Has anyone ever heard of this guy—RUPERTUS MELDINIUS? Don’t feel bad. Until this week I hadn’t heard of him either. Rupertus was a Lutheran Theologian in the 16th century—and the reason I heard of him is because I was googling one of my favorite sayings—and discovered he said it. Rupertus said that in the church there must be: Unity in the essentials, freedom in the non-essentials, and love in all things.”
I have always loved that statement because that’s the way relationships in a church should be. Non-essentials—like worship styles—are not something we need to argue about. They don’t matter. As Rupertus puts it there should be freedom where things like that are concerned.
But essentials—essentials are different. They DO matter. In fact, they are the basis of our unity.
And when I say “essentials” I’m referring to the non-negotiables of our faith—things like the divinity of Jesus, the infallibility of the Bible, etc.
So—freedom in the non-essentials, unity in the essentials—and then Rupertus reminds us that in EVERYTHING we do—even in the disagreements we have be it over essentials or non-essentials—in everything there must always be love. I think Rupertus must have been inspired by Jesus Who said we are to be known for the way we love each other. Our love is what identifies us as His followers. Christlike love must be evident in all our interactions—even in—ESPECIALLY in—our disputes.
Now as you know, we are right in the middle of an adult study of FOUR of our essentials—or as we put it this year—our ROOTS—those foundational beliefs that helped Redland take root and grow. Our text book for this study is Paul Little’s Know What You Believe. If you haven’t gotten a copy, I encourage you to do so.
- Today Matt Weiss will lead/led us in our second session—a study of what Little says about our belief concerning the Bible.
- Next week, Jim Main will facilitate a study of chapters 3 and 4 which deal with our belief about Jesus.
- August 21, Roger Price will guide us as we at the subject of salvation—based on chapters 5 and 7.
- And last week, Peggy Peek got us off to a great start in our study of the character or attributes of God.
And—I have to say—I really admired Peggy’s teaching style. She has a great grasp of the Bible. She had an awesome outline—superb delivery—and on top of that she gave out Hershey’s KISSES to those who got to class on time. She even awarded people who volunteered to read Scripture with Starbucks gift cards and she used gigantic post-it notes as an outline of her talk.
Well, this morning I want to copy Peggy’s teaching style a bit. Now—don’t get overly excited. There will be no Hershey Kisses or Starbucks gift cards this morning! Those are great—but if I do it once, you’ll expect me to do it every week—and Hugh says my pastoral ministry’s budget can’t afford that kind of thing.
No—the part of Peggy’s style I’m copying today is her use of cool office supplies. I have three flip charts this morning—and with your help I’m going to use them in today’s message—which deals with disagreements between Christians over the essentials. Okay? Here we go. I want us to borrow an idea from Nancy Beach at Willow and use this first chart to make a list of things that are ALWAYS wrong for EVERY Christian. I’m talking about essentials here—the clear teachings of the Bible.
So—what are some things that the Bible says are always wrong? Think of this list as things the Bible says Christians are NOT to do. Call out your answers.
Okay—now—still hanging with the “essentials” theme let’s go to a second flip chart.
This time I want us to use it to make a list of things that the Bible says are always RIGHT for every Christian. Think of this list as things the Bible says Christians ARE to do.
[Pray—Love—Read the Bible—forgive—Help others—be Kind—again great job! These are crystal clear teachings of the Bible. They are always right.]
Now—the last question I want us to answer is harder. You see, I want us to use this final flip chart to come up with a list of things that are in the gray area of life—things that seem wrong to some Christians—and may NOT seem wrong to others.
Remember—no arguing! Here’s where the “love in all things” deal comes in! So—what would you put on this list? Speak up. What are some things that seem wrong to some and not wrong to others—things that are essentials for some—and non-essentials for others?
