Maintaining Our Unity Because We Understand The Difference Between Essentials And Non-Essentials; Emphasizing The Spiritual Elements, Not The External Observances Of Religion
Because we come from are a fallen race, alienated from God and alienated from one another, it’s hard for people to get along with others. We disagree with someone and we want to end our relationship with him. Messiah’s Community needs to be different. We need to maintain our unity.
One way we do that is by understanding the difference between the essentials of the Faith and the non-essentials, and focusing on the essentials, not the non-essentials.
Here is a famous saying that expresses this truth: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity (love).
Messianic Jews and Christians need to be able to distinguish essentials from non-essentials.
I want to consider essentials and non-essentials in two areas: faith and practice; what we believe and what we do.
When it comes to what we need to believe, the Apostles Creed is a good expression of the essentials of the Faith: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
And in Messiah Yeshua, His only Son and our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried; He descended to Sheol; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, Messiah’s worldwide community, the unity of all believers, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
These are essential truths of the Faith – things we need to believe; truths that are non-negotiable.
What are some non-essential teachings?
Baptism – not whether we baptize, but the method – whether it is full immersion or sprinkling or pouring; whether it is infant baptism or baptism after an informed decision is made to follow Messiah.
The Millennium. Whether Messiah will rule on the present Earth for a thousand years after He returns, or if the creation of the new heavens and Earth begins immediately when He returns and we immediately enter the eternal state with no thousand years on the present Earth.
Whether Messiah’s return is broken up into two distinct events: the Rapture and the Second Coming, or just one part.
The timing of the Rapture – whether it is pre-Tribulation, mid-Tribulation or post-Tribulation.
The nature of Hell – whether people suffer consciously and eternally in Hell, or whether their life is extinguished there.
In chapter 14, Rabbi Paul helps us understand how we are to relate to those who have different beliefs about non-essentials, particularly relating to what we eat and what days we observe.
The population of the United States is very diverse. People come from very from different backgrounds, including different religious backgrounds. Therefore we should not be surprised if Christians and Messianic Jews come to different conclusions about how we are to live out our faith. Paul instructs us how to relate to those with a different understanding regarding non-essentials of the Faith. Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.
We accept those with different views. We are not to quarrel over disputable matters. Disputable matters is another way of saying non-essentials. We must know what is a disputable matter and what is a non-disputable matter; what is an essential and what is a non-essential.
Accept the one whose faith is weak. The Lord’s Representative teaches us that there will be those whose faith is weak, and there will be those whose faith is strong. Not everyone will have the same amount of faith.
The Rabbi tells us how to identify those with weak faith and those with strong faith. The one whose faith is strong emphasizes the spiritual elements of religion. The one whose faith is weak puts too much emphasis on the external observances of religion – like what we are allowed to eat or not eat. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
Food, diet, what we eat, what we don’t eat, falls into the category of a disputable matter, something that is non-essential to the faith.
The one who believes it is right to be a vegetarian versus the one who believes it is right to eat meat: it’s a disputable matter. It’s non-essential.
The one who believes it is necessary to keep kosher versus the one who does not believe it is necessary to keep kosher: it’s a disputable matter. It’s non-essential.
The Rabbi teaches us how we are to relate to someone who has a different understanding of what we can or can’t eat. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. We treat the individual who has a different opinion about what is right to eat with respect. We do not treat him with contempt. We do not judge him by criticizing him and relating to him as if he is unacceptable to God.
He is not unacceptable to God. Why? God does not accept people based on their diet. God accepts people regardless of their diet. And if God accepts people regardless of their diet, we must accept people regardless of their diet. We must accept what God accepts. We must accept the one whom God accepts.
Another reason why we don’t criticize or treat with contempt the one who has a different understanding than we do about food is because he is God’s servant – not our servant. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
We don’t criticize someone who has a different understanding about diet because that is not our responsibility. It is the responsibility of the master to judge his servant. Our fellow Christian, our fellow Messianic Jew is the Lord’s servant, not our servant. He serves the Lord, not us. He is accountable to the Lord, not us.
The Lord will decide whether he is acceptable or not acceptable, whether he stand or falls, and the Lord has already determined that he will stand. The Lord has already determined that his salvation will not be determined by his diet, but by his faith; not by his works, not by what he eats or doesn’t eat, but on the basis of what Messiah has done for him, and his response to what Yeshua has done for him – in other words, his faith. He will stand because he is standing on a firm foundation. He is standing on the Cornerstone. He is standing on the perfect and finished work of the Son of God. He is standing by his faith, not his works; not his diet.
