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Climbing The Mountain

Matt Brownell, Tim Adams, and Van Owens

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Climbing the Mountain is a weekly podcast devoted to the Word of God and its application in the lives of believers today. Grounded in the Sermon of the Mount, we dive into connecting scriptures to explore themes and implications.

Episode 13 - Wrestling With The Word - Part 2

December 30, 2022

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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.
This is part two of wrestling with the word, individually and in community.
And last time what we did was we looked at Romans 14 and we took a passage where on the
surface we're like, we're dealing with food and days and why are people so up in arms
with this.
And we just started to get into why it was such a big deal for the people of that day,
these were matters of belief that people had gone back to the scriptures and developed
with strong conviction.
And Paul actually wrote for them to be fully convinced about things because these are matters
of faith.
And if you don't do things by faith, that's sin too, which is so interesting that our
consciences could be part of that equation.
And we talked about how when we're wrestling with the scripture, to develop a conviction,
this is not something that we just do on a whim.
We feel something strongly and so therefore I must have a conviction.
No, no, no.
We have to go back to the Bible.
We have to wrestle with it.
And then we might have to wrestle with that in community as well.
And we're starting to talk about that now and how that happens.
And what we saw with Paul's example was that he was fully convinced that no food was unclean,
yet he wouldn't let his freedom be a stumbling block for his brother or sister whom Christ
died for.
And it reminds me of, I mean, we talk about things where we read stuff the wrong way.
I read in verse 16 of this chapter for years, I read, so do not let what you regard as good
be spoken of as evil as Paul saying, you know, we should stick up for something we believe
is true and good.
And of course, that's exactly the opposite of what Paul is saying in context, right?
Okay, so that was my goof, but, you know, when you start to read things, you know, what
he's actually saying there, how we should view our freedom in community is one, is
something that we'd be willing to give up for our brother or sister, which is beautiful,
because that demonstrates how we value each other, those who Christ has died for.
So that's where we were, and we're starting to pivot now a little bit as we start to zoom
in on what's a debatable matter versus an essential matter.
And I start, I think we should start to pick this up as we, you know, we'll stay in Romans
And I think that chapter, it concludes more in Romans 15, verse 7 or 13, I don't
know, we're called to please our neighbors for their good, to build them up, and to welcome
each other as Christ has welcomed us for the glory of God.
Paul then reminds his hearers how Jesus revealed God's truth concerning the Gentiles that
they would be part of true Israel, which was another major theological hurdle in the first
It's routinely called a mystery in the sense that only God could have helped people see
Before we pivot then from debatable matters to essential matters, I want to just take
a second to ask, how do we know something is debatable versus essential?
I could see someone in the first century having a really hard time with something that seemed
to be supported one way from scripture that Jesus seemingly upended.
For instance, we're talking about days, we talked a little bit about the Sabbath last
time, and Jesus routinely violated how the Pharisees interpreted one of the Ten Commandments
to prove a larger point.
How are we supposed to tell the difference between something debatable versus essential
when we might feel very strongly about a particular issue?
Yeah, so this question has been something that I've been wrestling with for a decade,
which for me, being younger is a long time, but not pales in comparison, I'm sure, to
others in the room.
But it's felt like a very difficult question for me to kind of wrap my arms around, because
it has to do with authority, and what authority, if someone needs to have the authority to
make that call.
As much as possible, I want Jesus to be the authority of making that call, and so it can
feel confusing where we feel like we have to make that stand ourselves.
And so, I don't know, I think this conversation I'm hoping will be really helpful to bring
up different ways of thinking about this, because I'm really curious to hear what you
two think about how to make those distinctions.
I've been thinking about this whole thing in terms of two different pillars.
One is I want to be orthodox, I want to have the right beliefs, and then I want to be orthoprax,
I think is the word, but I want to have the right conduct.
And I just want to be on that narrow path.
But when I think about what are the correct beliefs, I've more and more actually gone
back to the, what is the church historically taught?
If I believe that the Spirit of God is moving within the church at all times and in all
places, then I'm going to put a lot of weight in what the collective consensus of the church
has been over what the true essential beliefs are.
And so, there's a ton of different places we could go in the scripture to hit on these
things, but I just wanted to read the Apostles Creed, which is one of the many, many creeds
that have been developed over the centuries, but has very, very broad agreement within
the church for across denominations, across thousands of years.
And I'll kind of just leave it at that for my section here of what I think it means to
have the right belief.
And so, I'll read it, but I'll just say that there's a lot in here, but there's also not
a lot in here.
There's a lot missing from this list that I might be tempted to put up at a higher level
than it is.
The Apostles Creed is, I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born
of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day, he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, and from
there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, which just means universal church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life
And so, yeah, I think that's been, when I think about what's essential to believe, like
the things that are in my head about to be actually a Christian.
