Sabbath School Lesson for December 23-29, 2017
Paul has thoroughly described in this epistle to the Romans what our lives look like, both before and after our conversion. Jews and Gentiles must accept Christ as their Messiah and allow His Spirit to direct their behavior and thoughts, in order to be saved.
But the last three chapters take a slightly different turn. Paul knew that the newly formed Christian church would not survive unless its members understood how to live in peace and harmony with each other. All of us are different. We have different personalities, spiritual gifts, and life experiences.
Even after all the necessary requirements for our salvation are met, Satan works hard to cause friction among God’s people, because he knows it will hinder the spreading of the gospel. We must learn how to “get along” with each other, if we are to be a viable force in promoting God’s will, which is the salvation of the world.
This final theological thrust completes Paul’s gospel message. We can understand now why the book of Romans was so precious to the Protestant Reformers. It encapsulates everything that God desires us to know for our salvation.
The church of the Middle Ages had drifted dangerously away from what our salvation required. We must, in these end times, make sure we remain on the right path of righteousness. It’s so easy to let our own ideas of Christian living overrule God’s plan, ruining our chances of spiritual victory.
Memory Text: “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Romans 14:10 KJV
How easy it would be for us to quit judging or criticizing others, if we remembered this one verse. We are not on the judgment seat, Christ is. It’s not our place to judge anyone. To do so puts us on the same level as God. How foolish and wrong we are to pretend to do God’s job. The results of this pretentious action can only lead to disaster, for us and for the church.
Sunday: Weak in Faith
“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.” Romans 14:1-3 NKJV
These verses may trouble us, until we understand their context. Paul was obviously referring to meats sold in the market from animals that had been sacrificed to pagan gods.
The Jerusalem Council, you’ll recall, decreed that Christians should refrain from eating food offered to idols (Acts 15). Paul realized that some Christians therefore refused to buy any meat in the market, just to be on the safe side. Others had no problem with eating the market food, so long as they were unaware that it had been part of a pagan sacrifice. This issue, in Paul’s day, was an example of a simple difference of opinion that had the potential to divide the church. Using these verses today as counsel on any other dietary matter is probably not appropriate.
It may confuse some of us that Paul calls the vegetable eaters weak in faith, but Paul was obviously not speaking of our religious faith. If this were true, then Daniel and his friends, who ate only vegetables for ten days, were doing it because they were weak in faith, when actually they were showing great faith in their abstinence from those foods on the king’s table that had been offered to pagan gods, including scavenger meats that God had declared unclean for health reasons.
Therefore, the faith part appears to come only from their faith in whether the food had been offered to idols.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 14:1-3 and Colossians 2:16. What kind of issues are not worth fighting over, when it comes to worshiping God? How does our judging each other lead to divisions in the church?
Read Romans 14:4 and James 4:11, 12. Why is judging one another such a foolish thing to do? How might it be considered a form of blasphemy?
Read 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:17. How do these verses confirm that Paul’s advice in Romans was not to persuade us which side of the “eating” question was right, but that we shouldn’t judge each other over non-essential matters?
Monday: Before the Judgment Seat
Paul pointed out repeatedly in these closing words of his epistle that judging others is a bad idea. Our memory text this week, Romans 14:10 gives the main reason for this. It’s because we will all be judged by God. God alone is our judge, and we are usurping His powers when we judge someone.
We are reminded of what this judgment will be like. Paul even quotes Isaiah, who described this judgment as a time when we all bow and confess that God is the one worthy of our love and devotion.
When viewed from this eternal perspective, our quibbling over insignificant behaviors seems foolish at best, but also has the potential to be very destructive in God’s church, if allowed to continue unchecked.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 14:10-12, Philippians 2:9-11, and Acts 10:41-42. Who will be honored at the judgment seat of God? How does this power to judge prove the divinity of Jesus?
Read Matthew 7:1-2. What causes us to judge others harshly for things we are doing ourselves? What causes us to dismiss the bad behavior of others, when it resembles our own bad behavior? How do these human tendencies confirm that we are not qualified to judge others?
Read Matthew 7:3-5 and Romans 14:13. How can we become less of a stumbling block to others? We may never be perfectly without fault on this earth, so does this mean we are never to help others with their problems? Why, or why not? What’s the difference between helping and judging?
Tuesday: No Offense
Chapter 14 begins with what Paul has called the law of liberty, meaning that we are at liberty to serve God according to our own conscience, and not judge others for their life choices.
The chapter closes by reminding us of the law of love. This means that we are to be aware of our influence with others, and not become a stumblingblock to their faith. Our love demands that we take into consideration how our actions affect others, even if it means adjusting our choices, when feasible, to accommodate those weaknesses.
