Episode 12 - Wrestling With The Word - Part 1
December 23, 2022
Or listen here:
So far in our study of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ve been examining how our righteousness should surpass that of the Pharisees. It’s been challenging, in a good way; but, none of us has had a wildly differing view about what Jesus is saying. We each bring our own perspective; but, we all agree about what we are looking at. And so, while these discussions have been challenging, they have been very encouraging as well. However, we are approaching a few topics now that will be challenging for different reasons: we don’t see things exactly the same or we draw different opinions about how we should act as a result of Jesus’ teaching. At this point, some of our hearers might be freaking out. Wait, what?!?! You don’t all agree? What does that mean about scripture? Is it still reliable? Yes, scripture is the only solid foundation and no, it isn’t the end of the world that we don’t see eye to eye. Some things in the bible might be hard to understand; but, this is an opportunity for us to exhibit the type of love Christ calls us to have and it is an opportunity for each of us to learn.
Hey, I'm Matt Brownell.
And I'm Van Owens.
And I'm Tim Adams.
Welcome to Climbing the Mountain, where we dive into the scriptures and discuss themes,
connections, and real life application.
We're kicking off a series here where we're going to examine the Sermon on the Mount and
discuss implications for this teaching for Christians today.
Well we have a very special podcast today.
This is going to be a little bit of a diversion, maybe one of our bonus episodes, so to speak.
But it's really to set up what's going to happen for the next couple episodes.
And so, so far in our study of the Sermon on the Mount, we've been examining how our
righteousness should surpass that of the Pharisees, which has been challenging in a good way.
But none of us has had a wildly differing view about what Jesus is saying.
We each bring our own perspective, but we all generally agree about what we're looking
So, while these discussions have been challenging, they've also been very encouraging.
However, we're about to approach a few topics now that will be challenging for different
reasons because we don't see things exactly the same, or we draw different opinions about
how we should act as a result of Jesus' teachings.
Some things in the Bible might be hard to understand, but this is an opportunity for
us to exhibit the type of love Christ calls us to have, and it's an opportunity for each
of us to learn.
In our polarized, divided times, I'm reminded of a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, the test of
a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the
same time, and still retain the ability to function.
Most of the time, if we're honest, we don't want to consider another's point of view.
We'd rather feel right and feel good about ourselves.
However, oftentimes, the exercise of looking at the other side of an issue reveals contours
that we never understood before.
So that's our hope going forward, and so I'm very excited about our future discussions,
and I hope our listeners know how much each of us loves and respects each other.
I hope that comes out.
Each of us has a spirit of humility knowing that someone we respect in the highest way
looks at something differently than us.
So because the Sermon on the Mount elicits differing interpretations, it raises a
very important question.
How do we wrestle with the Word of God individually and in community?
What does it mean for us to develop a conviction beyond the confines of our own little room,
beyond just what we feel or think in isolation?
The way we are going to approach this topic is to look at several aspects.
Debatable matters, essential matters, spiritual discernment, and hermeneutics, which is a
fancy word for how we interpret Scripture.
What lens we apply to understand it?
For debatable matters, we'll draw from Romans 14, and that's where we'll start.
Paul turns his focus then to resolving very practical but huge matters of difference among
a diverse body of Jews and Gentiles.
He turns to how we're to treat each other when we have differing matters of belief.
So let's read Romans 14.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him.
But not to quarrel over opinions.
One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains
pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?
It is before his own master that he stands or falls, and he will be upheld, for the Lord
is able to make him stand.
The thrust of Paul's instruction in chapters 14 is that we welcome each other, especially
those that differ in opinion from us.
In verse 4, Paul reminds us that we are on the same level as everyone else we see at
All our fellow servants under God, our common master.
We're not in the position to judge each other like he can.
Paul does the same thing a few verses later when he references life and death and appearing
before the judgment seat of God.
Now, what I find so fascinating about this section is that we have a debatable matter,
you know, matters of belief, debatable, that on the surface might not seem like a big deal
to us today, but it's getting major attention.
Paul's pulling out all the big guns to deal with something that you and I might think
is really kind of small potatoes.
Why does he do that?
And is there an underlying danger here that he's addressing?
Yeah, thanks for that intro, Matt.
And I am glad that we're taking this time to think about how we wrestle with the word
individually and in community.
It's something that is a little meta because we've been talking about the Sermon on the
Mount and how to understand it, how to make it apply to our lives.
But this is really important because it's going to guide kind of our framework for everything
else that we're going to do.
So yeah, in answer to your question, it is interesting that the matters that Paul is
talking about in Romans 14, they might not seem like a big deal to us, but I think it
is important to note that they were a really big deal in the time.
And there's a couple of main ones.
