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Doubtful Matters

Doubtful Matters and A Christian Example.

Text .  Romans 14:13-23

Paul has been teaching us about the correct way to use our Christian liberty.  He has told us that we are not to disagree on non-essential issues, issues that are secondary to the Christian faith, that when a ‘weaker brother’ come into our fellowship we have to receive him in a particular way – in such a way that we will not simply argue with him and thus destroy his faith! V1.  Now that leaves us with two dilemmas.

  • Who is ‘the weaker brother?’ In Romans, most likely the weaker brother was the Jewish Christians who had returned after exile) But what of today?  My own humble opinion on the matter, is that none of us are strong in the faith, outside of Christ, who grants us the gift of faith in the first place, and without the help of the holy spirit who sustains us.  But what then on my second dilemma?
  • Where do we draw the line in ETHICAL matters? In ethics, practical obedience, what is an essential issue and what is not?  Paul’s two ‘doubtful matters’ of food and feasts could be expanded many times today. It can be straightforward enough when theological or doctrinal issues are in question, to find a place to draw the line – that’s helped and guided by 1st Corinthians 15.  But what of modern ethical issues?  How do we apply the ‘nonessential’ rule in those cases, – how far do we let the ‘weaker brother’ stray before we are forced to say – you are wrong?  Where do you draw the line?  Obviously, if something is clearly condemned in the scripture, surely we must take that line also – but many modern ethical problems are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible.

This whole section has at its heart the basic principle of Christian liberty and freedom, and the restraints that we must exercise upon ourselves, for the sake of the Lord, other believers and the witness of the Gospel. Its principles are fundamental for Christian ethical behaviour.  1 Cor. 8:9  For the Christian there is…

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Text Romans 14:1.

Adiaphora!  Today I want to introduce you to a new word – one that you maybe haven’t heard before. Adiaphora. It’s not a biblical word – it’s a philosophical word – used to denote matters upon which we can agree to disagree. Secondary issues upon which we should never fall out with each other. Theologians use it too. To differentiate between two broad sets of issues.

  • Matters of saving importance. Paul lists these for us in 1 Cor 15:1-4.  These are the things upon which we MUST agree.  The inspiration and authority of the Bible, the sinfulness and ruin of man, the Persona and work of Christ, his death, burial and literal bodily resurrection from the dead, the need to receive the Gospel in order to be saved.  This is the gospel, the Good News. We find this same concise statement of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.
  • Matters not of saving importance. For example, why would we disagree with other believers over dress codes, bible versions, even whether Christians should drink alcohol.  Some Christians hold VERY strict views on the Lord’s Day.  Others will go to the other extreme, and just treat the Sabbath as any other day Whatever our practice is regarding the Sabbath day, we must live our own lives unto the Lord, knowing that we will answer before Him for ourselves, and not for others.

Now this is precisely what Paul is teaching us about in Romans 14. Read more…

Martin Luther & the Indulgence.

What did Martin Luther find so Objectionable about the Indulgence?

Text .  Romans 5:8-9

Around 500 years ago, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, was becoming more and more concerned about a scandal that was happening in a town near where he lived where a religious huckster was selling supposed ‘spiritual blessings’ for money -, possibly the very first ‘faith and prosperity teacher in the church, trading money for supposed and highly dubious spiritual blessings.’  The year was 1517, and throughout some of the regions of Germany an indulgence had been proclaimed, to raise funds for the completion of St Peter’s basilica in Rome.  The cleric who was raising the funds (there’s a lot of political intrigue going on behind the scenes) was Albert of Mainz, and his claims for the indulgence were extravagant to say the least.

(Roland Bainton in ‘Here I Stand’)  “The instructions given to the indulgence sellers declared that a plenary indulgence had been issued by His Holiness Pope Leo X to defray the expenses of remedying the sad state of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul and the innumerable martyrs and saints whose bones lay mouldering, subject to constant desecration from rain and hail. Subscribers would enjoy a plenary and perfect remission of all sins. They would be restored to the state of innocence which they enjoyed in baptism and would be relieved of all the pains of purgatory, including those incurred by an offence to the Divine Majesty.  Those securing indulgences on behalf of the dead already in purgatory need not themselves be contrite and confess their sins.”

