October 21, 2012

“None liveth unto himself” (verse 7).

(Romans 14:1-9)

Part of the Saxon Pericope Gospel list series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

[Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Gal. 1:3-5)
This morning’s text is recorded in the 14th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, the 1st through the 9th verse, reading as follows:
Dear fellow redeemed sinners, redeemed by that precious Son of God, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself into death and rose again that we may be free to live with Him forever. This morning’s Epistle (Eph. 5:15-21) speaks of evil days. There are temptations to drunkenness and other sins. We need to look circumspectly, very carefully, at all those things around us and to be as wise, deciding what is right and wrong. That requires being filled with the Holy Spirit, that He may guide our sanctified judgment. Then only are we able to behave in the fear of God. Guided by the same God the Holy Spirit, our sermon text reminds Christians –
“None liveth unto himself” (verse 7).
In it God exhort us
I. To consideration of others, and then
II. To live to God.
First, our text exhorts us to consideration of others. Paul begins: Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. We have temptations to dispute things according to our viewpoint. This harmony had to be specially so under the watchfulness of the apostles We today imagine the perfection of those early congregations. But frankly, anybody who thinks such is naïve and has not very closely read the Acts or Epistles. There were a great many arguments and disputations in those congregations. Congregations are composed of sinners – forgiven sinners –yet sinners nonetheless. Sometimes troubles arose from outsiders and sometimes from within. Many converts naturally retained old habits. It is hard to let old habits die. Sometimes that does not matter, but other times it does. Others were filled with pride and superiority. Their congregation was founded directly by an apostle and not some second generation preacher. Or they were baptized by an apostle while other pastors baptized later members. The first therefore boasted. This naturally caused grievance to the new comers. Paul had to write the Corinthians concerning such divisions in their midst (I Cor. 1:11ff), and very plainly scold them and set them straight. Christ was their only Master and all others were only teachers whom He has sent. James also must warn of “respect of persons” (2:2-4). Specifically, some were impressed by wealthy visitors; they found the finest places for them and escorted them to seats. They slighted the poor, who could find his own place to sit; they may not even have introduced themselves, asked the visitor’s name, nor said how glad they were to meet him and welcome him warmly to come again. They were too busy lavishing their attention on an apparently wealthy visitor. That is not so to be. Here at Rome it is a matter of those who are strong in doctrine judging the weak and those with less instruction. In turn the weak feel they live a much holier life, carefully examining their every action. They view the strong not as knowledgeable but as lax. They are all to exercise and practice the Law of Christian love.
In clear doctrines which the Scripture teaches there must be in unity. If we reject such, then we are slapping God in the face and accusing God of being too picky. We defy Him and pronounce ourselves “close enough.” What Christian wants to say that to God? We must resist the devil’s “Yea, hath God [really] said?” (Gen. 3:1) “Are you so sure?” That is open to personal “interpretation.” We must therefore search the Scripture as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11), and discover exactly what the Bible states. Peter declares: No Scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Pet. 1:20). We must ever exclaim, “Thus saith the Lord!” and always hold to that and practice that. It does not matter what the world says or even some other Christian group decides. We have freedom where God has not spoken. That is called by the fancy Greek term “adiaphora.” It is wrong to demand what God does not command. I have no right to say that from now on you must all wear red shirts or blouses on Sunday. Where can I find such in the Bible? It is equally wrong to forbid what God does not and thus to forbid you from wearing red on Sunday. In such matters, to each his own. Out of respect for God we will dress in some becoming manner as if fitting to come into the great God’s presence. But we have no compulsory uniform.
