Today’s Reading: Romans 14-16
Today’s Reflection: Romans 14:1
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
This text, in fact this entire section of Romans 14, is about unity in the body of Christ. As we mix, mingle, relate to and worship with other followers in Jesus, we are inevitably going to encounter people who claim Jesus as we do, but who have different opinions about how to serve Him than we do. And the way we respond to them determines whether the body of Christ will remain unified, functional and effective as a body, or not.
The reality is that differences of opinion tend to be the cause of strife and division within and between churches. Today more than 3,500 denominations of Christianity exist. Why? Because a difference of opinion caused people to go their separate ways. And while there are fundamental areas of belief upon which followers of Jesus must agree (which Jesus Himself makes clear are foundational truths of the Gospel) these are not the issues mentioned as the cause of division.
Paul speaks of foods eaten and abstained from and days kept as holy or sacred as potentially contentious issues that ought not to be the subject of debate or judgment.
Romans 14:5-6, 10-12 – 5) 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. 6) The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 10) Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11) for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12) So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
If you’re a good Christian, and you were raised in a traditional church, there’s a good chance these passages nearly scared you to death. Literally. Many of our churches think issues like days kept (Sabbath vs. Sunday; Feast days, yes or no) and food eaten or abstained from (vegetarian, health laws of Leviticus) are not just issues worthy of debate, but matters of life and death (in the church I was raised in, many still say meat-eaters are not ready for translation—to be taken up when Jesus comes). And because we raise the stakes on them to life and death, we feel justified in shoving our opinions down the throats of others (it’s for their own good, if it’s a life or death matter, isn’t it?), or in walking away from a member or congregation who disagrees (if it’s a life or death matter, I can’t go along with that person—if they’re wrong, it’ll cost me my life).
The truth is we want control (or the illusion of it, at least) and certainty in our understanding of God’s word and instruction gives us this. This desire for control reveals a fear at the heart of many would-be Christians: the fear that God’s grace isn’t as expansive as Jesus has claimed it is. We have a ‘what will happen if I do the wrong thing?’ mentality that elevates all of these petty disagreements to potential crisis issues upon which our eternal destiny may rest. And once we’ve decided on a set of beliefs, we’ll defend our ground (which we presume to be the surety of our very salvation). By so doing we fall into the same trap as the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees. We follow the rules we’ve made and ignore God speaking to us. We completely miss the point.
The point is to walk with God, and to recognize the walks of others with God may look quite different than yours, but are equally valid and valuable. The point is to trust that as we commune and share, our individual and communal understanding of God and His ways will deepen. The point is to trust that if we honestly seek God, He will not suffer us to be led astray. No, the book of Acts shows us that when followers of Jesus came together in unity, the Holy Spirit was present to teach them, guide them, and pour His power upon them (Acts 2:1-4).
Lastly, if your opinion on a matter is right and the opinion of a brother or sister is wrong, what is the better way for them to learn: through argument, or by coming to understand it for themselves through bible study or practical experience? It is through our walk with God and with each other that we are refined and perfected. This cannot happen if we stop walking with each other every time disagreement threatens to come between us.
Amos 3:3 (NKJV) – Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?