Joyce and I have three children. We laughingly say our children are so different people would not believe they had the same parents. They have been different since they were born. Our oldest son wanted to please. His feelings were obvious. How other people felt about him mattered. Emotional reactions were common. Our middle son was quite independent. He did not show emotions. He was very much his own person, very much in control of himself. He worked hard. He set goals. He met his goals. Our youngest, a daughter, was a people person. She was always around people. She was very social minded.

Though as children they were very different, we loved each of them. Because we loved each of them, we dealt with them as individuals. Though with each of them we functioned on the same principles of love, we communicated our love to each child differently. Though we functioned on the same principles of fairness with each of them, we communicated our fairness to each child differently. Though we functioned on the same principles of encouragement and responsibility with each of them, we communicated those principles of encouragement and responsibility to each child differently.

Let me give you specific examples. I drove an o-l-d Ford pickup truck. It had way over 100,000 miles on it when I bought it. That truck served very pragmatic purposes. One of those purposes was providing me "in town" transportation. It provided only "in town" transportation because I did not trust it out of town.

Occasionally it was necessary for me to take one of them to school. The boys made no complaints when they had to ride to school in the truck. But, if it was our daughter, a truck ride to school was embarrassing. She would plead with me to let her out two blocks from the school so no one would see her riding in our very old pick up truck.

This has been our practice for buying cars: buy it, take care of it, and drive it until it is unreliable. In the course of our married life, we have owned and driven each travel vehicle for about ten years. The first car we bought when we returned from the mission field was driven until it had almost no trade in value. So when we replaced it, we kept it.

Our children did not have cars to drive in high school. With the exception of special circumstances for a few semesters, they did not have cars in college. When Jon was a senior in high school, he was the only senior who rode a school bus. When Kevin was a senior in high school, he was the only senior who rode a school bus.

When Anita was a senior in high school, our family schedule was extremely hectic. To us it made sense for her to drive the old car with no real trade in value to school. Jon and Kevin, who were no longer at home, protested. Anita bought a bumper sticker: "Make My Day: Steal This Car."

My point is simple: loving parents treat each children differently. To accomplish love's objectives in each child, parents must relate to children as the individuals they are.

  1. As I challenge you to think, I ask you to listen in my context.
    1. I am specifically speaking of men and women who are Christians, who are in Jesus Christ, who are cleansed of evil by Jesus' blood.
    2. I am speaking in the same context of the past two Sunday evenings.
      1. We focused on the fact that for hundreds of years one way people worshipped was by eating a sacred meal.
      2. We focused on the fact that both Jews and idol worshippers often ate a meal as they worshipped through animal sacrifices.
      3. We focused on the fact that most men and women who became Christians in New Testament times previously participated in worship by eating a meal.
      4. We focused on the fact that worship meals created confusion and crisis among Christians in the first century.
        1. Some Christians thought they should do whatever they considered okay.
        2. Some Christians thought some things could be done and some things could not done.
        3. Some Christians thought all Christians should become vegetarians and give up eating meat.

  2. God interacts with his children individually; He relates to and understands each child as an individual.
    1. Most of us are quite comfortable with that understanding when it comes to human parents and their children.
      1. We understand that each child born into our family is a unique individual.
      2. We understand that our principles must not change, but that we must relate to each child as an individual as we teach those principles.
      3. We understand that even though each child is an individual, they need to learn to respect each other. Differences do not justify disrespect.
      4. We understand the need to help them learn how to encourage each other.
      5. Even though each child is different, we are still the parents of all our children and love each of them--they do not have to be identical to receive our love.
    2. While we are quite comfortable with those truths in regard to human parents and their children, we do a poor job of understanding those truths in regard to our divine Father and His children.
      1. Paul clearly taught that God relates to His children individually.
      2. The challenge is to get us to relate to each other as God relates to each of us.
      3. We are the ones who try to make clones out of all Christians.
      4. We have not understood that is not and never was God's objective.
      5. The truth that God relates to and accepts each of His children as individuals is powerfully stressed in Romans 14 and the crises created by sacred meals.