Our text cites other prominent examples of issues likely raging at Rome which Paul brings up. One believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Paul first deals with diet. So it still continues in our day. The vegetarians are versus the carnivores, or rather against the omnivores, for few live on meat alone. The vegans are superior to the mere vegetarians, not touching milk or eggs or any products of animals. Some may righteously note that Adam and Eve were vegetarians in Eden. That is the highest state. But that very same God Himself specifically allows eating animals after the Flood (Gen. 9:3). He gives permission, and if it were evil, a good God would never allow such things. We would not need the Ten Commandments since anything goes. Others in our day claim that Daniel and his friends refused meat in Babylon (1:8ff). The fact is that previously, as all good observant Hebrews, they ate the mandatory Passover lamb, at God’s very own command no less (Ex. 12). But trying to explain to the Babylonians the difference between clean and unclean meat, between hoof types and chewing the cud and having scales or not? What a headache! They simply said, “We’ll eat vegetables.” No plants had been banned by God and it was a safe thing. They flourished as vegetarians. It is thus not a mandatory matter but quite the contrary. Any good Hebrew in the Old Testament had to eat lamb at least once a year. In the New Testament we no longer have this requirement, so if someone wishes to be a vegan one may. There may be a good reason in our choice of foods. It may involve a: personal allergy to something, but one cannot require that of others. If I am allergic to strawberries I may not forbid the rest of you from enjoying them. If someone breaks out with pimples from chocolate, that does not mean that the rest of us cannot partake of some now and then. So we avoid certain foods if they bother us and let the rest of the world indulge. That is what the Romans were to do in our text. God once showed Peter in a vision that all things are now clean (Acts 10:11ff); the Old Testament dietary laws are passed away. This demonstrated the same with people. All who believe on Jesus are now His own and not only the Jews or educated Greeks or gross Gentiles and other pagans. No, now all believers are one in His kingdom of grace. Paul writes: Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink (Col. 2:16a). The end! The matter is settled. Oh, there certainly may be cultural preferences. We watch on the “Amazing Race” challenges to eat exotic foods. Many Americans turn white and cover their mouth. In one episode in Asia they had baskets of deep-fried grasshoppers and crickets. Often the contestants vomited in pails placed nearby. In the midst of this, school let out and throngs of teenagers entered the fast food joints. They ordered heaping baskets of this delicacy and grabbed the hot contents by handfuls before the others could get it, and then ordering more. To them it was a treat, much as we might devour french-fries. Yes, naturally we have food preferences and longstanding traditions to which we hold. In turn, each may consider the others tidbits gross and disgusting. Let each one eat as he or she chooses. In First Timothy Paul severely condemns “commanding to abstain from meats” as a doctrine of devils (4:3). If you freely choose to give up meat, particularly with rising food prices, that is understandable. But to command that everybody abstain and pronounce it a sin, then that is acting as devils, presuming to rule contrary to God. Paul briefly gives an example with servants. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. We have no business directing someone else’s servant or employee. Perhaps our idea is more efficient and easier to carry out, but it is not our business. The servant is to obey his personal master and not strangers. Thus he tells Titus to exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters (2:9a) and not worry what other people tell them to do.
Then there is the matter of days, which still continues to the presnt. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. Paul had to instruct the Colossians: Let no man … judge you … in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath day,” and explains that these “are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16f). These things have completed their purpose of announcing the Messiah and demonstrating His work. As the Passover Lamb the Messiah shed His blood on the cross so that the judging angel may pass over the believers. This is long finished. To continue in this way is to look at a movie poster of a coming attraction from thirty years ago. It is living in the past. If people wish to commemorate some of these ceremonies, fine, but to demand that of converts is ridiculous. Today another example is the date of Christmas and Easter, upon which the Western Church, of which we are a part, and the Eastern Orthodox usually disagree. Frankly, who cares? We are not superstitious. The exact date is not magic, but both they and we commemorate two great events of our salvation: the birth of Christ Jesus to keep the Law perfectly in our stead and His victory on Easter after paying our sins on Good Friday. What happened is what matters and not some date on a calendar. Likewise do we celebrate Holy Communion weekly or once a month? The Lord does not specify. He does urge us “often” but does not stipulate what that is. Therefore we cannot be smug that we have it twice a month and those people only do so once. Nor can others declare: We are twice at good as you, because we have it every Sunday. There is a variance of official Thanksgiving Day or harvest celebrations. Thanksgiving in the USA has not always been the same time. After being made a national holiday it was set as the last Thursday in November and then the fourth Thursday. Usually that does not matter, but