Unity In Times of Disagreement“I can’t do this.” Those are words that I often hear, words that I’ve spoken from time-to-time. They are words that can paralyze us, persuade us, and pummel us at the bedrock of our soul. “I can’t do this” means that we have decided that it is time to place a “period” at a prescribed point in our experience. “I can’t do this” means that the battle is over, the victory has slipped away, and it’s time to head to the showers. “I can’t do this” means the thrill is gone, the joy has waned, and the enthusiasm has morphed into hopeless despair.
Throughout the pages of God’s Word we meet those who have found themselves in the predicament that every one of us has experienced at some point, maybe even many points, in life. Elijah was a firsthand witness to the mighty moves of God at times during his life, but he also experienced the agony of “I can’t do this.” Shortly after his Mt. Carmel experience, what had to be the high point of his life, Elijah tumbled into the abyss of despair and prayed, “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life…” (1 Kings 19:4 NIV)
Moses had experienced the big leagues. Raised the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, trained in the best private school in all of Egypt, he lived in a gated community with guards on duty 24 hours a day. Moses enjoyed all of the benefits of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Then, in the blink of an eye, Moses was a despised man and fled the country to live out his days on the back side of the mountain herding Jethro’s flocks.
God had other plans. He came to Moses and told him that he was the man chosen to lead the Israelites out of the shackles of slavery in Egypt. God told Moses what He was going to do, described how he was going to do it, and gave Moses instructions on his first assignment. Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11 NIV) God continued to elaborate, more clearly articulate, just what He had planned. Instead of becoming convinced and confident Moses said, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?” (Exodus 4:1 NIV) For two chapters, in Exodus 3-4, we read about God’s conversation with Moses. With each, “But Lord…” and “What if…” God had an answer and His answer was always, “I will…” to which Moses finally responded, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” (Exodus 4:13 NIV) Do you hear what Moses was really saying? He was saying, “I can’t do this.” It’s too much and I’m not much at all. “I can’t do this.”
I had a phone conversation with a new friend on Wednesday night. She needed someone to talk to and her friend had given her my name as someone with big ears. As I listened to her I heard the words of Elijah and Moses coming through loud and clear, “I can’t do this.” God wasn’t calling my new friend to face off with Jezebel or lead a couple of million oppressed people out of bondage, but the stresses and strains of life were bearing down on her shoulders like a ton of bricks. I listened to the whirlwind of thoughts, questions, and doubts that were bombarding her mind and soul. I shared some Scripture with her, tried to encourage her to cry out to God for direction and strength, and we set up a time when we could get together to talk some more.
After I hung up the phone I thought about the Scripture that I have been studying this week as well as the Scripture that we’ve been studying for the past many weeks from Romans. I don’t know if you have recognized it, but the lessons that we’ve covered from Romans 12-15 are tough. God’s call to love others is not an easy task. As a matter of fact, it is closer to “impossible” than it is “easy.” If you were to sit down and make out a list of all of the people that the Lord has led into your life under the categories that Paul has laid out for us, in Romans 12-14, how many of those folks are easy to love—a complete joy to be around? The categories would line-up like this: The Body of Christ, those who persecute us, those in authority over us, and our neighbors. In Romans 14, Paul actually adds a sub-category to the Body of Christ, when he urges us to accept, embrace, and even carry our brothers and sisters who do not walk in perfect step with us in peripheral matters of faith.
If you are like me then your list of those who are easy to love is the shorter of the two lists. I would suppose that there are even those on your list that you would consider impossible to love. People who have hurt you time after time, done you wrong with no feelings of remorse, slandered your name with the intent of bringing you down, or treated one of your family members badly—there is nothing in us that desires to love these folks.
I remember many years ago getting a phone call from someone who had a very serious question for me. There was someone in her life that had hurt her deeply and over and over again. Alongside of this was the Scripture that she had just read from Matthew 6:14-15. Let me read it to you.
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)
As I listened to her voice over the phone I could hear the sadness and sorrow in her voice as she asked, “Will God not forgive me because I can’t forgive…” Did you hear what my friend was really saying? She was saying, “I can’t do this.” I am awed any time I run into someone who takes God’s Word so seriously. They are a rare breed.