  3. Let's begin by considering the context of Romans 14.
    1. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome.
      1. Some were Jewish people who were converted from backgrounds in Judaism.
      2. Some were not Jews who were converted from backgrounds of worshipping idols.
      3. Some probably were converted from backgrounds that held pretty dim personal views of the entire religious scene.
      4. Some converted Jews were certain they knew how God wanted things done.
      5. Some converted idol worshippers thought these Jewish Christians were ridiculous.
      6. Some had a hard time separating their background experiences of the past from their present conversion to Christ.
      7. Some clearly understood what God was doing in Christ.
      8. Some were spiritually weak.
    2. One thing that magnified their differences was eating meat that had been offered to an idol.
      1. Some Jewish Christians said Christians absolutely must not do that--such was an act of idolatry.
      2. Some converted idol worshippers said Christians absolutely could not do that--to eat such meat was an act of worship that honored a false God.
      3. Some stronger Christians with a correct understanding of what God did in Christ said it was unimportant.
        1. A Christian may eat any meat because he or she should understood that God created the animal.
        2. A Christian may eat any meat because he or she understands all food was made acceptable by Jesus' death and prayer.
      4. As we still do today, they got into a big argument among Christians about who was right.
        1. Some argued spiritual safety said Christians should not eat any meat.
        2. Some argued that was too extreme: Christians just needed to be cautious and ask the right questions when they bought or ate meat.
        3. Some argued that both were concerned about matters that made no difference to God; if Christians properly understood Christ, they would not waste time and energy on such practices.
    3. "Paul, with the Christians in Rome arguing about sacred meals, what did you ask them to understand?" (Romans 14)
      1. "Understand the purpose of being a Christian is to accept other Christians [even weak ones], not to judge other Christians" (Romans 14:1).
        1. "In this matter of sacred meals, Christians, do not hold other Christians in contempt" (Romans 14:3).
        2. "In this matter of sacred meals, Christians, do not judge other Christians" (Romans 14:3).
        3. "You have no right to hold in contempt or judge a person God accepts" (Romans 14:3).
      2. "The Lord is the master, and he can make Christians stand even when they reach completely different conclusions regarding sacred meals" (Romans 14:4).
        1. "Every single one of you is a servant."
        2. "Servants have no right to judge each other."
        3. "Only a Master can judge a servant."
        4. "A servant's judgment is not the basis of another servant's approval or rejection."
        5. "That right of approval or rejection is reserved for the Master alone."
      3. "God knows and understands why you do what you do" (Romans 14:5,6).
        1. "God knows actions that come from faith when He sees them."
        2. "God knows actions that come from sincere consciences when He sees them."
        3. "One Christian observes holy days to honor God."
        4. "Another Christian does not observe holy days to honor God."
        5. "One Christian eats no meat to honor God."
        6. "Another Christian eats meat to honor God."
        7. "The basic motivation of each Christian is the same, and God knows it."
        8. "Do not oppose or discourage the Christian who honors God by acts of faith that come from his or her conscience."
      4. "The focus is to be on the Lord, not on me and my standards" (Romans 14:7-9).
        1. "Our whole existence and our deaths are about the Lord, not about self."
        2. "Our basic concern is not, 'Are these Christians living up to my standards?'"
        3. "Our basic concern is calling the world to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not judging other Christians by our personal standards and conclusions."
        4. "Spend your time advancing Jesus' Lordship, not judging other Christians."
      5. "Judging Christians is God's business, and He can and will care for that matter far better than we can."
        1. "Let God judge why Christians do or do not eat the sacred meal."
        2. "Each one of us will explain to God not only our actions but our motivations."

The fact that everyone of us is different does not distress God. If what we individually do honors God, if what we individually do expresses the faith that depends on God, if what we do praises God from a sincere conscience, God knows and understands exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it.

People in Jesus Christ who depend on God, who honor God, who praise God for what He does for us in Jesus Christ must respect each other. Every Christian needs the encouragement of the respect of other Christians.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 21 October 2001
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