The main one is eating food that was sacrificed to idols, basically eating meat.
And that's talked about Acts 15.
It's talked about the 1 Corinthians here in Romans.
So it was coming up a bunch.
And then also there was considering one day alike or considering different days sacred.
My understanding is that's talking about religious observances like the Jewish law and how Gentiles
are supposed to or not supposed to observe the old laws and customs from the Old Testament.
So really, really big issues at the time, even if they don't feel like a massive deal
to us right now.
Yeah, that is, I'm glad you pointed that out because you're right.
It's hard to, and I think it's very important, and we'll talk about this when we talk about
hermeneutics, to get into the mind of the audience.
These were letters that were written to a specific group of people at a specific time.
And we are 2000 years divorced from that time.
They're both looking at the Bible, presumably, and thinking about something drawing completely
different conclusions from looking at the same thing.
Yeah, I think this is such a great topic to talk about.
And I think particularly in this day and age, because what we're really talking about is
how you develop your individual convictions based upon the word.
And I think that word conviction is sort of the way Inigo Montoya thought.
I don't think that word means what you think it means, sometimes with people, because I
think people will have an emotional reaction to something that is based upon what they
were taught growing up or based upon some kind of tribal connection to a particular
party or a particular way of thinking or a particular philosophy.
And they will take the emotional, reflexive reaction and say, this is my conviction,
which is not what a conviction is.
Biblically, a conviction is something that you develop from reading, studying, meditating
on the word of God.
And we do have to do that as individuals, and we have to do that in our community as
And until we do that, we can't really call it a conviction.
And so what we have to contend with is all of these sort of pseudo convictions floating
And some of them are things that, you know, it might be something that matters a lot to
me, but doesn't matter as much to you.
It doesn't concern you because it's not something that you think about, or it's not something
that particularly affects your life.
And so it's very easy for me to trivialize that, whether I do it unwittingly or purposefully.
And in the same way, it would be very easy for you to accuse me of being, you know, prejudiced
against your way of thinking.
And so it's really important to have a type of devotional life in which you wrestle with
Yeah, this is a huge issue, Van, that you bring up, especially for our society, where
we live right now.
I feel like people are allergic to reading the Bible sometimes.
Like, they would rather take a hot take on something and then make that their strongly
held feeling that they say is a conviction.
But what is it based on?
Yeah, and then it's very easy.
If you do it backwards, then if you go in trying to manipulate what the word of God
says, you can make it say anything.
It's been used to justify things that most people will believe are not valid things anymore.
You can use the Bible has been used to justify slavery.
It's been used to justify antisemitism.
It's been used to justify misogyny.
And you can pick and choose and pull out things out of context and make it seem like that's
what it's saying.
And so it's very important to go in with an open mind to say this is knowing how you
feel, knowing how you think, but at the same time, being willing to be open to the scriptures
and to let the scriptures challenge what you feel and challenge what you think.
That's really difficult to do.
And I think that's why people are kind of allergic to studying the Bible.
You don't want to read the part that says the thing that disagrees with you.
Well, it also brings up one of the essential attitudes that you should have when you approach
the scriptures is that of humility.
And so being, I can't tell you how many times I've, over the years, realized, hey, what
I thought the Bible said, it doesn't say that.
Ah, oops, I guess I got to reorient what I was thinking.
This is a long process to develop convictions.
You know, biblical ones take time as you start to read through things again and again, and
then you start to make connections.
I didn't make connections with certain things until 10, 20.
I'm now seeing more and more than I ever had, but you have to keep at it.
And so not to overwhelm people who might just have become a Christian.
But you know, this is, when you get to debatable matters, which is what we're talking about
tonight, these are things where I think we'll probably get to this.
You are developing spiritual discernment about things, which doesn't come in a blink of an
But let's get back to, so we were, let's get back to this, to the scripture here we're
studying in Romans 14.
So Paul brings up days and he brings up food as matters of debate in this congregation.
And then he says in verse five, he continues, one person esteems one day as better than
another while another esteems all days alike.
Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Okay, now this is totally fascinating too.
Why does Paul write we should be fully convinced of something debatable?
Doesn't that sound like a recipe for further division?
Why is it so important that we are fully convinced and why should it not lead to division?
Yeah, it's a great question.
And it is, I think partly connected to what Van was talking about when we equate our convictions
with our opinions that are as an emotional response.
Actually those emotional responses change, right?
They change very, very fluidly depending on how we're feeling in the moment or what feels
And when I think about what does it mean to be fully convinced?
That means that you've really thought about this particular issue.
And from as a Christian, it means that you've really gone to the scriptures and you've prayed
to get discernment from the spirit about how to understand all of this.
