The theme for this week is living grace fully which encourages us to move through the world with more thoughtfulness and kindness. The message below is again taken from the Revised Common Lectionary. Ex. 14:19-31 and Ps. 114 tell the story of the parting of the Red Sea, and we can see how recognizing God’s grace in our own lives can strengthen our belief. This week’s sermon outline is based on Rom. 14:1-12, where the issue of judgmentalism is dealt with squarely by Paul, convicting us to hold our personal preferences and opinions lightly and leave the bigger issues for God to correct. Lastly, Matt. 18:21-35 talks about extending grace to others and what real forgiveness looks like.
Please take a few minutes to listen to this week’s Speaking of Life at: https://www.gci.org/videos/media-speaking-of-life/
Living Grace Fully
I recently watched a video about a father who held up two apples at snack time before his five-year-old girl and asked, “Which one would you like?” His daughter reached out, took both apples, and bit into each one. He couldn’t believe it. He was thinking, “This isn’t like her. She usually shares with others. Where did she learn this selfish behavior?”
The father was jolted out of these thoughts when his little girl said, “Here, Dad. You take this one,” handing him one of the apples. “That one is sweeter and juicier,” she said. “You’ll like it.”
Have any of you ever made an assumption about someone else that turned out to be incorrect? I know I have.
Share a time you made a wrong assumption and ask members to share some examples of when they made a wrong assumption, or one was made about them.
It seems we are often quick to see any idea that falls outside what we are used to as “wrong.” Wouldn’t it be better to reframe that idea as simply different from what we are used to? The church at Rome had this issue over whether to eat meat or only vegetables or whether to observe or not observe certain holy days. Let’s check out our Scripture reading in Romans 14:1-13. [read scripture]
What can we observe about the text?
- Paul’s use of the words “strong” and “weak” can give us the impression that eating meat was better than not eating meat and not observing special holidays was better than observing special holidays. In this context, the people who were not eating meat or who may have been observing certain holy days were doing so because they thought God wanted them to and they saw those practices as an expression of their devotion. Those who had no problem eating meat or not observing certain holy days recognized that God was OK with them as they were and didn’t feel the need to take part in such practices. it was an issue of conscience in devotion to God. Each person would be “accountable” to God (v. 12), and while the word “accountable” might sound ominous, it is Paul’s way of teaching us that God looks at things according to our intention more than the actual practice.
- By judging each other for those expressions of devotion, or the lack of them, believers were creating division, “stumbling blocks” to transformation, and forgetting that all brothers and sisters are in Christ—which is far more important than the foods we eat or the days we worship “to the Lord.” The center of the discussion here is Jesus Christ—not judging how others center their lives around him. By comparing themselves, they were creating a false ranking system rather than seeing that in Christ, we are all equal in righteousness, not because of what we do or don’t do, but because of who Jesus is.
- Examine your own motives and intentions: Why do you do certain practices in your worship of God? Do you do them because you think God will be displeased if you don’t? Or do they draw you closer to God by making you more aware of the Holy Spirit residing in you? We all think our view of God and our preferred way of worship is the “right one,” without considering that everyone else thinks the same thing, too. If our practices are an expression of love and devotion rather than a fear-based legalism, we should understand that others’ practices probably come from their unique self-expression.
- Recognize that we make assumptions about others’ behavior, and they aren’t always accurate. Think back to the story at the beginning and notice how the little girl’s actions were interpreted negatively as a first response, but later those assumptions were revealed to be false. The next time you find yourself judging another person in a negative way (and we all do it), try to stop and think of an alternative that is more positive yet feasible. For example, the father in the story could have asked the girl what he should eat for a snack, opening up the discussion for her to explain what she was doing.
- Seek to understand rather than persuade. Instead of trying to persuade others to worship God in your preferred way or view God as you do, seek to understand their unique point of view without assigning labels of “good” or “bad.” Challenge yourself to listen, and rather than stating your own opinion or preference, ask questions to encourage the other person to share or make statements that encourage more detail, such as “Tell me more.” Become curious about others and how they view or worship God, recognizing that God is magnified when your own views are expanded enough to hold in loving acceptance what is worshipful to another.
- Look for things that might be stumbling blocks or obstacles for others. As we build relationships with others, we become aware of sensitivities that could become stumbling blocks. In order to not cause offense, and to avoid building obstacles, we determine to give up some of our own “rights” for the sake of others.
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Romans 14:13)
It takes humility to recognize our biases, and sometimes we are hit in the face with them, just like the father in the opening story. By understanding that we have this tendency to judge and judge negatively, we can choose differently. We can decide to hear about others’ worship practices and devotion to God without needing to share our own. As we do this over time, we will develop more compassion, which is the very mind of Christ. Further, we learn to love others as Jesus loves us.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- In the Speaking of Life video, it compares the power of our words to ripples created by a stone dropped in water, and sometimes our words can be perceived as judgmental, particularly in the case of unasked-for advice. What strategies do you have for avoiding negative communication and keeping communication positive, either in person or online?
- Have you ever had a humbling experience where you made an assumption that turned out to be wrong? If so, tell us about it.
- Have you noticed that certain words, like “strong” or “weak,” can have connotations that might be hurtful to others? If so, what other words can you think of that people might use in conversation without realizing that they might be hurtful?
- Not only does judging others cause division or hurt feelings in the church, but how might judging others hinder your own transformation?
- Why do you think that people, including Christians, are always trying to persuade others to embrace their personal opinion about God, politics, etc.? Why do we need that validation of our personal beliefs?
- What are some stumbling blocks or obstacles Christians might use?