is your answer? Grace and peace can be yours today if you simply believe in Jesus.

When Hernan Cortez landed at Vera Cruz in 1519 to begin the conquest of Mexico, he had only a small force of some seven hundred men. He was about to invade a subcontinent of unknown size, filled with belligerent tribesmen of hugely superior numbers. How could he motivate his soldiers to devote themselves to the conquest? Cortez came up with precisely the right motivator. As soon as he had all the equipment off his fleet of eleven ships, he gave orders to burn them. The men who had come ashore with him stood on the beach and watched as their only means of retreat slowly sank into the Gulf of Mexico. There was only one direction to go, and that was forward into the interior of Mexico to take on whatever might come their way. That’s precisely the approach God calls Christian disciples to take. We are to be obedient to our faith, allowing our decisions to always be subject to the word of Christ. That usually involves burning your ships at some point. Are you ready to do that for the sake of your relationship with Christ?


Today, God may be calling you to burn your ships. How will you respond to God’s call upon your life? Will you relinquish your hold on your occupation? Will you reaffirm your vocation to glorify Jesus Christ? Will you go where God has sent you? Will you see your life as a mission to proclaim Christ? Will you be His doulosAnswer the call and abandon all. It’s really that simple.


To win the world, we must be one

In the sports world a common chant is: “We’re number one! We’re number one!” Various teams, cheerleaders, and fans will extend their index finger skyward and proclaim their own greatness. Such players and fans want everyone to know their team is the best team. The chant, “We’re number one,” fires up players and fans. Supposedly, it even intimidates the opposing team, who is usually chanting the very same claim. Of course, there can be only one true number one. This is especially evident during football season (i.e., college football bowl games and the Super Bowl). When the dust settles, there can only be one number one.

In the church of Jesus Christ, there can only be one. The goal of truly being “one” is incredibly important. But instead of chanting, “We’re number one! We’re number one!” we should be chanting, “We are one! We are one!” In John 17:20-26, Jesus shares His greatest burden for His followers . . . oneness . . . unity. When Christians are “one,” we provide a visible, tangible witness to the world. As we read these final seven verses in John 17, we can almost hear the chant: We are one! We are one!

In 17:20-21 Jesus prays, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone [my eleven disciples], but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus has prayed for Himself (17:1-5) and His original disciples (17:6-19). Now He prays for those who will believe His message through His disciples. This illustrates perfectly a vision of “transferring truth to the next generation.” One great way to build unity is to model Jesus’ heart. On the last evening of Jesus’ earthly life, He prayed for future generations of believers like you and me.

What about you? Are you praying for your children? Are you praying for your grandchildren or even your great grandchildren? Are you praying for the children and youth in our church? Are you praying for our daughter church and other churches that we may plant? Are you praying about the continuation of our church long after you leave this world? How future-oriented are your prayers? If the only prayers you pray deal with urgent and immediate needs, your prayer life is not all that it could be. As an individual Christian, your vision must transcend the present, reaching those who will come after you. As a church, our vision must transcend the present, reaching those who will come after us. We must be deeply concerned about future generations of believers. We must long for oneness and fruitfulness so that the world will believe in Christ.

It’s worth noting that Jesus makes three requests in 17:21 that begin with the conjunction “that” (hina). All these requests are sub sequential. The second request depends on the first and the third depends on both the first and second. The first request: “that they may all be one” is repeated in 17:11 and 22. This is the dominant emphasis of this entire chapter. In 1776, the Latin phrase e pluribus unum (“out of many—one”) was suggested by Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson as aptly describing the creation of one nation out of thirteen colonies. Since 1873, federal law has required that the phrase appears on every coin minted by the U.S. Treasury. We often see it with the emblem of the eagle, our national bird. The phrase e pluribus unum is a perfect description of the unity shared by the members of the body of Christ.

While there are many members, we are joined into a spiritual entity—the church. We are not many but are one. The purpose of this unity is at least twofold: (1) that believers may be in the Father and the Son and (2) that the world may believe that the Father sent Jesus. Jesus prays that we may have the same oneness that He and the Father have. As we experience this God-like intimacy with one another, the world will believe that the Father sent the Son. In other words, Christian unity enables the world to see and understand that Jesus is divine in His origin and is God Himself. After all, one of the greatest miracles known to humankind is when Christians get along. Generally, this is so unusual that the world might die of shock! Instead, we need to ensure that they see this greatest possible witness —unified Christians.

In 17:21, Jesus asked us to be in the Father and Son. Now in 17:22-23, He asks that the Father and the Son may be in us. Jesus puts it like this: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” The “glory” (doxa) that Jesus received and gives to us refers to the servanthood of His incarnation—leaving the glory of heaven and coming to earth as a man. Jesus’ servanthood includes the cross and He invites us to share in His sufferings. This is the glory that He gives us. Jesus indicates that the purpose of our servanthood is that we may be “perfected” (teleioo) in unity. The Greek concept of “perfect” does not mean “flawless perfection”; rather, it carries the sense of maturity and completeness.

Ephesians 4:3 says that we must be diligent to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The key word is “preserve.” We must maintain what God has already instilled in the body of Christ. We don’t have to create unity, it is His Work. We are simply responsible to preserve what He has put into place. So while we possess unity; it isn’t “perfected,” unless we grow in it.

