Derek Prince - Accept The One Who Is Weak In Faith
This is the third of four sessions in which we are working our way systematically through the last five chapters of Romans, chapters 12–16. In this session we are going to begin at Romans chapter 14. And the first theme that we’ll deal with is religious rules about diets, holidays, etc. Had I been making this presentation ten years ago, it would have been much less relevant than it is today. Today this is a very current issue. Particularly where we have our home in Jerusalem, as more and more Jewish people are coming to believe in Jesus as their Messiah and identify themselves with Him and with His people, This issue of diet and holidays is becoming extremely current. And I would say somewhat controversial. I have been involved in more than one controversy, not necessarily directly—well, directly in one, on this particular issue.
Also I find that even in the church which comes from a non-Jewish background, more and more people are becoming concerned about issues of diet and observance of days. For instance, in the meeting this morning, there were two ladies that came to consult us about observing the Sabbath, Saturday. Not Jewish but they came from a congregation where then pastor was teaching that this was something important that we ought to observe. I merely mention that to show you that this is not something from the remote past or from the early days of the church; it’s an issue which really we’re all going to have to face. And it just shows you how up to date the Bible still is. The real theme of it, I think, is acceptance and harmony. God is more concerned with harmony in the Body of Christ than He is with the exact observance of certain set rules.
So, I’ll begin now by reading the first three verses of Romans chapter 14. Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. I think the key word all through this is accept. Accept one another. Accept the one who is weak in faith, but not to criticize him, not to tear his opinions apart, not to point out to him how incomplete is his understanding. Because, that’s not a truly spiritual attitude. It may prove how clever you are but it doesn’t build the Body of Christ. So the two themes, I believe, which Paul is emphasizing are acceptance and building the Body. And then Paul gives this example, the first example deals with food, the next one that we’ll deal with deals with observing certain days. Verse 2 and following: One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
Now why does he eat vegetables only? Is it because he’s a vegetarian? No. It’s because he wants to eat kosher. You know what the word kosher means? The way that Orthodox Jews prepare and choose and serve their food. It has to be done very exactly, it has to be on a special kind of plate, it has to be prepared in a special way. You mustn’t mix milk with meat or meat products with milk products. If you have consumed milk you have to wait five hours before you can consume meat. And, all sorts of foods are excluded. Part of this is based on the Law of Moses; much more of it is based on subsequent religious tradition. Golda Meir, in her book, My Life and you know that she was born in Russia relates how her father was compelled to serve for years in the Russian army, and never ate anything but raw vegetables because anything else he would have eaten, would not have been kosher.
So, this is not a picture of vegetarianism, although that could be an issue that arises, but the question is Am I to eat kosher? And for most of you, I imagine, that’s not a burning issue. But it’s a very, very current issue in Israel for Jewish believers today. And I’ve spent several hours debating this issue with responsible leaders there. And I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of Paul much more since I did that. Going on then in verse 3: Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. There are two wrong attitudes. First of all, there’s the brother who’s been liberated. I’m not under the law, brother, that’s all to the past. I eat anything I like and you don’t understand. You are still in bondage. That’s the one who regards with contempt the one who does not eat. But it’s not a one way relationship, because the one who does not eat criticizes the one who does eat. He’s not a real Jew any longer. He’s not keeping kosher.
You see, for the Jewish people, one of the burning issues is maintaining Israel as a separate identity. Because when the laws of kosher or kasha root are broken down, and the observance of shabbat or Sabbath, the Jews very quickly mingle and lose their national identity. So it is really an important issue. What we have observed in Israel, if I may say this, is that American Jews or British Jews [Jews from the West], who have become believers in Jesus have often been almost totally assimilated and only suddenly discovered the importance of their Jewish identity when they came to believe in Jesus. And when they get to Israel, they’re pretty concerned to prove they really are Jews. So, they tend to go back to all sorts of rules and regulations which they never observed before they came to Jesus. On the other hand, native born Israelis, sabras as we call them, have no identity problem, they know they’re Jews. And so they’re extremely careless about the observance of these rules.