[Social drinking—Dancing—Smoking—Certain kinds of music—Certain political parties—Harry Potter Books—War]
Well, we could go on—because there are lots of gray areas in life—areas where Christians disagree on the “essentials.” Well, to me the interesting thing about this is the fact that these lists have changed over the years. I mean there are things that used to be on the essentials list and are either now on the non-essentials list or aren’t on either. For example, did you know that in the Middle Ages it was considered immoral to charge interest on a loan? Back then that was an essential. That was something Christians did NOT do. Of course today Christians take out mortgages and buy cars and use credit cards all the time—without any guilt—at least not much guilt.
Speaking of another “essentials” change—my wife—Sue—grew up in a very legalistic church—where the pastor taught that going to movies was wrong. That was an essential for him. She told me of the guilt she felt in going to see The Sound of Music. Her pastor also taught that it was wrong for boys and girls to swim together—so when Sue’s youth group went on a mission trip to Nasau and they decided to go to the beach—-they dropped off the girls at one point—and then took the boys about 5 miles farther up the coast to swim. I’m thankful Sue has removed that from her list. We’ve been swimming together for nearly 40 years now!
I remember I had a youth parent in my student ministry days who did not think his son should ever be in a group where there was an even number of boys and girls. He believed that encouraged coupling—which would lead to all kinds of sinful behavior. One time we had a couple vans full of kids heading to get ice cream after the Sunday evening service—no couples, just a bunch of kids who liked ice cream and hanging together. This parent came up—counted—and because there was an even number of boys and girls—he pulled his son out. He wouldn’t let him go. The poor kid was so embarrassed. And the list goes on. I remember my parents frowning on us playing cards. That was on their list at one time. There are churches where instrumental music is not allowed.
Steve Flores told me they attended a church where the pastor taught it was wrong for men to have long hair or a beard. No unnecessary hair was on his “essential list.” The pastor let Steve worship there but Steve was not allowed to be an usher or fill any other leadership role. Now, it was a church where everyone served in the military and one day an awkward Sunday dawned when all the men were on duty–Steve was literally the last man standing—and since the only thing worse than a man with facial hair taking the offering was a woman doing that job—the pastor was forced to ask for Steve’s help.
We could go on and on because there are lots of disputes over what behavior should be on the essentials list—and always have been. Well, the Christians in the church at Corinth were dealing with a very interesting essentials dispute and before we read our text let’s take a closer look at the situation. Since this is our eleventh sermon in our study of 1st Corinthians—so you should remember how thoroughly idolatry and pagan practices and sacrifices permeated all levels of Greek and Roman society. I mean, it would be almost impossible for any Christian in Corinth to escape contact with pagan practices and their influence. Well, the area of concern that Paul deals with in our text—something they had written to him asking advice—concerns how they ate in that pagan culture.
Specifically, they had asked Paul about eating meat. Now—this wasn’t a vegetarian dispute. I mean Christians weren’t advocating giving up meat all together. No—the problem had to do with where the people shopped for their meat. You see, there were two sources in the ancient world. One was the regular market where, by the way, prices were always highest. The other place to get meat was in the local pagan temples. Meat was fairly cheap there. You see, when an idol worshiper offered an animal sacrifice to his god—which was done constantly—part of the carcass was consumed by fire upon the altar—but the rest of it, whatever was left, was used in different ways. The pagan priests would use some of it for their own personal food supply. And the rest of the meat would be sold. Since it was “used” its price was much lower than the market price.
So—some of the Christians at Corinth had asked Paul, “Are we dealing with an essential here? Is it okay to eat this cheap meat?” And understand, for the people who had been Christians for a while, eating this meat was a non-essential. It was no big deal. They had grown up enough spiritually to know that there is only one true God. They realized that idols were man-made.
So they knew this was just meat that fools had sacrificed to a hunk of wood, or stone, or metal. In their minds it was an inexpensive way for people who could almost never afford meat—to feed their family. Eating this meat was on their “always right” list. The problem was the newer Christians in the church felt differently. NOT eating this “idol-meat” was on their “always wrong list.” To them eating this cheap meat was the same thing as worshipping a false god.
