Mind your own business

“I’m leaving the Church!” Every Pastor has heard these words. It comes with the territory. One Sunday morning after the service a ‘brother in the Lord’ pulled me to one side and said, ‘Enough is enough, I asked you to speak to that woman and today she blasphemed the Lord’s table once again, so me and my family, we’re off.’ On this occasion I was so happy and relieved! My Christian brother had recently joined the Church and was determined to cleanse us from all impurities that were on his list. The woman he spoke about was a recent convert from a terrible background. She came forward to the Communion table that morning wearing once a t-shirt with a slogan that was obviously on my brother in the Lord’s list! I wasn’t bothered what she was wearing I was just grateful that she was there! I had suggested he closed his eyes and focused on the Lord but I guess when you are cleaning up the Church you have to keep them open.

The truth is that what this new convert was wearing at the Communion Table had absolutely nothing to do with him. It was none of his business. It was however, the business of the Lord and I was yet to see any thunder strikes!

Paul is hitting hard in this section of his letter. There is a problem in the Church in Rome. They are trying to dictate to one another over disputable matters. One side are condemning and the other side are looking down with contempt.

“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister[a]? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” (Romans 14 v 7-12)

If we all simply focused on our own discipleship, aiming to follow Jesus closer, listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying about our own conduct, making changes because we want to glorify God and not please man, the Church would be a safer place. It is one thing living your life within accountable structures and we all need them to grow but they do not have the final say over our lives, God does. Paul quotes from Isaiah 45 which is set in the context of God being in charge, He is Sovereign and it is to Him alone we will give an account.

A lot of people leave Churches because they are offended at what others are wearing or other ‘disputable matters’ like ‘steak and broccoli’. They need to understand that in order to get their own lives ready to kneel before Him in the final accountable end-of-life moment, they don’t have the time or the energy to be campaigning against someone else. They should indeed mind their own business.

For the love of God will the Church stop falling out over steak and broccoli!

A friend once told me how he and his wife were celebrating their anniversary in a hotel they had booked for one night. They were enjoying their meal in the restaurant which involved a very nice wine. They were not big drinkers by any stretch of the imagination but nevertheless they were secret drinkers for the vast majority of their friends were teetotal and viewed alcohol as demon-drink. The couple were enjoying their evening when all of a sudden my friend spotted 2 couples that they knew come into the same hotel restaurant. They only had a split second to decide what to do so my friend said to his wife to do what he did and follow him. He gulped down all the wine and hid the bottle out of sight. They then very quietly tip-toed and walked down the side of the bar and out of the restaurant back to their room. No one saw them. However, because he stood up so quickly and was rushing, the wine seemed to have had a bit of an effect and instead of walking past the bar he had to rest his arm on it to stop the dizziness and slid the whole length creating quite a comical scene! The picture he had created was far worse than the scene if his friends had seen him have a glass of wine in his hands. However, for him, it was worth the risk rather than face the wrath of the judging panel.

We seem to be coming to the part in this letter to the Church in Rome which gives the reason why Paul writes it. There is division within. There are those who look down on others, he calls them the strong in faith believers. Then there are those who condemn the strong in faith believers, he calls them the weak in faith. What exactly is going on is not clear. But isn’t that the same when ‘disputable matters’ (v1) boil over into the public domain today? I’ve been in church all my life and in some form of church leadership for 35 years. When I look back on the ‘disputable matters’ over the years and the intolerance that has surfaced it looks really petty and pathetic today.

We have a glimpse from Paul but we still have to guess much of what the division is about. The strong eat anything and every day is a sacred day; the weak eat only vegetables and a certain day is more sacred. It seems nonsense to us in 2022. Okay let’s read the verses:

“One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14 v 2-6)

Are you caught up in a ‘disputable matter’ today? In future years will people look back and think it petty?

“Who are we to judge someone else’s servant?” That person which we either look down upon or condemn belongs to the Lord and it is the Lord who will judge them.

The person that we are intolerant with may truly believe that their practice, behaviour and belief is in alignment with the Lord’s will for their life. Isn’t that the same with us? So isn’t the main point that God is glorified? What is good for them may not be good for me but so long as God is worshipped, glorified, honoured, isn’t that the most important point?

Of course, like any parent who steps into their children’s argument and ends up being the villain, often those who try to unite the church end up being the worse enemy.

One thing I do believe is that when we breathe our last here on earth and enter our eternity, the disputes that occupied our lives with such passion will not matter one jot. The fights we had because we have to be right will fall to the earth as we realise we wasted a lot of time on the petty and pathetic. “Who are you to judge …?”

Sunday small thought: stop jumping on people who haven’t got it all worked out yet.

Belief and practice filter through the story of life. Understanding a person’s story therefore is crucial to not dismissing them.