The first example of a non-essential is food. The Rabbi gives another example of something which is a disputable matter – the observance of days. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. We are not to treat with contempt, judge, criticize or reject someone who has a different understanding about which days are to be observed or not observed.
There are those who believe that Friday night at sunset until Saturday night at sunset is the Sabbath and it is holy. That’s the way it has been since creation. The Sabbath was given to Israel and it never changed. The Sabbath is the day to be observed.
There are those who believe that the first day of the week is the day to be set apart because the Lord rose from the dead on that day, and for two thousand years the vast majority of Christians have worshiped on Sunday.
There are those who believe that every day is a Sabbath because Messiah fulfills the Sabbath.
There are those who believe that the Lord’s resurrection is to be celebrated as part of the Jewish Passover and the holiday of First Fruits.
There are those who believe that the resurrection is to be celebrated on the Sunday following the full moon that falls on or after the spring equinox; that Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after March 21.
There are those who believe that Christmas is good; it’s the best time of the year; they love it; it is deeply meaningful to them; they feel closer to God; they want to use Christmas to tell others about the reality of the Son of God.
There are those who believe that Christmas is not a Biblical holiday. It has a pagan origin. They don’t want to have anything to do with it.
There are those who believe that Halloween is pagan and dangerous. They don’t want to allow their kids go trick-or-treating. They want their children to be different from the culture.
There are those who believe that Halloween is not dangerous. They don’t want their children to be too different from their peers; they don’t want their children to grow up feeling deprived; that nothing bad with happen if they go trick-or-treating; that Halloween can be used to tell their neighbors the truth about God.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike.
You may be thinking: What days and holidays should I observe? The Rabbi gives us a principle to guide us. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Our practices, what we do, and what we don’t do, are to be based on our personal convictions. We do something because we are convinced that it is right and it is something God wants us to do. We don’t do something if we are not sure if it is right; if we are not sure it is something God wants us to do.
We are not to treat with contempt, judge, criticize, separate from someone whose understanding about food and days differs from ours because no matter what days he chooses, no matter what diet he chooses, if he is convinced that is what God wants him to do, then he is worshiping God by what he does – and it is wrong to discourage him from worshiping God. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
A person will regard a day as special and set it apart in order to worship God on that day. God accepts his worship as genuine. So must you. The person who eats meat and thanks God for it is worshiping God. God accepts his worship as genuine. So must you. If God considers his worship to be acceptable, and He does, how dare you insult the one worshiping God in a way that God accepts? The person who does not eat meat because he believes it is wrong, and honors God through his self-denial, and thanks God for providing grains and fruits and vegetables, is worshiping God. If God considers his worship to be acceptable, and He does, who are you to reject worship that God accepts?
Christians and Messianic Jews serve God with the entirety of their lives – so stop criticizing them for the choices they make in those disputable matters. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Messiah died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. The lives and deaths of those who belong to the Lord, serve the Lord. Therefore we are not to judge, criticize, show contempt for or separate from those who are serving God with their lives – even if they are doing so in ways that differ from ours.
The Rabbi connects our ability to serve God with our lives and with our deaths to Messiah’s life and Messiah’s death. Remember, the great events of Messiah’s life affect His followers. What happened to Him happens to us. His life was lived in service to God. He honored God with His life and He honored God with His death. He came back to life. He lives to serve God now. Because He lived to serve God, and His death served God, and His life now serves God; and since we belong to Him, our life belongs to Him and our death belong to Him, we are able to serve God through our life and through our death. Therefore, since our life and our death belong to the Lord, and serve the Lord, and He accepts our life and our death, we must accept the life and death of our brothers and sisters.
Again, it is the Lord’s responsibility to judge His sons and daughters – not ours. You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? And God will most definitely judge them – and us. For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. As he has done so often, the Rabbi reinforces his teaching with a quote from the Word of God, in this case, from Isaiah. It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Every human being who has ever lived will appear before the Creator. If during their life on Earth they never acknowledged His supremacy, they will at that time. Every human being who has ever lived will his knee, acknowledging that the Creator is the Supreme Being. Every human being will use his mouth to acknowledge that the Lord is God.
Every person will give an account of himself to God. The Lord will judge everyone – their motivations, their beliefs, their deeds. And He knows everything and has a perfect understanding of why everyone believed what they believed; or didn’t believe what they should have believed; why everyone did what they did; or didn’t’ do what they should have done. God knows all and will judge all – perfectly. Therefore we don’t need to judge others, especially about those disputable matters. let us stop passing judgment on one another.