Along the coast of northern California are great forests of redwoods—the giant sequoias. Redwoods are noted for age, beauty, and fine wood. But one unusual characteristic of redwoods is their tendency toward unity. Two redwoods may grow up together several feet apart, and then after fifty or one hundred years the trees begin to touch. Quite often the bark begins to overlap and fill out so that the two trees ultimately become one. There are cases where a dozen trees have sprung up from the outer roots of a tree that has fallen and have formed a perfect circle. After several centuries these trees have grown together so that outwardly they appear as a single giant tree! In keeping with Christ’s prayer, the goal of the body of Christ should be to grow into such unity that the world will recognize us as one. The display of such unity in our individualistic society will be a testimony to the world of the divine Person and work of Christ.

Unity is paramount! Unity will win the day! Thomas Manton (1620-1677), the great Puritan preacher said, “Divisions in the church breed atheism in the world.” The converse is also true: Unity in the church builds belief from the world. Is the unity that you are experiencing impacting your community? Can you tell your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family, and friends that you are one with your church? You I need to be able to say, We are one! We are one!

In 17:24, Jesus prays that we would receive another type of “glory” (cf. 17:22). He says, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Jesus’ use of “glory” refers to the future glorification of believers when we shall see Jesus as He is (1 John 3:2-3). Jesus wants us to see Him in all His glory. In Matthew 17:1-8, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus’ glory when He was transfigured before them, but this was merely a dress rehearsal, a preview of eternity. The glory that Jesus desires to give us will not be momentary, it will be permanent. The word “given” is in the Greek perfect tense, meaning a past action with abiding results. In other words, Jesus has always possessed “glory,” but the unveiled expression of His glory is present now and will last for all eternity. Here, Jesus is deliberately contrasting His glory with the world’s glory which comes and goes. For the final time, He also emphasizes that we are those whom God the Father has “given” to Him. This is Jesus’ version of the unbreakable golden chain in Romans 8:30 where Paul states that God has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us.

Since we have been given to Jesus from the Father, He will ensure that we are kept for glory. In that day, we will be given a new body and will be made just like Jesus. We will see the full expression of Jesus’ glory and we will fall down before Him, much like the apostle John in Revelation 1:17. What a day that will be! When we see Jesus in all His glory, we will worship Him like never before and truly be able to say: We are one! We are one! In that day, our unity will finally be truly “perfected.”

Verses 25-26 mark the final verses of this chapter and the entire Upper Room discourse. In these two verses, Jesus summarizes all that He has prayed in John 17: “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus uses the word “known” five times in these two verses. He closes His prayer with a vow to the Father, but it is also a promise to us. He will continue to make His name (i.e., all that He is) known to us and also will be increasing the Father’s love in us. That is His sovereign vow, and it will be our continuing experience. Jesus concludes with the phrase, “I in them.” At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promises His disciples that He will be with them all their days (28:20b), but here is an even greater promise: “I in them.” We are one because Jesus is in us!

I think after studying Jesus’ words it would be safe to say that Jesus wants unity—oneness among His followers. I would like to challenge us to do three things as we complete this series. These things can be simple prayers or commitments that you make to Jesus.

#1: I will focus on what unites rather than on what divides. You may have heard someone say, “keep the main thing the main thing.” This is especially critical in the local church. We must major on the majors not minor on the minors. We must focus our hearts and our minds on Christian essentials. We must always remember that as Christians, we agree on far more than we disagree. Thus, it is helpful to identify those areas on which we do agree. A few examples will suffice: The Bible is God’s Word, Jesus Christ is God, salvation is by faith through Christ alone, and Jesus will return. These beliefs are worth dying for, but many others are not. E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973), missionary to India, once said, “Talk about what you believe and you have disunity. Talk about Who you believe in and you have unity.” May we be a church that is all about Jesus and the essentials of our faith.

#2: I will agree to disagree with grace. It’s been said, “We can agree to disagree—until the Lord shows you that I’m right!” Seriously, I’m undoubtedly wrong in some of the non-essential tenants I believe. It is acceptable to disagree on issues such as the structure of church government, the role of women in the church, the charismatic gifts, and timing of creation and Christ’s return. These are non-essential issues that we can discuss and disagree agreeably on until Jesus’ returns. While doctrine is important, we must recognize the distinction between membership and fellowship. Local churches can and should have doctrinal distinctives, but these distinctives should pertain to church membership. They should not result in breaking fellowship with any regular attendee or brother and sister in Christ in the community. After all, we are one!

In every biological family some family members will be closer than others, but all should be one. In the same way, we must come together as a spiritual family and declare to the world, “We are one!” If we are functioning in conflict and disunity rather than unity, God will limit His work in our lives. If we have time to be blessed but not be a blessing; if we are selfish saints who want things from God but don’t want to mess with being a functioning member of a local church; or if we are causing disruption in the church by our attitudes and tongues, then we are wasting our time getting on our knees and asking God to do something for us. If we don’t want to hang with His children, what makes us think that our Dad in heaven will support our rebellion?

In Africa, a two-year-old child wandered off into the forest. The entire tribe spent the day searching for this youngster but could not find him. The next day, they decided to join hands and cover the entire area. They found the boy, but unfortunately, he was dead after having spent the night outside. The distraught mother cried, “Why didn’t we hold hands sooner?”