I'm not saying that this is like the list, but I think it's pretty close to that core.
If I don't believe this, I just can't call myself a Christian.
I'm something else.
If I do believe this, I can call myself a Christian.
Thank you for sharing that.
This is, so, you know, I'm a person that people will approach a lot of times with questions.
I mean, I think it's because I'm old.
I think it's also because I do some teaching.
And so people come at me with their questions.
And here's how I almost always answer the question.
The first thing I'll say is that's a good question.
And I'll say, I'm not sure that I know the be all end all answer to that question.
I don't, I don't know if I know that.
This is what I think just off the top of my head.
And then I'll tell them what I think and I'll say, but before I'm willing to say this is
my conviction, and this is with something that's not a conviction for me.
If it is a conviction, I'll tell them this is what this is the truth.
This is what my conviction is.
This is what it's based on.
But if it's not, I'll say I need to think about that a little bit more.
I need to study about that a little bit more.
I need to talk to some people in authority.
I need to talk to some people who know the Bible a little bit better than I do to figure
out my answer to that question.
And so a lot of what I think about when I think of what is a, what is a, what's an essential
belief, what are debatable matters versus what are, what we call sometimes salvation
issues come from sort of that frame of working of that way of thinking.
And then once it's established, then it's established for me.
And I try to make sure that it is not too far outside of, of some sort of basic guidelines
for, for belief.
It's a lot of words that I just said.
Can you summarize that?
It's not, it's not very convincing.
So the process for me is I don't really know if I have a conviction about it.
It's really hard to talk about this without talking about concrete things.
So it, but if I don't really have a deep solid conviction about it, my first, the first place
I go is to the scriptures to find as much scripture about that issue as I can to try
to figure out what the truth is from the Bible.
And depending on the issue, it might be very clear from the scriptures.
There might be just the same line all the way throughout.
Now if it's not clear, then I will get a little deeper into my study, a little deeper into
what the, what the original Christians thought or what is the original context of the passage
or who were the original recipients of this word that is written right here at this moment
to try to get a little bit deeper into it.
If that doesn't satisfy me with a little, with, with a deep conviction about it, then
I will go to an elder or I will go to an evangelist or I will go to a teacher in the church and
I will say, and I'll ask them, what do you think about this?
This is what, this is what I've come up with so far.
I don't, I don't know.
So the process is not, it's not always the same process and it's not step A, B, C, D,
but it is a process.
And the way that I kind of justify that in my mind is so that we have the scripture,
we have the Bible and we know that the Bible was written over many thousands of years and
the hands that wrote it were many different hands.
And though the scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and all comes from God, it all
came through many, many different authors.
And there will be some things in the scripture that appear to be contradictory.
And so you, you have to, you have to dig in and it almost, the way the Bible is compiled
almost lends itself to a process that has to be spirit led, that has to be, there's
a, there's a thin line to walk on and it's hard to know where that line is without being
spirit led.
And the, what I, what I do, the one sort of hard and fast rule that I have in trying
to determine what I should have a conviction about is that I need to be humble.
I need to be willing to be wrong.
And I need to be open to someone proving to me, if I am wrong, somebody, I need to be
open to someone saying, I think you're wrong on that.
And this is where I think you're wrong.
And if it's based on scripture, then I need to pay really close attention to it without
debating it necessarily right away, but I need to, I need to sort of take that, go back,
ruminate, meditate, pray, study, and then come back to the discussion.
And I think that there are some things that, you know, the discussion just kind of continues
and it evolves and there are some things that I can land on very solidly.
But it has to be, it has to be, has to be spirit led.
We have to feel like that it is, that, that the spirit of God is leading me in a direction
and I have to be open to that direction being something different than what I had anticipated
or what I wanted.
I think I'm going to just copy what you said.
This was a hard question.
So I think I'm going to say, really good question.
And let me think about it for a while.
I'll get back to you.
I, when I was being a little silly when I was thinking about this, I was thinking, well,
if two people don't agree, then it's debatable, right?
But, you know, I liked what you said, Tim, when you brought out that creed because, you
know, you get a group of people that were differentiating themselves from the rest of
the world and making a statement about what it meant to be a Christian.
And I think there are certain things that you really, you know, you can't argue.
But what gets tough for me is, so you've, then, you know, if you look at scripture and
it's even in Romans 14, when we were just looking at, if you violate your conscience,
that could be something that damns you.
Like that gives me pause.
Like, geez, you know, all of, all of scripture matters.
And not only that, but our faith matters incredibly.
And so I got to wrestle with that too, in this kind of, what do we, what do we say is debatable
versus essential?
I think that might change from person to person slightly, which is kind of unnerving for me.
But based on if some person who has drawn their conclusions from scripture differs in
the way they view it than me, if they violate their conscience, that is something that's
And so I think that's a challenge for me to understand and then work back through in
community because how does that work?
Paul says in that passage also to whatever you believe, keep it to yourself.
So is that what we're supposed to do?
Just keep things to ourselves?
