When I was touring Mount Vernon last month, I was struck deeply by this statement.
It seems so totally foreign to the ears of Western culture today.
We laugh at our sitcoms filled with people we wouldn’t really want as our friends. Celebrities seem to be having contests of who can do the most disgusting publicity stunts. Revolving door rehab seems par for the course for those we idolize and monetize.
What’s missing? What’s happened? I kept asking myself as I took in the exhibits on our first President. I mean, he wasn’t a saint, he made mistakes and did things that I would disagree with and take exception with, but even a cursory glance reveals a man whose greatness stemmed from his character. How many men can you name in a place of national prominence today that could make that statement of Washington’s with firmness and conviction and actually be taken seriously by the public at large? Think about it. I can’t think of five men.
I’m not sure how we got here, and I don’t know how to get back. I just know I am saddened by it. I think God is too.
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33)
I’ve read this passage dozens of times, and I guess like most my attention focuses on Christ’s first sentence, about hating family. But what about the context? Why did Jesus say these words? “Great crowds” were following Him, wanting to learn of Him, associate with Him, maybe get some free food or a healing thrown in. In other words, they were all wanting something from Jesus.
But, as He so often did, Jesus turned their expectations upside down. He starts giving them word pictures of what they will have to give up, not receive, if they are to follow Him, to be His disciple. Look at His word picture of building a tower: He is saying that a man who hasn’t already decided at the start that he has enough is a fool to even begin building. He is asking us to count the cost, to sit down and figure out exactly how much it is going to take to be a disciple of Jesus.
How much does it take? Christ makes the conclusion blunt in verse 33: to renounce ALL that he has. How much will it cost to build that tower? Most of what you have? Quite a bit of your time, money, relationships, and dreams? A substantial part of your future?
ALL of it.
Jesus is telling us, “You CANNOT be my disciple if you give up half of your money. You CANNOT be my disciple if you are willing to walk away from all but one of your dreams. You CANNOT be my disciple if you are willing to give 98% of your time to me.”
The cost of building the tower is ALL. All that you have, you must walk away from. Nothing can be held back, or the tower won’t be built. Don’t even bother to try unless you are willing to pay the cost with all of your life.
Are you willing?
Actress Uma Thurman, speaking on being a single Mom to Parade magazine July 2006:
The stay-at-home mom is over not just because of women’s liberation but because of men’s liberation from wanting to be the breadwinners.
I think the consequences of “men’s liberation” are just as dramatic and pervasive in this culture as of “women’s liberation.”
We have men by either active decision or by passive indecision setting a lifestyle requiring more income than their paycheck, or even worse being so lazy as not to be able to hold down a honest job and de facto forcing their wives to work.
We have men not taking active leadership in their home, leaving their wives to try and fill the gap. We have men not working and leading in their churches and the schooling of their children. We have men who want to be liberated from any form of marital, fatherly or other masculine responsibility through figuratively or literally walking away from wives, children, job, or any situation, difficulty, or relationship that doesn’t suit them.
For all these men I have a few choice words:
Husbands, love your wives… as your own bodies, nourishing and cherishing (Ephesians 5)
But if any man does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5)
Be men of courage, be strong. ( 1 Cor 16:13)
In the novel Brave New World, the protagonist John ”the savage” is attracted to a young woman of “civilized” 26th century London. He confesses his attraction to her, and she immediately offers herself sexually to him.
Then something happens which she finds inexplicable: John tells her that he is not worthy to take her as his own. He explains that in his culture he would need to do some mighty deed to prove that he was a man and worthy to possess her beauty. She, with a worldview framed by a culture of casual sex without any type of enduring relationships, cannot even understand what he is talking about. The notion that women should be treated with a sacred honor is unfathomable to her.
Do we have a “Brave New World” today? In a culture where men can divorce their wives at the drop of a hat, where they can “hook up” on weekends with no expectation of responsibility or commitment, where they can show contempt and disdain for the sacredness of a woman’s body by the millions via the internet?
Where are the men who are so awed by Eve, by the pinnacle of God’s creation, that they would not dare possess her beauty until they were proven worthy? Who hold her in such honor that they would never profane her body outside marriage?
I remember a men’s Bible study years ago where a newlywed gushed, “I just feel incredibly honored that my wife would give her beautiful body to me.” How many broken hearts and lives would be saved if men would recover such a sense of honor toward women, a deep, unshakeable soul conviction of profound respect and honor toward all daughters of Eve.
This film documentary could be titled “Extreme Extreme Famiily Makeover.”
It shares a basic premise with all of the “reality TV” shows— fairly typical American dysfunctional family gets thrown into lifestyle and situation totally foreign to them.
But then the REALLY extreme happens— God shows up.
Not in a fire or earthquake, but in a still small voice.
In plowing a field together. In sharing meals and reading stories.