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to come together, join hands, and pursue a common kingdom goal. Since we are going to enjoy the same place, the same presence, and the same Person, we need to all learn to enjoy one another. When we cooperate in Christianity unity, the world will see Jesus clearly revealed through His bride.

#3: I will validate not vilify. I want you to think about a believer with whom you disagree with doctrinally, philosophically, or practically. What are some positive things you can say about this person? This may require you to think hard, but this can be done. There are always positive things that we can say about other believers. It may take a conscious effort to think through a believer’s strengths, but we can all accentuate the positive and minimize the negative.

George Whitefield (1714-1770) and Charles Wesley (1707-1788) were constantly at odds over their theology. Whitefield believed that God alone was responsible for our salvation. There was nothing man could do to bring it to pass. He affirmed God’s absolute Sovereignty over every aspect of life. Wesley agreed that God made our salvation possible in a way we could never do. However, Wesley contended that the salvation of the individual rested on the choice of man. It was a sometimes strong disagreement (as it continues today).

One day Whitefield was asked by one his followers, “Do you think that when we get to heaven we shall see John Wesley there?” “No,” said Whitefield, “I don’t think we shall.” The questioner was very delighted with that answer, but Whitefield added, “I believe that Mr. John Wesley will have a place so near the throne of God that such poor creatures as you and I will be so far off as to be hardly able to see him.” Whitefield understood the words of Jesus. He knew that regardless of their disagreements on theology, they were brothers in Christ and he loved Charles Wesley. We are called to do likewise. We must not let denominational, theological, socio-economic, race or gender labels get in the way of our love for fellow members of God’s family.

If Christians are unloving, uncompassionate, selfish, argumentative, and divisive, they contradict the Lord they profess to serve. Nonbelievers won’t be convinced of Christianity’s claim to truth. Apologist Francis Schaeffer wrote, “In John 13, the point was that if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. In John 17, Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians. The greatest testimony that we can possibly offer is not quoting Bible verses or providing some cutting edge outreach, it is loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and showcasing Christian community.

Spartacus is a classic movie that retells the historical account of the great Roman slave rebellion in 71 B.C. Spartacus was a highly trained gladiator who escaped and led other slaves to freedom. As news of his rebellion grew, thousands of slaves joined his cause and followed him through victories and defeats. Near the end of the movie, a massive Roman army under the command of Senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier) captures the rebels. Although Crassus does not know what Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) looks like, he suspects that Spartacus is among the prisoners under guard. In full Roman uniform, Crassus gallops up to the mouth of the valley where the prisoners are being held and shouts an offer to them: they can escape death by crucifixion if they turn Spartacus over to him. Spartacus studies the ground for a moment and then nobly gets to his feet, intending to turn himself in. But before he can do so, his comrade to the left stands and calls out, “I am Spartacus!” Then his comrade to the right also stands and calls out, “I am Spartacus!” As the real Spartacus looks on, comrade after comrade in his slave army rises to their feet and calls out, “I am Spartacus!” until there is a chorus of thousands united.

As slaves of Jesus Christ, we need to stand as one and identify with our Lord Jesus even though it could mean our own end. Oneness can change the world. Will you promote Christian unity as your greatest witness?

Just Do it! Upper Room Discourse #1

Just Do it! (John 13:1-17)

One day an airline flight was canceled due to bad weather. One solitary agent was trying to rebook all of the travelers whose schedules had gotten messed up. One passenger became impatient and pushed his way to the front and slammed his ticket down on the counter. He said, “I have to be on this flight, and it has to be first class!” The agent politely said, “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll help as soon as I can, but I have to take care of these other people first.” The man became angry and shouted, “Do you have any idea who I am?” Without hesitating, the agent picked up the loud speaker microphone and said to the hundreds of people in the terminal, “May I have your attention, please? We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate.” The man backed off, and the crowd of people burst into applause. Regardless of whom that man was—whether he was rich or famous or a little bit of both—he certainly didn’t have the respect of the people at the terminal that day. It’s hard to respect someone who considers themselves the most important person in the room and who puts his or her needs ahead of everyone else.

Perhaps you think I’m talking about your spouse, your teenager, your neighbor, or your mother-in-law. (I might be.) But maybe I am actually talking about you. Have you ever said, “I’m not going to do that.” “No one’s going to tell me what to do!” “I don’t have to put up with this.” “They don’t realize who I am.” “They don’t appreciate all I do around here!” “I don’t get any respect.” If you have said these things or thought these things, I am talking directly to you…and, I’m afraid, to me as well. If the truth be known, we’ve all thought these things, and most likely, even said these things out loud. Thus, we need to be reminded that there is no job beneath us. In case you question this remark, in John 13:1-17 the apostle John shares an account from Christ’s life that reveals our need to study this passage.

In 13:1-3 John writes, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God.” Before we get too deep into this great episode, it is important to set the context. John asserts that it is the day before the Feast of Passover—a meal that commemorated Israel’s release from Egypt. (Exodus 12) It is Thursday evening, less than twenty-four hours away from Jesus’ death on the cross. What would you be doing if you knew that you had less than twenty-four hours to live? Perhaps, you would be praying to be spared from death. Or maybe you would be doing some last-minute confession of sin. Not Jesus. His mind is set on preparing His disciples for His imminent departure. In fact, all of Jesus’ teaching in John 13-17 takes place on the eve of His death. Thus, this series is entitled, “Focus on Your Family: What Matters Most to Jesus.” Our goal is to discover how to truly be Jesus’ disciples and do church as He desires.

