Accept One Another

July 12, 2008 Romans 15:7

 

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Some of us grew up in a church where “acceptance” by others depended primarily on what you did or did not do. As you might guess, the list of “dos and don’ts “ did not comprise a biblical list. Rather, it consisted of extra-scriptural activities, most of which were cultural.

What we are describing is legalism. Nothing shatters true spiritual unity among Christians more thoroughly than extra-biblical rules and regulations that we use to evaluate a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. When acceptable or rejection of others is based on a legalistic mid-set, it leads rapidly to judgmental behavior and pseudo-spirituality. It also creates a false guilt, destroys personal freedom to really be what God wants a Christian to be, and often leads to a violation of the true biblical standards for Christians behavior. In fact, some Christians would never violate their cultural standards and yet very specific biblical responsibilities with every degree of regularity , such as not “accepting others” as Christ has accepted them.

A lot of wonderful people attended the church in which I grew up, and there was incredible loyalty within the group.  Yet, there was little in-depth spirituality and lots of internal divisions. Those who became part of the group were accepted only as they fulfilled a predetermined set of behavior expectations. Personally, I struggled with overcoming this legalism even after I left this religious community. It took a full five years to for me to retune my conscience to the Bible rather than to the cultural standards I had been taught as a child. Even after I knew what was true spirituality in my head, my feelings still responded inappropriately.

This is a sad commentary on what Christianity has come to be in many situations. The Bible does lay down behavior expectations for Christians, but it also condemns acceptance or rejection based on external patterns that go beyond specific scriptural statements.

A KEY TO UNITY

  • Last week, we looked at the concept of one-mindedness and why Jesus Christ and Paul prayed for this kind of unity. It's in this context that Paul exhorted believers to "accept one another."
    • Note the context of the order:

Romans 15:5-7Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.

  • Paul used Jesus Christ as his example for acceptance.
    • We are to accept other Christians just as Jesus Christ accepted us-which raises a very basic question.
    • How did Jesus Christ actually receive us?
    • Did He say, "l will accept you if you speak German"?-which incidentally, at one time, was a part of the division and disunity in the church in which I grew up.
      • In fact, the whole church was permeated with German culture, which was often equated with biblical Christianity.
    • Obviously, Jesus does not accept us because we speak a certain language.
    • Neither does Jesus accept us into His family based on our color, our status, our wealth, our age, or our sex.
    •  When we become Christians, Jesus Christ accepts each of us unconditionally "It is by grace" we "have been saved, through faith." Salvation "is the giftof God" and we do not receive it "by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9)
  • This truth is beautifully captured in the old hymn Rock of Ages:

Could my tears forever flow,

Could my zeal no languor know,

These for sin could not atone-

Thou must save, and Thou alone.

In my hand no price I bring,

Simply to Thy cross I cling.

  • Jesus Christ doesn't even ask us to clean up our act before He accepts us.
    • Rather, He has said that He accepts us just as we are, our weaknesses and all. He tells us to come to Him and receive Him and He will clean up our act. This is what Paul meant after his great declaration that we're saved by grace through faith:

Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Hindrances to Unity

I.  Judging One Another

  • To sit in judgment on other Christians is a violationof Paul's exhortation to "accept one another."
    • Interestingly, the apostle Paul used these two concepts concurrently to make his point in his Roman letter. He wrote:

"Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters" (Rom. 14:1).

  • In this particular New Testament church (and others like it), some Christians were refusing to engage in certain legitimate activities.
    • These problems arose out of their previous sinful associations with those activities.
    • Others, however, were free from this very real, but unwarranted, guilt.
  • In both the Roman and Corinthian churches, one of these activities involved eating meat that had been offered to idols. Paul, in his inimitable way, brought the problem into clear focus, particularly in his Corinthian letter.

1 Corinthians 8:4 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.

1 Corinthians 8:7-8 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

  • How did Paul deal with this problem?

First, he spoke to both the weak and the strong:

Romans 14:3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

Romans 14:5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

Second, after exhorting both mature and immature Christians not to judge one another, Paul then laid a heavy responsibility on mature Christians-those who could eat meat offered to idols without a guilty conscience:

Romans 14:20-21 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

Romans 15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

  • If we are truly mature, we will be sensitive toward our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not as strong as we are.
    • We will be careful to do nothing that would cause them to stumble and fall into sin.
    • If these two attitudes are working concurrently in a local body of believers, unity will inevitably emerge.
    • Those who are weak will soon become strong, and those who are strong will become even more mature.

II.  SHOWING PARTIALITY

  • Paul introduced that showing partiality is a barrierto unity and acceptance of others in his letter to the Romans even before dealing with legalism.
  • "Live in harmony with one another," he wrote.

Romans 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

  • James called this sin "prejudice." He allowed no room for misinterpretation when he wrote,

James 2:1My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.

  • James was addressing a particular problem involving the rich and the poor.
    • When a man came into their assembly well dressed and obviously rich, the leaders immediately gave him the best seat.
    • But when a poor man came in, dressed in shabby clothes, they ushered him to a seat less prominent.
    • When you do this, James said,

James 2:4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?

  • To make sure they really got his point, James spelled out the answer to his own questions in unequivocal terms:

James 2:9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

III.  SHOWING HONOR VS. SHOWING FAVORITISM

  •  It's not wrong to honor others who are faithful to God with their material possessions-just as it is not wrong to honor Christians for being hospitable, sharing Christ with others, and serving the Lord in other ways.
    • In fact, as we already noted in chapter 3, we are exhorted to actually "honor others."
    • In terms of being generous, the apostles changed Joseph's name to "Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)" in order to honor him for using his material possessions to serve the church in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36-37).
  • This is  about as public as honor can get!
    • But this is far different than showing "favoritism."
    • All Christians should be honored in various ways for their faithfulness. In terms of generosity, it should be based on faithfulness in the light of what we have-not in terms of quantity
  • Prejudice, favoritism, and discrimination in the body of Christ rejects and alienates some Christians and accepts others.
    • This violates the laws of God. Furthermore, this kind of behavior violates the very nature of the functioning body of Christ.
    • We are all one.
  • Every member is important-rich or poor. young or old. black or white, weak or strong, Swedish or Norwegian, those who speak English and those who speak Spanish-or any other language.
    • If we show favoritism, we also destroy the unity, harmony, and oneness in the body of Christ that Christ and Paul both prayed for and commanded.