In playing in fields and ponds. In conversation at a country store.
In living a radically different life, not for money or a new house or to be ogled at by millions of people, but to walk with God.
Six years before this film was made, Tommy Waller left his suburban job and suburban house and suburban income and suburban lifestyle and took his family to a house without electricity in a remote Tennessee Amish community.
The results? A Journey Home– a journey to a true home, to a place and a lifestyle that became a lot closer to God’s original intent for a home and a family than many of us in Western culture today experience and live.
Is this video telling you to sell your house and give up electricity and have 11 kids?
No, and neither is God.
Am I going to sell my house and buy a horse and plow?
No, God isn’t telling me that either.
But am I willing to listen to God, to the still small voice that is so hard to hear in the midst of this awful din of Western culture, to carve out whatever time and space, whatever lifestyle that would help me best walk with God and glorify Him, no matter how counter cultural or difficult?
I think that’s the question this video is asking, and the question that God is asking me too.
Interested? This award winning documentary is available for purchase here.
- Drink wine socially?
- Smoke a fine cigar?
- Wear my hair long or short (depending on my gender, that is)?
- Sport a tattoo?
- See that really good war movie that happens to be rated R?
- Have a television in my house?
- Send my kids to public school, private school, or homeschool?
- Listen to music that isn’t “Christian” (however you define that term)?
- Vote Democrat or Republican?
- Tithe on net income, gross income, or not at al?
- Use this or that version of the Bible?
- And the BIG ONE for tonight—Is it wrong to stay home from church to watch the SuperBowl?
As the above list illustrates, all of us live with a set of personal convictions—our views of what is right and wrong, what we feel is pleasing to God or not, what we are comfortable or uncomfortable in doing. Some issues are very crucial, like it is wrong to murder. Others are not quite as crucial, like there’s just something not right about cheering for the Yankees. Some things are based solidly on Scripture, some are based partially on Scripture, and some are just a personal thing between God and the person.
If you start a list, every person could probably come up with hundreds of items that together form what they feel is right and wrong, a blueprint of how they walk with God according to their conscience. Here’s the rub: every single person on this planet has a different list. If we asked enough questions, we would find differences in everyone’s personal convictions.
The question then becomes, what is the proper place of personal convictions in the Christian walk and in the church? And how do we handle interacting with our brothers and sisters in Christ who have differing personal convictions—which actually means everybody, since everybody has differing personal convictions? Those are the questions that Paul answers in Romans 14.
First, let’s deal with two things that Paul is NOT talking about, because this passage has often been misused. Paul is NOT talking about doctrinal issues. Paul throughout his writings takes a strong stand against anything he sees as inaccurate doctrine. This “as long as they believe in Jesus that’s all that matters” stuff would have repelled Paul as much as it repels me—truth matters, and people who do not know the truth are making a fatal, eternal error. Now many of these areas of personal conviction get a “correct doctrine” or “that’s what the Bible says” label in order to give ammunition to the argument, but by doctrine I mean the truth about the nature of God and the nature of salvation, which has nothing to do with any particular lifestyle conviction unless God has specifically spelled it out in Scripture, like murder, lying, sexual sin, or the like.
The second thing that Paul is NOT talking about is any type of agreed upon standards for those in spiritual authority. If a pastor has a conviction that he should not drink alcoholic beverages because of his position, or if a elder board decides that all in positions of leadership should tithe, Romans 14 has bearing on their decisions but does not specifically speak to them, because this chapter is speaking to all members of the body as a whole, and does not specifically forbid or endorse holding leaders to a “higher moral standard.”
That said, let’s get into the meat of this important teaching:
In verse 1 Paul lays straight into the problem that the Roman church was having: they were welcoming people of differing personal convictions into their church fellowship, but then “laying into” them about their convictions. “We welcome you with open arms, but now that you’re here, here’s the list of things you have to get straight!” Have you ever been in a group of believers that ever either gave you that feeling or actually handed you a list? Have you ever heard a sermon where the pastor “worked in” a little aside about some moral standard you should or shouldn’t hold? Paul sharply renounces this behavior then spends the rest of the chapter explaining why it is wrong in the whole context of dealing with personal convictions and the Kingdom of God.
First, Paul gives two examples of hotly contested personal convictions that were particular problems in the church at that time. He mentions the problem of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. For some believers, they felt this meat, which was ceremoniously given to idols then sold at a cut rate in the local market, was tainted by false religion and/or a poor testimony. Other Christians thought they were just getting a great deal on some steak. The second example was regarding observing special days(probably Jewish feast days). Here again, some thought it appropriate and God-honoring to hold these feast days, while others thought it smacked of rules-based religion.
