Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Many churches are like the two cats, whose tails were tied together, and thrown over a clothesline. They had union, but no unity. Yet in Romans 15, the apostle Paul insists we must have unity in the church. Why is unity so important?
- Because Christ set the example
Sadly, we pastors are put on a pedestal, and then when we fail or fall, members are disappointed and sometimes divided. Even the best ministers are not perfect examples. The great American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who was fat, met the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon. Moody asked Spurgeon when he would give up his awful cigars. Spurgeon pointed at Moody’s belly: “When you get rid of this, I’ll get rid of these.” Even the greatest preachers are not perfect: Jesus is our example. And Christ set an example of unity. Thus Romans 15:2-3 says, “Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.”
- Because scripture teaches it
In Romans 15:4 Paul mentions “the Scriptures.” Then in verse 5, he shows how this helps “you to live in harmony with one another.” Listen to the scriptures: John 13:35 says others will “know you are my disciples” by your love for each other. In John 17:22, Jesus prays “they may be one as we are one.” In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul appeals that “all of you agree.. that there may be no divisions.” In Philippians 4:2, Paul publicly named two women: “I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.”
- Because it glorifies God
In Romans 15:6, Paul says, “so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.” In the next verse, he stresses again how unity glorifies God: “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God.” Thom & Jess Rainer published a study of the 78 million-member generation born between 1980 and 2000: The Millennials. In their book, they said 70% of millennials think that the American church is irrelevant today; the number one reason they gave was that they see religion as divisive and argumentative. But unity glorifies God!
Someone might object, but what if someone is denying the gospel or the inspiration of the Bible? What if someone is immoral? Please do not misunderstand: I am not calling for unity at all costs, but I am calling for unity at great sacrifice! Sadly, many Christians are not willing to swallow their pride and eat humble pie for the sake of unity. We should be willing to make any sacrifice for unity that does not sacrifice truth or morality. It is that important.
Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers.
Your child is wronged by another child, and when you try to talk to her parents, they tell you off. A friend gets angry with you and refuses to talk to you. A fellow worker never shows you respect, always going over your head. How do you deal with difficult people? My grandfather loved to answer this dilemma with Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
This verse recognizes two important facts about dealing with difficult people: 1) we should live at peace with people, and 2) it’s not always possible. In fact, Romans 12 gives us four ways to deal with difficult people when peace is possible, and four ways to deal with them when peace is not possible.
When peace is possible
Romans 12:14-16 gives us some practical ways to live at peace with difficult people.
1. Be a blessing (v. 14)
Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This statement, like several others here, refer back to Jesus’ word in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Paul must have remembered his own past with this statement, for many years before, Paul was the young Pharisee named Saul who held the coats of those who stoned to death the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Acts 7:60 records that as he died, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
2. Be empathetic (v. 15)
In verse 15 he adds, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” This is more than sympathy; it is empathy. It is identifying with those who hurt. This is a critical response to a difficult person, because when we can identify with them and understand why they act the way they do, then we will be much better at relating to them.
3. Be agreeable (v. 16a)
Verse 16 begins, “Live in harmony with one another.” Literally, the Greek means to “have the same mind toward one another.” We can disagree in substance and still be agreeable in spirit.
4. Be humble (v. 16b)
Sometimes the reason that the other person is so difficult to deal with us because the problem is within ourselves! Thus Paul reminds us, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” As Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”
When peace is impossible
Paul said in verse 18 to live at peace “if it is possible” and if “it depends on you.” He was recognizing that there are times when it is impossible for us to bring about peace in our own power. So what do you do when there is no peace? What do you do when it’s out of your hands?
1. Do not seek personal revenge (v. 17a, 19a)
Although I have listed this under the category of “when peace is impossible,” it probably fits under both categories. This is a principle that goes both ways.
Verse 17 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…” Verse 19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends…” Jesus also taught the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39, 41). Jesus was not talking about social injustice; He was making reference to personal insults. As Proverbs 12:16 says, it is wise to ignore an insult.
2. Do what is right (v. 17b)
We do not need to let the meanness of another person drag us down to their level. Thus verse 17 continues, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” We must decide that even when the other person refuses to do what is right, that we will do what is right. Even when we cannot keep the peace, we can keep our integrity.