I listened to a sermon from Craig Groeschel called, “Practical Athiest,” this past week. Craig, who is the pastor of Life Church in Edmond, said, “Many people say they are Christians, but they live as if it is all up to them.” Those words pieced my heart and soul because I am guilty of that very sin. I have always had the “I can do it” mentality and in some ways it has served me well. I don’t give up, throw in the towel, or wave the white flag. The problem with that mindset is that I don’t find it used to describe the man or woman of God in Scripture. Dependence, and not independence, is the prominent characteristic of God’s man or woman. We are strong, but our strength is not rooted in our tenacity, but in Him. We are overcomers, but we overcome by the “blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 12:11)
I am convinced that if we take Scripture as serious as my friend who read Matthew 6:14-15 then it will not be long before we arrive at the conclusion, “I can’t do this…” God will show us areas of our lives where we don’t have what it takes to live the life He has called us to live. What do we do at that point? Is it hopeless or has God made provision for those of us who take His call seriously and want to live the life He has called us to live? Let’s take a look at our Scripture and find out.
1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:1-6 NIV)
As I have been studying and praying through the lessons of Paul given to us in Romans 12-14 I have come to the conclusion that I can’t do it. I don’t mean that I can’t tolerate everyone, that I can’t fake it, or that I can’t “say” that I love them. What I mean is that I can’t, in my own power, by my own gumption and tenacity love, support, and even carry those that God has led into my life in the same way that He loves, supports, and carries us. I believe that this is true of all of us whether we want to admit it or not.
I raised the question earlier, “What do we do when we take God’s Word seriously and are confronted with the truth that we can’t do it?” Do we simply recognize and confess that we aren’t cut out for the Christian life and try something else? Or do we recognize that God has given us something far greater than our strength and mental tenacity? I hope you will choose the second option and come along for the ride this morning as we learn just what He has provided.
Last week we covered the first three verses of Romans 15 and we learned that we are called to carry our weaker brothers and sisters. Paul goes on to say that we are not to please ourselves, but we are here to please our brothers and sisters in Christ—to bless and encourage them in their walk with the Lord.
In verses 4-6 we find the provision of God to empower us to live out this life. God has not called us to love simply because it is the proper thing to do or because when we demonstrate love for others it makes for a good story. God has called us to love those he has led into our lives, to limit our freedoms in order to bless and encourage them, because living in love, agape love, is a reflection of His very nature and character. God has not only called us, but His provision is given to empower and enable us to live this life. In Romans 15:4 we read about the first of God’s provisions for us.
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 NIV)
God Has Written To Teach Us
People write books for all kinds of reasons, but God wrote a book to teach us. “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us…” In the opening of our study for today I shared stories from the lives of Elijah and Moses. Did you learn anything? Of course we did. We learned that we are not alone when we experience these feelings that we can’t do it any longer. Throughout God’s Word we are given the greatest instruction in the history of the world. Some of that instruction comes in straight forward “Thou shalt…” or “Thou shalt not…” type of teaching. We learn lessons through parables and proverbs, like the ones taught by Jesus and Solomon. There are incredible insights to be gained from simply gleaning from the lives of men and women, just like you and me, who were seeking to be faithful to God’s call on their lives. There are wonderful lessons available to us if we will simply become familiar with Jesus’ life, what He did and what He taught. All of these are given to teach us.
“For those who have ears to hear” there are some outcomes that take place as we give ourselves, as we commit ourselves, submit ourselves, to God’s Word. Romans 15:4 says that endurance and encouragement comes from the Scriptures. These will produce in us a hope that the world does not and cannot know.
God Provision of Endurance
I’ve shared with you many times about “endurance” and the Greek word, “???????” (hupomone) from which we get the word, “endurance.” The word means, “steadfastness, constancy, or patient endurance.” In the New Testament it is used of the person who is unwavering in their commitment to the Lord regardless of the seriousness of their trials or sufferings. Paul used the word in Romans 5:3-5 when he wrote,
3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5 NIV)
We all know that suffering in and of itself does not produce perseverance. Suffering can just as easily produce despair. Paul doesn’t mean to lead us to believe that suffering automatically produces perseverance within us. Before he ever wrote the words that we just read, he wrote these words.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NIV)
Can you see the difference? The person who does not understand the Sovereignty of God or the purposes of God simply suffers as a victim in a random Universe. How much more hopeless can you get? But the person who has been justified by God, had their eyes opened to the grace and hope of God, will, through the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit, be given the understanding of the purpose of suffering in their life. These people go through their trials and know that God is at work. Paul uses the word for endurance in another place when he writes,
10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:10-12 NIV)
Paul is praying for the folks in Colosse. Praying that God will strengthen them with all power so that they might have great endurance and patience. Our endurance is not a matter of hiking up our pants and cinching up our boots, but it is throwing ourselves upon His mercy and trusting Him regardless. Our minds will not naturally produce that kind of trust and endurance, but the lessons of His Word coupled with the work of the Holy Spirit will.
