J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

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 »

  1. […] in Love Part 2 Part One of this series can be found here and audio for this sermon can be found at […]

    Pingback by Walking in Love Part 2 « J. Gordon Duncan | March 1, 2010 | Reply

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