Text: Romans 14:1-6 July 17, 2011
1) End of a visible Wall: November 9, 2010 marked the 21st anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On that day in 1989, an announcement over East Germany TV informed their people that they were free to travel to West Germany. A day later, East German bulldozers began to dismantle the wall that for 28 years had divided East and West Germany.
2) Beginning of invisible walls: Even the visible wall what divided a nation for 28 years had been brought down, there are new walls of division built and being built in this world and in the church. Some Christians often rebuild walls between one another in the church of the Lord even though Christ had destroyed walls that divided man to man and man to God. (Eph. 2:14-15) Oftentimes people in churches build walls to segregate each other, exclude each other and even to push out each other. Paul encouraged the early Christians 2,000 years ago, and us today, that we need to bear with one another in love, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:1-3)
IT IS A LINGERING PROBLEM:
1) It happened in history: The division between Cain and Abel and the tragic result serves as an alarming evidence of destruction due to division instead of unity. The divided Jewish kingdoms of the northern and southern led to their down fall in the 6th and 8th century BC. The fight between the 12 disciples for leadership position led to the heartfelt teaching of the Lord on the need of unity and his earnest prayer for that purpose. The split of a mission team of Paul and Barnabas reminds us of the fragile nature of unity among human beings, even those in God’s work.
2) It is a serious problem: Oftentimes Christians fight for minute issues that lead to division even destruction in the body of Christ. Everyone claims to be the holder of principles and is on the right side in all church-fights. What matter the most is not the reason of the fights but the outcome of the fights inevitably hurts or even destroys the witness and ministry of both sides. It is a problem serious enough for all of us, leaders and members of any church to look into their situation and to take steps to avoid the possible division and destruction of God’s work.
3) It grieves the Lord’s heart: The future and unity among the 12 disciple were of grave concern to the Lord even when he was facing the certain death on the cross. In his final prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed a long prayer for the unity of his disciples in vv 20-26. The Lord certainly knew the problem in his disciples on this important issue and the negative effect of division to the kingdom ministry. He prayed for the twelve and for all those believe in Him because of their ministry, including us. If the Lord cared so much on this and prayed for it, shouldn’t we also pay attention to this problem and pray to keep the unity?
CAUSES OF STRIFE AND DIVISION: Just list a few examples:
1) The sin of pride: After James and John asked Jesus to allow them sit on his right and left hand side when his kingdom comes in glory (Mark 10:37), the rest of the disciples became indignant against James and John. (41) Many of the divisions in churches or between Christians are caused by pride and glory: who has the best seat, most power or all the credit and honor. Power struggles in churches between lay leaders and clergy or between key leaders are the most common causes of strife and division. The sin of pride is deeply rooted from the beginning of human history when Eve ate the forbidden fruit hoping to live her life like God and therefore no need of God. (Gen. 3:5)
2) The failures of men: The divisions between Paul and Barnabas as missionary partners was caused by human failures, failures of Mark first (Acts 13:13) and then Paul (Acts 15:36-41) Mark failed in his first missionary journey because of difficulty and misconception of mission work. Paul failed because of lacking patience to a young journeyman and failed to see the potential and contribution Mark could make to the ministry of God in his later part of life. (2 Tim 4:11) Often times we rush to make decision base on incomplete information or emotional impulse that could cause strife and division we regret later.
3) The selfish desires of man: James pointed out the root of the strife and divisions among his readers in 4:1-2, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battled within you? You want something but you don’t get it, You kill and covet but you cannot have what you want.” Even in God’s church, Satan and corrupted human desire still very active in destroying God’s work. Selfish desires of fame, power, money, glory, control, recognition and others have been the causes that divide and destroy countless churches. We serve God in His church. We need to give up any selfish desire to protect the church from strife, disruption and destruction.
RECOGNIZE THE DANGERS:
1) Dangers of differences: In any church, large and small, there are many differences among the people and the leaders. Differences of age, education, spiritual maturity, personality, language and cultural background, just to list a few, are all potential dangers of strife and division. While diversity could be strength to a church, it can also easily turn into cause of division. We need to know that we need each other to build a strong body of Christ, the teachings of unity in diversity in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30.
2) Danger of human loyalty: In addressing the cause of division in the Corinthian church, Paul pointed out the root was their wrong object of loyalty. Instead of channel loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ, they channeled it to leaders, Paul and Apollo. (1 Corinth. 3:1-5) Divisions in churches oftentimes start by loyalty in small groups exclusive in nature. While we understand the need of the common bond, we need to be very careful not to allow loyalty to the group interfere or destroy the body of Christ, the church. One way to protect unity is to enlarge the circle to include all.
3) Danger of false doctrine: There are many false doctrines in the Christian circles in recent decades, much more than in last many centuries. Doctrine of secularism, the church needs to follow the trends of the secular world. Doctrine of socialism, the church focuses solely or more on social services instead of go and make disciples for Christ. Doctrine of spiritualism, church is to focus on mystical spiritual experience like charismatic and eschato-logical groups. Doctrine of universality, all religions or religious groups are of equal validity, value and needed to reach different groups of people for a universal community. Dangers of false teaching has destroyed many otherwise vibrant, dynamic churches and denominations, taking away the biblical basis of being the church God intended us to be.
HOW TO PRESERVE UNITY: Romans 14:1-6
1) Accept the weak in faith: “Accept him whose faith is weak with out passing judgment.” (14:1) Just as in any human unit, we have the weak and the strong mingled as an unit like a family, a class in school, at work of in a church. God has a purpose in placing all different parts together to make a functional body. We need to recognize the wisdom of God in doing this and accept each other for the unity of the church. (1 Corinth. 12:18) To accept, proslambano in Greek means to help or to pull up. The middle voice means we need to do the pulling up of others by ourselves. For God has accepted him so we need also need to accept or pull him up in order to preserve unity. (14:1-3)
2) Avoid useless criticism: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls and he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand.” (14:4-6) We need to see that our criticism will never help anyone to grow or to stand but to keep him under stress and weak. We need to trust God that He will, in His time, make the weak strong in his own way. Many strife and divisions began from dissatisfaction or criticism of others. Acts like this is evident that we have little or no faith that God could and would make him strong someday.
3) A heart to preserve unity: In encouraging the Christians at the Ephesians Church, Paul asks that they need to do their utmost to preserve the unity of their church. “As a prisoner for the lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3) A strong desire to keep the unity of God’s church should be in every heart of God’s people. Without a strong commitment, any small issue could become explosive to destroy God’s church.
1) It is a serious matter: Nothing destroys a church faster than the internal strife and fights. In a few weeks or months, fighting can destroy a church that took decades to build. Faith of the people is shattered, resource is wasted, energy is spent in the wrong place and the name of the Lord is smeared black. All the people in any church, particularly the leaders, need to do their best to solve problems before they reach breaking point. Without unity, don’t talk about grow in any shape or form. It won’t happen.
2) It is not inevitable: Division and strife is not inevitable if we are careful how to work with people and humble to the Lord and to each other. We need to be alert at all time watch out for cracks in the fellowship of believers. Eliminating source of strife and mending holes in the net in timely manner can go a long way than rebuilding a broken church. Besides doctrinal and moral matters, many of the trivial issues that can cause rifts and cracks need to be diverted from becoming bombshells. Paul urged the spiritual to help the 2 women in the Philippians church to work out their differences for the unity of the whole church.
3) The unity we all need. This is the unity between man and God. Jesus has destroyed the dividing wall so man can access God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. You can confess your sins and ask God to forgive you, then you are united with God again in His grace.