In 1985 I lived in a small town in Puerto Rico. There was tension brewing in our little Seventh-day Adventist church. It seems that one group of brothers and sisters in the church were highly critical of the other members of the same church. Although the areas of disagreement were many (dress, TV and movie watching, etc.), the main issue was meat eating. The vegetarian group told the meat eating group they would not go to heaven if they continued to eat meat. For this, the vegetarian group armed themselves with quotes from Ellen White’s writings. The meat eating group countered, “Show me from the Bible.”
The fight came to a head when the vegetarian elder used the eleven o’clock hour to criticize others and uplift himself. During the sermon, he mentioned that the church should not watch certain kinds of movies. Then, later that same evening, the elder along with other members watched an a movie of the kind he had preached against, and boasted to others how much they enjoyed it. It seems that this hypocrisy totally escaped the elder’s notice.
The Pastor could no longer stand the division, so he brought a well respected conference official to deal with the issue. To make his point, the official concluded with a very colorful metaphor: “Many vegetarians will not go to heaven because their tongue is too big, so much so that they will need two caskets: one for themselves, and another for their tongue” (compare James 3:5-8; 4:11).
In 2009, in a small suburb of Chicago, Illinois, in a small church with less than 20 members, a young man started to defend the wearing of wedding bands. Many of the church members tried reasoning with him by stating that wedding bands are jewelry. Of course, the usual arguments ensued. Since the young man could not win the argument, he brought his “expert” to contend with the church members. The two young men tried to defend wearing jewelry the entire afternoon. Most of congregation could not believe that as late as 2009 this was still a debatable issue.
In the year 2010, we are dealing with the same old issues that Paul wrote about in Romans 12 through 16. In fact, we have even added a few since, while the same old excuses continue. The argument on one side goes like this: “The Bible does not talk about that;” “I do not see anything wrong with that;” “You are too rigid and judgmental;” “Other churches are doing it;” etc. Those on the “other” side say things like: “Ellen White says…;” “We have never done it that way before;” “This is not what Adventism is about;” “Not in our church!” etc. One group creates a list of things to do and things not to do. The other group rebels against the lists.
As we study chapters 12 through 16 of Romans, we realize that Paul was dealing with situations that are very similar to ours. This should come as no surprise; we are talking about people with sinful human natures. People were self-willed then and are still self-willed today. The only cure for self-will is the Gospel. Paul saw and experienced the self-emptying nature of Christ’s love which changed his life forever. The Holy Spirit came to dwell in Paul, and transformed him from a Gentile hater and Christian persecutor into a man willing to give up eternity if, by his sacrifice, others would be saved. Thus Paul became like Christ, identifying himself with those he sought to save. To Paul, life was no longer about what he wanted. Life was about what God willed.
In Philippians 2:5 – 9 Paul said to his beloved church members, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: In other words, “Submit yourselves to Christ for the sake of others as He submitted to His Father for our sake.” In this light, it should come as no surprise that Paul asks the mature brethren to be compassionate and understanding towards the weak brethren whom he saw as “babes in Christ. He tells them in Romans 15:1-3, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, the reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.”
Paul expects more from those who have received more. And, he knew that the babes in Christ needed nurturing; something only a mature Christian could give them. Paul knew what he was talking about; he was a babe in Christ once.
I believe the biggest problem we have in Christianity is the lack of mature Christians. Church members are not likely to be criminals, i.e. murderers or thieves, but they can have the coldest of hearts. The church needs people who, like Paul, allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in them and transform their minds and hearts and actions into the likeness of Christ. People who feel the pain when others hurt. People who will encourage and pray for those who do not see everything just as they do instead of condemning and rejecting these struggling souls. This living demonstration of Agape will not only change our churches, it will also hasten Christ’s return.
In closing this quarter’s lessons, we do well to consider the following excerpt written by E. J. Waggoner and found in Prophetic Lights, page 133.
The apostle James says: "Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned; behold, the Judge standeth before the door." James 5:9. What a picture! We are all here expecting the Judge soon to come to decide our eternal destiny. The position we occupy when he comes will determine our fate. If we are humbly working, he will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." If we are striving with one another, instead of against sin, he will say, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Even now he is at the door; his foot is upon the threshold, and his hand is upon the latch. Who, realizing this, can harbor resentment in his heart? Suppose the Judge should open the door, and find us in the act of smiting our fellow-servants! Surely this thought is enough to cause us to "live soberly, righteously, and godly."
Time now is closing, yet "the whole world lieth in wickedness." The mass of mankind in all ages have rejected the mercy of God, and so it will be now. But "though the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved." Some out of every kindred and people and nation will wash their robes, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. For such, mansions are preparing, into which "an abundant entrance" will be ministered when the King comes to claim his own. Of such he will not be ashamed; and in the midst of the great congregation he will call them brethren. Poor and despised they may be now, but then they will be exalted to a place at God's right hand. Glorious thought! "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly;" and as we contemplate the glorious rest and peace that he will bring, our longing hearts respond, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."