Sunday Morning Live Stream Worship 11:15 AM
PRACTICAL LOVE | The “One Another” Commands
Affirm One Another’s Equal Importance In Christ
Rev. T.J. Campo
Romans 15.1-9 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.” 4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.”
1 Corinthians 12.21-27 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, 24 whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
James 2.1-5 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
1 Peter 5.5-7 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
1 Peter 3.7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
Last week, we started a new series, which we’ll look at for about eight more weeks – looking at the reciprocal commands in the New Testament Letters, the “one another” commands. Using categories suggested by Tim Keller we’ll classify them (and there’s a lot of them!) we’ll put them under three headings – sharing, affirming and serving. Three sermons in each category – nine altogether.
But TODAY I’m going to bank the eight-ball off two bumpers before I hopefully sink it in the side pocket – this particular one another (Affirm One Another’s Equal Importance In Christ), and Mothers’ Day (I think you can see the connection) and the MAIN IDEA we’re here to
celebrate (the Gospel – the core message of Christianity).
So, here are these early Christians…congregations springing up in all the urban centers of the Roman Empire. And these gatherings of believers in Jesus Christ are NOT homogenized groups of like-minded and very similar people but instead people with all kinds of pretty significant differences…people who would NOT normally socialize with “one another”.
In fact, almost every congregation (including the very FIRST Christian congregation of twelve) was made up of people who were thrust together with some who would be considered their natural enemies. (In the 12 original disciples – one was a right-wing terrorist and another was a left-wing radical!)
And YET there was something IN the Gospel, some POWER in the core message that enabled them to NOT ONLY get along but also to demonstrate phenomenal unity and love so that the rest of the Empire took note and the fire continued to spread.
One of the distinctions between these early Christians was the weak/strong distinction – that’s the focus in our first reading. I want to look at:
#1 – The Weak/Strong distinction and what they were told to do about it
#2 – The New Model for Identity and
#3 – What’s a Mixed Up Congregation to Do?
Paul addresses this weak-strong distinction in at least two major places (Romans 14 and 1 st Corinthians 8). and the rift/split had to do with “hang-ups”. In the ROMAN church the weak were new Christians from a Jewish background who had a lot of hang-ups about eating Gentile foods. Paul kept telling them that they were not righteous because they ate Kosher… and they agreed… “but… you know… just to be sure… could it hurt to make everyone in the congregation eat Kosher (whether Jew or Gentile) …just to be sure?” Paul calls them “weak” because their confidence is sort of divided: we believe in Jesus but were keeping a safety net.
The “strong” are the ones (like Paul) who see how the Gospel liberates you to eat whatever is set before you. Our diet doesn’t save us. Jesus Christ fulfilled the food Laws for us and that’s what saves us.
Paul says, “LOOK, there was a time when we felt we had higher status because we ate the right foods or we were better educated than others (better upbringing) or because of our 3race or our bank account or our gender or our jobs or because we’re young or old or married or single or healthy (or not healthy – some people use their illness or disability to get status). BUT,” says Paul, “that was BEFORE we got this NEW MODEL for identity. And NOW we see that a Perfect Man came on the scene and He had thE highest status that anyone could ever have.
HE had a status or rank or position or identity infinitely above Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or any movie star or rock star or Head of State or pro athlete. Jesus Christ had the status of “approved”.
He was absolutely and perfectly delightful to God the Father. Every other human being that ever lived is fallen infinitely short of God’s standard. But this One Person was perfectly flawless. He met all the standards that God set for the human race. No one else had ever been perfectly loving and obedient and pure but THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HE WAS.
And the good news (the basic message of Christianity) says, “This Person came into the world to confer His status onto others… to gift us…to grant to unworthy people the identity He deserves that because of Him, we would be considered WORTHY in the sight of God…we would be accepted!”
And that new identity gives us a new way of thinking about ourselves AND about “one another”. “I used to be a dentist,” says the Christian. “And that was the most important thing about me – I’d meet new people and that would come up in the first three minutes of the first conversation!.. But NOW, I am perfect in the sight of God because of Jesus Christ… THAT’S the NEW and MOST IMPORTANT facet of my identity…and I’m a dentist…or a widow…or a soccer player…or a pretty face…or a preacher…or a Peruvian…or an American …or a college grad…”
And it’s NOT that those other facets of my identity are NOTHING – “I was a teacher before a started believing in Jesus Christ and I still am…or a Southerner or a pipe-fitter or a dad…or a single… BUT I’m beginning to see that those other things really can’t define me… NOT LIKE THIS DOES. This is the most important thing about me…and I’m beginning to see it/experience it…count on it.”
And the more I count on this and see it as PRIMARY, the other things I used to count on (to make me feel secure and good about myself – my marital status, race, job title, degree, experiences, my body) I attach much less significance to these things…in myself AND in others.