After giving these examples, Paul launches into a discussion which bounces back and forth among several concepts, which I will coalesce into three main points:
1. The Proper Use of Personal Convictions
It is important to note that Paul just doesn’t say “you all should just iron out all of your differences and decide to agree on one thing.” That’s NOT the right answer, even though our pride makes us think it is (and wants to iron out what everyone else has wrong!). Instead, Paul urges the Romans to deal with their personal convictions according to three principles:
- Let your convictions be reasoned—in verse 7 he urges each person to be “fully convinced in his own mind.” Paul instructs us to think seriously and prayerfully about our personal convictions, to know why we take a personal stand about an issue and be comfortable in it.
- Let your convictions be personal—in verse 22 Paul wants our faith(our belief in the rightness of our position regarding the ethics of a practice) to be between ourselves and God, a private matter.
- Let your conscience be clear—In verse 22 he says that we will be happy or blessed in what we have been able to approve (in the Greek literally tested or assayed to be true) for ourselves.
2. The Misuse of Personal Convictions
Most of Romans 14 deals with Paul’s answer as to the mishandling of personal convictions, both of your own and that of others. His main points are:
- Do not judge another’s convictions—Paul warns against judging in v.1, v.3, v.4, v.10, and v.13. Paul’s basis of this command is that we do not have the authority to do so—we are not in authority over another believer—only God is (v.4, v.12) Paul’s original command in verse 1 states to not try to argue anyone out of their convictions. David Brown in his commentary on Romans 14 says that accepting a brother in Christ whose convictions are different than mine is NOT “for the purpose of arguing him out of them; which indeed usually does the reverse.”
- Do not hurt anyone by your convictions—Paul warns that we can destroy another person’s faith by careless & selfish use of our own convictions. In verse 15 it says literally that if we offend someone in this way that we are “love walking not”—and I really like the way the Greek phrases it—”love walking”—that should be the way we should always be walking in this life, to be thinking, planning, speaking, acting all from a basis of love. In Newell’s Romans commentary he notes that “walking in love is not easy, it is always costly to the one loving.” In verse 21, Paul lists the ways we hurt people by our convictions: (1) causing them to stumble–something we do causes someone else to fall away from their stand in the faith (2) offenses—this is not hurt feelings per se, but if someone ends up sinning(causing an offense) because of another’s behavior (3) making weak—this word is rendered sick in other places in the Greek, meaning that our self-centered flaunting of our convictions can make others spiritually sick and weakened.
- Do not cause someone to violate their conscience—in verse 23 Paul specifically warns that “whatever is not from faith is sin”—and if we by example or goading or guilt cause someone to violate their conscience, we have caused them to sin against God, even though the thing might not be a sin for us. Brown’s commentary on this passage states, “with what holy jealousy ought the purity of the conscience be guarded.” Newell adds, “No one’s conscience but his own can direct him.” As brothers in Christ we ought to be helping others guard their conscience, not helping them sin against it.
I cannot say it enough: we cannot let the excuse of being “free in Christ” give us license to hurt someone. Martin Luther, in On the Freedom of a Christian Man, wrote, “A Christian Man is a most free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian man is a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
3. Above Convictions: Giving the Kingdom First Place
Finally, Romans 14 emphasizes that this whole area of personal convictions, while it has a proper place, should not be taking first place in our Christian life. Instead, Paul challenges us to subjugate our thoughts and actions regarding our personal convictions, just like every other part of our life, toward the “first place” of the kingdom of God. Paul stresses three things the kingdom is about:
- The Kingdom is About Pursuing Fellowship—verse 1 starts it out: Paul’s command is to welcome brothers in Christ, regardless of the weakness or strength of their faith, regardless of their personal convictions. Brown states, “Acceptance with God is the only proper criterion of right to Christian fellowship.” Our acceptance is to be born out of genuine love, compassion, and spiritual community. This teaching is summed up in chapter 15, verse 7: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Catch that reason for welcoming all believers? The same one that should permeate everything we do? For the glory of God.
- The Kingdom is About Pursuing the Spiritual—verse 17 can’t make it much clearer—”For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Paul has spoken much of righteousness in chapter 8. In 8:4 he states that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” God indeed calls us to be righteous, but not the corrupted rules-based righteousness of religion, but to a life of right living, peace, and joy that can only come through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
- The Kingdom is About Pursuing Building the Body—Paul’s admonition in 14:19 is to pursue what makes for building up, edifying, or mutually upbuilding one another. The importance of building up each other is clear throughout Paul’s teachings, as he mentions it multiple times in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians. (A word study on this particular theme is here.) God put us here and gave us gifts to serve Him, and one of the primary ways we serve God is to build up, strengthen, encourage, and help grow all the members of the body of Christ, no matter their thoughts on alcohol, hair, politics, or the SuperBowl—we are here to love and serve and build up every brother and sister who Jesus loved and gave His life for. Let us not let anything stand in our way.