And I think you'd be able to both explain why you believe what you believe, but note
the areas in which, you know, maybe that foundation is not on an explicit quote from scriptures
that says this is the way it is, but oh, I developed, you know, this and this and this
and this opinion and foundation based on a set of principles.
And so you realize that a lot of, even though you're convinced, you realize my foundation
is based at some level, just on my own understanding, right?
And so you can track your own logic.
And when we can do that, you can see the areas in which my logic is very sound.
It has a firm foundation in the scriptures and other places where maybe I assumed something
here, here and here, and I can, that makes sense to me, but it's those assumptions that
I may not necessarily be able to hold onto someone else.
And I think that when he, when he says being fully convinced, I'm not, you know, not an
expert in language, but I wonder if convinced and conviction have the same root.
I think they probably do, and I think that when it comes to a debatable matter, we have
to understand that anything that's a debatable matter among, among brethren in the same fellowship
is something that can potentially divide us.
And so if I'm going to have a stance that is contrary to a stance that Brother Adams
has, then I need to not just have that because I want it or because it's the way I grew up
or it's because I just prefer it.
I need to have a conviction about it.
In other words, I need to be fully convinced based upon my relationship with God, based
upon my understanding of the scriptures, what my conviction is about that.
So that when that thing comes up, I can explain in love, in humility to Tim, this is why I
do, this is why I do what I do in this particular matter.
This is what I believe.
All the while keeping myself open to what he believes.
All the while keeping out, you know, I might be jumping the gun a little bit and talking
about this more in community, but there's not a, there's not a hard dividing line between
wrestling with the scriptures on your own and wrestling in community or wrestling with
The line is fuzzy there.
They're very, very interrelated and it's very important for me to have a conviction about
it that is based upon the solid foundation of the scriptures and not just based upon
personal preference or anything else other than the scriptures, because anything else
other than the scriptures is going to be a compromised foundation.
It's going to be shifting sand.
It can change with the times.
And so I really like what you guys are saying about developing convictions based on the
word of God.
It feels like you're at peace internally and you're able to be humble toward other people.
And I think that's something that is so important for the body of Christ to be is unified.
And I think humility is one of the huge parts of it.
In Revelation 1:10, John actually references the Lord's day and evidently, you know, the
Christians viewed Jesus' resurrection as the dawning of a new day.
And the Sabbath was the day of rest and God rested and then from creation on the seventh
day and then Jesus was crucified or unpassed over.
He slept in the tomb until Sunday morning when he woke and arose.
And now his new work of creation is begun.
And you know, in Romans 13, we have a kind of a reference to this, but this new day has
begun and we're to work.
And so you could see that there is a conflict there now between one group thinking one day
is really important and another group thinking there's another day is really important.
And they're both right in some ways, but they could be totally convinced and then still
be unified because I think in them being unified demonstrates something bigger in that God
is, you know, we value God and relationship and the things that, you know, if we're fully
convinced about something, we're not afraid, you know, digging into our position.
But we're willing to not make that be something that would hurt our brother or sister that
God has had Jesus die for.
I that that part, as I was reading Romans 14, that felt so critical.
And really Paul just keeps on going at it over and over again in verse 13.
He says, therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide
never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
In verse 15, he says, for your brother is grieved by what you eat.
You are no longer walking in love by what you eat.
Do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.
And so it felt really clear that reading Romans 14, when I'm looking at the conversation
that I'm having with someone else or my interactions with someone, we might disagree about something
that I have a deep conviction on myself.
But in that whole interaction, this is my brother or sister for whom Christ died.
And so I can't bring myself above them.
I can't assume that their opinion or the spirit within them is void or that only I have access
to what is true.
There's this deep humility and recognition that this person is just as loved by God as
I am loved by God.
And that needs to impact all of my interactions with them.
It's almost like I would rather be wronged or I would rather lay down my privilege or
my freedom to do whatever I want to do.
Paul says he's fully convinced that no food is unclean.
He says that in 1 Corinthians 8 and he references the Old Testament.
Psalm, I don't know, 24 or 27 or something.
Anyway, he references the Old Testament and he's convinced, totally convinced.
And then you even have like Mark 7 where he puts a little, oh, by this Jesus declared
all food clean.
And if you think Mark was probably one of the early Gospels, the tradition is that he
recorded Peter's sermons and Peter, we all know, had that vision.
So you know, he's probably interjecting, oh yeah, when Jesus said that back there, hey,
I didn't see that at first, but you know, all food's clean.
And so Paul is fully convinced, but he would rather not let something silly like food wreck
his brother or sister's faith.
And I think that's maybe a good place to pick up next time when we come back to this, because
I think we're going to have to get into faith more.
See you guys next time.