Or if we are fully convinced about something and we think, hey, this right here is something
that I believe will send you to hell, then what do we do about that?
If we see someone else we believe, you know, that's the part I think is tough to figure
Yeah, and just, I don't think we actually read that verse in Romans 14.
So for context, the verse that you're talking about, Matt is Romans 14 :20-23
says, don't for the sake of food destroy the work of God.
Everything is indeed clean and put it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what
he eats is good not to eat, meet or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother
a stumble.
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God, blessed is the one who has no reason
to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats because the eating is not from faith
for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Thanks for reading that.
I mean, I think there's different buckets here.
And I know that in the last, there was a teaching day that our church talked about women's issues
and they actually talked about three different kind of buckets and I'm forgetting exactly
what they called them.
But it was basically essential debatable on two sides.
And then there was like really important in the middle, which is like something kind of
in between.
And I think there's some validity to that as I've been chewing on it.
My first thought was like, where did these come from?
But there are some things that are truly essential.
It says in 1 John in many places, if you don't believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you're
not a Christian.
You're not.
You just aren't.
There's no way to the Father except through the Son.
And you're like, okay, that if anything's essential, right?
And that's one of the things that's in that creed.
It's like, okay, that's essential.
If you don't believe that, like we're just not on the same page.
And there are things that are explicitly debatable from the scriptures and many others probably
that we can infer are debatable pretty easily.
You know, they're talking about observing certain days and keeping certain days holy,
whether or not we eat or drink certain foods.
Those are the two that are talking about Romans 14.
But also, you know, I think one that I think is a pretty obvious one is when we think Jesus
is going to come back, right?
Jesus says, no one knows when I'm going to come back.
I have an opinion on that and it's pretty easy to say that this is not an essential issue.
The reason I had split up things in earlier in terms of like orthodoxy, like what we believe
in orthopraxy, like how we're living is because I think that's where it gets complicated.
It's clear when we're looking at Matthew 5 through 7 that Jesus demands obedience.
If you, it's not, it's the parable of the which rock, are you building on a rock or
are you building on the sand?
You have to hear his words put into practice.
And James says like, even the demons believe and shudder, right?
So we have to put our faith into action.
We need to obey and this is not an easy question.
Well, I'll put it to you guys because I'm just struggling with it.
If obedience is essential, why are not all matters of obedience essential?
That feels to me like the crux of the question.
Then everything becomes essential.
That's the, that's the thing I was just wrestling with too.
So if you, so then what do you do with that?
And where do you bite your tongue or not?
And how does that work out in community?
These are all really thorny things to, to wrestle with.
And I mean, so there's also an element to this where if you're going to follow God,
you can't be a people pleaser.
So Galatians, and this is a perfect verse for this, but you know, Galatians 1:10 says,
am I now trying to win the approval of human beings or of God?
Or am I trying to please people?
If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
And you think of, you know, what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mountain, Matthew 5,
10-11, same kind of thing.
If we follow Jesus's righteousness, we'll be persecuted.
And so I think we have to take Jesus's words on any given subject very seriously and not
shy away from them just because they're difficult.
But again, what is essential?
Are there any other verses that stick out to you?
Well, it's, it's, you know, I think of, I often think of Philippians 2 where it says
your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus, where in humility you consider others better
than yourself.
And so it's on the one hand, we've got Paul and Galatians saying, don't please people.
Don't be a people pleaser.
On the other hand, in Philippians, he seems to be saying, well, consider everybody better
than you.
And then in Romans, he seems to be saying, don't, but don't violate your conscience.
And all of these things are on the surface.
They're seemingly contradictory.
But I think what they prove, what, what it proves to me is I feel like living by faith
is, is trying to walk a series of thin lines between issues and that it's really, it's
sometimes very difficult to discern where that line is to stay on it.
And the only way to stay on it is, like I said before, to be spirit led.
But part of being spirit led is to be deeply involved in fellowship with other Christians
to help you find those lines, to help you define those lines.
Because if so, and you know, there's a, there's a perfectionist in me that sort of wants everything
that I just want it laid out.
I just want it to be.
I just want to know what the rules are so I can follow the rules.
But we know from the history of God dealing with man that just having all the rules doesn't
work, because we, we, we are sinful natures won't allow us to, to stick to the rules.
And so it's, it's this, it's this dynamic mix of studying the scriptures, meditating
the script on the scriptures on your own, talking about it in your fellowship, being
open about your thoughts and your feelings and your concerns and working out your convictions.
All the time.
I like how you keep coming back to process because I think that you're right.
This is a process.
And the other thing I heard in there was maybe something that we can pick up next time because
I can't believe we're, we could keep talking about this for a long time, but we, you know,
this notion of spiritual discernment that you're developing, I think.
So let's pick up on that again next time.
Sounds good.
Thank you.

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