Loving Others More than our Rights

Loving Others More than our Rights

“Loving Others More than our ‘Rights’”

(Romans 14:13-23)

Series: Not Guilty!

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

First Baptist Church Henderson, KY

(11-29-09) (AM)


  • Take God’s Word and open to Romans, chapter 14.


And while you are finding that, I want to ask a good friend of ours to come in just a moment to share with us.  Tanner Turley was a member of First Baptist and involved in our student ministry a number of years ago.  And Tanner is going to be finishing up his studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  He is finishing a PhD there and graduating in May and then relocating to Boston, Massachusetts to start a new church there, “Redemption Hill Church.”  Most of you know we are partnering with Tanner by providing prayer, and we have allocated some funds from our church budget, and we hope to be involved in other ways as well in the upcoming months and years.


There are nearly 6 million people in the greater Boston area and of those 6 million people, only about 2.5 % attend an evangelical church.  That means that more than 5 ½ million people desperately need Jesus Christ.  Boston is a global city where the nations have gathered. People have immigrated to Boston from over 150 nations so planting an evangelical church in Boston provides a Gospel-centered, missionary-sending platform to reach the nations for Christ.


I shared with some of you that this is exactly how we were able to minister in Thailand and Laos.  The Laotian who started the ministry there and took us into Laos grew up in Nashville, TN where a loving church in Nashville reached out to him and his family and led him to Christ.  So this man grew up, attended seminary, and moved to his home country to reach his people for Jesus.  This is one of the best ways to spread the Gospel to the nations, partnering with churches in big cities of our country in order to extend the reach of the Gospel to the continents.


Tanner is married to Marsha and they have one daughter, Parker.  Tanner, take a few minutes and share what God is doing in your life…


[…The cost of living index is extremely high in Boston, second only to NYC.  It is 48% more expensive than most US cities.  They have an initial budget of $250,000.  So our initial help of $6,000 may seem small, but we are joining with other partners and we anticipate giving more in the future.  Some of you may feel led to give individually.  The staff of Redemption Hill have a goal of being completely self-sustaining in 5 years so they know the importance of financial stewardship and dependence upon God.  Check out their website: www.redemptionhillchurch.com.]


Have you found Romans, chapter 14?  We preach through books of the Bible, expository preaching, verse-by-verse through books of the Bible and we are finishing chapter 14 of the Book of Romans.


Before we read the text I want to remind you of the background of this chapter so we know what we’re getting into.  Romans 14 and 15 concern the matter of our Christian freedom and, consequently, our Christian responsibility.  When Romans was written, there were two main groups of people in the churches in Rome.  There were on the one hand, Jewish Christians, those who had come to faith out of Judaism, that was their background—and then there were the Gentile Christians from Rome there, Christians who had not come out of Judaism, but out of a pagan, non-Jewish background.  So the two are together now as one church body and the primary concern is whether it is permissible to eat certain “unclean foods.”


This may not seem like an issue for most of us today, but there are places where these questions continue to surface.  When we were in Thailand I taught a number of pastors basic biblical interpretation.  And I actually used this very issue to illustrate how the Old Testament must be interpreted in light of the newer revelation of the New Testament.  And so, as an example, I shared that the New Testament teaches that all foods are now considered clean.  In both sessions when I taught this, questions were asked about whether that included the blood of animals.  I shared that it did, but you see this was asked because it was their practice to eat the blood of animals and coming from a background of heavy Buddhist teachings, they were simply unsure.


So you had these questions in the early churches of Rome and the church began to take sides over the issue. The Jewish Christians, still heavily influenced by their Jewish background, felt they could not eat meat in good conscience.  The Torah had forbidden the eating of unclean foods and they could not be guaranteed that the foods bought in the marketplaces of Rome would be prepared in a kosher manner. The Gentiles, on the other hand, were unconcerned about this and ate whatever they liked.


Paul identifies these two groups of people as the “weak” and the “strong.”  The Jewish Christian, whose faith does not allow him to eat meat is the “weak” brother and the Gentile Christian, whose faith allows him to eat anything is the “strong” brother.  Paul calls them weak and strong in relation to their use of faith.  It doesn’t mean that one has more faith than the other.  Nor does Paul even mean to stress whether one is right and one is wrong.  Personally, Paul sides with the “strong.”  He knows that all foods are clean, but Paul doesn’t then urge the “strong” Christians to tell the “weak” how wrong they are.  That would miss his point entirely.  Paul is providing instruction here on how these two groups may lovingly get along with one another.


  • Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.


13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;

17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.


  • Pray.




This chapter teaches us to consider how to behave when faced with certain, non-essentials of the Christian faith.  There are some beliefs that are absolutely essential to the Christian faith.  What are some examples?  Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  That is an essential to the Christian faith.  Another essential is the deity of Christ.  Jesus Christ is more than a man, He is the God-Man, 100% God, 100% Man.  The resurrection is essential to the Christian faith, and the Gospel is absolutely essential to the Christian faith.  The Bible speaks clearly and explicitly on all these essentials.


There are also, however, some non-essentials to the Christian faith.  These are issues the Bible does not specifically address.  We suggested some of these non-essentials when we gathered together last week.  We mentioned going to the movies, or the theatre, playing cards, dancing, and others.  These are things about which the Bible is either silent or, at least there is not enough information where we could say absolutely this thing is either permitted or forbidden.  Someone suggested last week that getting a tattoo might fall into this category, as well.  So these are what we would call non-essentials.  It doesn’t mean that they are non-important.  Some of us may feel very strongly about one or two of these so-called non-essentials and that is precisely why Paul writes chapter 14.  Because there are going to be differences of opinion over these non-essentials.


What Paul does in our text this morning is he tells all of us how to live whichever side of the aisle we may occupy.  Some of us may have a faith that allows us to do one thing and some of us have a faith that forbids us to do the same thing.  It’s not so much about who’s right and wrong as it is about how both sides can get along. This chapter also benefits us in that our study of it gets us thinking in a wider way so that we might do the wisest thing that brings the greatest glory to God.  Quickly, let’s see that there are three challenges surfacing from the text.  First:


I.  Show that you know Real Love (13-16)


The title of this message is, “Loving others more than our Rights.” If we are willing to lay aside our freedoms for the sake of a brother or sister in Christ, then we are showing that we know what real love is.


Speaking of Jesus, the Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this—that a man should lay down His life for His brother.”  Jesus loved others more than His heavenly rights and spiritual prerogatives.  He put others first.  That is how you and I are to relate to one another on the non-essentials of the Christian faith.  If we do that, we show that we know real love.


13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;


The great Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, wrote a treatise entitled, “On the Liberty of a Christian.”  He began the treatise with the words, “A Christian is a most free lord of all, subject to none.”  That was Luther’s way of saying, “We’re free in Christ.  Christianity is not about slavishly keeping a list of dos and don’ts.  We don’t live our lives to please God or the pope.  We are free!  A Christian is a most free lord of all, subject to none,” but then, Luther added the words, “A Christian is a dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”  Applied to our study, Luther might say, “Yes, we are free to engage in certain non-essentials but, at the same time, we must remember that others are watching and that our behavior may influence them one way or another.”  A Christian is a dutiful servant of all, subject to all.


Paul says the same thing to the church in Galatia.  In Galatians 5:13, “You, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”  Show that you know real love.  That’s what Paul is teaching here in verses 13-16.


Paul says in verse 13, do not judge one another on these non-essentials.  Don’t look down your noses upon one another over these things.  Rather, “resolve not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in your brother’s way.”  That’s another way of saying, “Love your brother enough to not do anything that would cause him spiritual harm.”  Jerry Vines has a sermon on this passage entitled, “Stumbling block or Stepping Stone?”  I like that title.  Rather than being a stumbling block, carelessly living in such a way that someone following us trips over us, be a stepping-stone, lovingly leading your brother closer to Christ.  That’s the idea here.


Paul says in verse 14 that he personally is convinced that all foods are clean and most of us this morning would agree with him because of our understanding of the New Testament.  But that’s not so much the point, says Paul, as whether our freedom to eat may cause spiritual harm to someone who disagrees with us.  So he says in verse 15 if your brother is grieved because of your exercising your freedom, then “you are no longer walking in love.”  So “don’t destroy your brother over this.”  Don’t destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.  Don’t allow your freedom to cause spiritual harm to another.


Those are strong words!  The word “destroy” actually refers to eternal destruction, as in the eternal destruction in hell.  Don’t allow your behavior to cause others to walk down the wrong path.  So, verse 16, “Do not let your good be spoken of as evil.”  Your behavior will draw your brother either closer to Jesus or push him further away.


