“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:5-9 ESV)
Most holidays are times of family togetherness and relationship building, celebration of God’s blessings and to remember, reminisce and to bind our hearts together in love and joy. To gather around a table, eating, talking, laughing and celebrating and looking towards the future. However, some holidays are a bit more somber and sober and they may cause us to grow quiet, solemn and to think about the meaning of life or even death and to reflect on and remember the past. Times of joy and celebration and times of somberness and reflection. Both are good and even a necessary part of life.
I vividly remember the excitement of Christmas morning and the anticipation it brought to a young boy’s heart and mind. I didn’t think it was possible to sleep on Christmas Eve because of my anticipation, but sleep always came though it might not last as long as my parents hoped. I quietly crept into the living room to sneak a peak at what Santa might have left. It was difficult to contain my joy as I marveled at the gifts lying under the tree. Which was mine? What did they contain? Did I get what I had wished for? It was hard waiting until my parents would reluctantly succumb to our whispered excitement and sleepily join me and my brothers around the tree.
While I certainly loved Christmas, I also remember how much I enjoyed Sundays, too. I’d watch Dad shave as he listened to a Sunday morning radio broadcast in preparation for Sunday School and church while Mom would keep reminding us, my brothers and me, to get dressed, put on our shoes, comb our hair and brush our teeth – I can still hear her say, “if you don’t hurry up, we’re going to be late.” Dad hated being late (I suppose I learned that from him). We always had to leave early enough to stop by and pick up Grandma and a cousin, or two. After church, family gathered for Sunday dinner and sometimes the pastor or a visiting evangelist would join us. Sunday night wasn’t much different, except that was a time when folks from church might come over and they’d sing while the kid’s played and then everyone would eat. Great times, great memories and lot’s of fun with folks from church.
In this week’s focal passage, Paul continues to address the conflict that has begun to develop between the “strong” and the “weak” Christians in the Roman church and this example centers around the observance of Holy Days (holidays), feast days, fasting days, and the observance of the Sabbath. While it remains unclear whether this disagreement is between Jewish believers and Gentile believers, there’s little doubt that Paul is addressing a very real situation and not just a hypothetical issue. This is really a continuation of the issue we considered last week regarding eating meat or eating just vegetables. One group esteems one day as “better” and the other group esteems all days “alike.” Jewish culture carried significant influence over the lives of early Christians but it was being challenged by the truths of the Gospel.
Culture carries significant influence over our lives, often more than we even realize. You can see in my description above regarding my family, how much the culture of America influenced (and still influences) my view of family, church, holidays/Sundays and our observance of them. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that those cultural influences were negative. I’m just acknowledging they have shaped my life, my actions and even my beliefs. In a similar way, Paul is not saying that one observance is better than the other, as long as they both result in honoring the Lord and giving thanks to God. The issue is less about what we do, and more about why we do it – to HONOR our Lord and to GIVE THANKS to God.
Our differences in observance are what often divide us, when it comes to the church. Yet, Paul wants the Roman church to recognize that their differences should not divide them because God has “accepted” both (see last week’s notes), the strong and the weak in faith. Each servant stands or falls in faithfulness to his Lord, nothing more and nothing less. We need to hear those words, church! There are issues of belief and faith that must divide Christ’s church from the unbelieving world, that’s a given. Faith in Jesus as God’s Son defines us and it must, but outside the church “people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV) In other words, the effectiveness of our message and our mission is not contingent on the size, quality or design of our buildings, the size of our budget, the capacity of our sanctuary or the number in attendance, the style of our worship music, or even the charisma and delivery style of our pastor(s) but it IS dependent upon the demonstration of our love for one another.
Next, Paul says that each one must be fully convinced in his own mind regarding his/her beliefs and practices. This means that you believe something in such a way that it carries through in all you say and do. This is what we would generally refer to as “deeply held religious beliefs” or convictions. It is something you believe so deeply that it impacts you in ways you may not even recognize. Now, let me be a bit transparent here. There are certain beliefs that we hold and believe to be true, but we may not hold them deeply enough to impact every decision we make.
For example, a few weeks ago we considered Paul’s admonition to “submit ourselves to the governing authorities.” (See Rom. 13:1-7) There’s little doubt that Paul meant we should be obedient to our local governmental authority and laws. I believe that, don’t you? Well, I do to an extent. I bend that law each morning when I begin my commute to work and I exceed the speed limit by 4 or 5 miles per hour as I join all of the other commuters exceeding the speed limit. If you were to ask me about my belief in “God-given governmental authority” and a believer’s obedience to it, I would probably state those convictions in terms of “deeply held religious beliefs.” Yet, they are obviously not held “deeply” enough to correct my driving habits, are they?