PRACTICAL STEPS FOR ACCEPTING ONE ANOTHER

Step 1

Make sure you really understand what Paul was teaching in Romans 14.

First, Paul was teaching that neither the weak nor the strong are to judge one another.

  • This is a two-way responsibility.
    • In many twenty-first churches, the strong are expected to bear full responsibility.
    • This, of course, is a violation of Paul's teaching.

Second, the strong Christian is to be careful not to cause a weaker brother or sister to fall into sin.

  • Here is where many of today's Christians terribly misunderstand and violate Paul's teaching.
    • "Offense" or "stumbling" Ìs defined by some, especially immature Christians, as making them "feel bad" or uncomfortable.
    • This is not what Paul meant by causing "distress" or grief or making someone stumble.
    • Rather, he made it clear that accusing others of wrongdoing in this way is in itself judgmental.
    • What Paul meant by ''causing someone to stumble" is to cause a fellow Christian to actually sin against himself and the Lord.

Step 2

Evaluate your own attitudes and actions to see if you're accepting and rejecting others based upon your  own standards that you have set up or accepted because of your own weak conscience.

  • Ironically, some Christians-when they are "weak" in their faith-actually set up extra-biblical standards for themselves.
    • As time passes by and they become leaders of others, they then require that all Christians measure up to those same personal standards in order to be spiritual.
    • Without knowing it, these people have allowed themselves to perpetuate their "weaknesses" and to judge those who are stronger than they are.
    • This, of course, is also judging others and is not accepting others as we should.

I remember having to come to grips with this problem in my own Christian life. As a new Christian, certain types of musical styles-even with Christian words-troubled me, primarily because of my lifestyle before I became a Christian. I remember how disturbed I became when some Christians didn't have the same negative emotional reactions to this music as I did.

  • In retrospect, I now know I was being very judgmental.
    • I simply assumed that because this music bothered me, it should bother everyone else.
    • Unfortunately, I had set up a standard for myself and then generalized it as a mark of spirituality in reality, I was the "weaker brother."
    • Once I understood this, I was able to accept and appreciate various musical presentations.
    • Furthermore, I realized I needed to educate my own conscience and retune it to the Word of God.
    • Today I enjoy        many different kinds of music-and even appreciate others who have tastes far different from my own.
  • What about sin?
    • To accept others unconditionally doesn't mean accepting what the Bible clearly defines as sin.
    • As we'll see next week, Paul immediately speaks to this issue.
    • After exhorting Christians to "accept one another," he adds the other side of love- "admonishing one another."
    • As we'll see, this in itself is a very important part of building up the body of Christ!

Step 3

Evaluate your attitude toward other Christians concerning prejudice and favoritism.

  • Prejudice is a very subtle sin.
    • Do you realize it took the Apostle Peter at least five years after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to understand and accept the fact that Gentiles could be saved?
    • Even then, it took a vision in which he saw a sheet lowered from heaven that was filled with all kinds of animals that were declared unclean in the Old Testament.
    • A voice told him to "kill and eat."
    • Peter refused, and the Lord told him not to "call anything impure" that He "has made clean."
    • At the same time, the Lord appeared to a Gentile named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea.
    • He honored this man for his desire to do the will of God and told him to send for Peter-who reluctantly came and entered this Gentile's home and preached the Gospel (Acts 10:27-28).
    • When the Holy Spirit came upon this entire household, it was then that Peter-the great leader of the apostles-understood for the first time that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all people.

Acts 10:34-35Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.

  • I can identify with this story.
    • Since I was reared in a religious and cultural environment that taught me that we were somehow special in God's sight, I found it difficult to accept other Christians as being on the same level as we were-even though I knew in my head we were violating the will of God in many ways.
    • Prejudice and pride cause us to overlook our sins.
    • Ironically, it took me approximately five years as well to even recognize my prejudice and only after I faced a serious crisis in my own in faith. It took a very painful experience to show me what was really in my heart.
  • What about you?
    • Can you truly accept all other believers as brothers and sisters in Christ?
    • Is this actually happening in your church?

Step 4

Follow this three-point plan for overcoming any problem in your life that reflects legalism and prejudice:

  1. Acknowledgeit as sin

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

  1. Pinpoint the areas of your life where you need to change.
  2. Ask God to help you overcome your sins. Pray specifically about specific problems.
  3. Take an actionstep.
  4. For a starter, select another member of Christ's body you have had difficulty accepting.
  5. Do something for that person that reflects true Christian love. For example, you might invite that person to your home for dinner.
  6. Don't wait until you "feel" like changing or doing something about your sin.
    • lf you do, the feelings may never come. Christian love acts on what is the right thing to do.

For Discussion

  1. What kinds of cultural standards for behavior (as opposed to biblical standards) have you observed in various churches or Christian communities?
  2. What extra-biblical standards does our church have?
  3. How do those standards develop?
  4. How can they be helpful?
  5. How can they be harmful?
  6. What issues cause you to struggle with whether certain standards are biblical or merely cultural?
  7. How can this group help you clarify your understanding?
  8. What role do prejudice and favoritism play in our church?
  9. How can you work to promote acceptance instead?