As we begin this account, it is critical to observe that John emphasizes twice what Jesus knows. In 13:1, Jesus knows that He is going to die and return to His Father. In 13:3, Jesus knows that the Father has given all things into His hands, and that He has come forth from God, and is going back to God. These statements reveal that Jesus knows His origin and His destiny. It is my conviction that true humility grows out of our relationship with God the Father. When you know that your needs are met in Christ, when you know who you are, where you came from, and where you’re going, you’ll be able to freely serve others. If you don’t know who you are, where you came from and where you’re going, you’ll not be secure enough to serve. Instead, you’ll be tempted to manipulate people to get your needs met. But as a follower of Jesus you ought to approach relationships out of a sense of fullness. You know who you are and you have nothing to prove. You no longer have to manipulate people or be paranoid about other people’s expectations and opinions. As you meditate on biblical truths that emphasize your security and significance in Christ, you’ll be more prone to serve rather than seek to be served.

Before we move on, it is critical to grasp 13:1b, which may be the key to the Upper Room Discourse. Regardless, this phrase has had a tremendous impact on my pastoral ministry. Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The theme of this section is service founded and grounded in love. Twice John emphasizes Jesus’ great love for His disciples. His life and ministry were characterized by a commitment to “having loved

His own.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus invested all His time, energy, and teaching into His disciples. But John also makes the startling point that Jesus “loved them to the end.” There is a double meaning here: Jesus persisted in faithful love toward His disciples in going to the cross and He persevered in unconditional love for them. Despite their ignorance, unbelief, disobedience, and eventual apostasy, Jesus persevered in His love for His disciples. One of the greatest incentives to serve others is to recognize that Jesus Christ has a vast, unconditional love for you. If you begin to grasp this love, it will motivate you to want to serve others as an expression of gratitude to Jesus. Today, you may struggle loving unlovely and unlovable Christians. We all struggle here. However, there is hope: When you feel you cannot love a brother or sister, immediately call out to God and acknowledge, “I can’t love this person, but I know you can. Will you love this believer through me?” You may have to pray this prayer (silently) several times whenever you see this person. But since this is God’s will for you (cf. 13:34-35), He will give you the supernatural strength to love your brother or sister. This Christ-like love will also take your ministry to the next level.

John has disclosed what Jesus knows about Himself and His future (13:1-3). Now he reveals what Jesus does in response to His knowledge. In 13:4-5, John describes Jesus’ actions in seven slow-motion scenes: “He [Jesus] got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” Don’t miss the fact that according to 13:4 (cf. 13:2) the meal is already underway when Jesus begins washing the disciples’ feet. This may strike you as odd, and rightly so. Foot washing normally occurred before the meal when guests entered a home. Foot washing was needed in every home in Palestine. Not only were the streets dusty and dirty, but they usually contained garbage and the waste from the animals that traveled up and down the same streets. Furthermore, the people didn’t wear socks, much less Nike Air. Instead, they wore open-toed sandals and their feet became very grimy, grungy, sweaty, and smelly. Needless to say filthy, smelly feet could make the meal and the fellowship rather uninviting. Thus, in Jesus’ day, foot washing was mandatory! Typically, a guest normally washed his or her own feet after the host offered a basin of water. You knelt down, removed your sandals, washed your feet, and then dried them with a towel. If a host had servants, they might be delegated to do the job for you. This was a mark of a high achievement in biblical times. A host that could provide this luxury had arrived! But under no circumstances would the host wash the feet of his guests. The master would never stoop so low as to wash the feet of those beneath him. Slaves washed feet. Masters never did.

So why in the world is Jesus, the Master, washing His disciples’ feet? Why hadn’t the disciples washed each other’s feet? Why hadn’t someone washed Jesus’ feet? After all, this was the evening before his crucifixion. If there was any night the disciples should have served Jesus, it was the Last Supper. Why did they start the meal with dirty feet? No doubt the events of the final few days had distracted them. But we get a greater clue from Luke 22:24 (cf. 9:46). On the way to the Last Supper, the ambitious disciples had been quarreling over who should be the greatest and who would have precedence in Christ’s kingdom. They were like Muhammad Ali claiming, “I am the greatest!” When they entered the Upper Room, there was apparently no slave to perform the customary washing of the feet of the guests. The disciples probably took turns when there was no slave, but on this occasion none would condescend to do the menial task. Their minds were full of the subject of their bitter contention, and none was willing to be servant of all. Each feigned unconsciousness of the neglected duty. The disciples were jealous of one another and were competing for the best place. They were all looking out for number one. No wonder they didn’t wash each other’s feet. No wonder it was left to Jesus. “They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel.”

The attitude of the disciples is what makes John’s deliberate slow-motion account all the more powerful. By delaying the foot washing into the meal, Jesus escalated the level of suspense. Have you ever been at a restaurant with some friends, and that awkward moment arrives when the check is placed on the table? The question that likely runs through your mind is: Whose turn is it to pay? Of course you likely assume it is your friends’ turn to pay for the meal. So you wait and wait hoping that they will pick up the bill on the table. Finally, it dawns on you that your friends are not going to pay. So you slowly reach for the bill, hoping that they will beat you to it. It may seem that this is what Jesus is doing. After all, His disciples attended Jesus Christ Biblical Seminary. After three years with the world’s greatest theologian, you would hope that they would be willing to serve Him. But this is not the case.