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarrelling over disputable matters.” (Romans 14 v1)

In this chapter it seems there were 2 kinds of believers: those who had strong faith and those whose faith was weak. From the list of ‘disputable matters’ we will read in the next few days it is probable that it is referring to Gentile believers (strong) and Jewish believers (weak – who struggled to let go of some of their practices). This is a message to the strong to give the weak a chance; to stop judging; to let people journey at their own pace; to accept them. Something that is still relevant to the church today.

2pm today

Today is a special day. It starts at 2pm. It has been in the diary for a long time and the last few years it has been about this moment this afternoon. But let us read our next few verses first:

“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13 v 11-14)

Today my daughter is being ordained as a Reverend. It’s a special day for us all.

We are up early. The food is being prepared. Clothes are washed and ironed. We are eagerly awaiting the 2pm service. There is a sense of excitement and rightly so.

This is not the time to spend the morning getting dirty in the garden; neither is it the time to get stressed about other things that need doing; it is the morning for reflections of times past and dreaming for the future; it is the morning for thanking God for all He has done and the family and friends that have supported her to this point. It is the morning of love and kindness.

Why do I say all this?

Paul is wrapping up a section about Christian lifestyle (that he began in our chapter 12).

We don’t know the time but 2,000 years ago Paul believed the day of Christ’s return and what will be in effect our glorious ordination as believers is upon them. Well …. Even more so now!

What’s occupying your attention today? Make sure it is Christ.

What are the temporary, earthly desires that you are tempted to chase after?

Is your life being wasted on things that pass away?

Are you dressing your attitudes and conversations and behaviours with that of Christ?

Why? It is nearly 2pm.

Life is not about Thou shalt not but Thou shalt. Get this right and we change the world.

The greatest need in our world today is for people to love others sacrificially.

We can turn the world upside down with love. True love is the love that hurts the lover.

Where will that hurt be most felt? It is not when you are loving someone the other side of the world. But it is to love those closest to you. It is to love your neighbour, the person next to you, who lives near you, even in your home.

“The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” Romans 13:9-10

It doesn’t matter which commandment you choose and which one you profess to be successful at. The reason for obedience is not for any other reason but because God has transformed and renewed your mind and now within you is the love of Christ for other people.

Adultery, no, because you are committed to your spouse.

Murder, no, because you don’t want anyone to be harmed.

Steal, no, because you don’t want the person to be without.

Covet, no, because you know how to celebrate what others have.

The commandments could continue and your response is the same, you want the best for others because within you is Christ’s love for the world.

Why? Because you see God in people. They bear the image of God.

Back to sincere love: it’s all about the outstanding debt of love.

After an interlude about governments, Paul gets right back to relationships and the love of God that we share with others.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13 v 8)

Some focus on the debt and use it as a proof text to show we shouldn’t borrow anything. They not only miss the whole point about the outstanding extravagant love for each other but they miss even what Paul was saying about debt. He isn’t saying don’t borrow but he is saying make sure you pay back what you borrow.

The aim for your Christian life is not about being more powerful and doing great exploits. It is not even about not being in debt. But it is about grasping, comprehending, perceiving, learning, reaching, testing, plumbing to the depths and rising to the heights in discovering the love of Christ for other people. It is to learn the unconditional, non-judgmental, selfless, sacrificial love within community where you will always be in debt. There will never be a time when you can say I have loved that person enough. You are to go on and on and on. You are to die loving. Yes there are heartaches and yes we have to move on but we do so not with bitterness and anger but with love. It is to give extravagant, outlandish, loud and courageous love to others. It is this love that fulfils everything that God wants in terms of obedience (known as the law).

Governments, authorities, managers and leaders!

We are going to read a section that might be difficult depending on your political persuasion or your experience of working for management or other leadership forms.

But spare a thought for those who live under the regimes of evil dictators as you read the following:

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.” (Romans 13:1-7)

What are we to make of this?

The powers that be are there because God appointed them.
For the Christians, living under the wicked Roman Emperor, Nero, they would find this hard to swallow.
You may also. For your powers that be may not act anything like God.
You may struggle to obey them.
Your government.
Your manager or supervisor.
Your spiritual leader.
All these can make things difficult for you.
In turn you may want to belittle, rebel and usurp the authority above you.
But strangely God has them there for a season.
They are serving a bigger picture than just your life here and now. You are part of that big picture so submit, do what’s right and respect those people.
For when you do this you are in line with God.

But this is not blind obedience.

Paul says 2 things: God has established these authorities and you must obey otherwise they will punish.

How do we weigh this with resisting the beast’s demands for worship?

Or how do we hold to this teaching alongside the refusal to be silent about Jesus, ““Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!”? (Acts 5:29)

Perhaps it is this:

  1. No government or spiritual leader has ultimate authority over you; that belongs to God.
  2. God is in control of history and governments and we need faith to believe this even when we cannot see Him.
  3. Do all that we can to obey respectfully those in authority.
  4. When it is against that ultimate authority we serve God not man.