Okay with all this in mind, open your Bibles to where we left off last week. We’re looking at 1st Corinthians 8:1-13. Let’s see what Paul advises. I’m sure the Corinthians on both sides of the dispute were sitting on the edge of their seats—waiting to see who Paul would side with in his response to their letter.
1 – Now about food sacrificed to idols:We know that “We all possess knowledge.”But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
2 – Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.
3 – But whoever loves God is known by God.
4 – So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols:We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world”and that “There is no God but one.”
5 – For even if there are so-called gods,whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”),
6 – yet for us there is but one God,the Father,from Whom all things came and for Whom we live; and there is but one Lord,Jesus Christ—through Whom all things came and through Whom we live.
7 – But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
8 – But food does not bring us near to God;we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
9 – Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
10 – For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?
11 – So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.
12 – When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
13 – Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
Okay—let’s review Paul’s guidance here. Get out your “spiritual steak knives” and let’s cut into this text! How did he answer this question? Well, at first, he seems to agree with the mature believers. He says that they have the FACTS right. Their “knowledge” is correct. He says: “An idol is nothing at all in the world”and “There is no God but one. Food does not bring us near to God;we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” So—at this point I’m sure the older Christians sat up a little straighter. They probably stopped sucking in their guts and relaxed their bulging meat-fed abdomens.
But then Paul says something that literally hit them where it hurts, “Knowledge puffs up––or I guess in their case OUT—while love builds up. Those who think they know somethingdo not yet know as they ought to know.” I imagine at this point stomachs were pulled back in. I hope heads hung a bit as well because the fact is if knowledge—even knowledge of the essentials—leads to conceit and pride —if our knowledge makes us into spiritual know-it-all’s who don’t think of others—we have missed the point entirely. We’re not as smart as we think. In our pride we are displaying not maturity—but immaturity.
This is why Paul aims at humbling the meat-eaters with his reasoning. He says, yes—they had knowledge—but remember: “…not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak,it is defiled. So—be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” In other words, Paul is reminding them—and us—that when in our prideful knowledge—we fail to empathize with those who are less mature in their faith—we can actually lead them to sin.
Our lack of love in the non-essentials can lead others to disobey an essential. Sure—there was nothing wrong with eating that meat—but by doing it they could lead a weak—baby Christian—back to idolatry. Think of it like this. Eating meat offered to idols was like offering a recovering alcoholic a drink.
That reminds me of something that happened years ago—not long after I came to Redland—there was a move to use real wine as a part of communion. The person who suggested we do this said that it was a better symbol since that’s what Jesus would have used when He instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night of His betrayal and arrest. And I remember thinking—well he’s right—maybe we should do this. After all, there’s nothing wrong with drinking. The Bible doesn’t say that. It just says it is wrong to get drunk. But then it hit me that for a recovering alcoholic that one sip could be enough to put them back into the bondage of their addiction—so I spoke out against this and others did too.
Paul’s point here is that YES—We have rights—but we must exercise them in LOVE. I like how Stephen Um puts it. He says, “The exercise of personal rights is never simply personal.” Our actions wrong and right—affect others—and we need to be mature enough to remember that.
John MacArthur writes, “Knowledge is essential—but it’s not sufficient.” It has to be used in a loving way. This principle is what Paul gets at later in this letter when he writes, “If I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have a faith that can move mountains—but do not have LOVE I am nothing.” (1st Corinthians 13)
This LOVE deal is why when we go on mission trips we always seek the advice of the resident missionaries or the local pastor. We ask for their knowledge when it comes to how to dress, etc. I mean, we don’t want something as trivial as clothing prevent us from sharing the Gospel. For example, when we go to the DR, we ask the women to wear dresses or skirts to church—ones that go below the knees. I imagine our Morocco team has similar rules—so will our Kenya team. These dress codes are not Biblical essentials—but the empathy and love that leads us to keep to them ARE. Listen! We are free to do many things—things the Bible does not prohibit—but if doing them causes a brother to stumble—we must steer clear of that thing. In our freedom we must never do something that would trip someone up—something that would keep them from Jesus or make their maturing process as a Christian more difficult.
