Dissensions – Dan Teefey
Sermon text: Romans 16:17-20
Wow! What a busy week. Friday was a real pain because I got stranded in London. You probably saw the email . . . Thanks for all your help via Western Union.
Let me give you a real quick update on where we are at in this series. We have been going through the various “acts of the sinful nature” in Galatians 5. We only have a few weeks left. This Sunday we are talking about “dissensions” . . . next week Todd will be giving the sermon on “factions,” then I will be doing “addictions” on the 8th, then on the 15th Dave Timmerman will finish the series with a sermon I know you have all been waiting for on “orgies.”
I was having lunch with someone from Riverside this week and we were talking about the sermon series and the Timmerman's last Sunday, which is the 15th. And the waitress was listening to us. I said that Dave was giving the sermon on the 15th, but that I had not pointed out yet to him what the last sin in the “acts of the sinful nature” was. When I said “orgies,” the waitress’s eyes got really big. Then I told her that she should come and check it out. I am not sure, but I think she may have went into the back of the restaurant and called the police.
I am not sure if Dave will call the sermon, “orgies.” In all seriousness, though the word is translated as “orgies” in the NIV and probably includes what immediately comes to mind, but it also includes all forms of disfunctional, abusive and perverted community. That, I imagine is what Dave will focus on.
This week we are discussing dissensions in the Christian community.
In the law when the Supreme Court makes a decision on a case there is the majority opinion, which becomes law, but then there is often other opinions written too. There is often a concurring opinion, which is written by the judges that voted with the majority, but wanted to point out a little different reasoning and then there is the dissenting opinion, which is written by those that disagreed.
When Galatians 5 mentions “dissensions” as one of the acts of the sinful nature, it is referring to people that are not able to disagree well . . . when they dissent they do so in such a way that community is destroyed even when sin is not at issue.
There is disagreement that is good and healthy and that actually can bring people closer to one another, but then there are dissensions or disagreements that tear community apart. It is these disagreements that are the focus of Paul’s writing.
The passage I want us to look at is Romans 16: 17-19. Read Romans 16: 17-19.
The passage begins with “watch out.” And Paul urges us to “watch out” for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way. This is somewhat of an odd thing to say, especially after Paul has just gone through and commended a whole host of people in the beginning of this chapter. But Paul's concern isn't necessarily to call people out that he is writing to for the disagreeable natures, but to warn those that he is writing to of the danger of such people. They are a risk to the community that Paul has likely encountered repeatedly in his ministry.
Paul calls the Romans to be “alert” to the danger. Warnings are helpful because they signal to us when danger is near.
Perhaps you heard at the end of this week about one of the things that contributed to the oil rig disaster in the gulf. The Deepwater Horizon's gas and oil leak alarms had been disabled for at least a year when the oil spill happened. The rig leaders disarmed the alarms to ensure they were not woken up by false alarms. You have probably done something similar too. We used to disarm the backup alarms on different things on the farm. We also disarmed the feature on the riding lawn mower that shuts the engine off when you get up from the seat.
If we are not equipped and alert we risk missing danger. Paul is sounding the alarm for the Romans because he does not want them to be caught off guard. He wants them to have an internal warning system to alert them to people that cause divisions within the body of Christ.
The church is to be welcoming to all, but not to allow equal influence to all. Anyone can be a part of our community and anyone can be fully a part of it, but we are called to be alert as to who is given the opportunity to cause obstacles to the work that God wants the community to do.
How do we determine who these dangerous people are, though?
It is one thing if someone busts into the sanctuary and says, “Jesus is not God. The resurrection never happened. God does not love you. And so on” . . . we would all look at each other and know that this person was washed up and not to be followed or believed. If someone asks for money to be sent to them and you can only use Western Union . . . an alarm usually goes off in our head.
Unfortunately though, the threats to the church are much more subtle. They usually happen around personal relationship, preference and bias.