Now, if you get nothing else out of our study this morning, then get this: our behavior in this community results in either one or two consequences.  Either our behavior draws people closer to Jesus or our behavior pushes people further away from Jesus.  That’s it.  The way we live in this community and in our families and wherever God leads us, our behavior concerning, yes, even the non-essentials has the result of either drawing people closer to Jesus or pushing people further away from Him.  People are influenced by what we do.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re free to do them.  If we cause spiritual harm to another, causing someone to be pushed away from Christ, rather than being drawn closer to Christ, then we are not acting in love.


Now, I shared something last Sunday evening that I wish to share this morning.  If you were here last Sunday evening, please indulge me in this as I want to provide a fuller account and also set the record straight on a bit of the history of our church.


Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, smoked cigars.  He said no one could find a commandment in Scripture that forbade it.  Once, a man approached Spurgeon and said, “When do you think smoking cigars is a sin?”  Spurgeon said, “When I smoke in excess.”  The man replied, “And when would you be smoking in excess?”  Spurgeon replied, “When I smoke two cigars at the same time!”


But Spurgeon had allowed his freedom in Christ to overshadow his love for others.  Some were turned off by his smoking and called him to task on it.  And one of the events that drew a lot of attention to Spurgeon’s smoking was a sermon that was preached in his own church there in London England by a visiting American minister in 1874.  The man’s name was Dr. George Frederick Pentecost.


Now George Pentecost was a very popular preacher.  He was also co-laborer with DL Moody.  The two worked together in revivals and the spread of the Gospel.


What makes this story all the more interesting is that George Pentecost was saved in a revival right here in Henderson Kentucky under the ministry of John Bryce, former pastor of our church right here, First Baptist Church Henderson.  It didn’t happen in this building, of course, because this building was not constructed until 1893, but George Pentecost was saved during this revival hosted by First Baptist Church here in Henderson, KY.  Pentecost went on to study briefly at Georgetown College in Kentucky and then went on to serve the Lord all over America and really, all over the world.


So this man, Dr. Pentecost, was visiting London, a place where he would also serve as pastor a the Marylebone Church there in London, but he was visiting in the fall of 1874 and had been invited that evening to assist Spurgeon in the preaching of a sermon.  Spurgeon enjoyed doing this, where one minister would provide the doctrinal teaching and another minister would provide the application.


In a book published in 1929 by A.M. Hills, a book entitled, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, Hills writes about what happened that evening in Spurgeon’s church:


The great Charles Spurgeon was an inveterate tobacco user, a smoker. One evening the noble, Spirit-filled Dr. George Pentecost preached in Spurgeon’s pulpit, and dared to suggest that it would be well for preachers to give up tobacco for the glory of God.  Spurgeon was indignant and after Pentecost’s sermon, rose and made light of it, and slapped his coat tails and said, “I am going home and smoke a good cigar for the glory of God.”  What a fool the devil made of that great man. In process of time the doctors told him he must stop smoking or die. He wouldn’t stop and did die fifteen or twenty years before his time. And that foolish remark was caught up by the devil, printed on slips of paper and circulated by the million in the saloons and tobacco shops of the world.  Eternity may reveal that that one insane remark did more harm and damned more souls than all that were ever saved by his preaching in all his life. The devil is desperately wicked, but certainly he is no fool.  He can [bring] down a big preacher and hold a carnival of rejoicing over it in the bottomless pit.


Now maybe the writer’s rhetoric is a bit exaggerated, but he makes the point: our behavior over the non-essentials matters.  Spurgeon’s flaunting of his freedom hurt others.  He did not intend to hurt others as he wrote later, defending his remark, but the damage had already been done.


Now I am in a bit of a quandary this morning as I have given you only one main point and our text continues with verse 17 to the end of the chapter.  And I have decided to at least give you these main points and then, Lord willing, next Sunday morning, provide at least a brief exposition of them perhaps as an introduction to chapter 15.  So before I close with another application of this text, let me at least summarize its teaching by giving you these three main points of action.


We said first that we must show that we know real love.  Paul then goes on to say that we must:


II.  Show that you know Real Life (17-18)


17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.


Real life is not about the non-essentials, food and drink, and card-playing, and dancing, or arguing over whether it is right to smoke cigars.  Real life is found in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.


Show that you know real love.  Show that you know real life.  Thirdly:


III.  Show that you know Real Liberty (19-23)


Again, Lord willing, I hope to provide at least a brief exposition or explanation of these verses next Sunday morning, but really Paul concludes here with some of the same things he says at the beginning of the passage.


In fact, verse 21 contains the essence of the teaching.  If I were to encourage you to memorize just one verse of this passage it would be verse 21:


21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles [or is offended or is made weak.]


