INI + AMEN.
Paul has comforting words for us today. It doesn’t matter who you are, or whether you have strong faith or weak faith, whether you feel like your God’s child or not. It doesn’t matter what YOU feel at all. Paul binds up the weak knees here, and he strengthens even the strong and stouthearted. Whoever you are—it doesn’t matter: “God has welcomed you.” “He’s accepted you, received you. He sent His Son for you. Who not only died and was raised for you, but He makes sure His cross and empty tomb become yours. You “will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make [you] stand.” The Lord makes you stand, causes you to stand. No standing on your own—the Lord does it, and He does it at the baptismal font.
This is all in Paul’s mind. It’s why he says, “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” Our dying and living to the Lord began at the font. For it was there that we were “united with him in a death like his” and also “united with him in a resurrection like his.” For “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, with the result that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too walk in newness of life.” Paul says all of this in Romans 6. But here in Romans 14 he reprises the idea, brings it back. Because of this watery death and resurrection “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” But we’ve died and risen, and so when we eventually die we’re the Lord’s. We’re the Lord’s now and forever, living and dying, because we’ve already died and risen.
“To this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” What comfort this is. We are the Lord’s. He’s made us stand. He’s welcomed us, received us as His children. And because He’s done all this (saved each and every one of us; baptized each and every one of us; and will raise each and every one us on the last day) we’re all united. We’re united together in this Christian faith. We’re all reckoned and counted among the baptized. What joy this is too! For because of this
ALL OF US ARE EQUAL BY OUR FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS.
(I. So we care for each other.)
By our faith, by our being baptized, we’re all one and equal before God, and so we care for and love each other. That’s what Paul calls us to. It’s what we heard last week in Romans 13. “The commandments…are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the second great commandment—equal to the first: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Love toward God is the first and greatest commandment, but this second one is like it. All the commandments of the second table—the 4th through 10th commandments—are summed up with “love your neighbor as yourself.” Because, as Paul said last week, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” We also hear about loving our neighbor this week. This text, Romans 14, is all about loving our neighbors, what fervent love is supposed to look like. St. John says in his first letter, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Yes, we’re to love our neighbor. We shouldn’t just say we do. It’s not just words. Love is active. As Paul says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This is what love looks like in action.
We’re to love our neighbor as ourselves. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Love bears with our neighbor: putting them first, in all that we do or even say! “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” says the eighth commandment. We learn a lot about this commandment from Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism, but there’s only one part that really applies to our text today. We learn in the Eighth Commandment that “We should fear and love God so that we…explain everything in the kindest way.” We don’t assume the worst about our neighbor. Love doesn’t do that. No matter what our neighbor does or says.
And we mustn’t forget about love toward God either. Love is active there too. Receiving His gifts in Church. Praying. Reading His Word. Studying His Word. Not letting anything—no, not anything—get in the way of that!
This is a problem. This love toward God and especially neighbor. It was a problem in Rome. It’s why Paul writes this part of his letter! It’s helpful to understand what’s going on in Rome. You had to go to the market to get food. And what if, maybe like me, you’re a bit more carnivorous, and your response to the question “Do you want beef, pork, or chicken?” is “Yes,” well, there’s a good chance that the spare ribs you’re buying have been sacrificed at one of the many local pagan temples in Rome. It was used to placate a false god. What do you do? Your spare ribs were offered to Jupiter, your chicken wings to Saturn, your filet mignon to Julius Caeser. Well, in Paul’s day “one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.”
Okay, that’s fine. The god is nothing so you can eat, but maybe it still bothers you so you don’t. The problem comes in because those who ate looked down on those who didn’t, and those who didn’t condemned those who did. Paul asks them, “Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?” There was no “explaining everything in the kindest way”—just measuring who’s better, who’s more faithful. If someone saw their neighbor eating vegetables, he didn’t think “He must not be able to afford meat, and I won’t rub it in his face. Christ died for him.” He rather looked down his nose at him. And if someone saw their neighbor eating meat, he instantly thought the worst and judged him rather than thinking, “He mustn’t know that meat was sacrificed. I won’t tell him, lest I burden his conscience. Christ died for him.”
This sort of measuring wasn’t just a problem back then in Paul’s day. Do we always and in every situation put everything in the kindest way. Do we find the best way of putting a word, an action, a situation, or are we quick to speak a condemning word? Are we quick to give them the benefit of the doubt? Or are we quick to give them what for? Does our love cover a multitude of sins, as Peter bids, or do we “in love” offer a correction? We think we know their motives. But can you really know that? If our neighbor’s a little bit short with us, do we think “They must be having a tough time, they need a friend,” or is it more, “What’s THEIR problem?!?” Or if a guy cuts us off on the highway, “They must be in a hurry, or rushing to an emergency,” or does another word cross our mind? Yet, if we’re having a rough day or in a hurry, we expect a wide berth, some understanding, and have what we’ve said or done put in the best light.
“I would never act that way. I’ll help them with that. I’ll give them some good advice to fix that problem.” We’re measuring and judging. Our sin should be more important than our neighbor’s. It is bigger than our neighbor’s. They only have a speck, and we a plank, after all. So Paul asks each of us today, “Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?,” or as Luther puts it, “explain everything in the kindest way.”
(II. So that we all can stand confident on the Last Day)
This problem of our poor excuse for love is solved not by trying harder but by Jesus. He always loved His neighbor, put them first. He did that for us, in our place. Where our love falls short, His love never did. He had perfect love toward God, perfect love toward His neighbor, and, in His death, God’s love is made manifest. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His only begotten Son.” God’s love—true love—is seen in God hanging dead on a cross. That’s His love for us: “to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” He’s our saving Lord. That’s what He does for His neighbors, for us. And, like I said above, we’ve been baptized into Him, into His death and resurrection. “None of us lives to himself, and no of us dies to himself.” As Paul says in Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
In Jesus our love is perfected and false love forgiven. In Jesus, by faith in Him, we’re confident even on the Last Day. Because in Him, “we are the Lord’s.” We’re His in life and death, and it’s in Him that we stand before the throne: “We shall all stand before the judgment seat. For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” But this account, this record is reckoned in Christ because we’re His. He’s done it for us, “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” On the last day, we will stand as sheep and then works are reckoned—that’s Matthew 25. Check it out Matthew 25: the sheep and the goats. I believe that all starts in Matthew 25 verse 31.
We need to repent of our bad love, our false love, our “love” that’s quick to condemn our neighbor rather than explain it in the kindest way. The Lord has mercy on us. He’s received us. Whoever you are—it doesn’t matter: “God has welcomed you.” “He’s accepted you, received you. He sent His Son for you. Who not only died and was raised for you, but He makes sure His cross and empty tomb become yours. You “will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make [you] stand.” The Lord makes you stand, causes you to stand. No standing on your own—the Lord does it, and He does it at the baptismal font. This goes for all of us: ALL OF US ARE EQUAL BY OUR FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS. Love flows out from this: love toward God, and fervent love toward one another, and this faith given all of us makes it so we are confident even on the Last Day. Not on the basis of how we love—it’s always imperfect in this life. But it’s on the basis of Christ. It’s because of Him we’re received. It’s because of Him that we stand both now and forever. It’s because of Him we are loved.
INI + AMEN.