Any person who has ever played a team sport has heard their coach say, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” We’ve heard the phrase so much that it has become a cliché, but the phrase is absolutely true. If you have a line-up filled with individuals who put the team before their own goals and desires then you have the potential for greatness. On the other hand, if the mindset of the team follows another philosophy, “Every man for himself,” then you have a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t matter if the team is filled with talented individuals or not—if the athletes put their own goals before the goals of the team then they will fall far short of their potential.
There is a great example of what I’m talking about right here in our own backyard. Last season the OKC Thunder won just 23 games. I wouldn’t consider a 23-59 record a success. In just one season the team has turned things around. They are heading to the playoffs, an accomplishment that everyone would have considered a ridiculously out-of-reach goal just a few months ago. After their win against the New Orleans Hornets, this past week, the Thunder have won five of their last six games and fifteen of their last eighteen games. Their record is now 39-24.
To what do you attribute the turn around? Did they pick up LeBron in the offseason? Hardly. The nucleus of the team has remained the same: Durant, Westbrook, and Green. What’s made the difference? Well, they’ve got a year’s experience under their belt, but I believe it’s bigger than that. The Thunder play together as a team and not as individuals trying to make a name for themselves.
Kevin Durant is an absolute superstar! He would be a superstar on any team in the NBA. Last month his 29 game streak of scoring more than 25 points a game came to an end. Nobody has ever topped that one except for Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. During the 29 game streak he averaged over 32 points a game. Whenever Kevin was asked about the streak he always responded in the same way. “Individual accolades don’t mean anything. I’d rather win.” You can read interview after interview with him and he never breaks from talking about the team over his own accomplishments. There is no “I” in team.
The consummate team isn’t even remotely related to athletics. The consummate team is the Body of Christ. Every follower of Jesus has their place on the roster. Every man, woman, boy, and girl who has come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life has their purpose and place in God’s plan. Whenever any of the individuals put their own desires or ambitions above those of the Body then you have a recipe for disaster. That is why over and over again we are encouraged to deny ourselves, look out for the needs of others, work for the unity of Body, and seek the glory of God above all else. Turn to Philippians 2:1-4 and let me give you an example of what I am talking about.
1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 NIV)
In our study today we are going to continue the study that we began last week, found in Romans 14. If you will remember our study of Romans 14:1-12, Paul urged the followers of Jesus to accept one another even though they may have disagreements about non-essential matters like eating meat and regarding some days as more important than others. Paul told us that Jesus died for all of us, even those we disagree with. Paul told us that we are not the judge of one another, but rather God is the Judge of us all. Paul told us that we are not to look down upon those who hold different beliefs about periphery issues, but we are to love all of those who are part of the Body of Christ. Paul isn’t finished. He has much more to say to us about how we are to relate to those that we might differ with concerning issues that are not central. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Romans 14:13-23.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. 14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:13-23 NIV)
We who have been rescued by Jesus have been freed. We are freed from the darkness of living life apart from Jesus. We have been freed to walk in the newness of life found only in Jesus. We have been freed from the oppressive slavery of living according to our natural inclinations and desires by the indwelling power of God’s Spirit. We are freed from the shackles of the law of sin and death by Jesus’ death and glorious resurrection. We are free from religious legalism that uses man-made rules to make us look better than those around us. We are free! Throughout the New Testament we find reminders of our freedom. In John 8:36, Jesus said,
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 NIV)
There was nobody who was more aware and appreciative of their freedom than the Apostle Paul. Paul grew up under the confining, constraining watchful eye of strict Pharisaism. In Philippians 3, Paul was battling the “works righteousness” folks in Philippi when he wrote,
4 …If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Philippians 3:4-6 NIV)
His credentials were impeccable. Paul dotted every “I” and crossed every “T.” He never missed Sunday school, worship, or the Sweet Hour of Prayer. He gave more than a tithe. Paul was “OCD” when it came to following the letter of the law. Yet, in the few verses following what I’ve just read we find that it was worth nothing to him once his eyes were opened to the righteousness of Jesus. He traded his puny acts of religion for the glorious righteousness of Jesus. In the righteousness of Jesus he found freedom. That is why he wrote about it over and over again. In Galatians 5:1 we read,
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)