However, before we are too hard on the disciples, we must understand that Jesus is a detail oriented administrator. It seems that the lack of a servant to wash the disciples’ feet was deliberate. First of all, it was the host’s responsibility to provide this (see Luke 7), and Jesus was the host. Furthermore, throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus very carefully arranging things in advance (e.g., procuring the donkey and its colt, securing a place in which to celebrate Passover). It is unlikely, then, that the omniscient Jesus would forget to provide for the foot washing. Finally, all the things that were necessary for the foot washing were present (i.e., the basin, the water, the towel). Therefore, it is likely that Jesus purposefully arranged for a servant not to be present, so that He could wash the disciples’ feet, knowing (as He did) all that would take place during this meal. Jesus was and is the quintessential servant.

Now, if you are familiar with the Gospels, you are probably anticipating what is about to happen. Peter and Jesus have some legendary dialogue. In 13:6-11, John records Peter’s apprehension over Jesus washing his feet. John writes, “So He [Jesus] came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter’” (13:6-7). Although Peter can be slow of mind and heart, he finally recognizes that his Creator, the very Lord of glory should not be washing his feet. However, Jesus explains that this act will make sense “hereafter.” Jesus is referring to the explanation that he will share with His disciples in 13:12-17. A question remains though: Will Peter truly understand the purpose and intent of Jesus’ words? The answer is: Absolutely yes. After Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter understood fully. It is worth noting that Peter almost certainly had this episode in mind when he commanded his readers in 1 Pet 5:5: “Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The verb translated “clothe yourself” is reminiscent of Jesus putting on the garb of a slave. Eventually Peter did indeed catch the point of Jesus example.

At the moment, however, Peter is fighting Jesus tooth and nail. In 13:8, Peter responds to Jesus’ offer by saying: “Never shall You wash my feet.” The Greek is even more forceful: “You will never wash my feet forever.” In other words, Peter uses eternal language to say: “Jesus you will never, ever wash my feet, not now or anytime in the future.” You’ve got to love Peter here! When he gets it wrong, he gets it spectacularly wrong.

Jesus responds to Peter by saying, “‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me’” (13:8b). Jesus is not threatening Peter with a loss of salvation. This would contradict God’s Word and His very character. Rather, the purpose of foot washing is to illustrate Jesus’ philosophy of ministry, which is servant leadership. For Peter to reject Jesus’ offer to wash his feet is to reject His entire approach to ministry. The implication here is that Jesus wants Peter to tend His sheep (cf. John 21:16-17), but the only way that this can occur is by adopting Christ-like servant leadership. Furthermore, the only way to truly enjoy intimate fellowship with Jesus is to serve Him and keep short accounts. This is the challenge that Jesus issues to Peter.

Of course, Peter is a man of extremes. Good, ole’ Peter. Sometimes the only time he opens his mouth is to change feet! In 13:9, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Peter says, “Jesus, just give me a bath! I’m ready to jump into the tub.” Naturally, he is overcompensating, so Jesus says to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” There’s a great lesson here: We walk in a dirty world every day, and some of the dirt rubs off on us. We need to let Jesus get close enough to us so He can keep our lives clean. Again, the issue is intimate fellowship with Jesus. This is subsequent to salvation and is explained in 1 John 1:9. Yet, in the midst of a discussion of intimate fellowship, Jesus also brings up the topic of salvation, knowing full well that Judas is an unbeliever. His point is: Peter needs to have his feet washed, while Judas needs to be immersed in a tub! What a great picture of the distinction between salvation and fellowship.

Again, Jesus Christ, not only died on the cross for the sins of the world, He lived a life of servanthood. During this last supper, Jesus washed all the feet of his disciples, including Judas, the one who would betray him in a matter of hours. To visualize this it is important to remember that Jesus and His disciples are not sitting in chairs around a dining room table. Rather, they are reclining on their left elbows, eating with their right hand, and have their feet behind them. The stench from their feet must have been horrendous. How could they really have enjoyed their meal? Nevertheless, Jesus went from disciple to disciple and washed their feet. In His love, He was able to endure the ingrown nails, corns, calluses, cracked heels, and fungi. What a great, sacrificial love!

In 13:12-17, John’s account becomes rather pointed. “So when He [Jesus] had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?” (13:12) Jesus, the master teacher, poses a question because He knows His disciples are slow of mind and heart. He wants to make sure that they have really caught this truth. He then follows up His question with a powerful declaration: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.’ If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (13:13-14). Twice in these verses, Jesus calls Himself “Teacher and Lord.” It is worth noticing that no disciple ever addressed Jesus casually. No one ever called Him “Jesus” and they certainly never used expressions like “Sweet Jesus” or “Dear Jesus.” They called Him “Master” or “Lord.”

Often, I think we make a mistake in being too familiar with the Lord Jesus Christ. We envision Him as a cosmic Santa Claus or a Mr. Rogers with a nice zip-up polyester sweater. We rarely ponder the fact that He came as the Lamb of God but is now the Lion of God. If we had a holy sense of awe at the power and sovereignty of Jesus and recognized that He willingly served humankind, we would not hesitate to do so as well. It is when we have a great view of Jesus and a small view of ourselves that we get things done.