The indulgence was never proclaimed in Saxony, where Luther worked.  But in an adjacent area, a German called Johann Tetzel was preaching the benefits of the indulgence and the people of Wittenberg could travel over to pay their money and return with a pocketful of worthless promises…  Tetzel’s method was outrageous.  He played upon the fears of the simple people who believed that their departed loved ones, a mother or father, husband or wife or child, were being punished in purgatory, having their remaining sins purged, before they could be admitted to heaven.  You can imaging the anxiety this caused, the fear and distress.  Tetzel played upon this, by claiming that the church (or specifically the pope) could and would relieve the souls that are suffering in purgatory, if payment was made.  One of his catchy sales slogans went something like, ‘As soon as the gold in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!’

 Is it any wonder Luther was incensed by this.  The thought that a person could have their sins forgiven, just by pay a sum of money, with no conviction of sin and no repentance, was repugnant to the man who had learned, on his own quest to find peace of heart before God, that ‘the justified soul lives by faith, and faith alone.’  Tetzel’s doctrine of salvation by works was abhorrent to Luther and abhorrent to Scripture.

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Be in Time!

Be In Time!

Text . Romans 13:11-14

Paul has warned the Roman Christians that they must live as model citizens, so that their witness will shine out in their pagan society.  10 Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. What will help us to live like Christians as model citizens?  We have already seen that our purest motivation for Christian living, model citizenship and love for our neighbours is Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. But there is a secondary motivation. It is that this age is rapidly coming to a close and one day very soon we all must give account to God for the deeds done in the flesh. (Ills Martin Maguiness) For all of us, time is short, and its shorter now than it ever was before.

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The Christian is a Model Citizen

The Model Citizen

Text . Romans 13:7-10

Last study in this chapter we noticed tht the Christian would be a model citizen.  He would always do his best to keep the law of the land, obeying the civil magistrate and paying his taxes.

  • Christians will obey the law of the land. V3 do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
  • Christians will keep a clear conscience in respect of the law. V5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
  • Christians will pay their tax bill! Acknowledging that to do so is in fact an act of obedience to God, to contribute to the overall good of society, to pay for our hospitals and our security.  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom;
  • Christians will give honour to the king! And sing the national anthem! fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

We also learned that there was one particular instance when the Christian was not just entitled to disobey the government, but also was required to do so – and that is when the government hinders or forbids the free preaching of the Gospel, or indeed enacts legislation that is contrary to the Gospel, as we learned in our reading of Acts 4.  In such a case the believer MUST obey God and not man.

There are two particular aspects of the Christian life and witness that Paul singles out for particular attention:-

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The Saint and the State

The Saint and the State

Text .  Romans 13:1–7

We have recently had a UK national election, and the result is a hung parliament.   Chaos.  But why do we need a government, or parliament or a local assembly?  After all some of our elected politicians have been a disgrace, – more interested in their own salaries and expenses than in pubic service. As a result of their legislation, our society is more secular and ungodly than ever before.   So, what is the relationship between the believer and the government? Let’s see…


  1. The Believers Responsibility. Let every soul be subject Be a loyal subject!

The need for governing authorities. V1. Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Paul recognises that they exist and that we must acknowledge them. Who would run the hospitals, empty the bins etc if they did not exist?  Who would order society?  Anarchy and chaos would reign.  Because government is necessary:-

  • God in his providence and sovereignty appoints our governments. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God    He always rules every situation according to his will and purpose, even if we can’t see that at the time.  In fact sometimes, that appointment is to chasten His own people.  There’s historical and biblical evidence of this.  Habakkuk 1:5     The conclusion of this is stark…
  • To resist them is to resist God, and incur his wrath. V2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.  Now surely that will be a challenge for all of us, for there are times when it seems that civil disobedience is the only way.     Furthermore…
  • The government has the divine right to bear a sword for justice! V4

