J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Walking in Love Part 2 – The Kingdom of Righteousness Peace & Joy

Part One of this series can be found here and audio for this sermon can be found at here.

My hope is that this series of posts could lead to greater church partnerships in the Garner/Raleigh area.  Feel free to join in the conversation.

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Verse 17 is a strong reminder to both the stronger and weaker brother and perhaps a gentile rebuke as well.

  • The kingdom of God is not about whether or not you should eat only vegetables or meat and poultry.
  • The kingdom of God is not about whether you are free to drink alcohol or not.
  • The kingdom of God is not about whether you should observe Lent or not.
  • As passionate as I am about reformed theology and the Sovereignty of God, I will say that the Kingdom of God is not even about predestination vs. free will.

Every one of those things is important and pursuing depth in biblical understanding for each one is no an option but a necessity.  I and your future elders of this church will have definitive convictions about each one and will even be shepherding you along the lines of those convictions.  But the kingdom of God is not a matter of those things.  They play a part but they are not the essential matters of the Kingdom.  The kingdom of God, according to Paul, is about righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Let’s look at each one of those in depth.

First the kingdom of God is about righteousness.  Whose righteousness?  Not ours but Christ’s righteousness.  In and of ourselves, apart from Christ, we have no righteousness or goodness of our own.  Through Christ by faith, we can and do think, speak, and live out righteous acts, but never and I mean never is the Kingdom about our righteousness.  Commending yourself to God or others on the basis of anything you have done is foolish.  When Christ has given you His goodness, why would you ever reference or commend your own goodness?  Jesus’ goodness is of infinite value while we have so very little of our own in which to speak.  The kingdom of God is about your embracing the righteousness of Christ on your behalf and that righteousness motivating you towards a Godly life for yourself and a compassion for others.

Secondly, the kingdom of God is about peace.  Yes, your own personal peace but much more than that.  Knowing the forgiveness of sin and removal of guilt that comes through knowing Jesus Christ does give the heart heavy with sin and guilt, peace – it is a peace that cannot be achieved in any other way in this world described biblically as “a peace that passes understanding.”  So often the conflicts in the church are merely reflections of the conflict of the individual’s heart.  When Jesus declares in Matthew 11: 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Do you believe it?  Ask yourself what you do when you are stressed or overwhelmed and the answer to that question will show you just how much of God’s peace you understand.  When you are overwhelmed, angry, or stressed do you?  Spend significant an hour in prayer or do you eat or spend an hour online?  Spend significant amount of time in the scriptures or do you drink or play video games?  Those alternatives aren’t necessarily bad but they pale in comparison to pursuing and resting in the peace that Jesus offers that passes all understanding.  If you can’t walk peacefully with Christ in your own spirit then you are not going to walk in peace with others.  Peacemakers are blessed by Jesus in Matthew 5 as He declares that they are the inheritors of the kingdom of God.  Making peace means resting in it for yourself personally and knowing the peace that Jesus gives enables you to live peacefully with others.

Thirdly, the kingdom of God is about joy.  Joy is the promise of the Christian life and is essential for living it.  It derives from knowing that your relationship with God is not only repaired but that relationship has been changed from the enemy of God and slave to sin to the child of God and a slave to righteousness.  Paul prayed this for the Colossians 1:11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  And ,we’re going to see Paul pray this for the Romans and for us in Romans 15 when he prayed, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  Folks, the essential elements of righteousness, peace, and joy are yours.  They are decreed by the Father, secured by Jesus, and applied by the Holy Spirit.  These qualities are yours as the gift of God.  You may not walk in them well or pursue the depth of understanding in possessing them, but they are yours.  As you grow in living out these realities, then you will extend them to others more quickly and readily.

Paul reminds us what that looks like in verse 20.

Part 3 coming tomorrow.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Walking In Love Part 1

My hope is that this series of posts could lead to greater church partnerships in the Garner/Raleigh area.  Feel free to join in the conversation.

I remember when I was a kid and signed up for little league baseball.  In the fourth grade, I was the fastest guy on the team but by no means the most proficient when it came to swinging a bat.  I needed a lot of coaching.  Now my coach didn’t stand up on the mound and pitch the ball to me as fast as he could.  One, it would have scared me to death, and two, I could barely hit a ball that was thrown underhanded so there was no way I was going to make contact with a fastball.

My coach understood that he was the stronger athlete, and that I was the weaker.

  • His goal was to help me grow and not to injure me.
  • He wanted to be an encouragement to me and not crush my spirit.
  • He could have yelled at me or made fun of me for being weaker than he was.  Instead, he was gracious, encouraging, and instructive.
  • He gave me insight into other great hitters and what they did.
  • He explained lessons that he had learned in hitting, and ultimately he gave me tips about how to maximize my particular hitting style.

Bottom line:  I was never a power hitter, but I learned how to hit because the stronger hitter encouraged and was patient with me the weaker hitter.  Because of that, I liked my coach.  I didn’t see him as harsh or overbearing.  I trusted him.  I didn’t yell at him that my style was best or that I had figured out how to swing a bat long before I met him.

This is a wonderful picture of how Christians should interact within the church.  There are some issues upon which believers disagree.  Paul describes those who understand their freedoms in Christ as stronger brothers.  Those who do not understand the freedoms afforded them in scripture are called weaker brothers.  Unfortunately, what often happens is the stronger brother despises the weaker, and the weaker passes judgment on the stronger.  The result is that Christians quite often do not live in the unity and peace to which they are commanded, and as a result, shame is brought on the name of Christ and His church.