God’s Provision of Coming Alongside of Us
There is a second provision of God and it is His help. Read along with me from Romans 15:5-6.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6 NIV)
We just read in verse 4 that we can grow in our endurance through the Scriptures. Paul says that we gain this through the “encouragement of the Scriptures.” Here in verse 5, Paul says that God “gives endurance and encouragement.” The Greek word for “encouragement,” is “??????????” (paraklesis) and literally it means, “one who comes alongside of another person to help him or her.” Jesus used the word in John 16:7.
7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7 NIV)
In this instance the word is translated, “Counselor,” but Jesus is speaking about the Holy Spirit—the One who comes alongside of us to teach us, remind us, and convict us when we get off track. In 1 John 2:1 we read,
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1 NIV)
John uses the word for the “one who speaks to the Father in our defense…” When we take the Scripture from Romans, John, and 1 John together then we learn that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures come alongside of us to encourage us, defend us, and give us hope. What an amazing discovery this is for someone this morning!
Let me just add one more thing. The same word is used in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 by the Apostle Paul when he wrote,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)
Who comforts us? The Father comforts us, comes alongside of us, and He does so in order that we might also comfort others with the comfort we have received from Him. Wow! Where can you learn these truths outside of the Word of God? I can answer that for us—nowhere. God’s Word is not like any other book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble or Mardel’s. Paul told Timothy.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)
There are many in our society today who would make light of my belief that God’s Word is just that—God’s Word. Most believe that the Bible is a very good book, but it is a book that was written by people, changed throughout time, and really out-of-date in our modern society. I will stand with Simon Peter. He wrote these words.
20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV)
Before we get out of here this morning I can’t share all of these important lessons with you without adding the punch line. We must answer the question, “Why?” Why has God given us these lessons? Why has he written about endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures? Why has he reminded us that God gives us endurance and encouragement? I’ve got to answer that question for us. Rather, let’s let Paul answer for himself. In verse 6, Paul writes,
6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:-6 NIV)
May the God who gives us endurance and encouragement also give us a spirit of unity so that with one heart and mouth we may glorify God. What a testimony this would be to the world! If only there were a spirit of unity among the brothers and sisters in Christ today. We allow things to divide us that should not divide us. We allow peripheral issues, even things like personality differences or personal preferences to keep us apart from one another. All the while there is a watching world taking notes. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.
Just this past week I got an email letting me know that Dr. Bruce Waltke had resigned from Reformed Theological Seminary because of his belief in theistic evolution. Dr. Waltke believes that God created and that there have been evolutionary changes that have taken place. Those in authority at the seminary do not agree with Dr. Waltke and as a result he resigned his position. It didn’t take long for the news to hit the papers—USA Today, The Washington Times, The Orlando Sentinel, and many others gave their take on the disagreement. Here’s a paragraph from The Washington Times.
Outrage from the Evangelical community, and a directive from his seminary, compelled Waltke to ask that the video be removed, though he still stands by his position. The unsigned commentary from BioLogos says, in part: ‘The fact that Dr. Waltke felt he was unable to leave the video in place, despite the fact that he still agrees with its contents, is an extremely important statement about the culture of fear within evangelicalism in today’s world.’ … (Washington Times, Thursday, April 15, 2010)
I’ve read Dr. Waltke’s letter following his resignation and I will tell you that he has handled this like the godly man that he is. He was called by Diane Sawyer of ABC News and asked for an interview. He declined because he said he knew what the media would do with his words and he had no animosity towards his boss or Reformed Theological Seminary. ABC World News Tonight went ahead and ran a story–and did just what Dr. Waltke said they would do–they misrepresented Dr. Waltke.
I don’t agree with Dr. Waltke about theistic evolution, but he is my brother in Christ and one of the greatest Bible expositors of the Hebrew Scriptures of our lifetime. There are Christians who believe various things about Creation and how it all took place, the age of the earth, how God created, and when He created, but the variety of beliefs should not separate us. As brothers and sisters in Christ we should be able to sit down and scour God’s Word together in trying to understand our differences.
God’s provision of His Word and His help are for our unity, not our uniformity. As we learned earlier in our study of Romans, there are core truths of our faith that we cannot compromise, but concerning other issues we must trust that God is working in one another’s lives and use His provision to love one another—really love one another.
I want to ask you this morning, “Do you really love those the Lord has led into your life? Really love them with the kind of love that you have received from God?” Do you agree with me that it is this kind of love and nothing less that God calls us to have for others? If so, then we need help don’t we? Know this my friends, God gives us His love, mercy, and grace so we can, in turn, pass it on to others. He gave us His Son so we can have a relationship with the Father, experience the forgiveness and love that we’ve longed for, and in turn share His love with those around us. He has given us His Word to lead us and guide us, His Spirit to come alongside of us, and the power to walk together as brothers and sisters so that the world may know that Jesus is Lord. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 18, 2010