This is not some unusual doctrine for a specific local situation that Paul is talking about either.  There are plenty of other references in the NT: 1 Timothy 2:1-2   Titus 3:1  1 Peter 2:13-17   Jesus himself had been asked about this very issue in Mark 12:13 -17.  The early Christian apologists like Justin Martyr and Tertulluan employed the Christian subjection to authority as a defence of the faith!  So in making these comments Paul is stating quite clearly that the Christians attitude to authority is to submit, to acknowledge that authority and to respect that office. Practically speaking, how will that respect be given:-

  • Christians will obey the law of the land. V3 do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
  • Christians will keep a clear conscience in respect of the law. V5  
  • Christians will pay their tax bill! Acknowledging that to do so is in fact an act of obedience to God, to contribute to the overall good of society, to pay for our hospitals and our security.  V7      
  • Christians will give honour to the king! And sing the national anthem! fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

So, the Christian beliver is a model citizen in evry way!


  1. The State’s Responsibility. unto the higher powers

So Christians in Rome were to honour, respect and obey the laws of the land. Caesar’s law. But there are two sides to this coin.  The government also has a responsibility, and we can see it quite clearly here too.

  • To acknowledge the God who ordained their power. V2   
  • To minister benevolently. V4 .
  • To punish evil doers. V4 and to praise what is good. V3  
  • To be consistent in administrative affairs. V6     Government officials are ‘Ministers!’

There is a delicate balance. The Christian must respect the government and the government must honour the Lord God who placed it in power.


  1. When Two Worlds Collide. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God

Ethically, what happens when the government attacks the church and fails in its side of the equation.  What happens when the government oppresses the church?   There is of course a biblical precedent for this. It is found in Acts 5, where the Jewish authorities ordered the Apostles to cease and desist from preaching about Jesus.  Acts 5:5:24-29  The key here seems to be that the governing authorities were hindering and prohibiting the preaching of the Gospel.  Look at the accusations against the Apostles:

  • Disobedience of an edict prohibiting the mention of Jesus’s nane! Don’t talk about Chrst! (Ok to OMG on Facebook, or use the name of Christ in blasphemy of course)
  • Preaching DOCTRINE. Cant have that!  Declaring absolute truth, and making others fell that they are being judged?  No on.
  • Blaming us for Christ’s death! Like it because of us, our sins that Jesus was put to death, saying that He died in our place – how dare anyone blame me for the death of God’s son.

Peter’s answer is clear.   In these circumstances, (and in very few others) our first duty is to obey God, not men.  This was the case with the great historical examples of disobedience, like when the covenantors in Scotland in the 16th century rose up against the Stuart kings, who were trying to use the ‘divine right of kings’ to enforce Anglican conformity (and popish ritual) over and above the clear teaching of God’s Word.

We have a very fine ethical line!  When the gospel is being hindered, when Christian doctrine is being attacked, surely we have a ringht to evoke Peter’s defence.  I’m just not so sure about the right to march down a road!

Bob McEvoy, June 2017

Applying the Gospel in the Modern World

Applying the Gospel in the Modern World

Text . Romans 12:14-21
A self explanatory portion of scripture! May God give us grace, that with the help of the Holy Spirit we might be enabled to practice it in our own lives! An elder was asked by a lady member, ‘I need help with a passage of Scrioture, that passage that says that women are to be silent in the church, for I don’t understand it!’ The elder was wise. He replied, ‘you don’t need to understand it. Just put it into practice!’ This is a passage just like that!
There are many modern ethical issues that face Christians. In the 70’s I was studying a Christian ethics course at bible college, and I found John Stott’s book, ‘Issues Facing Christians Today’ extremely helpful. It covered a wide range of topics which were being debated in the church, like abortion, euthanasia, divorce etc. It’s now in its fourth edition. And covers topics that I would never have dreamed of in the seventies. Cancellation of debts, same sex marriage, terrorism…. The issues facing Christians today have grown, and even in our local context, we are faced with our own particular difficulties, victims of the troubles, dealing with the past, conflicting views of history, competing rights and responsibilities. But the challenge is the same. How will the Christian apply the Gospel in modern society, live out that Gospel and bring the good news to his pagan neighbours and friends? Read more…