3. Let God avenge (v. 19b)
Verse 19 begins by saying, “Do not take revenge” but the verse goes on to say, “leave room for God’s wrath.” That is, we do not take revenge for personal insults and injuries, but we do make room for God to work his vengeance, particularly against social injustice.
When the Hebrews fled across the Red Sea and Pharaoh chased them, God allowed the Egyptians to drown in the sea, and Exodus 15 records the song of rejoicing that Moses sang at their defeat. Proverbs 11:10 says that “when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” While it is a virtue to overlook a personal insult, it is not a virtue to overlook a social injustice. The former is gracious; the latter is gross negligence.
4. Overcome evil with good (v. 20-21)
Paul says, “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ [A quotation of Proverbs 25:21-22.] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We can read Romans 12:20-21 on two levels: On a personal level, “kill him with kindness.” If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Let his evil be in such contrast to your goodness, that evil will be conquered by good. You may change his heart. On a social level, God will bring about the vengeance, often by using the judicial system, law enforcement and the military to bring about justice. In this way, you are leaving room for God’s wrath.
To sum up, how do you deal with difficult people? If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with them. If possible, be a blessing, be empathetic, be agreeable, be humble. Respond to their personal insults with personal kindness. And if none of those things are possible, you may just need to walk away and let God deal with them.
How does God want you to deal with your difficult person?
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Two churches were located a few blocks from each other in the same small community. The leadership of the two churches felt it would be wise to merge into one larger, stronger congregation, and so plans were set in motion. But it never happened. Why? They could not agree on the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. One group preferred “forgive us our trespasses” while the other wanted “forgive us our debts.” A newspaper article reporting the failed merger noted that one group went back to its “trespasses” while the other returned to its “debts” (Kenneth Boa and William Kruidenier, Holman New Testament Commentary: Romans, p. 417-418.)
Unfortunately, churches and church members often divide over many minor matters.
In Romans 14:1 (NIV84), Paul says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”
There are all kinds of disputable matters that come up in churches today. Church members debate over the translation of the Bible. Church members debate over whether to use organ and piano or use guitars and drums in worship. Church members debate over how much of the budget should go to missions, whether to tithe the gross or the net, and what Sunday School literature to use. Church members debate about whether it is proper for a Christian to have a tattoo or whether to wear dress clothes or casual clothes to church. Some churches debate over whether or not it is proper for a man to wear short sleeves and a woman to wear makeup. Some even debate over the color of the carpet.
So how do we handle it when disputable matters come up in the church?
Romans 14:4 asks, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” The point Paul is making is that the Lord Jesus is the Master, not you or me, so don’t get critical over sideline issues.
How do we define a disputable matter?
This raises a question, however. How do we define what is a disputable matter? After all, most people would agree that whether I preach from the King James Version or some other translation of the Bible is a disputable matter, but for some people, it’s not even open for debate. How can we know? Here are some guidelines:
1) What does the Bible teach on the subject?
First, what does the Bible teach on the subject? Take the example of drinking alcohol. Some Christians drink alcohol, while others feel you cannot be a true Christian and drink alcohol. So what does the Bible teach? The Bible says in some passages that wine was consumed by good people (Melchizedek brought out wine and bread to Abraham in Genesis 14:18; Jesus turned water into wine in John 2:1-11), but it also says that drunkenness is sinful and foolish (Proverbs 20:1; 23:20, Isaiah 5:11). So according to the Bible, drinking alcohol is not a sin, but getting drunk is a sin. So the first principle is to ask what the Bible teaches on the subject.
Of course, there are some areas where sincere Christians have honest differences of opinion about what the Bible teaches on a subject. For example, I believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus’ Second Coming is premillenial. However, I used to believe it was amillenial, and I finally changed my mind after continual study. The reason for differences of opinion is that a person can take scripture and make arguments for both sides, based on scripture. And if two Bible-believing Christians can back up their viewpoints from scripture, then they should respect their differences of opinion.
2) Is the dispute over a practice or a principle?
There is a second guideline that can help us, however. Paul says later in this chapter, in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Notice that he is making a distinction between practices and principles. “Eating and drinking” are practices. “Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” are principles. Worshiping the Lord is a principle; playing the organ or playing the guitar are practices. We should stand on our principles but be flexible in our practices.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
Recently, Outreach magazine published its list of the 100 largest churches in America and the 100 fastest-growing churches in America.