this year we have a fifth Thursday. Various harvest festivals are held by different congregations, and to each his own. The people are thankful to the Lord for the bounties which He has provided. That is what matters, not the date on which they hold the celebration. Each treats these things voluntarily and not from force. Indeed, if we are forced to do so it loses its value. We can make people attend, but we cannot make their hearts worship the Lord. All that would do is to encourage hypocrisy, and at worst, cause them to hate God because of our handling it in that way. Of course, we have concern for a term I learned just a few months ago, “Chreasters.” Christeasters are people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter. Frankly, and sadly, as a pastor today. I actually look forward to Chreasters, because there is a large group of alleged Christians who do not even bother to attend anymore on those holiday. A “conservative” Lutheran congregation a few years back cancelled services because the men wanted to be home to watch all the bowl games on TV. So I am glad to have at least two opportunities to share the joyous message with Chreasters. There are those, who, if they bother to show up at all, show up only on Christmas Eve to watch the little children perform. Asking them to come the next day for Christmas is an unbearable burden! Anyway, that is the new word out, Chreasters. At least they hear the Word twice a year. That is better than never attending and hearing God’s saving Word, although I cannot understand why they would not want to hear that wonderful assurance of their future over and over during the following Sundays. Yet we must emphasize that God specifically warns against negligence in worship, in failing to gather together, as some already back then apparently were doing (Heb. 10:25). They could exclaim: I have liberty! Therefore I shall never come to hear His Word nor sing His praises nor lift a finger to help the Lord’s people. But I am a fine Christian.” That is strongly condemned in Scripture, as it well should be.
We are to be considerate to our fellow man and especially to our fellow Christians. Above all, we are to live to the Lord. Our text says: None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.. We are not the star of the stage nor the center of the universe. The Book of Judges disparages those who “did right in [their] own eyes” (17:6). Despite the rules and regulations and rituals which the Lord specifically gave them, they would do as they well pleased, and nobody dare say anything about their conduct. Still today some use liberty as a license for evil, They snidely reply, if anyone dare to speak up, “Judge not!” and behave as if God’s morals and ways do not matter. They are just fine as they are. They act as if there is no God or Ten Commandments or Final Judgment. No, they certainly do not “live unto the Lord.”
None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. That is also the motto of every sincere Christian. The Lord has done so much for us, not only creating us and preserving us, but has redeemed us and now looks forward to providing for us in eternity. What a debt we owe Him! With what love we should requite Him! We should desire in all things to live to our Lord. And at last we must give account to our God, as must all others. He sets the rules, Yes, He places in human hearts some of His will, so that even the Gentiles who have not the formal written Law know some of what to do (Rom. 2:14). That is the basis for conscience (Rom. 2:15). God judges. The proud now who talk so defiantly on that day shall shake and plead with the hills and mountains to cover then from God’s sight (Luke 23:30). In adiaphora we study how best to behave. How can we help our neighbor and glorify our God? We pick that particular way. Above all, we desire to follow Christ’s wonderful example.
To this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. Christ Jesus, God’s only-begotten Son came to this earth that He might live and do all which is necessary for us sinners. This He did absolutely perfectly. He purchased us with His very life to make up for the things which we did wrong. On Easter morning He revived and rose again in victory, that we might be certain of His success. He lives to be our Lord. He owns us. We are to “live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness,” as Luther writes so well.
There are insignificant differences between weak and strong Christians. We delight in imagining that there are miles between us and others, but compared to Jesus, only millimeters separate us mortals. In adiaphora, things neither commanded nor forbidden, we are not to condemn the weak nor are the weak to judge the strong. We seek only to serve the best interests of Christ’s kingdom. Our motto is that living or dying we are the Lord’s. As Paul concludes – or rather the Holy Spirit does – Christ Jesus died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again (2 Cor. 5:15). We hold up Augustine’s famous motto: “In essential things, unity; In doubtful things, liberty; In all things, charity.” With the help of the Holy Spirit may our conduct ever glorify God our Savior and Lord. Amen.

HYMNS: 420, 407, 453, 308*, 591
October 21, 2012