Thoughts On Disputable Matters: Addressing The Problem

A video of this message can be viewed here.

Geoff Thomas is a preacher at a church in Great Britain. He presented a sermon in 2006 to the congregation at Alfred Place Church. He entitled that sermon “Judging Disputable Matters.” I found the sermon by searching the Internet because I was lost in disputable issues and wanted freedom. In prayer I have sought such freedom. Mr. Thomas’ teaching impressed me and I am using his message as an outline for this essay.

Romans 14:1-2
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters . One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.

How does Paul address the problem?

Remember, too, that once the poorly constructed or even the false doctrine was uncovered it was addressed in love. The love of God is pure. His Truth is pure. The traditions of men, the cultures we bring to our Christian walk and our pride push us to expect others to believe as we believe. It is shameful to ignore those folks. It is not glory to our Father.

Paul addresses the issue by first passing a judgmental look. He is not about to hedge or obfuscate. His leadership is exposed from the outset. This issue requires strength. Someone’s feelings are going to be hurt. He will be unable to be nice to all. He will not be able to speak out of both sides of his mouth.

He judges that the faith of one of these groups is weak. That’s what we see in the opening of Romans 14. “Accept him whose faith is weak….” The judgment is from the Apostle and carries the weight of the Divine. “Your faith is weak.”

A Christian’s faith, weak? How does it happen that our faith; any believer’s faith weaken?

We must try to discern the answer to that question. Much of our ongoing strength in Him will rely on the strength of our faith.

A man may have a weakness for alcohol. A little wine is never enough. In this kind of weakness a man will set aside almost everything he believes in to stay in his weakness.

In this case is the alcohol weak? The man? Is there a genetic predisposition to the weakness of alcohol abuse?

A young man may grow up weak and not develop strong muscles. He may lose his eyesight. His hair may be sparse. Those are genetic. Do any of those make the man weak in faith? The man’s hair color, his skin color, the straightness of his teeth are choices the young man does not make.

That young man has no choice in any of those genetics. They were those given to him by His Father when the young man was knitted in his mother’s womb. These are providence.

This same man does have a choice to abuse alcohol. He must be held to account for deleterious substance abuse. He chooses to indulge his sin. The consequences are his to bear. The man’s drinking is not an illness as some would have us believe.

This man will not receive “Get Well” cards from the congregants at his church. His sin is drinking to excess. He is culpable for his sin.

Scriptures speak about the man who engages in drunkeness.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

It is a great gift to the man who is a drunkard to tell him the ultimate consequences of his sin. I know many men and women who were bedeviled by excessive drinking and substance abuse. I was among them. It is my testimony that that sin is washed away, too. All need be done is accept His deliverance from it and strive to stay in His Light every day.

The idolatry of money and of material things is another problem that stifles faith. Mr. Thomas provided an illustration to help bring this to mind.

A certain young man was the son of a missionary. He had an affinity for the fine things his father’s money could buy. The young man was enamored of “nice things.” He had a weakness for fine clothes, expensive jewelry. He used the best computers. He lived in the finest houses. He longed for exotic cars.

The young missionary’s son possessed a faith weakened by his fleshly desire. He was not attentive to the warnings of Scripture. He was covetous, an idolater, and consumed by materialism.

The young missionary’s son cannot plead ignorance. He cannot say that he cannot help himself, but must feed the desires of his heart.

Can we truly say that we regard ourselves to be more worthy or more Christ-like than the missionary’s son? It is a rhetorical question that deserves an answer. That’s an oxymoron, I know. But I ask myself the question. Am I any better than the missionary’s son? Do I value things more than I value relationships with others and most importantly more than I value my relationship with Christ?

The truth is that it is possible to avoid the ways of the world when we follow a crucified Christ. Jesus said “The foxes and birds have shelter. They have more than I, yet, I have nowhere to lay my head.”

Jesus teaches that we are to emulate Him.