If we are judgmental, we risk harming our brothers and sisters. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Someone is walking on the path toward God, and he has a different opinion about a non-essential matter, and we treat him with contempt and criticism and rejection – it’s like putting a rock on the path, and he stumbles and hurt himself. Why would we want to do that?
We are to respect the convictions of our brothers and sisters. If they believe something that is different than we do about something non-essential, we don’t insist that they stop doing what they are doing and do what we are doing. They might stop doing what they are doing, not out of personal conviction, but due to pressure from us, and that would put an obstacle in their way to God. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Yeshua, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. Paul was completely convinced by His knowledge of the Lord Yeshua, that everything God made is good, so no animal was unclean. Every animal could be eaten. That doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t keep kosher. He did. But those who didn’t keep kosher were not sinning by not keeping kosher. They were not making themselves unclean.
However, the Lord’s Representative also understood that an individual’s conviction about the rightness or wrongness of an action is crucial to it being right or wrong for the individual. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. So, if someone thinks eating a non-kosher animal is wrong, but you think it is right, and if you criticize him and threaten him and pressure him to do what you are doing – he might do it. But if he does, and something in him believes that what he is doing is wrong, you are causing him to violate his conscience. You are causing him to sin. You are putting a stumbling block in his way. You are putting him in danger.
Don’t do that. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Messiah died. If what you are doing is distressing your brother, or causing him to violate his convictions, out of love for your brother, don’t insist on your own way.
If someone believes it’s wrong to drink wine or smoke a cigar, but I believe it’s right, and he sees me drinking wine and smoking a cigar, and thinks: If Rabbi Loren is drinking wine and smoking a cigar, so can I. And he does, but something within him feels it’s wrong – and he violates his conscience, and sins and damages his relationship to God – then I am doing something wrong. I am being selfish. I need to change.
The sons and daughters of God are exceedingly precious. What a terrible thing it would be to damage the life of a brother or sister because of something that we do that distresses them or causes them to go against their conscience and turn from God. How awful it would be to do something we know is good, but have it used to increase evil. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.
The Rabbi wants us to be able to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, disputable matters from non-disputable matters. He wants us to know that one whose faith is strong puts the proper emphasis on the spiritual elements of religion. The one whose faith is weak puts too much emphasis on the external observances of religion. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Messiah in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
The kingdom of God – how God works, is not about external observances like what we eat or what we drink or what days we observe.
The kingdom of God – how God works, is about substance, not form. It’s inward, not outward.
The kingdom of God – how God works, is about righteousness: being right with God; being in a right relationship with God; living so that one is consistently doing the right things.
The kingdom of God – how God works, is about having the Holy Spirit living in us, giving us the ability to do the right things in a consistent way; the Holy Spirit producing peace in us; calmness in the midst of life’s storms; a sense of well-being not dependent on our circumstances; happiness that comes from knowing God; knowing we are right with God; knowing will live forever with God.
Living with righteousness, peace and joy pleases God and pleases people, and draws people closer to God. Being rigid about external observances usually does the opposite – it does not please God, and most people find it unattractive and alienating.
Again, it’s hard for people to get along with others. We disagree with someone and we end our relationship with him. Messiah’s Community needs to be different. We need to maintain our unity. If we understand the difference between essentials and not-essentials, and the values that are important to the kingdom of God, we will be able to maintain the unity of Messiah’s Community. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Maintaining peace and building one another up takes effort – sometimes a lot of effort, but it’s worth it.
You have the right to do what you want to do in disputable matters, but don’t insist on doing things your way if it hurts someone else. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. Give up a non-essential practice for the sake of your brother or sister. And if you won’t give it up, at least don’t keep bringing the subject up to your brother, which antagonizes the situation. And try not to do it in front of him. Be discreet. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.
Only do something if you are convinced it is right. Don’t do anything if you aren’t sure it’s right. If you are not sure – don’t do it. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. If you follow this advice, you won’t sin. You will maintain a clean conscience; your relationship to God will be good. Your life will be a success. You will be serving God and He will delight in you and your worship.
Lord, help us maintain our unity because we understand the difference between essentials and non-essentials.
Help us not focus or get caught up with disputable matters.
Help us emphasize the spiritual elements, not the external observances of religion.
Help us maintain a good conscience, knowing that anything that does not come from faith is sin.
Lord help us fulfill this excellent teaching: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity (love).