That’s what happens when beliefs are believed and held as long as they are convenient. But, when they cease to be convenient we often let them slip aside and fall away. Be careful, though. We must not fall into the trap of trying to justify our disobedience or claim “obedience to God” while we are disobedient to man’s laws unless the two are directly contradictory. For example, Acts 4 tells us of Peter and John’s disobedience to the Sanhedrin Council when they were command to “stop preaching in this name” – the name of Jesus. Peter and John answered them, “you decide for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” To obey these men would place Peter and John in disobedience to God, so they made their choice to be obedient to God even as they willingly embraced any punishment the Council would take upon them for their disobedience to them.
So, what does that mean and how should it impact me? It means that we must be more conscious of how our beliefs should and must impact our daily lives, thoughts and actions. Paul tells these Roman Christians that if they are going to hold one day above another or if they are going to esteem all days the same, be fully convinced and live out those convictions completely. Don’t be wishy washy about them. Don’t hold those beliefs this week because it is convenient and beneficial and then push them aside next week when it is becomes much more difficult to follow and adhere to them. Be CONVINCED in your heart regarding those beliefs and let those convictions determine and drive your actions. Don’t be wishy washy, going first this way and then that way.
But notice, Paul also insists that these two groups who hold differing views on the subject of “eating or not eating meat” and “specific days are holy or all days are holy” are both groups doing so to honor the Lord. One holds a particular day in esteem or eats all things in order to honor the Lord and the other honors all days as holy or abstains from eating meat in order to honor the Lord. Neither is more holy or righteous than the other, they both do so in order to honor the Lord and give thanks to God. Why? Because none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself.
“But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:17, 19-20 ESV)
So, our value in the Kingdom of God is not determined by our worthiness or even our obedience. Our value to the King is inherent in being made in His image. Scripture never says that God loves us more when we are stronger in the faith than someone else. His love is not conditional, it is unconditional. Let me go back to a favorite illustration of mine to explain what I mean. Growing up in a Baptist church, each week we would fill out an offering envelope in Sunday School class. The envelope had a place for your name, the date, the amount of your offering and check boxes for attendance, bible read daily, lesson studied, attending worship, etc., and each had a percentage of value that totaled 100%. Filling out that envelope and checking those boxes made it seem like the more boxes you were able to check the more God must love you, up to 100%. I don’t know about you, but I would often check a box even if I didn’t complete that item. You know, Bible ready daily… hmmm, 3 out of 7, close enough. Check! Lesson studied, well I brought my lesson “quarterly” to class and I glanced at it in the car. Check!
Did God only give me 100% of His love when I really gave Him 100% of my obedience to those weekly discipleship tasks? No, I’ve come to realize that God’s love does not ebb and flow with the tide of my dutiful obedience. God loves me completely even when I fail to love Him completely. So, God loves the strong and the weak in faith as they all wrestle through these issues of eating, not eating, esteeming certain days or esteeming every day the same. If He loves us in that way, then He also wants us to love one another in that same way. Remember, accept the weak in faith or pull them alongside you and into your heart and life as they join you on this journey of walking with Jesus.
Finally, that brings us to these last two verses in our focal passage regarding Jesus being lord of both the living and the dead. Paul really sums this up nicely with, “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” I cited a verse from 1 Corinthians 6, above, that reminds us “you are not your own, you were bought with a price” and Paul uses similar words here: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, the He might be the Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
This is, in essence, the core of the Gospel. Jesus IS Lord for God has placed all things under His authority. Consider David’s psalm: “The Lord says to my Lord: “‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:1-4 ESV) We can offer ourselves and submit freely to Jesus authority and His reign over our lives now, while we are alive, or we can be conquered and reluctantly submit to His authority and reign in death.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)
Really, the question is not whether you will bow before Jesus as Lord, but whether you will do so in love, honor and for His glory or whether you will do so in subjugation, defeat and personal humiliation. True followers of Jesus will submit themselves, in this life, so that He is exalted and glorified in all they do and say. When they do, He promises to exalt them in the next life. Those who continue to rebel, refuse to bow and reject the authority of Jesus in this life and live for their own honor and glory will be forced to submit themselves to His authority and Lordship in the next life and suffer eternal rejection and separation from His life-giving, life-sustaining love. In other words, God gives us the desire of our hearts and the eternal results that come with it.
Paul states that “to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” That matches up with Jesus stating that the “kingdom of God is in your midst.” Jesus’ lordship is not just exercised over us in death, but also in our lives as we live for Him each day. How would your daily habits and life choices change if Jesus was your daily companion, walking beside you each step of the way? If you can identify some things would (or should) change then make a commitment now to let Him make those changes, right now. Remember where we started? Being fully convinced in our own minds regarding those things we believe. So convinced and sure of what we believe that it impacts our decisions and choices. Simply put, that’s what faith is… being so fully convinced of these things regarding Jesus that it impacts each step we take, each decision we make.
Trust me, when you really believe, when you are fully convinced, it shows up. It shines forth from your life – a city set on a hill can’t be hidden, a lit lamp isn’t covered but is placed on a stand to give light to the entire house.
If you’re not fully convinced, it is time to get that settled in your life.