Good morning, Friends! It’s good to see you all this morning. We are starting to come out of the dark days, and it’s great to have you back!

I’ve got a Scripture for you this morning that is one of my favorites. It’s been my guiding light for many years, in many different situations. It sheds a light on so many different situations, in all parts of life.

Paul is writing to a group of Christians who were in strong disagreement over something that seemed very basic to both sides. Christians get into that situation a lot. We disagree all the time. And Paul shows us a way to handle it.

Accept those who are weak in faith, without quarreling over disputable matters.

One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? It is to their own master, that servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.

Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:1-8

I don’t know if you’ve heard this Scripture before. But it’s one of those rock bottom teachings which I hope we can all listen to.

The issue doesn’t always matter. Or, I should say, the issue often changes. The group Paul was writing to, the issue that divided them was whether or not Christians should eat meat.

The situation back then may be unfamiliar to us today. Paul was writing to a group of Christians who were living in the midst of a huge pagan city. The city was filled with temples where people made sacrifices to pagan gods.

Sometimes the sacrifices were totally burned up at the temple, but most of the time, you would go to the temple, and arrange to have the priests sacrifice it for you. Part of the meat would be given to the pagan god, and the rest of the meat would be eaten. Sometimes people would make it a feast or a party.

They’d invite all their friends. You’d get an invitation – archaeologists have found some of these invitations – saying, “Jupiter invites you to a feast on such-and-such an evening,” and all your friends would come. The pagan god was believed to be the host of the party.

Other times, the leftover meat was sold by the priests the next day at the open air market. This was where most of the meat in the city came from. It was leftover sacrifice from the night before, and everybody knew it. The money supported the priests and the temple. That’s how it was done.

OK, so in this situation, strict observant Jews would never eat meat from the public market. They would only eat meat where the butcher was Jewish, and was supervised by a trained rabbi. It would be cut up strictly according to the guidelines in the Old Testament. And Jews simply wouldn’t eat meat, any other way.

Strict Jews today still don’t. And many Muslims follow similar guidelines. It’s an essential part of their religion.

Now, Paul knew all about the way people believed on this subject. Paul was raised as a strict Jew himself.

But Paul also knew that many people who had joined the Christian movement weren’t raised with those beliefs. For them, it wasn’t a sin. They’d eaten meat from the market all their lives.

So, the big question confronting Paul and the other leaders was, “Do you have to be a Jew in order to be a Christian? Do Christians have to follow all the Jewish laws?”

To Christians who had been raised as strict Jews, it was a no-brainer. Of course they couldn’t eat meat that had been sacrificed at a pagan temple! Anybody who did should be kicked out of the church.

But to people who hadn’t been raised that way, it was a no-brainer, too. From their point of view, the pagan gods were imaginary. They were fake gods. They were no gods at all. Why should it matter where the meat came from? They hadn’t sacrificed it. The meat wasn’t bad. Why not eat it?

This conflict was literally about to destroy the whole congregation, and Paul came up with an interesting solution.

He said, “First thing, everyone should be fully convinced in your own mind.” Paul didn’t take sides. He didn’t say that the strict people were wrong. He didn’t say that the people who were OK with eating meat were wrong, either.

He said, “You should be fully convinced, at ease and confident with what you are doing. It’s your faith. It’s what you believe.”

Then he said, “Don’t judge what anyone else is doing. For them, it’s a religious thing. It’s their faith. They feel that they have to answer to God for what they do or don’t do.”

In a really beautiful line, Paul says, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? It is to their own master, that servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

I don’t have to answer to you, Paul says. And you don’t have to answer to me. Each of us has to answer to God, about the things each one of us believes God wants us to do. I don’t have the right to judge you, any more than you have the right to judge me.

God is the only judge, and God will give each of us the strength to stand.

That’s good so far.
1) Be fully convinced about what you do or don’t do. But,
2), don’t judge anyone else.

Then Paul makes a brilliant third move. He says, “If what I do is going to damage the faith of someone else, who I love as my brother or sister in Christ, then even if I think it’s OK, then I won’t do it.”

It’s that third step which is so important.

In the situation Paul was writing about, he says, “Some people think the Sabbath is sacred. Other people think all days are the same. If you keep the Sabbath, it’s a holy day for you. And everyone in the church should respect you, and not make you do anything you think is forbidden.”

The same thing with eating meat. Paul says that he is fully convinced in his own mind that eating meat is fine, even if it’s from the public market and might have been sacrificed in a pagan temple.