It is worth noting that some Christians understand 13:14b to proscribe foot washing as the third ordinance, along with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, most Christian groups have said that this is not the case because, (1) there is never a record of it being done by any church in Acts; (2) it is never advocated in the New Testament letters; and (3) it is never specifically said to be an ongoing ordinance as are baptism (cf. Matt 28:19) and the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). This is not meant to imply that this might not be an important worship event. But it is more appropriate to look for other creative ways to wash people’s feet.

John’s account concludes in 13:1517 with a powerful punch line: “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” The command is: Do as I have done. Apparently, Nike copied Jesus when they trademarked the slogan, “Just do it!” Jesus is simply saying, “See what needs to be done and do it.” Therefore, if I could boil down this lesson into one statement, it would be: Actions speak louder than words. If Jesus asked the disciples (even on the road to the upper room), “Do you love Me?” they would have responded, “We love You with all our hearts.” If He had asked them, “Do you love one another?” His disciples would have replied, “We love each other and all of God’s children.” Jesus’ disciples knew the right things, but they did not do the right things. Yet, James, the half-brother of Jesus said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). Actions speak louder than words.

Many cathedrals in Europe suffered damage as a result of bombing raids during World War II. The explosion of a bomb in one great cathedral blew the hands off a statue of Christ. Though the cathedral was repaired, the statue of Christ stands there today with His hands missing. An inscription on the pedestal reads, “Christ hath no hands but yours.” Today will you be Jesus’ hands and feet?

Today, will you pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you a single person He wants you to serve? Don’t think about a list of twenty, just one single person that the Lord will lay upon your heart. Ask Him for the grace to love this person unconditionally and to serve him or her with your whole being. This is a prayer that God will answer. Remember, actions speak louder than words. May you and I follow in the sandals of Jesus and become foot washers.

The bottom line

The Bottom Line (Philippians 1:27-30)
Mobberly Baptist Church, Small Group, August 17, 2014

What is your favorite weapon? A sword requires hard steel to maintain a sharp edge. However, swords made solely of hard steel are found to be so brittle that they often shatter in battle. In contrast, soft steel does not break, but readily becomes dull, failing to be effective in fierce warfare. The Japanese, therefore, became skilled craftsman in the art of sword making. Their swords are the finest in the world. The Japanese create swords from both hard and soft steel. They combine multiple sheets of both strengths of metal, heating, folding, and pummeling them together over and over until they have up to 33,000 paper thin laminations of metal—each layer no more than 100,000th of an inch thick. The result is a finely crafted weapon of extreme pliability with a blade that will retain a deadly, sharp edge.

Just as Japanese sword makers repeatedly hammer together layers of metal to produce a sword that will be strong enough to withstand breaking, so God allows suffering to forge character into the lives of His children. Just as a sword made of hard metal will easily break in battle, so the independent believer will break in adversity. The hard steel in our lives is God’s Word; the soft steel in our lives is dependence on God and His church. These two components are both necessary to produce vessels that glorify God. Eventually, believers are shaped into beautiful weapons or models of usefulness.

Today, I hope to remind you of your privilege to model the gospel. Perhaps you don’t like the word model because you don’t see yourself as a particularly attractive person. I’m with you! I don’t get particularly excited about looking into the mirror either. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be physically attractive to be a gospel model; instead, you must be spiritually attractive. In Philippians 1:27–30, Paul exhorts you to model the gospel through perseverance, unity, boldness, and suffering. When you excel in these Christian disciplines, the world sits up and takes notice. Unbelievers in your life may not be eager for Jesus or salvation, but if you live a godly life, they may eventually become open to the gospel. Paul provides two challenges that will enable you to model the gospel.

1. Stand strong for Christ (1:27–28). You can stand strong for Christ by exemplifying courage and unity even in the midst of persecution. This section begins with the adverb “only” (monon), pointing to a sense of urgency and priority. I can see Paul holding up his index finger to signify “only” or “just one thing” as he adamantly declares his bottom line:“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). Paul writes “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.” This command begins the body of this letter that runs through 4:9. Moreover, this command serves as the overarching theme of the entire book. So Paul gives the key command and then proceeds to explain and to illustrate what constitutes worthy conduct. The phrase “conduct yourselves” (politeuesthe) literally means “live as citizens.” The verb Paul uses (politeuomai) is related to our English word politics. It is a word built upon the Greek word for “city” (polis) and has overtones of citizenship responsibilities. Paul is making a play on the Philippians’ “dual citizenship.” The Philippians live in a free Roman city, and thus understand from their own experience what it means to live as citizens. Paul is picking up on that motif and elevating it to include their heavenly citizenship as well. This is especially clear by Paul’s use of the noun form ofpoliteuomai in 3:20a where Paul writes, “For our citizenship [politeuma] is in heaven.” Paul is suggesting that you are a citizen of heaven, and while you are on earth you ought to behave like heaven’s citizen.

To live your life as a citizen “worthy of the gospel of Christ” means to represent Christ in all you say and do. The term “worthy” (axios) pictures weighing something on the scales. The idea is that your manner of life should weigh as much as the gospel you claim to be committed to. People are not nearly as interested in discussing absolute, objective truth claims. People are even less interested in discussing theology or philosophy, but most people are interested in the practical questions of how to live.