Paul wrote to the people of Corinth about the freedom that is intended for all of those who follow Jesus. Paul was writing about being a minister of the new covenant that gives life when he wrote,
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17 NIV)
As important as Paul’s newfound freedom in Christ was to him, there was still something more important to Paul—the edification of the whole Body of Christ. Paul would never demand his freedom if the exercise of his freedom might cause another brother or sister to stumble in their walk with the Lord. Paul wrote,
13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:13 NIV)
We have incredible freedom in Christ. We are not free to indulge our sinful nature, but we are free to enjoy all that God has created. Free to fully experience life, the abundance of life. Even though we are free there will be times when it is best to limit our freedom for the sake of our brothers and sisters. John MacArthur writes,
But although we are permitted to enjoy that freedom, we are not commanded to do so. We are not obligated to exercise every freedom we have in Christ. In fact, the greater our love and spiritual maturity, the less important those freedoms will be to us and the more willing we will be to relinquish them for the sake of best serving the Lord and others, especially other believers. Most especially, our concern should be for fellow Christians whom Paul describes as weak, those who are still shackled in some way by the external requirements and restrictions under which they formerly lived. The issue for the strong, mature Christian is not whether or not he possesses freedom but how he should exercise or waive that freedom on the basis of how it will affect others. (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Chicago, IL. 1994)
I love that last sentence: “The issue for the strong, mature Christian is not whether or not he possesses freedom but how he should exercise or waive that freedom on the basis of how it will affect others.” Dr. MacArthur is saying that we need discernment; we must be students of our brothers and sisters. We should have the wisdom to know when our freedom will impede our relationship with other believers and forego our freedom for the sake of the relationship. Paul said it first—we must make the right decision. Turn with me to Romans 14:13.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. (Romans 14:13 NIV)
Paul uses an interesting Greek word two times in this one verse. The word is, “κρίνω” (krino) and it means, “to pronounce an opinion, to condemn, or to determine.” Paul uses this same word 6 times in Romans 14. Here in verse 13 it is used in two different ways. In the first instance, we are not to look down upon or condemn our brothers and sisters. In the second instance we are to figure out, determine, how to avoid causing our brothers and sisters to stumble.
We are not to trip one another up. We are not to be a cause of offence for our brothers or sisters. We are not to sidetrack our brothers and sisters as they seek to live in obedience to the Lord. I wish there was a list that I could hand out this morning with the instructions: “Do the things in column “A” and refrain from doing the things in column “B” and you will be a source of edification and encouragement to the Body of Christ.” There are sinful behaviors and attitudes that we are to have nothing to do with in our walk with the Lord. For example, in Galatians 5:19-21 Paul writes,
19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NIV)
This is not an exhaustive list, but you can see from the list that behaviors and attitudes are listed which are part of our “sinful nature.” These things are non-negotiable. We can’t say, “Well, I’m free in Christ. I can do whatever I want to do.” These attitudes and behaviors not only have an effect on us and our walk with the Lord, but they negatively effect those around us as well.
We could compile all of the lists of attitudes and behaviors in the Bible that are to be avoided and it still would not be exhaustive. That frustrates a lot of us. We want lists. We want something concrete. The problem is that relationships are not machinery. If people were machines then we could determine what works and what doesn’t work and stick with the things that work. People are not machines and we should not try to make them so. Each person is different and we must be a student of those around us so that we can relate to them in a way that builds them up and furthers the unity of the Body of Christ.
Let me give you an example. When it comes to the exercise of our freedom that we have in Christ we can have lots of discussion about music and movies. We are free to go to the mall and see a movie right? Right. I have some brothers and sisters in Christ who won’t go to the mall and see a movie. For them it just isn’t right. Now, should I try and convince them that it is “ok” to go to the mall and see a movie? That’s not my job. I can still go to the movie, but I shouldn’t invite them to go with me. If I want to spend time with them then I should choose a different activity for us to share together.
There is another issue with movies that the followers of Jesus wrestle with and it is this: “What is appropriate for us to watch?” Can a Christian go to “R-rated” movies? How about “PG-13” rated movies? Some Christians will not see an “R-rated” movie even if it is “The Passion of the Christ” or “Shindler’s List.” Other Christians won’t watch any movie with a rating worse than “PG.” There is no clear determination in God’s Word about which rating is acceptable for God’s people even though there are some principles that we can apply. The point is that we need to honor one another’s decisions as we live out our daily walk.
