Can we go back to that man in our gospel lesson, that servant that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 18. Here this guy, right, gets a massive debt forgiven. Just incredible mercy is shown to him, but then he turns around and has some other fella thrown in prison who can’t pay back a much smaller debt owed to him. Kind of hypocritical, don’t you think? And people don’t like that do they? I’m sure you don’t like that. In general, we aren’t particularly fond of people who are hypocrites who say one thing, demand even that you be or do something they want, but then you find them not abiding by their own rules. It can be frustrating. It can be difficult to trust and respect someone who is a hypocrite. We tend to prefer authenticity.
Now, it’s true though that we are all hypocrites in one way or another. I might pretend to be confident and unafraid of the spider my wife asks me to kill, even though inside I’m petrified that this ball of hair and legs is going to jump on my face and eat me. Sometimes it’s easier to nod our head in a knowing way and offer generic commentary when someone talks about a topic that is completely foreign to us. We pretend to be poised when we are nervous. We act skilled when we are clueless. Some of us are better at this than others, but we all do it. We all know how to be hypocrites. Yet, just as much as we don’t like others being hypocrites, I think we also don’t like when we are hypocrites. We want to, we would prefer to be authentic, to be real. Now, what does that look like here in a place like this, in a church? How can we be authentic, real, to one another, to the world, to God? Paul helps us in this arena.
Take a look at the first verse of our lesson, verse one, God has the Apostle Paul write these words, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” Paul makes two important points in this verse. 1) He notes that there are people with weak faith which means there must also be people with strong faith. 2) He lets us know that in the church there are things that can be disputed. Let’s focus on that second point. What are disputable matters within the church? Well, let’s rule out what is not disputable. You can’t dispute the Ten Commandments. Or God’s plan of salvation in and through Christ alone. Or that faith in Christ alone saves us, not our works, not faith in anything else. Furthermore, you can’t dispute that we baptize people for the forgiveness of their sins or give them the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion…our list could go on.
We don’t dispute these things. God speaks, the cause is finished. Some things God declares. Some things God commands. Some things God forbids and all discussion comes to an end. And, in our heart of hearts, we love that. Clean, clear, black and white rules make life easier. Despite all our whining and complaining about rules, we love them. They’re simple. We know where God stands and where we stand. What then of these disputable matters? What do those look like? In the church there are many.
Do you prefer organ or piano in worship– or we could get crazy – drums and guitar? Should we stand for a prayer or sit? Does a service have to look like this? Do I need to wear this? These things can be disputed. God does not speak on them. We often call things like these adiaphora, that is, they are neither commanded nor forbidden. We get to choose. You know what that sounds a lot like? Freedom.
So, you know what? Let’s say I’m tired of this thing, this robe. And the only reason I’m wearing it is because, well, “that’s what we do here.” So, I start to take it off. Now, some of you might cheer me on, “Yeah, get rid of that thing!” Others of you might disagree, “There is good reason our pastors wear robes in church!” Neither side is wrong. Neither side is sinning. This thing is adiaphora. Not commanded. Not forbidden – I’m free to choose. Paul describes something similar in verse 5 of our lesson. Listen to what he says, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
Paul is addressing a real problem in the church of his time. The Jewish believers had for so long followed God’s OT laws about clean and unclean foods and specific worship rules, and a variety of other things. Then Jesus came, and those laws were no longer commanded, but often still practiced. Well, then Gentile believers were welcomed into the church, and they didn’t care about clean and unclean foods, they weren’t beholden to all these religious dates and festivals. So, they didn’t follow or obey them. Now, how do you think this impacted those Jewish believers who were raised on these OT laws? It didn’t go over so well. So, there were these very real and raw differences between these two groups, and yet then there was this freedom here that Paul speaks of. What were they to do with it, how could these believers be real, be authentic to one another as they lived in their Christian freedom?
Paul gives us a false and true solution. What is Paul’s false solution? Well, put it this way, the modern world when it sees people in a church saying things like, “You can’t do that, or, this is the only way. We are the only ones who have it right.” They look at that and say what? Intolerant. Narrow minded. A better approach would be then to accept and be okay with everything, be broad minded. Be tolerant. This, see, is the solution. The only way we will have peace and harmony is to agree that everyone’s position, beliefs, and even morality is right. You find that all over in the news these days as we try to excuse away and justify some of the worst types of behavior with the assumption that this will bring peace.
So, here is what Paul says, verse 1, again, “Accept him whose faith is weak.” Paul isn’t asking us to be tolerant or intolerant. He wants us to be something completely different. The world says make no negative evaluations. Don’t call sin, sin. Don’t say this is wrong or that is wrong. No, negative evaluations. Yet, at the same time, I won’t let anything you believe or do hinder how I want to live. That whole live and let live idea, right? Paul though makes a negative evaluation, he says, “Accept the weak.” Don’t crush them or force them into your line of thinking. Draw them in. Adjust your life and make changes so that you can have a relationship with someone who is very different from you. Do this so you can build bridges and have strong relationships. Paul is not urging us to simply bear with and tolerate one another, weak and strong, but to get in so close to each other so that we understand and know each other better than we’d ever dream possible. If someone is on the wrong path, then, yeah, speak up and say something, otherwise build them up, love them. Now we are starting to see what it means to be authentic. And this authenticity is all tied up in the freedom we each have. Did you notice the phrase that is repeated over and over in our lesson? It’s three words long, “to the Lord”
“He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord …abstains to the Lord…lives to the Lord…belongs to the Lord.” This is the starting point for everything that we do. I want us all to see what binds us together. The one vital thing between each of us is Jesus. I might disagree with you on how things are to be done, what we are to wear, politics, or whatever, but in Jesus there is no disagreement and that gives us freedom to be fully convinced, that is to make sure, that everything we do, everything we say, how we act, all of it, is done for one reason to give God glory; it is done to or for the Lord. Therefore, it is not done out of vain conceit, or selfish ambition, nor from any other sinful motive. But, here is the dirty secret, that’s not so secret. We are all hypocrites here. We’re all sinners.
Being authentic towards others means also being authentic with ourselves. It means recognizing the disease of sin raging out of control within us, that we understand the vain conceit and sense of superiority that we often feel, is based on nothing, and that we like Adam can only stand there bracing ourselves for the cold flood of God’s rejection that ought to wash over us in waves and pummel us into hell. Instead, what God sent was…Jesus. God showed authentic love to us. Paul speaks of that love in verse 9, “For this reason Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”
It is this authentic love, this authentic life and death of Jesus that leads to those authentic, real, words that forever set us free, three words, “I forgive you.” There is forgiveness here for you and me, just as we are, but it is found only in Christ. Isn’t this cool? Once we are authentic with ourselves and the new relationship we have with God through Christ, we have true freedom. That means we don’t have to be hypocrites striking one pose after the other. Instead we determine our lifestyle, our conversation, our habits, our traditions, everything by what pleases the Lord and gives glory to his name. And this in turn leads us be authentic with each other and with others in so many different ways as we use our freedom not to control and burden, but to uplift and bless; to be Christ and to share Christ.
Isn’t that why you are here? You’re not here to look down on one another and to judge each other. We are here to forgive. We are here to love, to pray, and to worship. We are here to bring salvation to one another, and we are here so we can confidently take that same message out into the world. It is a glorious and exciting way to live—authentic through and through…and free. And it is found in Christ Jesus alone whose life and death was meant just for you so that you might live in this freedom now, and into eternity with him. To him be the glory and honor now and forever. Amen.
 Paustian, Mark; Prepared to Answer pg.102