Today’s reading: Romans 14-16.
“How can Christians deal with their differences?”
The grace of God through Jesus Christ imparts a tremendous freedom to believers: freedom from slavery to sin, freedom to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and freedom from the laws of the old covenant. There are also dangers in this freedom, including the dangers that believers will abuse their freedom by indulging in sin, and that conflict will arise between those who grasp the extent of their freedom by greater and lesser degrees.
Imagine two believers – Broad Bill and Narrow Nell. Bill and Nell agree on all the fundamentals of the faith including the infallibility of the Bible, the doctrine of the trinity, and salvation by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But Bill takes a broader, more liberal view of the freedoms available to Christians while Nell accepts a narrower, more restrictive view of what believers can do. Bill does not require tithing while Nell insists on it. He sees no problem in sprinkling for baptism but she believes in dunking. He says there is no sin in drinking alcohol; she requires total abstinence. The list goes on, and varies from one generation to another. Thankfully, Romans lays down two principles that can help limit these conflicts in every generation.
The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14: 3-4
Don’t condemn your brother over differing beliefs. There are areas where believers disagree and both are within God’s will. These disputable areas in Paul’s day included eating certain foods (such as those sacrificed to idols), drinking alcohol, and observing holy days. One believer may observe more of these prohibitions or practices; another may observe fewer or none. Neither should look down on or condemn the other.
- Whatever you do, be convinced in your own faith that it is the correct thing to do.
- Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord.
- Don’t condemn your brother in the faith for these disputable matters. Instead, let each one give an account to God
As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Romans 14: 14-15
Don’t make your brother stumble over differing beliefs. In this situation one believer has more restrictions on what he or she considers permissible. The believer who has fewer restrictions should not do anything to weaken the faith of the one with more restrictions. The freer Christian should not use his freedom to weaken the faith of the less free believer.
- No food is unclean of itself, but some believers may consider it unclean.
- Act from love; don’t do anything to distress your brother who believes differently than you.
- Restrain your freedom if necessary to keep your brother from stumbling.
- Let each person act from faith.
In both these situations Paul urges us to act from faith. Whether you act from a more liberal or a more restrictive view, it should be based on faith. Each one should respect the other’s faith and leave it to God to approve or censure his servant.
If we must judge, certainly it should not be those who are linked to us by the ties of spiritual relationship. Are not all Believers one family in Christ? Wherever the root of the matter is to be found, there exists an overwhelming argument for undying unity. Why, then, will you take your Brother by the throat and drag him before your judgment seat and make him answer to you, Brother to Brother, and then condemn him? Shall a Brother in Christ condemn a Brother in Christ? When the outside world censures Christians, we understand it, for they hated our Master and they will hate us. But inside the charmed circle of Christian communion there should be esteem for one another, a defending of each other—we should be anxious to apologize for infirmity than to discover imperfection! Far be it from us to find flaws where they do not exist! – Charles Spurgeon
Image by Monica Kelly on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0