Exodus 14:19-31, Romans 14:1-12
September 11, 2005
Sometimes when I read a passage in the Bible, words jump out at me. A phrase might stand out from the rest of the text – almost as though it were in Italics. That’s how the Holy Spirit works. Or sometimes I get an image or a picture in my mind – especially if I’m reading a story, like the clearing of the Temple, or the feeding of the 5,000, or of Elijah on Mount Carmel battling against the prophets of Baal. Those are great images! But sometimes the Spirit will give me a concept or a perception or a key word that surrounds what I’m reading. That’s the case here in this passage from Romans. And the word here is “Honoring.”
If you know this book of Romans, you know it’s unlike any of the other letters of Paul. Instead of being a written conversation, or a sharing of concerns, or answering of questions, this letter reads more like a theological treatise. (An essay.) In Romans, Paul lays out the beliefs of the Christian faith conceptually and chronologically. This letter has often been described as Paul’s “Systematic Theology.”
However, when we get to the 12th chapter, there’s a change. There we read these words. “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship.” And as one Bible student once said, “If Paul uses the word ‘therefore,’ we should always try and figure out what it’s there for.” And in this case, it means, “I’ve told you everything about God’s love for you, therefore you should present yourselves as a living sacrifice.” or “Because of all that God has done for you, this is what you should do.”
So what follows is a whole series of practical things a person should be doing in living the Christian life. Paul started with 11 chapters all about the theological understanding of the faith. Now he is telling them how all that should affect the living of their lives. And so as we come to this 14th chapter, this one word has stood out in my mind. It is the word “Honoring.” In these words, he tells us we are to honor God, by honoring each other. We are to “hold God in high esteem” God by highly esteeming each other. We are to bless God by the way we bless the lives of each other.
Listen to this. “As for one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains. and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats. For God has welcomed him.” What’s Paul getting at here? He uses another example. “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.”
We’re not sure the details of these two controversies. And it really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we see how, in both these examples, he is describing two people who have differing opinions and traditions and interpretations. And he’s teaching that they should honor each other. There were many such “disputes” in those days. And things haven’t changed. Today there are still disputes in Churches. There are different understandings. There are different traditions. There are different ways of living our faith. Here, we have different styles of worship. And we’re all under the same roof. And the question is, “How are we to deal with each other?”
The answer to that is this word that keeps coming back to me as I read this. We are to honor each other. Paul says that here, and when he doesn’t say it, he implies it. And he teaches it by telling us about the opposite of “honoring.” He talks about “passing judgment.” That’s something that happens too often in the Church. And Paul is telling these people instead of passing judgment, they should be honoring one another.
I think he’s right on! This is something that is extremely important in the kingdom of God! But it doesn’t happen naturally. It is the natural human reaction to think only of our own ways. And it’s that natural human reaction that keeps us from honoring others. Honoring one another is a choice we make. And we are called to make that choice to honor each other – regardless of whether or not we happen to agree with or share each other’s traditions. And if we don’t make that choice, the natural human tendency is to pass judgment. That’s often the “default value.” That’s what will tend to happen if we do nothing at all.
I shared my thoughts about this on our Church’s web site a week or so ago. (By the way, you ought to visit that site often! It’s always changing!) In that earlier article, I said how we should be striving to honor each other. And I said it in the context of our two different worship styles here at Eddington.
In meeting and talking with colleagues in ministry, I’ve stated that as a real plus for this congregation! I’ve told folks how I love both worship styles. But not everybody does. And that’s ok. Here at the 11:00 Traditional service, you might think Contemporary Worship is “not your thing.” And it may not be. But I believe that we should choose (and it is a choice!) to honor those for whom it is their “thing.” – and vice versa. All of us here need to see how different traditions can be enriching rather than divisive. That choice is up to us!
The other part of this formula, this equation, this observation, is that the way we honor each other, the way we esteem each other, the way we bless each other, is often the way we honor God. The two go hand in hand. When we honor each other, or when we choose to be a person who honors others, we are more likely to be one who honors God. It is more likely to be part of our make up! And we are to be doing both, honoring God and honoring people.
It goes deeper than that, though. I believe that it is actually in the process of honoring others that we honor God. When we esteem and upbuild and support and forebear one another, we are honoring the God. When we honor each other we honor the God who created and loves people, and who is “above all and in all and through all.” John would say later, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (I John 4:7-8) It’s the same thing!
Honoring the Lord and each other. The problem is that everything we hear from the world around us is backwards. The world has a tendency to honor things. (Or it honors people who have things!) And the world has a tendency to go with the natural human tendency to “pass judgment.” Although interestingly enough, they often accuse the Church as doing that – passing judgment! And many in the world think that’s just fine. They feel like passing judgment on others, and that makes it ok. We no better. Though we sometimes feel like passing judgment, we know that God calls us to a higher level of living. He calls us to take the difficult step of setting aside the self, of setting aside the human tendencies, and following his ways. That is the higher level. That is the god-ly level!
In the world, people don’t want to do that. They don’t want to give themselves to God because they see that as “losing control” of their lives. They even see it as losing themselves. But we know – that is, I hope we know – that it is only in God that we truly find ourselves. For there is no better place to find ourselves than in the one who made us and understands us the best!
But too many people don’t even want to believe that. Oh, they couch it all in arguments that they say caused them to “reject traditional ‘organized’ religion.” They blame religion. But really what’s going on is that they want desperately to hold onto themselves. They want to keep control over their own lives. “Deny the self? Give up the self? Take up the cross and follow me?” That is abhorrent to them! So they fight against it! They think they can “make it on their own.” And the reality is that many people can’t do it very well on their own. They make a mess of their lives, and they end up looking like little kids who say, “I want to do it myself!” When that happens, it’s painful for us adults! We want to help! Can you imagine how God feels watching his people – his creations – living as though he didn’t even exist, much less think of him as the one who made them in his own image?
Imagine the irony of people telling their maker that he really didn’t make them! To me that’s hugely ironic! Yet, I see it all the time. They say “Well, I just don’t believe there is a God who made me.” It’s as though not believing it to be so makes it not so. I know that’s kind of convoluted thinking! But think about it. Without God making those people and giving them the capacity to think, they couldn’t even make such disbelieving statements about the very God who gave them that capacity. Whoo! That’s tough! But it’s so important!
Honoring the Lord and each other. That is at the heart of all relationships in our lives. We were created by God. I’m more sure about that fact every day I live! And we worship a God who made us and gave us free will. We have the free choice to honor people or to pass judgments. And we need to be intentional about making the right choice. Because without making that choice – the choice to honor each other, we end up seeing only our own point of view. That’s only natural.
As God’s people we are constantly being called to be God-ly. We honor our God by honoring each other as Paul is calling us to do in this passage – and in most of his writings for that matter. When we become “honoring people,” we will honor others, as well as honoring God. And then, as we reach out to others, that is what will make the difference. As one man said, “People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” You can tell them about God’s love, but they won’t hear it until you show them how much you care about God and about them.
So, be people who honor God, and who honor each other. Be very careful about passing judgment. Reach out with your heart to others, to family, to friends, to fellow Church members, to visitors. If you’re not sure, err on the side of honoring one another. In doing so, you honor God.
Eternal God, we are grateful for all that you have done for us. We bless you and we praise your holy name. and we ask for the strength and inspiration to love and honor each other. Help us to give ourselves totally to you, so that we can find ourselves and know for sure the joy of life in your kingdom. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.