On Wednesday evenings at Antioch, we’ve been working through some prayers of Paul’s. I’m using Arthur Pink’s book Gleanings From Paul kindof as a guide for this. Tonight we’ll be starting Paul’s two-fold Romans 15 prayer, from vs. 5-6 and then in v. 13:
“Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice.” … “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (HCSB)
The Roman Church was a mess. Christian Jews holding on to their old traditions (dietary laws, Sabbaths, etc.), seeking to honor and worship God in a manner that they really felt was right and good. But while doing so, they imposed those traditions and preferences on the newer, Gentile Christians. Fundamental traditional legalists.
But that was only one side of the coin.
On the other side were the new Gentile converts flaunting their freedom in Christ, shoving the traditional worship of the pious Jews back in their faces, and provoking the imposing Christian Jews to anger. Licenscious, free-spirited charismatics tilling the soils of disunity by shoveling the traditions of the Jews sideward to promote their own preferences.
Both groups were born again believers. Both sides were seeking to worship and honor God in a way they felt was both worthy of Him and relevant to themselves. But in pursuing personal preference and imposing those preferences on others, what they harvested was not productivity or effectiveness. Instead, they were reaping disunity and hypocrisy.
There was nothing doctrinal or theological at stake here. It was all about preference.
Arthur Pink wrote in his aforementioned work,
“Those who do not see eye to eye with each other on things where no doctrine or principle is involved are to dwell together in unity, bearing and forbearing in a spirit of meekness and love.” … “Where there is credible evidence of a genuine belief of saving truth, where the grand fundamentals of the faith are held, then such differences of opinion on minor matters should not in the slightest degree diminish brotherly love or mar spiritual and social fellowship. A spirit of bigotry, censoriousness, and intolerance is utterly foreign to Christianity.” – Pgs 22-23, (emphasis added)
Utterly foreign to Christianity. I wish I could say that today. Sadly, church in our age has become more about matters of preference than about the souls of mankind. And we wonder why non-Christians want nothing to do with the church… If all they see is conflict over preferences and disunity… why would they? There’s plenty of that outside the church.
Paul gives us the solution right before offering the first of the two prayers mentioned:
“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good in order to build him up. [And then Paul lays it on thick by playing the WWJD card…] For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me.” – Romans 15:1-3, HCSB.
What???!!! Surely Paul was mistaken. Is he saying that Christianity isn’t really about pleasing myself and satisfying my desires and promoting my preferences? Is he saying that I should give up my preferences in church to make some other person happy? Surely not… … …
What would happen if the younger Christians would stand up in a church and say, “Hey, stop singing the modern songs!!! The older saints like the hymns… we don’t, but we know they do and we want to please them! SING MORE HYMNS!!!”
And then the older saints would rise and say, “No!!! Play the modern stuff we don’t know! That’s what the younger guys like! That’s how they worship God best! We can keep our own faith before God (Rom 14:22)… Let’s honor THEIR preferences!”
Well, that would be almost biblical!!! Romans 12:10… “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor,” (NASB).
I would imagine that if the members of our churches began to sacrifice their personal preferences for those of their brothers’ and sisters’ the church of God might just start looking like it’s supposed to! The world might actually know that we are believers in Christ because of the love and preference we show for each other (John 13:35)! We might start to model the self-sacrificing spirit of our Lord Jesus who obviously would have preferred not to die an excruciating death on the cross of Calvary (Luke 22:42), but did so anyway because of His preference toward us!
And then, we’d better watch out! Because the world might begin to see that there’s something different about Christians. That we model a lifestyle and a cooperative spirit which is foreign among secular organizations – that is, being united for the common good of the souls of humanity and all… How might our world change if they could honestly look at our churches and say without a doubt, “A spirit of bigotry, censoriousness, and intolerance is utterly foreign to Christianity.” ???
What preferences are you holding on to? What do you need to let go of so that you can pick up the baggage (“weaknesses,” Rom 15:1) of other believers and carry it for them? “Not pleasing ourselves,” … what a concept. Or maybe we should just “make our attitude that of Christ Jesus…
Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used to His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8, HCSB.
Humility. Pleasing others instead of ourselves. Relinquishment of personal preferences for the sake of others around us… What a concept.
Grace and Peace,