It is not enough to just learn the Word; we must live the gospel out in every area of life, including our earthly citizenship. What type of citizen are you? Do you speak well of our President, our governor, and various political officials? Or are you critical of anyone who isn’t as conservative as you are? Obviously, this will not open doors to the gospel? Are you a law abiding citizen? Do you seek to have a positive attitude in your community, or are you a pessimistic doomsday soothsayer? Additionally, what type of spouse are you? Do your coworkers and neighbors see something different in your marriage? Do they come to you in the midst of their relational strife? Do those who know you see you loving your kids and spending time with them, while they are pulling out their hair and running away from their own kids? Perhaps they want to know how you can enjoy your kids so much. All that it takes is for you to live a different (notice I didn’t say odd) life before those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. Today, will you model the gospel before your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers? Will you help others learn how to live the gospel? Will you help others become citizens of heaven and learn to live like the King?
Paul expects great things from the Philippians whether he is able to come see them or whether he just hears a good report. What a great comment! Paul expects that the impact of a worthy church would be known far and wide. This should be your desire as well. It is critical to believe in your church and to speak well of your church. So many people are critical of their church and their leadership. This is easy for any believer to do. It doesn’t take any skill or spiritual maturity to notice weaknesses in the church. Anyone can be critical of the church! However, self-control and godliness come into play when you choose to believe the best about your church and her leadership. When you have a high view of what God can accomplish in and through your church, you will come with expectation. You will serve with zeal! You will talk to others with optimism! Who knows? The church may just rise to your highs hopes of her.
Paul yearns to hear about the church “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27b). The word translated “stand firm” (steko) described a Roman military formation in which the soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back with their shields up and their spears outward. It was the strongest possible defensive position. The word was also used of a soldier who defended his position at all costs, even to the point of sacrificing his own life. To stand firm means to hold your ground regardless of the danger or the opposition. Figuratively, it means to hold fast to a belief, a conviction, or a principle without compromise, regardless of personal cost.

You must have a military mindset and hold down the fort of your church. Impacting the world begins as Christians stand together “in one spirit.” As followers of Jesus, we need each other. Like soldiers, we too, are to join arms and hearts, offering encouragement and hope in our struggles. We are not to divide. Unfortunately, we do, often over very trivial issues. There are already too many barriers in the body of Christ—barriers of race, geography, worship style, mode of baptism, and denominational affiliation. To make matters worse, we spend far too much time squabbling over non-essential issues (e.g., the charismatic gifts, end times, the timing of the universe, divorce and remarriage, etc) and not enough time preaching the gospel of Christ. This is a scandal that hinders God’s work. When will we understand that unity makes the gospel beautiful? Jesus promised that all men would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34–35).

Paul has just used political and military word pictures, now he moves to the world of athletics. All this in one verse! The word translated “striving together” (sunathleo) gives us our English word “athletics.” Paul pictures the church as a team, and he reminds the Philippians that it is teamwork that wins victories. It’s like a coach saying to his players, “We win together and we lose together.” The local church is not made up of superstars. The church is a team in which Christ is the superstar, and we are joined together with Him to compete. In this case, we play as a team to advance the truth of God and promote His kingdom. Our proper motivation and common goal is “for the faith of the gospel.”

One of Aesop’s fables is about a father who had seven sons. To each son he gave a stick. Each was asked to break his stick. No problem there; it was easily done. Then the father took another seven sticks and bound them together. He then asked each of his seven sons to break the sticks. Not one of them could break the sticks which had been bound together as one. Similarly, on our own, you and I will be snapped in two by Satan and our own flesh. We need the accountability, encouragement, and comfort that come from being in community with other believers.

Paul concludes this section in 1:28 with some unusual words that require a bit of explanation: “in no way alarmed by your opponents–which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” Paul says that standing strong for Christ entails refusing to be intimidated by your opponents. The word translated “alarmed” (ptyresthai) is not found elsewhere in the entire Greek Bible (OT and NT). But it is used on occasion in Classical Greek of timid horses that shy upon being startled at some unexpected object. It could denote the uncontrollable stampede which ensues when a herd of horses are spooked or alarmed for some reason. It is obvious from this that these opponents were trying to throw the church into panic in an attempt to dismantle it. Yet, the Philippians were not to become frightened to the point of running from their opposition. As believers we should not go looking for a fight, but neither do we run away from it if it happens.

There has been a lot of ink spilled on exactly who these opponents are, but ultimately no one knows with any degree of certainty. The point that Paul is making is: Make no mistake, if you open up your mouth about Jesus Christ, you will have enemies. When you say “Jesus is the only way,” people will call you arrogant. If you declare, “You must be born again,” someone is sure to call you a fanatic. If you say the Bible is the Word of God, someone else will think you’re an ignorant hick. If you say, “I know I’m going to heaven,” you’ll be accused of thinking you’re better than everyone else. Finally, if you dare to call adultery wrong and homosexuality sinful, someone is bound to call you a narrow-minded, judgmental bigot. And so it goes. If you’re a bold Christian, you will annoy the world precisely because you are a citizen of heaven and live by different principles.
Nevertheless, your bold witness in the face of persecution serves two purposes. First, your bold witness is a sign to your opponents that they will be destroyed. How is it a “sign” (endeixis) to them? Because when they see you stand firm, deep in their heart they know it’s not natural for someone to stand against the ridicule or hostility of a group. Deep in their heart they know that when a group begins to browbeat and threaten or attack, people cave in. They know the normal human response is that when you see you’re going to be rejected for a view, you find some way to back off from it. When they see you continue to stand without being intimidated, it makes a disturbing impression on them, because something inexplicable is happening. They see a quiet strength inside you that they don’t have. They see a certainty and strength that can only be explained as coming from somewhere or someone else. And deep in their heart a convicting voice says to them, “He’s right, she’s right, and unless you change, you’ll be under the judgment of the God who is in them.” When you stand for the truth and are not scared off, a profound impression is made on them that unless they change, they’ll be under the judgment of God. Although most people deny and suppress the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, He still beckons them to consider spiritual realities. Knowing this, you and I must seek to model the gospel.