But when we read about the church in the New Testament, we do not find a list of fastest-growing churches. Not many numerical reports are even given, other than the 3,000 baptized at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and the fact that the number had grown to 5,000 a little while later (Acts 4:4). After that, numbers are rarely given. We don’t read Paul reporting to the church that when he left Ephesus they were running 200 in Sunday worship. Instead of talking about numerical growth, he emphasizes spiritual growth. So why don’t we?
It’s time to change our terminology. Instead of so much emphasis on church growth, we should talk about church health. So what makes a church healthy, anyway? Paul gives us a full description in Ephesians 4:11-16.
1. Leaders who equip
“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11, HCSB)
Healthy churches have leaders who equip their members. The best test of the leader is that he has followers who learn from his teaching and example. Healthy churches have leadership that inspires the overall congregation to follow Christ and serve their community.
In this verse, the last two leadership gifts are indispensable to local church health. In Greek, the terms go together, “pastor-teacher.”
Pastors (translated “shepherds” in the ESV) bring guidance and comfort to the flock of God.
Teachers instruct the church in correct understanding of the Bible and Christian living.
Notice in verse 12 that these leaders have the purpose of training, or equipping, the church to do their work.
If a church is going to be healthy, it must have a pastor/teacher who is feeding the congregation God’s Word on a consistent basis.
2. Members who serve
“… for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12, HCSB)
Healthy churches have members who serve. Don’t join this church to sit back and be entertained. If that’s what you are looking for, please go somewhere else. We need members who serve.
The “saints” are all the believers. “Saint” means a “holy one,” and every believer is called to be holy and set aside for God’s service.
It says the saints are trained by the leaders so that the saints can do the work of the ministry. So all members are called to serve.
Rick Warren asks, “If you are not involved in service or ministry, what excuse have you been using?
Abraham was old; Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive; Joseph was abused; Moses stuttered. Gideon was poor; Samson was codependent; Rahab was immoral; David had an affair; Elijah was suicidal; Jeremiah was depressed; Jonah was reluctant; Naomi was a widow. John the Baptist was eccentric; Peter was impulsive; Martha worried a lot; the Samaritan woman had five failed marriages; Zacchaeus was unpopular; Thomas had doubts; Paul had poor health; and Timothy was timid. God used each of them in his service. He will use you, too, if you stop making excuses.” (Rick Warren’s Daily Devotional, Day 357)
Healthy churches have members who serve.
3. Unity in the faith
“… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son…” (Ephesians 4:13a, HCSB)
Healthy churches are united. Unhealthy churches are divided. Notice the two ways he says we are to be united: by doctrinal faith (“in the faith”) and by personal faith (“and in the knowledge of God’s Son”). I heard about a pastor who was called to a church with only 51% voting in favor of his call. A year later, they fired him. It was a unanimous. The pastor said, “I finally united the church.” Of course, that’s not the way we want to unify the church, but the church does need to be united.
Remember the lesson from Noah’s Ark. It may stink sometimes, but we have to stay together, because we’re all in the same boat!
4. Growth measured by Christ-likeness
“… growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Ephesians 4:13b, HCSB)
Too often, churches measure themselves by numerical growth. And it is true that healthy churches should have numerical growth. However, there are churches that have numerical growth but they are not healthy. A tumor can grow, but it isn’t healthy. And some churches explode and then die down. Others grow and grow in numbers, but they are attracting people for entertainment or because their standards are lax, and people are not being discipled.
Imagine a church board meeting with Jesus. Pete calls the meeting to order, and says, “Jesus, we’ve been following you around for some time, and we are getting concerned about the attendance figures. Tom, how many were on the hill yesterday?”
Tom answers, “Thirty-seven.”
Pete says, “It’s getting ridiculous. You’re going to have to pep things up.”
John says, “I’d like to suggest you pull off more miracles, but more people need to see it so our crowds will get bigger.”
Pete agrees, and adds, “Publicity is essential, and you tell half the people you cure to keep it quiet. Let the word get around.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Judas adds, “I’d like tos ay that if we are going to continue to meet in this upper room, we ought to do something about the carpet…” (Adapted from Richard K. Wallarab, Christianity Today, January 17, 1979.)