Many of us are blessed with possessions and with resources. Attaining those over growing our faith should never be our primary goal. The cross forbids it!

There are weaknesses that we can mortify, that is to make dead, in us. Some weaknesses we simply regulate. We stand over those and control them through His merciful grace.

Our journey is on a straight and narrow path. Our destination is away from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. We are adequately warned and we are given a Way to reach Him at His Throne. Alarms in our good conscience ring loudly when we vary from the path He has set for us.

God’s Holy Word teaches us good moral living. The Bible teaches us to be strong. It teaches us to seek and to use His Power to defeat the enemies without and within.

The Christians in Rome who are opposed to the eating of meat and taking of drink had a weak faith. Paul was not calling into question their morality or their orthodoxy.

Paul is challenging their perspectives on their assurance. He was challenging their trust in the Lord. These good people knew they were Christian and they certainly knew they were part of the Body of Christ. Their trust in God was assuredly weak though.

Consider these Romans are attending a “Fifth Sunday” potluck dinner at their church’s Fellowship Hall. The ladies of the church and some of the men prepared delightful dishes. Some are meat laden and others are vegetable. Each is good.

Two Christian men approach the table. One has three plates and he is heaping meat after meat on them. He takes bowls of meat filled soups. This man does not touch the equally tasty vegetables.

The second Christian man sees what the first has taken. He is disgusted by what he sees. The gluttony of the first and with meat no less. The second man takes only vegetables and rejects any meat.

Which of these too exaggerated examples of Christian men is trusting the Lord more fully? The first Christian man has the greater trust. He has learned he can eat anything. The restrictions have been removed.

Romans 14:14
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

This is a truth. We also know that there are limits. As an example the first Christian’s gluttony should be problematic in our eyes.

The second Christian man is the Christian whose faith is weak. Christians like this man show their weakness when they declare eating meat or taking drink is a violation of law. They do not eat meat or drink wine because it is a violation of law.

Their faith is weak because they are still tied to The Law.

Eating meat is permissible to Christians.

Acts 10:9-16
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

What do we conclude from this? Peter is a Jewish man, a Christian Apostle, hungry and going into a trance. He sees a vision and hears the Lord tell him that it is permissible to eat anything.

“Oh NO!” Peter shouts. Peter exclaims his body has never been defiled by what is not lawful.

Jesus then cautions Peter not to challenge Him. Three times Peter witnessed the Lord’s testimony to himself. It seems Peter needed extra convincing.

Will the Lordship of Christ over Peter prevail? Will Peter’s adherence to the Law take preeminence?

How would that work for us? If we were sit across from and Aborigine of Australia or a Mongolian from China or a Peruvian from the Andes Mountains, would we they be sinning by eating something that we might find repulsive. Certainly not.

That kind of reasoning exists in Paul’s admonition to the man whose faith is weak. That man that eats the thing you find offensive is not sinning. Your traditions are the source of the sin and you are elevating your traditions. You are lording your values, in this case eating meat, over another. Further, you are unwilling to make room for that person who does not follow your precepts.

There are men and women in the church who take dietary precautions. Some are intolerant of meats or milks or even wheat. Those people adjust their diet to accommodate their good health. These folks are not weak in faith per se. But when we use God’s Word and plead that there are scriptural reasons for not eating meat, then our faith is weakened.

What are the weak in faith to learn. We will discuss that in our closing essay. For now, though, remember in Christ we have been given great liberty. He has freed us from the bondage of the Law. We are released into a fellowship with Him.

These verses from Romans address meat and drink specifically. We can be sure the person weak in faith is the person making or enforcing rules that do not apply to Christian living. Is it fair or appropriate to use other issues in place of meat and drink to complete the analogy? Would it be appropriate to make the analogy that a person unwilling to bend on any doctrinal issue is a person whose faith is weak?

We will delve into that question in future essays.

About Jim Barnes

A man seeking to please the Lord. A man striving to abide in Christ Jesus. A man whose hope is to see just one more come into the fold.
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