On a his About Sunday website Steve May shares: “I once met a man who told me he had been a Christian for several years. He also told me his favorite form of relaxation was smoking pot. I asked, ‘Do you see a contradiction between scripture and smoking marijuana?’ He said, ‘No. In fact, scripture allows it.’ I said, ‘How did you come to that conclusion?’ He said, ‘Genesis 1:29. God says, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food I give every green plant for food.” That includes cannabis.’ I objected saying, ‘It says “for food”. You SMOKE marijuana; you don’t eat it.’ He said, ‘You haven’t tasted my brownies.’”
Of course this guy was way off base. His behavior is proof of the fact that you can pull any verse out of context and use it to justify practically anything. I certainly DO NOT agree with his conclusion. But even if his Biblical interpretation were right (and it’s not), Paul’s words in verse 9 would apply to him: “Don’t use your freedom to cause someone else to stumble.” And this foolish guy’s use of marijuana would certainly do that! Paul’s point is we’ve got to look at everything we do in light of how it affects everyone else.
By the way, Paul takes it a step further. He says if, in our liberty, we lead a person to sin—we have sinned against Jesus. A lack of love for others is a lack of love for our Lord. And if you need some motivation here remember—when it comes to giving up freedom for others—Jesus set the example. He gave up His liberty to secure ours.
Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not saying knowledge is unimportant. I’m not saying love means ignoring Biblical truth. It doesn’t mean forget all rules. Of course not. As Warren Wiersbe says, “Knowledge is power and it must be used in love—but love must always be controlled by knowledge.” God’s laws are given in love—it’s loving to remind each other to obey them. Love without knowledge gives people a license to sin.
Okay—how do we know we are using our freedom as Christians—our rights—RIGHT? How do we know if we are exercising them in LOVE? To help us find an answer to these questions we’re going back to our flip charts—to look at three groups of Christians—three ways believers tend to exercise their rights. This first group is the legalists of the world.
Focus on externals. To them OUTER behaviors are vital.
Impose their human opinion or tradition on themselves AND on everybody else.
They love lists of “Do’s and Don’t’s” — especially the “don’ts”
Don’t believe in gray areas.
Make blanket prohibitions.
Very critical people.
Isolated – Separatists. Because they’re so concerned that they might do something wrong, they decide to isolate themselves.
Encourage self-righteousness. Act like they don’t need Jesus’ grace—they can be good on their own.
In fact a good definition of legalism is, “A man-made standard for the purpose of exalting self.” Jesus was the hardest on the legalists of His day—the Pharisees and Saducees. Remember? He called them snakes and vipers and white-washed tombs. Our Lord knew the danger of legalism.
Paul, a former Pharisee did to. This is why he also came down hard on these guys. Inn Titus l:11, he said, “They—legalists—must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach.” I come down hard on them too—because in their love of rules, legalism hurts people. In fact, I’m going to add another trait to the list: Ignorant. Their “knowledge” is really a lack of it.
This week I read that back in June of 2011 the city of Alemeda, California, immediately changed its policies after first responders stood by and watched a man drown in San Francisco Bay. The first responders didn’t venture into the muddy waters of the bay, even as the suicidal man started treading water and then eventually went under. According to Michael D’Orazi, the Interim Fire Chief for Alemeda, two things prevented authorities from taking action. First, since it was a crime scene, the police “felt that going into the water initially might not be the best idea because they were unsure if this individual was armed.” Secondly, D’Orazi also said, “There was a policy in place that pretty much precluded our people from entering the water.” The Alemeda Interim Police Chief was also quoted to say, “It’s muddy out there. We don’t want [the police officers] sinking. We don’t want them in distress.”