Notice that verse 13 gives the correct measurement of real growth: “a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” That is our measurement of growth: are we like Christ? If our budget grows but we spend our budget on a bowling alley for church members instead of helping the hurting and sharing the gospel, we may be growing in numbers but not in Christ-likeness.
Healthy churches measure growth by being more like Christ.
5. Teaching that provides stability
“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” (Ephesians 5:14, HCSB)
Another great sign of a healthy church is that the Bible is so consistently taught, that the members aren’t tricked by heresy and false teaching. If some clever teacher comes into the church and tries to lead people astray, a healthy church recognizes it right away and puts a stop to it.
A decade ago, we had a powerful wind storm blow an oak tree on our youth building. The tree had shallow roots, and when the winds came, it fell. A healthy church that teaches the Bible is like a healthy tree with deep roots. It doesn’t fall under the pressure of false teaching.
6. Honest and loving relationships
“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head– Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15, HCSB)
Healthy churches have honest and loving relationships. “Speaking the truth in love” means that we are honest with each other, we speak the truth, but we are also loving when we do it. We don’t just try to please each other. If something’s wrong, we deal with it, but we always seek to deal with it in love. That’s challenging, but it’s vital to having a healthy church.
Years ago, The Betty Ford Story aired on television. It was a movie that told the story of the addiction and recovery of Betty Ford, the wife of President Gerald Ford. At one point in the film, there is an emotional scene where the family is sitting together confronting Betty Ford. Her son says, “Mother, you are destroying yourself; you are destroying this family, and you are killing yourself. Mother, you are a drunk; you are an addict.” His mother was infuriated. She told her son he was being very disrespectful and said, “How can you say these things to me? I am your mother!” Her son said, “Mother, I can say it because it is the truth.” As hard as it was, this confrontation was the catalyst for the establishment of the Betty Ford Clinic. (Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, p. 333-334)
A healthy church is a place where people speak the truth in love. Relationships are honest and loving. We don’t play games or try to please people, but we go out of our way to love people.
7. An environment that encourages involvement
“From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” (Ephesians 4:16, HCSB)
Healthy churches create an environment that encourages involvement. “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, fitted and knit together… promotes the growth of the body…”
Many people think that it doesn’t matter if they are involved in the church or not, that the church won’t miss them if they are gone. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds into flight. The whole nation was shocked. An investigation revealed that it happened because of one inexpensive O-ring. There were one million components in the space shuttle, but that one part destroyed the whole. Like the seemingly insignificant O-ring, one person failing to take his place in the church keeps the whole from being healthy. (Richard Swenson, Margin, 1992, p. 48)
A healthy church is a church where misfits can fit in. A healthy church is a place where the displaced can find a place.
This world is in desperate need of healthy churches in every community. Christian, are you allowing God’s Spirit to work through you to make and keep your church healthy?
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
I heard about a church that called a pastor with a vote of 200-3. The pastor spent his first six months trying to find out the names of the three who voted against him. Then he spent the next six months trying to please those three. At the end of the year, the church voted to fire the pastor. The vote was three to keep him, and 200 to get rid of him!
There’s an old saying that you can’t please everybody, and that is certainly true in church, which is why we need to try to please the Lord first. However, if the church is evenly divided, it is wise to back off a decision and seek to bring spiritual unity before proceeding, especially when voting on a pastor.
A pastor told me an interesting story about a close vote to call a pastor in a rural Baptist church near Claxton, Georgia. The church voted 51% in favor and 49% against calling a man as their pastor. Ignoring conventional wisdom, the preacher accepted the call, and came to the church as their pastor. After a couple of years, however, he resigned. Upon his resignation, he said, “I have unified the church. When I came, half of them were against me. Now all of them are against me.”
Elections can either unite people or divide people. Unfortunately, our country is pretty divided over politics. But as Christians, God calls us to be uniters, not dividers. In fact, however we voted, we are called upon to pray for those in leadership. Scripture says, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV). Someone might say, “Yeah, but our politicians are so bad these days.” I would remind that person that in New Testament days, the politicians threw the Christians to the lions, but the Christians still prayed for them.
We can do no less.