Romans 14:5-9 5 One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living.
Some of you may remember exclusively using the King James Version of the Bible and pages 5 and 15 in The Lutheran Hymnal for worship. Now, we typically use a rotation of four different worship services and have been using three different Bible translations as we examine their accuracy and readability. Which way of doing worship is better?
In a few weeks we will celebrate the Lutheran Reformation at Epiphany with the Sunday School, Epiphany Ensemble, piano, guitar, and percussion. The next week, you are invited to the big 500th anniversary of the Reformation service in Milwaukee. I’m guessing they will have choirs, brass, a pipe organ, and possibly timpani. Which Reformation service is more sanctified?
At Epiphany, we use real ashes on Ash Wednesday, celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord on the historic day of January 6, use a processional cross for festival services, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Are we just a little more pious than other Lutherans?
After using the first thirteen chapters of his letter to the Romans to lay out all kinds of divine doctrines, the apostle Paul uses chapter fourteen to teach about things that don’t matter to God. He has taught what God’s will on the one side and what to refrain from on the other side. Now St. Paul teaches about the middle things. Those things neither commanded nor forbidden by God. The fancy Greek word for that is “adiaphora.”
These are the things that God doesn’t seem to have an opinion on or even a concern. Curiously, they seem to matter much more to us than to God. We don’t seem to get worked up about sins like living together or lack of worship, or doctrines like original sin or the sacraments, but we will have all kinds of angst and social media wars about politics and the National Anthem in society or the color of carpeting or the taste of the communion wine in a church.
In St. Paul’s day, the hot button adiaphora were foods and days – what you ate and what days you kept as feasts. Jews had been following God’s dietary laws handed down to Moses. They had been told to eat “clean” animals like cows, goats, and sheep. They had been commanded to refrain from eating “unclean” animals like camels, mice, and reptiles. Not so bad, right?
With the coming of Jesus, they were now allowed to eat both clean and unclean animals. Jesus had fulfilled all the Old Testament laws, sacrifices, and feasts that had pointed to Him. St. Paul explained to the Colossian Christians: “Therefore do no let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). So, now, if the Jews wanted to have some crab legs or lobster, to have some barbecued pork or nice snake steak, and some chocolate-covered caterpillars for dessert, they were free to do so.
But, this was difficult. Christian Jews found it difficult to eat bacon since they had refrained from it for 1500 years.
Gentiles who had been converted to Christianity had a similar, but different, issue. They found that there was meat being sold in their marketplace that had previously been sacrificed to pagan gods. They, themselves, had left that idol worship and wanted nothing to do with it – not even a taste. So, it bothered them to eat meats that may have been sacrificed to Zeus or Apollos in some of the Roman temples.
Another issue was days of worship. It was difficult for them to change from worshiping the Lord on Saturday, the Lord’s previously commanded Sabbath, to worshiping on Sunday, which the earliest Christians had set aside as a weekly anniversary of Christ’s resurrection.
This is St. Paul’s scriptural advice on how to deal with these customs, feasts, meals, and sensitive consciences: “One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God.” Whatever you eat, whatever day you choose to worship on, it is acceptable. It doesn’t matter to God. Only that you give glory to God through the foods you eat, the attitudes you take, and the days you set aside.
God has given us tremendous freedom to live as His sanctified children. He gives us definite commands for following His will and specific commands about what is out of bounds. But, there is a generous middle in which to live as His children and glorify Him as His saints.
For example, God doesn’t tell us how many children to have. He does tell us to be fruitful and multiply, that children are a blessing from His divine hand, and it is our responsibility to bring them to Jesus. We will let God’s Word direct our freedom in the blessing of children.
God doesn’t tell us how much to give in support of His Kingdom work at Epiphany. But, His Word does teach us that we give in response to the gift of His Son, who gave us everything physically, spiritually, and eternally. We will let God’s Word guide our freedom as we place our financial gifts into the offering plate each week.