So, you get two kinds of people just exactly as Paul describes here. This is just one of those examples of how accurately and up to date the word of God is. After 19 centuries, here it is dealing with an issue that we have to confront. And I would like to say just by way of example that there are other similar questions which aren’t necessarily included in this chapter about which the principles apply; which are, it’s more important to maintain harmony than build up the Body of Christ and prove yourself right by the rules you observe. You can prove yourself right and damage the Body of Christ, and damage fellow believers. The same two ladies who came to see us this morning and they made a special trip to ask us these questions; they asked Ruth, Why do you have your head covered? Do you believe that’s scriptural?
And I answered on behalf of Ruth, being her head, I said, Personally, we believe that Paul meant what he said exactly in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered, dishonors her head. But we say there are lots of serious committed Christians who don’t understand it that way. So, we do what we believe and we leave others free to do what they believe. There’s no disharmony. We can harmonize completely with people who have a different understanding of that particular question. In fact, before Ruth married me she was, for a while, attending a church in the United States where the pastor was against head coverings. He was not merely neutral but he didn’t want women to cover their heads. And I understand that because I come from the same background of Pentecostal background. And I can remember the dreary days when every woman had to wear a hat or she couldn’t even be accepted as a Christian. Perhaps some of you don’t remember those days.
I remember my first wife and I were going to a convention, a Pentecostal convention in the center of London. We didn’t know exactly where it was being held so we were walking through the streets and as we walked I noticed more and more women wearing strange hats. And I said to Lydia, We must be getting near the place! So, I mean, I’ve been through all this and I understand the attitudes for and against. But our principle is we don’t make an issue of it. Let us do what we believe and you do what you believe and we can fellowship with perfect harmony in the Body of Christ. And so, all through this discussion remember harmony is the goal.
So then Paul goes on verse 4: Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. So the real sin is not eating or not eating or observing or not observing the Sabbath. The real sin is criticizing your fellow believers. And that’s something that people are very prone to do who are particularly exercised about these issues. So now we go on in verses 5 and 6 to the next question which is observing certain days. And the particular day that is perhaps the most controversial is the day I call the Sabbath or Saturday. But bear in mind that it isn’t Saturday because the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening at sunset and ends on Saturday evening at sunset. So we’re not talking about just Saturday, it’s a different concept of measuring the days of the week. It goes back to creation where it was the evening and the morning that was day one. God’s day doesn’t begin with dawn, it begins with sunset.
That’s a remarkable thing; we won’t go into that because if we get into it we might not get out of it. But now we’re dealing with observing certain days, and particularly observing the Sabbath. Verses 5 and 6: One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. And I think it implies and stop trying to convince other people. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who does not eat, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. Each one is doing what he believes right in the sight of the Lord. And again, this is a very burning issue because Orthodox Jews do not travel on the Sabbath. They don’t use their cars. And there are no public bus services in Jerusalem on the Sabbath.
So if you want to get somewhere on the Sabbath, you’re in a difficult situation. But lots of non-Orthodox Jews who are the majority, keep and use their cars on the Sabbath. But if you live next to Orthodox Jews and you own a car, you need to be tactful. Ruth and I own a car and we use our car. We are very careful not to deliberately flaunt its use before the Orthodox on the Sabbath. Not because we feel under any constraint, but because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. We don’t want to offend them about a non decisive issue, something that is a matter for each person to decide for themselves. However, it’s necessary to look at other passages, particularly Colossians chapter 2. Colossians the 2nd chapter verses 13 - 16 which deal really with what was accomplished by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
Colossians 2 verses 13 - 16: And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he [God] made you alive together with him [Jesus], having forgiven you or us all our transgressions. Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, and which was hostile to us, and he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities or the principalities and powers, he made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through him or through it, the cross. What Paul is teaching there is that Jesus by his death on the cross took away from Satan every weapon that he could use against us. And his primary weapon is what? In one simple word, guilt, that’s right. As long as he can make us feel guilty, he has us where he wants us. But by his death on the cross Jesus made provision for us to be set free from guilt. And he did it in two directions: toward the past and toward the future. He made provision for all our past sinful acts to be forgiven.
Do you believe that? Do you believe that all your past sins have been forgiven because of what Jesus did on the cross. Al right. so the past is provided for. But in order to provide for the future, Jesus had to set aside the law of Moses as the requirement for achieving righteousness with God, the certificate of debt consisting in decrees. And He nailed that to His cross. So once you come to the cross and pass the cross in faith, the law is finished. It has no more claims over you, you are not more subject to the law. Through the death of Jesus you have been delivered from the demands of the law. You see, the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives. But when the law has put you to death, that’s the last thing it can do to you. And we in Jesus were put to death and have come back to life beyond the cross free from the demands of the law.
And so, Paul goes on, and this is a very important verse, Colossians 2:16: Therefore, let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect of a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day. Paul doesn’t say don’t observe them, but he says don’t let anybody judge you about whether you observe them or not. Because, we have been set free from the requirements of the law. So again, the warning is against what? Judging. Also, against being judged. I have some friends, I’ve had in the past Seventh Day Adventists. I don’t quarrel with them about the observance of Saturday, but I say, I’m not going to let you judge me. Because if I were to let you judge me I’d be disobeying the New Testament because the New Testament says, Don’t let anybody judge you in respect of the sabbath. Do See that?
So it’s a very delicate thing. Don’t judge others, don’t let anybody judge you; everybody’s got to decide for himself how he understands God’s will in his life. Going back now to Romans chapter 14, we go on at verse 7: For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or 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. So what Paul is saying is what matters is our personal relationship with the Lord. And once we belong to the Lord, He’s never going to leave us, we are His for time and for eternity; whether we live, we’re living for the Lord; and whether we die, we are dying for the Lord. The Lord is the one to whom we are finally responsible. God has been dealing with Ruth about her relationship with me. I’m very personal about these things.
Sometimes I have to get Ruth’s permission beforehand but this time I didn’t. I’m going to say it anyhow! Ruth and I have been through a time of severe testing for nearly three years now, for which we praise God. You remember what James said, if you fall into testing, rejoice. Don’t complain, rejoice. But one of the things the Lord has been showing Ruth, because she is a wonderful wife to me, totally committed, trying to do everything she can to support me and uphold my ministry and make it more effective. But the Lord has shown her that her relationship with Him comes first, not her relationship with me. And that’s true of every one of us. You may have a wonderful marriage partner but your first relationship is with the Lord. And there’s a time coming when all the other relationships will drop off, when you pass out of time into eternity. But the one relationship that will not change is the relationship with Jesus. And we need to live our lives now in the light of that awareness.
The one thing that’s ultimately decisive in time and eternity is my personal relationship with Jesus. When I go through the gates of time and into eternity, there’s only one person who will go with me. I remember a dear saint of God, a lady brigadier in the Salvation Army, a tongue speaking brigadier which was rare in those days. I mean, this is forty years ago. I never knew her husband. She described how her husband had died. That’s why she became a brigadier, because a widow automatically takes her husband’s rank in the Salvation Army. And she said to her husband as she was by his deathbed. I think she was much the stronger Christian of the two, she said, This is the place where I can’t go with you. You’ve got to go on your own. And I think Paul is really kindly reminding us we better be aware of that fact.
Thank God for wonderful relationships in the Body of Christ with other believers. I thank God for the relationship that I enjoyed for thirty years with my first wife. But there came a time when I had to say good-bye and she passed out of time into eternity. I was no longer her shepherd. There was only one shepherd that could go all the way with her. And her favorite phrase for Jesus always was The shepherd and bishop of my soul. And that’s what He was. And that’s what He has to be for each one of us. So, going on now further in Romans 14, we come to a very, very important issue which is a warning against judging our fellow believers. And I don’t believe it was more needed in those days than it is today. And I think many Christians suffer all sorts of problems in their lives because they sin by judging their fellow believers. There’s only one judge and that’s God.
Consider for a moment before we look at this passage, you’re sitting in a law court. You’re part of the people attending. And up on the raised dais is the judge’s seat, but it’s vacant because the judge hasn’t yet walked in. What would happen to you if you got out of your place, walked up on that platform and sat in the judge’s chair? How long would you be allowed to stay there? You’d be thrown out. And that’s just taking the place of a human judge. How dare we take the place of God and occupy His chair! What condemnation we bring on ourselves when we judge our fellow believers.
Now, there are certain areas in which we have to exercise judgment. A father has to exercise judgment in respect to his family. A pastor has to exercise judgment in respect to his congregation. Let me give you this simple principle: where you have responsibility, you have authority to judge. But if you’re not responsible, don’t judge. You’re not responsible for your fellow believer’s life, for his family—don’t judge him. Now let’s read what Paul says . verse 10: But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? It’s the same two issues. Why do you who observe the law judge your brother who doesn’t? And you who claim to be so free, why do you treat with contempt your brother who still regards some rules of the law? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. The word translated judgment seat there in Greek is 'bema'.
And we have to bear in mind that there are two judgment seats, two main judgment seats. The one before the 'bema' and the one before the great white throne. The great white throne judgment is still quite a long way off. That’s the judgment of all the finally resurrected dead. But the 'bema' judgment is the judgment in which Christ judges His people. And it’s very important to remember there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is not a judgment to determine whether you are saved or lost, but this is the judgment to assess your service for Jesus in this life. There every Christian is going to have to stand directly and personally before the Lord Jesus and answer for everything we’ve done.
Paul says if you realize that, you’d be so busy preparing yourself you wouldn’t have time to judge other people. The people who are judging others are almost certainly not preparing themselves for the judgment seat of Jesus. And then Paul quotes from Isaiah: For it is written, As I live, says the lord, every knee shall bow before me. When we come to that 'bema' judgment, we’re going to kneel before Jesus. And every tongue shall give praise [is a misleading translation], shall confess to God. And as I said, I checked on that Greek word, it means to confess out of the bottom of your heart. I can’t explain how I arrived at that meaning but It means you’ve got to confess everything. There’s nothing that’s going to be held back. There’ll be no secrets, there’ll be no covered up corners of your life.
The whole truth is going to come out before Jesus. And I suppose He may ask each one of us some pretty pertinent questions. Why did you criticize that preacher? Why did you take communion with that lady and then go out immediately to start criticizing her to your own family? Do you know one of the reasons why believers have unbelieving children? They spend so much time at home criticizing other believers. And the children listen and think... Well, if that’s what Christians are, why should I be one? A very good principle is never talk against the members of the Body of Christ in front of your children. If you want your children to respect God and His people, you better do it in front of them.
And so Paul sums it up: So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. For whom am I going to give account? I’m not going to give account for Ruth or for Jay Fesperman or for Jim Jackson. They’ll be busy doing for themselves. I’ve just got one person to give account for, me. Let’s look for a moment at a parallel passage in 2 Corinthians 5 verses 9 and 10. 2 Corinthians 5: 9 and 10. This is Paul speaking about the motivation of his life and ministry. Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to him. To whom? To Jesus, that’s right. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
That’s an appointment none of us is going to miss. You may miss a lot of appointments and turn up late for a lot of situations, but you’re going to be there on time for this appointment. We must all appear before the judgment seat [bema] of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for the deeds done in the body We’re going to have to answer for everything we’ve done in this life. according to what he has done, whether good or bad. And there are only two categories: good or bad. There’s nothing neutral, there’s nothing that’s neither good or bad. Everything that’s done for the glory of God and according to the will of God and the word of God is good. And everything else is not good.
You see, the devil always wants to persuade us there’s some kind of spiritual neutrality, and we’re in a gray zone. It’s not black but it isn’t white. That’s a lie. Jesus said very plainly, he that is not with me is where? Against me. He that does not gather with me is scattering. There are only two kinds of activity in this life as a believer. You’re either gathering, you’re doing the positive; or you’re scattering, you’re wasting. Wasting what? Your time. What about all the hours you’ve sat in front of the silly television set, when you could have been praying or reading your Bible or fellowshipping with believers or edifying your own family. How are you going to answer to God for all that? I don’t want to bring you under condemnation because I believe if we truly repent and confess and ask forgiveness, we don’t have to answer for those things.
We had a move of God in our local church in l986 for about six weeks. We spent most of the early hours of every day on our faces in the church before the Lord. And I think there was nothing about which the Holy Spirit was more convicting than the idol of television in the home and the hours spent worshiping that idol. I heard person after person, often with sobbing, ask God for forgiveness for the time wasted in front of the television. I’m not saying all television is bad. If you look hard enough you’ll find something that’s good. But you have to look. I mean, there are purposes for which it is very right to watch television. But remember, from now on you’re going to have to answer to Jesus for every hour you spend in front of the television set. A strange silence descends!