Your bold witness serves a second purpose—it’s a sign of salvation for you. Salvation from what? Whenever you come across the noun “salvation” (soteria) or the verb “save” (sozo), it is important to ask: What is the context of this rescue or deliverance? In Phil 1:27–28, Paul is likely referring to believers triumphantly glorifying Christ through temporal difficulties, whether they escape them or not. The salvation also points to our future hope of reigning with Christ. Throughout the New Testament, suffering is often connected with reward (e.g., Matt 5:10–12; Rom 8:17; Heb 10:32–35; 11:24–26). Thus, it is critical that you and I endure so that we experience the fullness of Christ’s reign (2 Tim 2:11–13).

One of the important questions in this passage is: What does the word “that” (“but of salvation for you, and that [touto] too, from God,” 1:28b) refer to? It seems clear whatever “that” is it comes “from God.” At first glance, it seems that Paul is referring to “salvation” as “that” which comes from God. This makes biblical and logical sense. Salvation is from God and the closest referent to “that” is “salvation.” However, in the Greek language, terms are given genders—masculine, feminine, neuter—so terms that belong together can be matched up. When the gender of the relevant terms in 1:28 is considered, it becomes clear that the neuter “that” does not refer to the feminine “salvation” but to the whole concept of striving and suffering in the preceding context (1:27–28a). What’s the point? Somehow, suffering comes from God. I’m not saying evil comes from God. But it is God who allows you to suffer. This principle will be fleshed out further in 1:29–30.
[If you want to live a worthy life and model the gospel, you must stand strong for Christ. Paul’s second challenge to live a worthy life is to…]
2. Suffer well for Christ (1:29–30). In order to suffer well for Christ, you must recognize the nature of suffering and observe positive examples of suffering. Paul states, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict [agon] which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (1:29–30). Paul explains that suffering is “a grace disguised.” The word “granted” (echaristhe) is built off the Greek word for “grace” (charis). Paul’s point is: God gives two grace gifts—salvation and suffering. Of course, every believer wants the gift of salvation, but the gift of suffering is the “gift that nobody wants!” We’re tempted to look for the receipt. Like a Christmas gift we don’t want, we’re tempted to try and return this gift! But God says: “There’s no receipt. The gift of suffering is too important and too significant.” Suffering is a gift of God’s grace!
Paul doesn’t just offer up some pious platitudes; the man is a practitioner. In fact, in 1:30 he uses himself as an example and indicates the Philippians have seen him suffer. Nearly ten years earlier they had seen Paul thrown into a Philippian jail and then run out of town for his faith (Acts 16:19–34). And now at the time of this writing he is in prison in Rome. Yet, Paul counts suffering for the gospel a grace gift. The reason: Suffering changed his life and shaped his eternal perspective.

Indeed, nothing will facilitate growth quicker and better than suffering. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s true. From a human perspective, suffering stinks; but from a godly perspective, suffering is for your good. God wants to sanctify you. Like Jesus, we must be perfected through sufferings (Heb 2:10). Today, will you begin to see your problems as privileges? When you are rejected at work, at school, or in the neighborhood, will you rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer with Christ? When your spouse, your children, or you relatives call you a fanatic or a freak, will you bless the Lord and continue to exude love and compassion? Through your suffering, God will permit you to model the gospel to those who need a witness.

Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist, lived during the Holocaust and was a prisoner in a Jewish concentration camp during WWII. While seeking to survive the horror of this imprisonment, Frankl began observing his fellow prisoners in the hope of discovering what coping mechanism would help him endure this horrendous existence. What Frankl discovered was this: Those individuals who could not accept what was happening to them and could not make their present suffering fit with their faith, or couldn’t find its meaning in their world view, despaired, lost hope, and eventually gave up and died. Those prisoners who found a meaning from their faith, were then able to find hope for a future beyond their present suffering, and so could accept what they were enduring as a part of their existence. It was these prisoners who survived.
You may not find yourself in a concentration camp right now; nevertheless, you may be suffering for Christ. If so, ask God to enable you to have His perspective. Pray for the supernatural ability to receive suffering as a gift that God will use to grow you in Him and allow you to model the gospel to a hurting and confused world. Remember, the book of Philippians is about changing your mind. Words related to the mind, to thinking, and to remembering occur almost three dozen times! This is the most prevalent idea throughout the letter. Today, God wants you to encounter Him anew and afresh so that you see your need to depend upon Him and His church. He wants you to maintain courage and perseverance in the most difficult circumstances. As you do so, He will use you in ways that you never thought possible. Model the gospel and see what Jesus Himself will do in and through you.