Last week, in the book of Romans, we saw Paul command stronger brothers and weaker brothers to remember that it is God who upholds His servants:  both strong and weak.  He reminded us that God will not be settling our disputes when we stand before the throne of God.  We will be on our knees in reverence confessing our praise and love to God, the Father.  So in light of understanding that God expects the church to live peacefully, this week we want to take that teaching one step further.

Big Picture Question:  How does God expect us to make peace and build each other up?

14:13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

Paul’s language of verse 13 is the natural extension of the past 12 verses.  He told the stronger brothers not to despise the weaker and the weaker not to pas judgment on the stronger.  So he immediately moves to what that looks like practically.  In fact, he speaks of it as if it is something that each and every one of us should put into place.  He says, “Let us not pass judgment but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  Paul says, “If you know that a particular scriptural freedom is going to cause a brother to have a problem with you, don’t purposely provoke them.”

Why?  Because even though one has freedom from scripture, the other person doesn’t haven’t that knowledge or the faith to walk in the freedom so they think that thing is a sin.  In Paul’s example last week, many Roman Jewish believers could not bring themselves to eat unclean meat or poultry because they felt compelled to continue to obey the ceremonial food laws.  Scripture from Peter’s vision in Acts 10 gave them the freedom to eat whatever they wanted but many did not understand the scriptural mandate.  To some, eating unclean mean or poultry was a sin thus the conflict with the stronger brothers who understand the freedoms of scripture.  Paul’s advice to the stronger brother here is to create peace in the church by not willfully and wantonly flaunting their freedoms in front of the weaker brother.  Don’t invite them over to the house for BBQ sandwiches and brisket.  Bacon cheese burgers don’t work either.  That doesn’t mean that the stronger can’t walk in the freedoms of scripture.  The stronger brother is not held by tyranny of the weaker brother.  Instead, the stronger is not to purposely abuse the consciences of the weaker brother.

If we use the example from last week about drinking alcohol, it would look like this.  The stronger brother is free to drink alcohol, but if you are going to invite a weaker brother over to your house, then don’t serve beer with chicken wings.  If they are coming to an event with said beer and wings, let them know ahead of time so that they can make the choice for themselves.  Practically, what about going out to eat?  Should the stronger brother abstain from alcohol incase he bumps into a weaker brother?   I don’t think so.  I think if you go to an establishment that serves alcohol, you can’t be offended if someone buys.  Just don’t go.  I’m sure Paul would have told the Roman weaker brothers not to eat at Smithfield BBQ as well.

The point being is that in our private interactions with each other, we should go out of our way to insure peace and not to offend the sensibilities of each other, whether they be weak or strong.  Here is why.

15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.

If the stronger brother causes the weaker to grieve purposefully, the stronger is not walking in love, yet God does not permit the weaker to speak of the stronger’s liberties as evil.  Walking in love means knowing your Christian brother and sisters and making every effort not to offend in areas of scriptural knowledge and ignorance.  Paul quiet bluntly says, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died by what you eat.  Yet at the very same time, he also commands that we should not let others speak evil about that in which you regard as good.

Are you beginning to notice the tension here?   For the weaker brother to obey these verses they almost have to become a stronger brother and for the stronger brother to obey these verses, they have to become weak.  The stronger brother has to be mindful of those he might offend while the weaker is called to recognize the freedom the stronger has in Christ.  If the stronger does that, he takes on the sympathies of the weak.  If the weaker does that, he becomes strong.

As we mentioned last Sunday, no one can claim to be a weaker brother.  That would mean claiming to know the freedom found in scripture yet telling other people something is a sin.  The weaker brother is one who is not aware of the commands and freedoms found in scripture and therefore struggles in areas of conscience.  If he becomes aware that scripture has those freedoms, he is no longer the weaker brother.  So how in the world will Christians get along?  Well the push really here is to the stronger brother.

Let me quote directly from the ESV Study Bible:  If the strong do not act in love, the goodness of the gospel may be wrongly identified as evil, for their lack of love for the weak contradicts Christ’s love. God’s kingdom centers on the gifts of righteousness, peace, and joy granted by the Holy Spirit, so that bodily appetites become secondary.

Walking in love does not mean that you are no longer passionate about the biblical truths in which you hold.  Walking in love means growing in the maturity necessary to hold your biblical convictions.  To walk in the freedoms that God has given you requires an accompanying spiritual maturity.  That why, for example, I like 21 year old law for alcohol.  Maturity is required for the freedoms of Christ.

This is important so I think we should take a moment to discuss it and I want to move the discussion beyond the realm of stronger and weaker brother controversies.  So many of the conflicts and disagreements between Christians come down to differences of opinions on scriptural interpretation:

  • Predestination vs. Free Will
  • Charismatic vs. Cessation.
  • Eternal Security vs. Losing Your Salvation
  • Immersion vs. Pouring out

And the list goes on and on.  Now these are not stronger and weaker brother issues because they don’t speak to practices or freedoms in which believers hold.  They are theological differences.  They hold just as much gunpowder for the powder keg as practical disagreements though.  The question as always has to be, “How do I best love this brother or sister in Christ?  Is it engaging in debate about the scripture we disagree on or is it by not flaunting my convictions in their face?”  Paul gives us a guide for the answering of this question in verse 17.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment