Robert Jeffress - The Cure For The 'I' Problem
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". America is widely known for our rugged individualism and sometimes to our detriment. Aggressive ambition is applauded. We're encouraged to push our way to the front of the line even at the expense of others. Well, today we're going to expose the problems that arise when selfishness enters the family of God. My message is titled "The Cure for the 'I' Problem" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Some years ago I was flying to Albuquerque, New Mexico to preach for the New Mexico Evangelism Conference. And on our final approach into the Albuquerque Airport, we were just about to land when suddenly I heard the engines roar to life, the plane started sharply ascending again and sharply banking to the left, we obviously were aborting our landing. And as I looked out the airplane window, I saw the reason why. Sitting on the edge of the runway we were trying to land on was a single-engine prop plane that looked no bigger than a windup toy from the passenger window, and the captain of our airliner came on the intercom to explain what happened. He said, "We're aborting the takeoff because this plane was on the end of our runway and when the control tower told him to move, he refused to do so".
Now, the captain of our airliner could have said to the control tower, I don't care what he says, "It's our turn to land and we're going to land". Or he could have said, "You know what? My jetliner is a lot bigger than his puddle jumper I bet we can take him". Or he could have said, "You know what? We have 159 passengers on this airplane who have schedules to meet and should be our priority instead of a single passenger on that plane's priority to land". But had our captain clung to his rights to land, the result would've been a collision and a disaster.
I want you to think for just a moment about the most recent conflict you had with another person. And I bet at the heart of that conflict was a question of rights, your rights or the other person's right. At the heart of the conflict was a right you felt like was being violated by another person. It might be your right to be treated fairly by your employer. It might be your right to have your needs met by your mate. It might be your right you feel to have your friend show the proper amount of concern for your problem. Whenever we feel like our rights are in conflict with other people's rights, there's always a collision and a disaster.
James said the same thing in James 4:1, he said, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you"? What is at the root of disagreements? "Is not the source your pleasures," that is your desires, "That wage war in your members". Whenever you have two people holding onto their rights refusing to yield to the other person, the result is always gonna be a disaster. Whether it's on an airport runway, in a home, in a business, or in the church. What is the cure to solving those kind of conflicts that drain the joy out of our relationships? The cure for those kind of conflicts is found in the passage we're going to look at today. If you have your Bibles turn to Romans chapter 15, as we discover the cure for what I call the "I" problems. The final 13 verses of Romans 15 marked the end of the major portion of Romans.
Now, there's still an epilogue that we're gonna look at over the next few weeks with some very practical words for us, but this is the end of the major portion of the book of Romans. We have scaled the theological mountaintops when you think about all of the deep things we've looked at, the universal guilt of all mankind, the blood sacrifice of Jesus to be our propitiation satisfaction for our sins, the mystery of predestination and election. All of these things we've talked about in the book of Romans and yet the final section of Romans two chapters verse... chapters 14 and 15, deal with a very seemingly mundane topic. How to get along with Christians with whom you disagree.
Why would Paul devote two chapters to that subject? Or very simply it's because the church, the body of Christ is the visible representation of Jesus in the world. You know, the world can't see Jesus Christ, he's up in heaven. All they can see of Jesus is his body. That is the church, that is you and I. And what the world thinks of Jesus is determined by how the world views the church. We the church, are responsible for people's attitude about Jesus. That's why Paul spends so long talking about this subject in the book of Romans, the reputation of God himself is at stake. So what does Paul do in Romans 14 and 15? First of all, he addresses those who are weak in the faith. He said, "Okay, if you think you need to abstain from this food, this drink, if you need to participate in the Sabbath rituals, fine, but don't make your conviction somebody else's obligation".
If you want to do that, fine, don't put that on somebody else. But the majority of this section, he talks to those who are strong in their faith, people who have freedom in Christ from these restrictions. He says don't use your freedom to tear somebody else down. If your freedom causes somebody else to violate their conscience and do something God tells them not to do, you've torn up a brother in Christ. You have hurt that brother for whom Christ died. You need to limit your freedom for the well-being of others. He says that at the beginning of the section in Romans 14:1, "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions". And he closes his discussion with the same command.
Look at the command we find in Romans 15, verses 1 and 2. "Now we who are strong," that is those of us who have knowledge that we are free to do these things that aren't prohibited in Scripture. "Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses, the limitations of those without strength and not just please ourselves". If you have somebody in the church with whom you disagree, somebody who thinks they're under these restrictions, you don't just tolerate them, you actually bear the weaknesses. That word bear is the Greek word Bastazo, it literally means to carry the load of another person. That is you put yourself under the load of that other person's limited freedom. You limit your own freedom for the sake of their wellbeing, instead of living to please yourself. And he goes on to say, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification".
Instead of just thinking about yourself, think about the well-being of your neighbor for his edification. Remember that word edification, Oikodomeo means the building up of something. We find that word in Romans 14:19. "So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up," the edification, the Oikodomeo "Of one another". God is in the building business. God is building individual Christians into stronger Christians. That's what he's doing in your life and other Christians's lives. But he's also building up a church, adding to the church to make it a more magnificent witness for him. And any time you disregard the well-being of another Christian, you say, "You know what? It's my way or the highway". You're tearing down that other Christian, but you're also tearing down the church of Jesus Christ.
We limit our freedom for the wellbeing, not only of other Christians but also for the wellbeing of the church as well. Paul says there are times we limit our liberty for the sake of others and then he gives an illustration of that. What better illustration of limiting our liberty for the sake of other people than the illustration of Jesus himself? And in verses 3 to 12 of Romans 15, we have basically what is one long illustration of what it means to not please yourself but to live for another person, to look out for other people. He said in this matter of not living for yourself but living to serve other people, consider three aspects of Jesus's life and imitate them as well. What are those three aspects that we are to consider and imitate?
First of all, Christ's example of humility. When you think about limiting your liberty, if you say that's too hard to do, think about what Jesus did. Look at verse 3 of Romans 15, "For even Christ did not please himself". I want you to stop there for just a moment. Think about that. Christ did not please himself. I picked up a magazine recently, it was called "Celebrated Living". And in that magazine, "Celebrated Living," there are kind of articles; the five best hotels in the world, the eight finest golf courses in the world, the ten best restaurants in the world. You know, the title of that magazine could have just as easily been how to please yourself. That was the theme of the magazine. You deserve the very best in life.
Isn't that the theme of our culture? You're only on this planet for a short time and as the old TV commercial said you better grab all the gusto you can get. And that's what the whole focus of this world is, how to satisfy yourself, your job, your family life. Even your acts of charity and benevolence, the end goal is to please yourself, to maximize your satisfaction. And yet what did Jesus do? Did Jesus live to please himself? No, he lived to please God.
You know a great illustration of that is in Philippians chapter 2, verses 4 through 8, Paul wrote, "Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others. Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God," he was equal with God. "He didn't regard his equality with God a thing to be grasped or held onto, but instead he emptied himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross".
Jesus was under no obligation to leave heaven. I want you to think about this. Had Jesus's goal in life been that of most Christians today? Peace, prosperity, pleasure, the avoidance of pain. Had Jesus made those his goals in life, he would've remained in heaven and you and I would've remained in our trespasses and sin. But because Jesus didn't live to please himself, instead he wanted to please God and he wanted to put our needs above his own needs, he willingly gave up his position in heaven and came to earth to die for our sins. He's saying, when you think of what Christ has done for you, enduring the abuse of his enemies, the estrangement from his family, the agony of the cross, when you think of all Christ's sacrifice for you, is it really that hard to say no to that piece of meat or that glass of wine? Should it be that difficult to say no to those things? To limit my liberty for the well-being of somebody for whom Christ died?
That's his point here. Consider the example of Christ's humility. Secondly, Paul says, consider Christ's desire for unity. When you think about the subject of trying to serve others instead of yourself, think about Christ's desire for unity. Verses 5 and 6, "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ". You know, an interesting study sometime is to look at how Jesus spent the last 24 hours of his earthly life. Part of the time he spent with his friends, people he had poured his life into, but a large portion of that time, especially the evening he spent in prayer on his knees in the garden of Gethsemane.
Did you know during that time he actually prayed for you and for me during his time in the garden? Look at John 17, verse 20. John 17 is Jesus's prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. It's the true Lord's prayer, not the model prayer, "Our Father who art in heaven". Here's the real prayer by our Lord in John 17. And as he prayed in John 17:20, he said, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone". He was talking about his apostles who are over hear asleep while he was praying. He said, "I'm not just praying for these but also for those who believe in me through their word".
That's where he was praying for us. Those in the years to come, who will come to believe in me because of the word, the writings, the testimony of the apostle. And what is it Jesus was praying for all of us. Here it is in verses 21 and 22, "I pray that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us; that the world may believe that thou didst send me. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given to them that they may be one, just as we are one". He was praying for the unity of believers. See, the greatest testimony that this Christian stuff is real, is the ability of people from all backgrounds, racially, economically, nationally, the ability we all have to love one another, to care for one another, to work together to build up the body of Christ.
Jesus said, "That is the way the world is going to know that I'm truly your son if these believers operate as one". That's why he was praying for unity. Now, what does Jesus mean by unity? This is important to understand. In the Bible, there are two aspects of unity. First of all, there's a unity of the faith. The word faith in the Bible doesn't just mean believe or trust. The word faith is a noun means a body of doctrine, a body of truth. For example, in Ephesians 4:5, Paul says, "There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism". That is there is one body of doctrinal truth. In Jude verse 3, Jude says, "We are to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints". That body of doctrine God delivered to the saints.
Now look, we can have disagreements about eschatology or Calvinism or 1000 different things including the length of the candles we ought to use in worship. That's fine to argue about those things, but there's some things we have to be unified on. The deity of Jesus Christ, his blood atonement for our sins, the inspiration of God's Word, the bodily return of Jesus Christ. Those things require unity or you'll have calamity. He's saying, "I'm praying that they may be one". He's talking about a unity of faith, but secondly, he's talking about the unity of the spirit.
In Ephesians 4:3, he says, "Being diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace". He doesn't say create the unity of the spirit, he says preserve it. There's a unity that already exists. Paul says you need to be diligent to preserve that unity. It's a unity that means we love one another, we're devoted to one another, we pray for one another. We bear for one another's burdens, we fight for one another. That's the unity Jesus was praying for that they may be one, not just in doctrine but in spirit.
Many of you have read C.S. Lewis's work, "The Screw Tape Letters". In that book, the Satan character is writing a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, who is an apprentice demon instructing him on how to defeat the Christian faith. And in one of those letters he writes to his nephew, "The church is a fertile field if you just keep them bickering over details, structure, organization, money, property, personal hurts, and misunderstandings. One thing you must prevent, don't let them look up and see the banners flying; for if they ever see the banners flying, then you have lost them forever".
In spite of our differences, we are one family and we are one army fighting under one banner, the banner of Jesus Christ, and we are to never, never forget that. When we deal with the subject of limiting our rights for the well-being of other people. Paul says consider the example of Christ's humility, what he endured for our benefit. Consider God's desire for unity as he expressed in John 17, and thirdly, consider Christ's acceptance of diversity. God doesn't demand we all be alike, he accepts diversity.
Romans 15:7, "Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God". He said the same thing in Romans 14:1, except the other person who doesn't agree with you. God accepts him just as he accepts you, we ought to accept the other person. Why do we do that? Look at verses 8, 9 in Romans 15, because God loves diversity. He said, "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision that is the Jews on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for his mercy". And what Paul is saying here is look at what Christ did. When he came, he died for the Jews, he also died for the Gentiles. If Jesus accepts and celebrates that kind of diversity in the body of Christ, why shouldn't we?
Look, God loves unity, but he doesn't desire uniformity. He doesn't demand that we all be alike, but he does want us to be unified. When we consider this call to limit our limity, Paul says consider the example of Christ's humility. Consider his desire for unity. Consider his acceptance of diversity. And then Paul closes in verse 13, with this benediction. "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you might abound in hope by the power of a Holy Spirit". You know, it's interesting that this benediction starts with the word "God". Now may God.
If there is anything we've seen in our study of the book of Romans, it's been this. This universe was created by God. This world is sustained by God and it's all for the glory of God. That's the purpose of everything that's happened. It's happening for the glory of God and what's true of the universe in particular is true in your life specifically. You exist because God created you. God created you. God by his sovereign choice saved you. God right now is sustaining you and he's doing it for one reason, for his glory. I have a friend who was asked one time, what's God been teaching you? My friend said, "God's been teaching me". It's not about me, it's not about here, it's not about now. It's not about me. My life is not about me, it's about God. That realization is the best cure I know of for the "I" problem.