In one church I am familiar with, one of the larger givers in the church had a problem with the pastor and decided that he was no longer going to give to the general fund, which supported the pastor, but only the youth ministry. His goal was to use his money to hurt the church and ultimately the pastor. Now he had rationalized why what he was doing was right, but it was extraordinarily divisive within the church.
At another church I am familiar with, the Senior Pastor had a confrontation with the Worship Leader and the church nearly split 50/50 over who was right. Half of the congregation believed that the Pastor was right and half of the congregation believed that the Worship Leader was right. I was actually brought in with officials from our denomination to help mediate the situation, but both staff people and many in the congregation were unapologetic in their unrepentant approaches. The congregation insisted on saying negative things and blaming the other side.
There are people that cannot see beyond themselves far enough to believe in the possibility that God's will is contrary to their personal opinion. And because this is the case, they will refuse to compromise and will use sinful and selfish means to work as a cancer in the life of church community. We are called to watch out for these people. Our text says that they will not be serving Jesus, but their own appetites.
And what makes our discernment even more difficult is that they will be skilled at smooth talk and flattery. Smooth talk and flattery deceive naïve people. The Message translation says here, “Don't be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil.”
Television and media have not made this any easier. Our culture increasingly values speaking style and smooth talk and flattery. We are much more often duped by fancy exteriors and don’t spend enough time prior below the surface to find truth.
So how can we know when we encounter these smooth talking, self-serving people that cause divisions and obstacles? Our text says that they will be contrary to the teaching you have learned. Paul tells his readers that they will recognize deception because of the depth of what they know about God.
This is where it gets scary for the church today. If you do not know God deeply. If you have not studied God's Word diligently and communicated with him fervently in prayer . . . if you are not regularly pouring out your soul and your sinfulness to another believer and working towards being more Christ-like . . . it will be difficult for you to tell the difference between a sweet talker and the real Jesus-like deal.
Dana and I have this conversation that occurs quite regularly. We will be watching something on TV or listening to music on the radio and I will say that the person sounds really good. And she will look at me like I am crazy. And then she will explain that the person isnt’ even on key. Or that they are botching a song that was sung a long-time ago by someone else who sang it much better. The problem for me is that I don’t know anything about music. And because I don’t know anything about music, I have a hard time telling what is good and what is not. I can’t tell a fake form the real talent.
If you have not fully invested yourself in Jesus you will be more likely to follow a fake. The text is very clear that we are able to recognize the divisive people amongst us because of the teaching we have learned. I have said this before, but attending the Sunday worship service is not enough. Having your personal faith based upon your attendance at a 1hr 15min worship service each week is like working at your joy an hour each week. You won’t get too far. The understanding that Paul is urging requires full investment. It requires reading God’s Word. Spending time in prayer. Sharing openly with other believers.
You can be a Purdue fan by watching a couple games every week or going to the stadium or arena sometimes. But to be a Christian is to be wholly committed to the life Jesus laid out before us. And unless you know Jesus and care deeply about being like him . . . you won't be able to tell what are the things of Jesus and what are not.
In our passage, Paul goes on to commend the Romans for their obedience. He has confidence that they will not be overcome by deception amongst them because of what they have learned. Paul is proud of them, but calls them to be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil. Study up on those things that are good . . . don't worry about spending too much time on what is evil.
I think this is a good model for disagreement in the church and the difference between disagreeing rightly and disagreeing wrongly.
About a month ago Dave Timmerman held a small group facilitator training session and he thought it would be good if I came and spoke about the vision of small groups in the life of Riverside. I told the facilitators several reasons that small groups were essential to what Riverside is doing in our world. 2 of those reasons were the deepening of faith and the context for holy disagreement.
If we believe, and our text in Romans makes this clear, that the antidote to being deceived and divided by sinners is to know God and Jesus' teaching, then we must regularly engage with God and Jesus' teaching. I believe small groups provide one of those contexts.