Music is another hot topic. Is it “ok” for Christians to listen to secular music? Depends on which Christians you are talking to right? Some listen strictly to Christian music. Others listen to all kinds of music. Some Christians won’t listen to contemporary Christian music that sounds too much like “worldly” music. Just like with the topic of movies, there is no list of styles of music that God’s people are allowed to listen to, but there are some principles that we can use to help us have discernment about what is healthy and what is not healthy for us to listen to or watch. The bigger issue is, “What will my freedom mean to my brothers and sisters in Christ?” In Romans 14:15-18, Paul wrote about food, but we can just as easily substitute “movies” or “music.” Read along with me.
15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. (Romans 14:15-18 NIV)
“The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating, drinking, (watching movies or listening to music,) but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” Stay focused on the things that matter most in our walk with the Lord and our relationship with our brothers and sisters. What matters most? Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
“Righteousness” literally means, “right relationship.” First and foremost we are placed in right relationship with the Father through the selfless act of sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. Given what Jesus has done for each of us should we not willingly sacrifice our freedoms for those the Lord has placed in our life when it is called for? If it would help them in their walk with the Lord would you be willing to say, “No” to some freedom you have and enjoy? Before you answer that question think about this: Jesus is our Standard, He is our Model, He is our Precedent. John wrote,
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16 NIV)
The real question for you and me is, “Will the exercise of my freedom build up and bless my brother or sister, or will it cause them grief, confusion, and possibly distract them from seeking God with all of their heart?” That is not a generic question to be asked, but it is a question that must be asked in each relationship we have with those in the Body of Christ.
Let’s say Connie and I have two families that we are inviting to our house on two consecutive Friday nights. Val and Virginia Vegetarian are coming over next Friday and Carl and Cindy Carnivore will be coming over the following Friday night. Should we not take into consideration the two families as we plan the menu for the night? You may think that is ridiculous, but this is exactly what Paul told the people of Corinth.
8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. (1 Corinthians 8:8-12 NIV)
Food is just food, but if a rack of ribs and a plate full of hotlinks slathered in BBQ sauce distracts our friends Val and Virginia Vegetarian the entire night then the exercise of my freedom becomes a stumbling block. Paul wrote,
23 “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 NIV)
Everything, apart from sin, is permissible, but it may not be the best choice to make when I take into consideration my brothers and sisters in Christ. We have become so influenced by our culture and constantly hearing about our “rights” that we’ve forgotten our calling to serve.
God is doing a great work. Not just in my life or your life, but in our lives together in the Body of Christ. We, at Britton Christian Church, are a living example of this truth. Look what God is doing. Look back over the past several years and recount how God has used this group of believers to spread the Gospel and bless this community. Could you or I have accomplished what has happened by ourselves? Not at all, but together God is doing a work that none of us could do by ourselves.
Lots of people have given their lives to Christ. Thousands of hungry people have been fed. Thousands of sick people have visited the King’s Klinic. Hundreds of kids have been encouraged to stay in school. I could go on and on chronicling all of the wonderful things God has done through this Body of believers. In looking back on all of the memories we have experienced, let me ask you, “Would you trade those memories for the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want within the bounds of what is good and godly?” The unity of the Body is more important than my getting what I want. The encouragement of my brothers and sisters in Christ is more important than me exerting my right to “this” or “that.” The glory of God, the blessing and edification of the whole Body are more important to me than my rights or fulfilling my every desire. Paul wrote,
20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. (Romans 14:20-21 NIV)
Make every effort to not hinder or destroy the work of God. What we are experiencing is special—it is the work of God and not of ourselves. We need to be sensitive to one another. We are called to serve one another, encourage one another, take one another into our hearts as the brothers and sisters that we are, and never cause one another to stumble in our walk with God. There is a big, mean world out there that really doesn’t give two cents about your walk with God. That is why it is imperative for me to be your cheerleader, your encourager, your intercessor in prayer as you seek to be faithful to God in your daily walk. I need the same encouragement from you. I may not agree with you on everything in life or in your interpretation of what it means to live out your daily walk, but we agree on this: Jesus is Lord and God. He is our hope when we are teetering on the edge of hopelessness. He is our strength when we are weak with the cares of this life. He is our Rock when the ground beneath us is constantly shifting and tossing us around. He is our Head and we are brothers and sisters in Him, because of Him. What a joy it is to serve Him together. What a blessing it is be a part of the family of God.
I want to ask you this morning to allow the Lord to search your heart. Are you part of the “team,” the family of God? If not, then I want to invite you this very morning to receive the invitation God has sent your way. He loves you more than you will ever know. He loves you so much that He has given His Son in exchange for your sin and mine. Won’t you invite Him into your heart as your Lord and Savior.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 14, 2010