That principle should be the guiding principle of all our Christian behavior.  Paul uses the same principle in a similar passage of Scripture.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the matter of whether it is right to eat the meat of animals that had been sacrificed to false gods.  It’s very similar to what he teaches here.  All foods are clean but, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:13, “

If food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”  And, in 1 Corinthians 10:32-33, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”  That’s the goal: the profit of many, that they may be saved.


So it’s not really a question of whether some of these non-essentials are sins in and of themselves.  We must understand, however, that the non-essentials can become sins if they cause spiritual or physical harm to another.


Is drinking a sin?  It can be.  For example, the Bible universally condemns drunkenness and the Bible frowns upon the consumption of what it calls, “strong drink.”  Many alcoholic beverages sold today—including some wines—would fall into the “strong drink” category by biblical standards.  There is no evidence that Jesus ever partook of what the Bible calls “strong drink.”  Wine was mixed with much water as a drinkable beverage in the Ancient Near East during a time of less pure drinking water and during a time before refrigeration.


Drinking can also be a sin if it causes spiritual harm to another Christian.  This is the point the Apostle Paul is making.  Perhaps a man’s conscience allows him to drink one glass of wine of low alcoholic content.  Or perhaps a man’s conscience allows him to drink one glass of beer.  There is nothing explicitly sinful about this in and of itself.  But if this man is seen purchasing or drinking a glass of wine or drinking his one beer in public, now this is something altogether different.  Another Christian brother or sister sees him or her taking a drink and is negatively influenced by the Christian’s freedom.  Again, the phrase “stumbling block” means “to cause spiritual harm” to another.


If that other Christian feels strongly about the need to abstain from drinking and the other person says, “You know what?  I don’t really care.  I am free to drink and so I will,” then two things are happening.  First, the Christian who drinks is not acting in love towards his brother.  He loves his right to drink more than his brother in Christ.  Secondly, the non-drinking Christian is negatively influenced by the drinking Christian’s behavior.  The drinking Christian has caused spiritual harm to him.  His conscience bothers him.  He feels it is wrong to drink and yet here is another brother drinking.  He is hurt.  He is not sure how to respond.  Perhaps he feels pressured now to drink himself and to go against the dictates of his conscience.


Because we love Charles Spurgeon we’ll give him a chance to redeem himself.  On this issue of alcohol, Spurgeon seeks to clarify someone’s misunderstanding of his position.  What he says is helpful to us: “I neither said nor implied that it was sinful to drink wine; nay, I said that, in and by itself, this might be done without blame. But I remarked that, if I knew that another

would be led to take it by my example, and this would lead them on to further drinking, and even to intoxication, then I would not touch it.”


This is why our church has a high standard for leaders in the church, leaders like deacons and Sunday school teachers.  We expect leaders in the church to abstain from the use of alcohol because people are influenced by their leaders.


Later in his ministry, Spurgeon takes an even stronger view.  In a sermon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon says, “I abstain myself from alcoholic drink in every form, and I think others would be wise to do the same…” (Sermon, “The Waterpots at Cana.”)


You see, wisdom compels us to draw an even wider application from Paul’s teaching here in Romans 14.  We are to live our lives as salt and light, bringing glory to God in all that we do.  That said, our actions should be drawing people closer to Jesus rather than pushing them further away.  If Paul says in verse 21, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles,” then that means anything.  And if that is true for our behavior around Christians, how much more does it apply to non-Christians?  If we’re to live our lives in such a way as to draw people closer to Jesus rather than pushing them further away, then we will want to act wisely in all ways.


The community is watching.  Young people are watching.  Little boys and girls are watching.  Dads, your sons and daughters are watching you.  Let’s show that we know real love by setting aside our freedoms if the practice of our freedoms does not result in our drawing people closer to Christ.  Let’s love others more than our rights.


The greatest example of loving others more than our rights is seen in our loving Lord Jesus.  The Bible says in Philippians 2 that the eternal Son of God in heaven did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped onto, but rather surrendered His freedoms—infinite freedoms—making Himself of no reputation, and took the form of a servant and came down to this earth for us.  He had every “right” to stay where He was.  But you see He loved others more than His rights.   If that was the way of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, can we not also surrender a little freedom or two in order to lovingly benefit someone else?  Can we not give up some of our “rights,” some of our freedoms to eat or drink if it means that others may be led to Christ?  Let’s love others more than our rights.


  • Stand for prayer.

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