This morning some of you may have walked into our facility feeling pretty terrible. Maybe you have had a horrible week. Perhaps you have really struggled with a particular sin. Maybe you are fighting with your spouse or your kids won't listen or you aren't sure you are going to get enough hours at work . . . whatever you probably walked in here this morning with this burden on your heart . . . you may have said “hi” to a couple people and now you are in your seat . . . but no one knows what is going on inside of you. Just you. And because there are 150 people in here . . . you are probably going to leave and no one is going to notice you are a little “off” this morning.
Small groups take our group of 150 people here this morning and divide us up into mini-churches of 8-12 people. And when you live life with that small group or mini-church, and you all get to know each other at a deeper level than can happen on Sunday morning . . . someone should notice and ask you about the burden you are carrying . . . and you will share it because you know they are “safe.” And you will find a caring community that draws you back into God's Word and into prayer and holds you accountable. Ultimately, these others believes will help you to know God and Jesus' teaching so that you can grow in a faith that leads to freedom . . . and protects you from divisive people and obstacles.
The other thing that I emphasized at that meeting about small groups and this is really related to dissensions is that small groups and the church should be the place where holy disagreements happen.
That is a term that I think I made up, which in mind refers to those moments of disagreement with another Christian that draw two people closer together rather than further apart.
I made up a diagram that I think very simply describes what I mean. This slide shows what happens generally in disagreements between two people. They are facing each other arguing and eventually they agree to part ways because their personal opinion or preference is more important than the relationship. There is a wall that forms between the two people which not only separates their communication, but demonstrates a complete cutoff in their relationship. They cannot see each other.
The alternative disagreement between believers places God at the center. No matter what one person may think, they can't help but to look at the other through God. Ultimately, seeing the other through God forces the two that disagree to see God's purposes or will as far larger than themselves.
So how are we to handle disagreement as Christians. I think there are several things that we must keep in mind when we disagree with someone. If you think back to the diagram I showed you earlier and how we are to look through God at people we disagree with, it might be helpful to think about looking through these lenses as well.
The first is that we must always disagree in love. Love is an essential characteristic of the Christian life. It is not something that we are sometimes, but it is to become the nature of who we are and thus we cannot do anything but love. Then when we disagree with someone we still love them.
1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” We can make the most logical and brilliant argument in all the world and show all those we disagree with how wrong they are, but if we don't show love in doing it, our response is worthless.
This does not mean that we have to be a pushover or that we can't speak with urgency and authority, but that we truly desire the benefit of the other when we speak . . . not just our own benefit in proving the other wrong and us right.
The second thing we must understand about holy disagreements is that God and the Bible are the ultimate authority in determining who is right and who is wrong. 1 Corinthians 1:20 says, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
Our opinions and book knowledge are great and all, but ultimately it does not matter in comparison to wisdom and discernment from God. The Bible is full of examples of times when what appears foolish to the world is exactly what God wants and desires from us. Even Jesus' willingness to die for a bunch of people that didn't deserve it is foolish to the world.
The third key is to remember that essentials trump non-essentials. There are a whole host of things that God really does not care that much about. The Bible leaves open that a variety of views and opinions are legitimate.
For example, you can wear whatever you want to worship God. Now I know we have preferences and one seems more right than another to us depending on our preference, but it does not matter. Or you can like universal healthcare or you cannot like universal healthcare. Again, I realize that one will seem much more right and moral and godly than the other to you, but ultimately God permits us to agree to disagree on it because deeply faithful Bible-trusting Christians disagree on the issue.
Fourth, everyone is different. Everyone has been given different gifts and abilities and this leads them to live the Christian life out in a different way. That is o.k. In fact it is a testimony to the infinite creative nature of God.
Fifth, not all of our causes are God’s causes. We cannot presume that things that we care deeply about are as essential to God. Some of our agendas are ours. And this is o.k. God will many times call us to do something and we should do it, but that does not mean that everyone else is called to join us. I.e. adoption.
God calls us to be alert. To be on guard against divisive people and methods. And God calls us to draw closer through holy disagreement.