One of our duties as responsible Christians is to ensure that our example does not contribute to someone else being led astray from God. That includes being harsh and judgmental of others, even when such criticism is not directed at the one being criticized.
Instead of worrying about such things as eating and drinking, Christians should focus on things such as love, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:7). We must ask ourselves if our influence is dividing or uniting God’s church. If it’s not uniting, and instead driving some away, then we may need to temper our words and actions with more love.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 14:14-17 and 1 Corinthians 10:23. Just because something is lawful, should we go ahead and do it? When would this not be the right thing to do? Is there a limit to how much we must accommodate someone else’s conscience?
Read Romans 14:17-23 and 1 Corinthians 14:12. Why is the edification of the church at stake by our influence? Why must we be conscious of how we build or tear down the people of God? How is God’s glory and vindication before the universe jeopardized by the condition of the church?
Read 1 Corinthians 8:13 and 9:12. How are making our brother stumble and hindering the gospel related? What sacrifices are worth making, if it means the church is more united?
Wednesday: Observance of Days
In addition to judging people over the food they eat, Paul included another issue that reflected something the church of his day was dealing with. We are aware that there were some Jewish believers who thought Gentile converts needed to be circumcised. Understandingly, some Jews in the Christian church also believed that the Jewish calendar of feast days was still to be observed, as in Old Testament times. If not, with the Gentiles, then at least within their own homes and families.
Paul was not against these observances, so long as they weren’t enforced on all believers. He, personally, seemed to have been able to let go of these Jewish observances. But the point Paul was making in this passage (Romans 14:4-10) was that we shouldn’t judge others for their choices.
Many have used these verses to justify the change of the Sabbath day to the first day of the week, Sunday. But nowhere in Paul’s counsel is this change mentioned. Paul often expressed support for the keeping of the moral Ten Commandment law, which included the Sabbath requirement. So, it seems reasonable that in this case, he was referring to the observance of special Jewish feast days that Moses set up to commemorate their escape from Egypt and other prophetic events.
Paul’s main message here is that the Holy Spirit is able to guide us to the truths in the Bible. We must not be the Holy Spirit for others, as Paul sensed that we sometimes tend to do.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 14:4, 5 and James 4:11, 12. How is speaking evil the same as judging? Why should we not judge another’s servant? Who is the master Paul mentions here? How much can we trust our own convictions? How do we ensure that our convictions are true and valid?
Read Romans 14:6-8. Who are we accountable to? If we judge someone, are we making them accountable to us, instead of God? In what way? Why is it impossible for us to live only for ourselves?
Read Romans 14:9 and 2 Corinthians 5:15. Who is included in “the dead and the living”? How is Jesus the Lord of us, even after we’ve breathed our last on this earth? Does this include those who are dead in their sins?
Thursday: Final Words
Besides not judging, Paul’s final words in his letter to the Romans presents a clear mandate to bear each other’s burdens. We do this by being patient, encouraging, and full of hope and peace for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In chapters 15 and 16, there are several phrases we see as benedictions, or closing words of blessing for Paul’s audience. They summarize Paul’s vision for the church.
“Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another…” Romans 15:5 NKJV
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 NKJV
“Now may the God of peace be with you all. Amen.” Romans 15:33 NKJV
And now, this final one…
“Now to him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…” Romans 16:25 NKJV
It sounds very much like we are not only to be of one mind with each other, but to be of one mind when it comes to God. Being united with God in mind and spirit, will ensure that we are united with each other.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 15:1-3. Why is not pleasing ourselves so important?
Read Galatians 6:1, 2, 1 Corinthians 9:22, and 10:24, 33. What is the law of Christ?
Read Romans 16:25-27, Ephesians 1:9, Colossians 1:26, 2:2, and 4:3. What is the “mystery” spoken of by Paul? Why would our salvation be called a “mystery”?
Paul closes this letter to the Romans with some advice on how to keep the church alive and healthy. The church’s ability to stay united is crucial to the survival of its ability to serve God outside the church.
- not quibble over non-essential differences of opinion (Sunday)
- must remember that we are all to appear before God’s judgment seat (Monday)
- not be a stumblingblock to someone else (Tuesday)
- not judge each other on how we worship (Wednesday)
- be on one mind, with each other and with God (Thursday)
The four Gospels present the heart of Jesus’ life on earth. But Paul’s epistle to the Romans encapsulates the meaning of His death and resurrection.
It is more than a superior work of theology and doctrine, however. Romans also provides us with lessons of practical counsel on how to navigate our Christian walk, with grace and love toward each other. Martin Luther wrote, “This epistle is the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel.”
Paul shows us systematically how God’s law works:
- The law of liberty makes us strong in the practice of our faith, able to be victorious over sin.
- The law of love makes us strong in witness and serving others, able to be good disciples.
Next Week: The Influence of Materialism (new quarter on stewardship)
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/