Christian legalists are just as foolish—-just as guilty of putting man-made rules above the needs of people—watching people drown spiritually while they stand by watching—-going around the hurting in the world, justifying their behavior with silly rules. Have you ever seen that happen? Have you ever seen a Christian put rules above people? Have you ever done that? Here’s another question: Do you know anyone outside the faith who’s been so turned off by legalism that they won’t even attempt to seek after God? Listen—that’s why legalism is such a problem.
Some people, when they hear the word ‘Christian,’ all they can think of is narrow-minded people who are obsessed with rules—and extremely ungracious toward any who may disagree with them. Legalists truly hurt the advancement of the kingdom.
Now of course, there is another extreme; and that is a group that we’re going to call the libertines.
Anything goes. No rules.
No gray areas. They don’t have a list of gray areas because anything goes.
Flaunt freedom. They make fun of people who do obey rules—even good ones.
Selfish individualism. Don’t need others and their rules.
Syncretism. Libertines adopt worldy practices until they morph and they become one with the culture.
There’s no distinguishing factors; there’s no holiness. There’s nothing remarkable about them because they just become like everyone else.
Tolerate indiscriminately. They believe the highest goal is tolerance. Behavior doesn’t matter because there is no right or wrong. Tolerance is their “truth.”
In his book Visions of Vocation, Christian author and thinker Stephen Garber tells the story of meeting a woman who directed the Protection Project—-an initiative under Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government that addresses human trafficking. Garber asked her, “So why do you care about the issue of human trafficking?” She told the story of her heart opening to the cries of women and girls who were sold into slavery, often involving sexual bondage. Then she said something very sad, “I get the most interesting applications here. Just imagine. Harvard University, Washington, D.C., human rights. It’s a powerful combination, and it draws unusually gifted young women and men from the best universities in America. Yet—after a few weeks they almost always find their way down the hall, knock on my door and ask to talk. I know what they are going to say because I’ve heard it over and over again. After thanking me for the position and the opportunity, a bit awkwardly they ask, ‘But who are we to say that trafficking is wrong in Pakistan? Isn’t it a bit parochial for us to think that we know what is best for other people? Why is what is wrong for us wrong for them?’
Then the woman said, “To be honest, I just don’t have time for that question anymore. The issues we address are too real, they matter too much. I need more students who believe that there is basic right and wrong in the universe!” Do you see the danger of the libertine side of things? It was a libertine mindset that kept Christians in Germany from standing up to Hitler. So much wrong happens when there is no standard.
Well, neither of these extremes—legalism or libertine—neither honors Christ. But there is a way—a better way. It’s called Christian maturity. And this is what this looks like:
Focuses most on internals (fruits of the Spirit). A mature Christian pays most attention to the character traits of the fruits of the Spirit.
Biblicaly mature – they know the Bible and don’t take it out of context
Able to apply Biblical truth to each situation in a compassionate way.
Restricts freedom for the sake of love. For the sake of not causing a stumbling block to someone else. And here’s another thing: Spiritually mature Christians are …
Known most for what they DO. Not for what they don’t do.
Now, we may think that legalism is the harder path to take but that’s not true. The way of Christian maturity is much more difficult than either of the other two extremes. And here’s why: It requires us to remain open to the Spirit for guidance moment by moment. Philip Yancey says that it is relatively easy for most of us not to murder, but it’s much harder to reach out in love. It’s easier to avoid adultery than to build a fully alive marriage. It’s easy to pay taxes, but it’s not so easy to serve the poor. It’s much easier to intensely limit my own freedoms and the freedoms of everyone else than it is to carefully consider what is best in each situation. It takes Biblical maturity not man-made legalism to know what to do.
Okay—which group are you most like these days? Are you leaning toward legalism? Do you find yourself more worried about rules than people? Is being right more important to you than being compassionate? Or—are you more of a libertine? Perhaps some legalists have hurt you so much that you have given up rules all together. You care more about tolerance than Biblical truth. The point I’m getting at is we all need to be striving toward spiritual maturity.