Remember, Paul was raised as a strict Jew, so this is a huge change for him. Paul was the great teacher of spiritual freedom. He wanted people to be set free from all the laws and rules, and focus only on the rule of Christ – to love one another.

But, Paul says, “One who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who doesn’t, and the one who doesn’t eat everything must never judge the one who does, for God has accepted them both.”

Paul went on to say, Jesus didn’t die, so that you could eat meat, or not eat meat. “I’m convinced,” Paul said, “that nothing is unclean in itself. But it’s unclean to anyone who thinks it’s unclean. Don’t let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died.”

“We who are strong,” Paul says, “need to put up with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves. For each of us must please our neighbor, for the good purpose of building up our neighbor.”

So far as we know, Paul managed to convince the congregation he was writing to today. Certainly, Paul delivered this same message, in different forms, to many other congregations.

But this isn’t just about eating meat, or not eating meat.

To give you a personal example, I don’t drink alcohol. I never have, in my entire life. It’s not a big moral thing with me. I don’t like the taste.

Early in my life, a lot of people tried to convince me to try it, that I’d get used to it and like it. I just figured that if it’s that much work, I wasn’t going to start. Why bother?

But there’s also another reason, which is actually the stronger reason for me now. I know so many people who can’t drink, because if they get started, they can’t stop. It’s destroyed their lives. It’s cost them jobs, and relationships, and families, and everything they own and love.

For the sake of those people, even if I enjoyed alcohol, I wouldn’t drink again. People who are trying to stay straight and sober need all the support they can get. They need to know that I stand with them, that I want and pray for them to get free.

I know not everyone feels the same way that I do. It doesn’t bother me at all, if someone I’m with has a glass of beer, or wine, or whatever. Most of my family and friends accept me, and understand. We get along just fine.

For me, it’s wrong, and I don’t do it. For other people, it’s OK, and we don’t make a big deal out of it. For some people, though, one drink puts them back on the road that leads to destruction.

So, I’m friendly and polite to people who can handle alcohol. But for the sake of people whose lives would be destroyed by drinking, I never use it myself. That’s my choice.

You can apply this same principle to all kinds of situations.

For example, I’ve been vaccinated. I’m grateful for all the scientists and medical workers who made the vaccine possible. I could probably take off my mask in public places again.

But here in our meeting, only about a third to a half of our people have been vaccinated. Some are people who can’t be vaccinated, because their immune systems don’t work normally. None of our children have been vaccinated yet, and their lives matter a lot to me.

Even if I think that I’m safe, I care about the whole church. I care about my neighbors and my community. So, for their sake, and for everyone’s sake, I can put up with things a little longer. I don’t want another surge!

Being careful doesn’t make me sick. But my example helps to keep everyone just a little safer, until we can all be safe again. For me, that’s a no-brainer, and it’s worth the sacrifice and inconvenience.

In the situation Paul is talking about, the bottom line is whether another person gets turned away from Christ by what we do or say.

If somebody doesn’t like me, that’s no big deal. But if someone turns away from Jesus, because of me, that’s a very big deal, indeed.

I don’t know if you realize this, but we are at an epidemic level in this country, with a different kind of epidemic. We’re at an epidemic level of people who turn away from church, because of things that Christians have done or said.

These people who turn away may love Jesus, or be willing to listen to Jesus, but they are totally turned off by what someone who calls themself a Christian has said or done. The behavior or the attitude, the message they’ve received, has totally turned them away from Jesus Christ.

It may not be me who’s upset them. I hope it’s not me. But it means that I have to work even harder, to share the love of Christ, to be the best example I can for Jesus.

Because I don’t want them to go away. I want them to stand. I want them to have faith. I want them to come in the door, and sit down next to me. I want to hear their prayers. I want to hear them singing.

Even if we’re very different. Because you know, our differences probably don’t matter that much to Jesus. Just scratch the surface, and we’re all the same.

So, that’s the bottom line.

Do your best, and be fully convinced what you’re doing is right for you.

Don’t judge the other person. I may be wrong. They may be right. Let God be the one to judge.

And, for the sake of the other person, be flexible. Be willing to bend. Be willing to put up with things. Be willing to do whatever you can, to keep someone else’s faith from crashing and burning.

It’s a kind of love. It’s respect. Respect the faith and the spiritual journey of everyone. Don’t let trivial things, or what Paul calls debatable things, get in the way.

Respect each other. Jesus died for the sake of the other person, and not just for you. Lift each other up. Don’t despise other people, because of what they believe is right.

Live your faith. Live it fully and completely. But respect the other person. If you do that, then God will help you.

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