Friday, December 22, 2017

This week's lesson (December 16-23): Overcoming Evil with Good

There is nothing more dangerous than someone who knows they’re right – who knows they are right, and you are wrong.
And if we need proof, then take a look at Hymn #304 “Faith of Our Fathers.” As we read Hymn #304, we’ll notice this is a hymn about martyrs – about the English martyrs who suffered for their faith during the English Reformation.
And if you remember your history, then you know those believers did not suffer at the hands of unbelievers; they were not killed by people who were trying to get rid of Christianity. No, this is a hymn about believers who were killed by other believers – believers who were killed by members of another church.
In short, this is a hymn inspired by church fights – inspired by people who are so sure they’re right that they’re willing to kill the people who are wrong!
And I wish I could say this kind of thing was gone – yes, I wish I could say that believers don’t do horrible things to other believers any more . . . but I’m afraid we still need Paul’s advice here in Romans 14:1-8 (page 1124).
You see, Paul wrote this to believers who didn’t always agree with each other . . .
And because they didn’t always agree with each other, those believers didn’t always get along with each other!
Just like that hymn, in other words, you’d have one group of believers going after another group – and just like that hymn, some of those fights could get pretty vicious!
That’s why Paul reminds us in Romans 14:1ff that some fights aren’t worth fighting. No, if someone is good enough for Jesus, then they should be good enough for us – and to see what I mean, take a look at the fight here in Romans 14:1ff. Verse one:
14:1Accept [them] whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One [person’s] faith [for instance, allows them] to eat everything, but another [person], whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The [person] who eats everything must not look down on [the one] who does not, and the [person] who does not eat everything must not condemn the [one] who does not, for God has accepted [that person]. 4Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To [their] own master [they stand or fall]. And [they] will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5[Likewise,] one [person] considers one day more sacred than another; another [person] considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in [their] own mind . . .
And no, Paul’s not saying that, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, just so long as you’re sincere.”  Neither is he saying that, “It doesn’t matter how you behave, just so long as you’re sincere.” No, we have a Bible full of books that says that’s not true; we have a Bible full of books that say what we believe and how we behave both matter very much!
But even people who believe all the right things and behave in all the right ways – yes, even “church members in good and regular standing” may disagree with each other.
Think of that fight about food offered to idols – the fight we read about in Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth.
Or think of that fight about Jewish food and festivals – the fight we read about in Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.
And if that’s not bad enough, then some experts say this fight here in Rome was a fight about fasting – about giving up certain foods at certain times of the year.
And yes, people back then took fasting seriously!
I mean, we know the Pharisees fasted twice a week: Tuesdays and Thursdays.
And we know that many early believers also fasted twice a week – not Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Wednesdays and Fridays.
And even today members of the Orthodox Church still fast twice a week: not Tuesdays and Thursdays like the Pharisees, but Wednesdays and Fridays.
And if you’re a member of the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia, as a matter of fact, then you’re going to be fasting every one of the 40-days before Christmas; yes, you’re going completely vegan – no meat, eggs, or dairy products (and no wine or oil either) . . . and what’s more, you only get to eat one meal a day!
So imagine what happens one of those Ethiopian believers join our church – yes, they believe what we believe; they practice what we practice . . . but during today’s potluck, they mention how sad they are that there won’t be a potluck in December.
“What do you mean?” you say, “Of course there’s a potluck in December!”
“Not with the fast,” they say. “You know – the 40-day fast before Christmas?”
“Oh, we don’t worry about that,” you say – and no, we don’t worry about that . . .
But they do!
Yes, they’ll look at us . . . and we’ll look at them . . . and they’ll think we’re not much of a Christian if we don’t keep that fast . . . and we’ll think they’re not much of a Christian if they do keep that fast!
Just like Paul writes about in the Book of Romans, in other words, we’ll be fussing at each other about days and foods and who’s the better Christian . . .
And just like Paul says in the Book of Romans, we need to stop . . . take a deep breath . . . and remember whose side we’re on.
I’ve never been in the military, for instance – but I’m told that people in one service often have strong feelings about people in a different service. That’s why you get sailors and Marines in a bar, for instance, and there will be words! Just because they’re both in uniform, in other words, doesn’t mean they get along!
Likewise, we may all be “members of this church in good and regular standing” – yes, everyone here may have signed-off on all 13 baptismal vows, and all 28 of our Fundamental Beliefs:
But that doesn’t mean we all read the same version of the Bible.
It doesn’t mean we all read every verse in that Bible the exact same way.
All you need to do, as a matter of fact, is to bring up some topics in this church – and I don’t need to say what they are; no, you know what they are . . . but bring up some topics in this church, and you will have church members going at each other like sailors and Marines in a bar.
But in spite of all their differences, I’m told that sailors and Marines are both on the same side – they’re both what you call, “blue forces” . . . and what’s more, they’re not supposed to attack each other; they’re not supposed to go what they call, “blue on blue.”
In much the same way, Paul says in verses 5ff that we do have our differences – but we’re all in the same side . . . and we’re not supposed to attack each other; no, we’re not supposed to go “blue on blue.” Verse five:
5One [person] considers one day more sacred than another; another [person] considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in [their] own mind.
If you want to fast for those 40-days before Christmas, in other words, then that’s fine – but if you don’t want to fast, then that’s fine too! Verse six:
6[The one] who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. [The one] who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for [they give] thanks to God; and [the one] who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to [themself] alone and none of us dies to [themselves] alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
Yes, we both belong to the Lord.
What’s more, we both belong to the Lord . . . even if we don’t agree with each other!
When he writes to those believers church in Rome, for instance, Paul says the strong can eat anything at anytime – but he doesn’t say that everyone needs to live this way. No, he says we’re free to make up our own mind.
Likewise, we may have very strong feelings about all kinds of things – about the way we dress, the way we eat, or even how we spend our money . . . but just because we have strong feelings doesn’t always mean everyone needs to agree with us. No, there are times we need to let people make up their minds on their own.
And even if we know they’re wrong – yes, even if we know they’re wrong about something important, something vital, something that is a matter of salvation . . . but even if they’re wrong, this doesn’t always mean we’re right.
Think of that hymn I was talking about: that hymn that goes back to the English Reformation, back to a time when believers killed in the name of faith.
But this is not a hymn about the Protestants who suffered at the hands of Catholics.
No, when Frederick Faber wrote this hymn – when Father Frederick Faber wrote this hymn . . . he wrote it for the members of his church – for the Catholic members of his Roman Catholic Church . . . and yes, when he wrote about the martyrs who suffered “dungeon, fire, and sword,” he was writing about the Catholic martyrs – the Roman Catholic martyrs who suffered all these things at the hands of Protestants.
And I want you to know that I’m a Protestant – not a Catholic.
And if I’d been alive back then, then I would have been on the Protestant side – not the Catholic. Yes, I would have been on the Protestant side – and I still say that was the right side to be on . . .
But looking back, I’m amazed that people who were so right . . . yes, I’m amazed they could still do things that were so wrong.
Likewise, we may be right – but we still need to be careful.
In fact, it’s those times we are right that we need to be especially careful.
That’s because we need to remember that Jesus can still love somebody – even when they’re wrong.
Yes, we need to remember that Jesus may love somebody – even if that person disagrees with me.
That’s because Romans 14:1-8 tells us  that somebody who’s not good enough for me may still be good enough for Jesus . . .
And if they’re good enough for Jesus, then maybe . . . maybe . . . just maybe . . . yes, if they’re good enough for Jesus, then maybe they should be good enough for me.

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