God doesn’t tell us what career to choose, but His Word does teach that our abilities come from Him. We will let God’s Word lead our Christian freedom so that whatever job we accept, we support our family and church as we glorify God.
Because we are inherently selfish and sinful people, we usually take something that God has left free and turn it into a rule to measure others. It is so easy for us to look down on others for how many or how few children they have, or how they discipline their children, or what they wear to church, or the home they keep, or how they spend their time or ministry. We are quick to break the 8th Commandment of not putting the best construction on other people’s words and actions.
Then these adiaphora – these middle things – become a source of judgment and division in the body of Christ. … And the devil chuckles with delight.
We are quick to judge people according to our standards – not God’s. That’s why St. Paul later scolds us: “Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:10). We take something that God has left free and turn it into a rule to measure others. Christian brothers and sisters, this should not be.
St. Paul reminds us that our freedom of choice when it comes to adiaphora does not give us absolute freedom to do whatever we want, without regard for anyone or anything. With any decision, we should first decide how our freedom impacts others. “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.”
We are a part of the Body of Christ. We are members of God’s household, priests in Christ’s priesthood, citizens of God’s city, and saints of the heavenly kingdom. We will want to consider how what we say, or do, or decide, in our Christian freedom impacts those around us.
For example, let’s imagine I have two neighbors that have recently been converted to Christianity. The first is a Jewish man. He finds it difficult to eat pork. The second is a recovering alcoholic. He finds it difficult to be around alcohol. If I go out to lunch with them, in my Christian freedom, I’m free to have a beer with my B.L.T. However, out of love for the conscience of my Christian brothers, in my Christian freedom, I’ll have a salad and a lemonade.
We are not living for ourselves. We are living for those around us.
More importantly, we are living for Christ. “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
We speak, and act, and live as those who belong to the Lord. We were born belonging to the devil. He had his bony fingers wrapped around our infant bodies. But the Good Shepherd ripped us out of the devil’s clutches when He laid down His life for His precious lambs. We were born inherently evil and selfish, hating God and separated from Him because of our sin. Jesus Christ paid the ransom price to win us back from the devil. He shed His holy, precious blood on the cruel cross to reconcile us to our heavenly Father. We had rightfully earned a place in hell because of our sinful nature, our evil thoughts, our callous words, and our selfish actions. But, through the perfect life, sacrificial crucifixion, and victorious resurrection, Christ has won us to His home in heaven.
Now we belong to Him. He has placed His cross on our hearts and heads at our Baptism, as a seal that we now belong to Him. He has given us His divine body and blood to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper. This meal is reserved for only those who belong to Him. He offers us free and full forgiveness for our sinful nature, our evil thoughts, our callous words, and our selfish abuse of our Christian freedoms. This is because we belong to Him.
Not even death can separate you from Him. For He is the Lord of both the dead and the living. “Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living.”
Since we belong to Christ in life and in death, why would we insist on things being our way? We want things our Lord’s way. And, if He has not spoken about it, then there must not be just one right way. We live in our Christian freedom by serving Christ, as we serve those around us.
A practical example comes to mind. On a Monday in January, we held a voters meeting to decide whether we would accept the gift of a sanctuary screen or not. In Christian freedom, some voted yes, and others voted no. That Sunday, it happened that we were showing the WELS Connection video after worship. Two of the men who had voted “no,” were the men who had to wheel the cart and TV to the front of the church. As each of them passed by me with the cart in the early and late services, they each separately whispered, “It’ll be nice when we can watch the video on the new screen.”
In Christian freedom, they had voted their conscience. But, when the Body of Christ had voted differently, then they supported their brothers and sisters in Christ.
In Christian freedom, let each of us serve our Lord by serving others. Devoted to His Word, consecrated for His service, sanctified to honor Him in all that we say and do. Then, we will not make the wrong choice or decision. Nor, will we look down upon the godly choices or decisions of others. Because, whether we live or die, together we belong to the Lord. Amen.