No one wants the bad guy to win: Reconciliation

Let’s be different today. Where there is hurt let us bless. Where offence comes let us take every barrier down. Where there is war let us bring peace. Who do you struggle with today? Bless them. Show kindness. Demonstrate the cross. Die for them. Do not pick up the sword no matter what they have done.

Paul continues on from instructing not to retaliate by speaking of doing all we can to reconcile: “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12 v 20-21)

The Rwandan genocide in 1994 only lasted 100 days. But during that time 800,000 citizens were brutalised and murdered by their own neighbours.

Though Hutu and Tutsi tribes are the same ethnic group, share the same language, lived and worked together, shared the same religion (mainly catholic), Tutsis and supportive Hutus were slaughtered by people they had co-existed peacefully with for generations.

Even from school age Tutsis became dehumanised.

They were called snakes and cockroaches.

The killings were horrific and sadistic.

Here is a story of a mother whose son was killed in that genocide.

The woman had nursed bitterness, grievance and thoughts of vengeance; she just wanted to find her son’s killer and bring due punishment. But one night she had a dream and in the dream she was going down the street and saw a house and she knew it was a house of her enemy.

And she heard God say, “Go into the house”.

She said “I don’t want to go into the house”

She went into the house and God led her through many rooms and then up the stairs.

And He said “I want you to go up the stairs”

She said “I don’t want to go any further in this house”

“I want you to go up the stairs”

She went up the stairs, opened the door at the top, and found it led into heaven.

And she had a revelation.

That the path to heaven goes through the house of her enemy.

Two days later there was a knock on her door.

A young man is standing there at the door and he is shaking.

He says to her, “I am the man who killed your son. I place my life in your hands, whatever you want to do with me, I accept it. I have had no peace since I did what I did. And I will accept whatever. If you want to kill me, you can kill me.

If you want to turn me in to the authorities turn me into the authorities. Whatever you want, my life is in your hands.

And because she had a revelation from God, she said “I will not do any of this. But I do have one request. You must now become my son.”

She took him in and fed him at the table where she fed her son. He’s the same size so he wore his clothes. He actually moved in and became a son to her, because heaven passes through the house of her enemy.

Who is your enemy? Who is the person that hurt you? Would you believe that heaven goes through that house? It does. It’s called the cross. Pick it up today. Love is your most treasured commodity that no one will take from you. Give it today. Do what you can to reconcile.

No one wants the bad guy to win: Retaliation

The right to retaliate is sadly front cover again. The demand to carry guns and use them because otherwise evil would wreak havoc from those who carry guns. I’m so glad I live in a culture where this particular argument is not an issue. Yet retaliation is in every culture of the world.

Was Paul a pacifist? “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”  (Romans 12 v 17-19)

Was Peter? “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3: 9

Was Jesus? “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5 v 38-42)

We must go back to the beginning to understand the reason why the law of Moses stated “an eye for an eye” for it was to make sure that punishment was not harsher than it deserved to be.

In Genesis 4:23-24, the father of Noah, Lamech, says, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times”

Lamech’s son, Tubal-Cain, had invented what was the first primitive sword and weapons of war are seen for the first time. We don’t know what happened but it would appear that the punishment did not fit the crime. He truly believed that those who tried to take revenge on him for his revenge will receive the vengeance of God 77 times over. A huge presumption on the mercy of God. Lamech was now self-confident and self-sufficient because of the weapon he had in his hand.

Interestingly when Jesus teaches Peter to forgive he says that he should forgive not 7 times but 70 times 7 (Matthew 18:22).

So what do we do with the bad guy?

Here’s the big thing and I simply write it in a number of different ways, my own responses to the attacks that come our way, I have failed many times but this is what I try to say and do:

“I will not do life like you do life. I belong to a different kingdom to you. I choose a higher level. Not out of arrogance or pompous attitude but simply because I will not stoop down to a level of the world which says I should retaliate by ‘hitting your cheek or saying NO to my shirt, that mile, that ask or the loan.”

“Look down on me, make me look unequal to you and my response to you will show the world that we are indeed not equal.”

“Make my life hard and I will expose your injustice by making your life easy.”

“Make me look like some cattle carrying your bags for a mile (the Romans practiced conscription amongst the citizens) and I will show you I will not be demeaned for I will go the extra mile. My generosity will defeat your conscription”

“Humiliate me but I will not be humiliated in my heart.”

“My humanity will expose your violent humanity by revealing a bigger heart than what is being shown.”

“I will fight within the Kingdom of Jesus not within your kingdom.”

“Though you are a bad guy: I will do my best not to retaliate.”

There is one more thing. If not retaliating is difficult then what Paul says next is even more so!

Sunday small thought: The Spirit won’t come on people that are full of themselves.

The Spirit comes on people that are full of the mission to love the world and reach it with the Gospel.

The Spirit comes on people that do not think of themselves higher than anyone else.

The Spirit comes on people that have learnt to live on the level of common ground.

“Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:16

Happy Pentecost Sunday everyone