Racial prejudice, and ageism and cultural narrow-mindedness and sexism all come from attaching inordinate significance to some facet of our identity and trying to get a sense of rightness or well-being from that thing. They’re all forms of self- righteousness that come from comparing ourselves to others and trusting that MY WAY IS SUPERIOR, that my safety
net is what really counts!
Richard Loveless wrote, “Once faith is exercised, a Christian is free… to wear his culture like a comfortable suit of clothes…he is released to admire and appreciate the differing expressions of Christ shining out through other cultures.”
See, the Jewish believers in the Roman church were barely counting on the Gospel – they were trying to push their Jewish-ness as culturally superior to Gentile-ness. They were WEAK in faith because they put more stock in THEIR cultural superiority than they did in JESUS CHRIST’S PERFECTION – strong in cultural self-confidence but weak in faith.
And YET – Paul isn’t writing to punish the weak or to simply congratulate the strong (the people with fewer hang-ups) but to help those strong in faith to see their obligations to those weak in faith. “We ought to bear with the weak…and (v.7) Therefore, accept one another.” In other words, “You GET it… intellectually…but you’re not getting it relationally. Being strong in theory SHOULD make you strong in practice…BUT IT’S NOT! And that’s a problem!”
It was as if the “strong” were looking at the “weak” and saying, “Look at these jerks with all the hang-ups …why can’t they just totally trust in what Jesus Christ has done and stop acting like they’re way is going to earn them points with God?!”
And Paul says, “Your assessment is right, but your attitude is all wrong! Accept the weak just as Christ accepted you!” And that word “accept” is maybe a little weak; the word “welcome” may be a better translation.
DON’T YOU SEE that YOUR cultural glasses give you a biased view of the Gospel and THEIR cultural glasses give them another bias? Can’t you see that we need each other like organs in a body? We don’t have to stop being male or female or Jamaican or Brazilian or from this class or that – we can be who we are and bring our different perspectives on the Gospel INTO the Body and it will make the Body whole.
AND that can only happen if we see the Church as a new race and what is MOST important is not our income or class or color but that we, who believe in Jesus Christ are members of this new race, a new nationality, a Body and that we belong to one another. In the world, the rich man is more important than the poor man – HE gets the seat of honor! But not here! “Did not God choose the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom…?” (The poor are quite often the strong in faith…easier for them to depend solely on Jesus Christ and not on “plan B”!)
In that culture – and in many cultures since – the man was important and the woman was…not so much…but not here. She may be in a weakened position in society but NOT in the Christian marriage – “Husbands show her honor because she is a fellow heir of the grace of life!” The Christian wife is an adopted daughter of God. Mom is royal. (This goes way beyond Hallmark… this has power to change how men relate to their wives everyday…and children to their mothers!) What a revolutionary concept that was in the Roman Empire and how that ONE idea transformed the Western ideas of gender and identity.
Even where there will be a stress on roles and on leadership “you younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders” – Peter will quickly add, “and all of you clothe yourselves in humility toward one another for God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble…” In other words, “Yes, we recognize that elders are due respect from the youngers – but we don’t DO IT like the world does BECAUSE WE REALIZE the most important thing about the old man is not his superior experience/deserving but that he is a sinner saved by grace and in Christ he is precious and welcomed into presence of God like a child is welcomed by his parents. And this young man too is more than meets the eye – he too is royal.
Look, those races or classes or skills or gifts that may be unappreciated in society, in weakened positions – LET THE CHURCH SAY, “We need them as much as we need the more ‘desirable’ members.” In fact, this second passage says, “Let those who are normally disregarded/marginalized (in the world) let them be doubly honored in the Body – “that all the organs should have the same care for one another.”
Now, what’s a mixed up congregation to do? (A church like this one w/a wide variety or all varieties?)
#1 – Let each person realize: it’s really hard to recognize prejudice in ourselves… but don’t be so sure that it’s not there. We absorb things in our upbringing that may not be self-consciously racist or sexist but things that the Gospel paradigm have yet to transform. It’s not easy to root out (think of Peter!)
#2 – Try new things. Wear your culture like a comfortable suit of clothes and not like a straight-jacket.
#3 – There are people at St. Andrews who can really help you have a richer, fuller understanding and experience of the Gospel and God IF you will listen to them and be open. We too are (PTL!) not a homogenized group…and there are people from outside the dominant culture who can give you a new perspective that could lead to a huge leap forward spiritually speaking. So meet them.
#4 – St. Andrews leaders have to ask from time to time if we are reflecting the ethnic makeup of our community. We WILL see this as a desirable dynamic if we get the Gospel and are strong in faith. We will only be threatened by change if we are clinging to the safety net of our own “superior” cultural norms/expressions.
#5 – On this Mothers’ Day, treat mom or wife or all the believing women in your life as the royalty that they are. And remember… they will be royal throughout the year, not just today…So, “show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life.”