Do You Show Respect to Others?
Sometimes the actions of followers of Christ (including my own) toward one another shame me. We are often quite adept at tearing one another apart and hindering the advancement of the gospel for the silliest and most pathetic of reasons. We are good at fighting, bickering, and squabbling.
To be clear, I am not talking about the necessary fight to defend orthodox faith. I am not talking about dividing over issues that are plainly and clearly demarked by Scripture as right or wrong (such as standing against abortion). I’m talking about issues of faith and practice that committed, conservative, orthodox followers of Christ can disagree over and still lock arms and stand shoulder-to-shoulder as brothers in Christ.
Consider the news out of western Kentucky that a church was refused admittance to an association because the congregation affirmed the sovereignty of God. (I blogged about this story if you want to read more about it.) The relationship between God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s absolute responsibility is one of the deepest theological issues we can ponder and there is ample room within the confines of biblical Christianity for disagreement. And yet, time and time again, to our discredit and the Lord’s dishonor, we thump our chests and make arrogant declarations about those who believe differently. It’s wrong. And it’s sin. I can’t state it any more gently than that.
This week’s study of Romans 14:1-12 is incredibly important for the church in America. We must stop the all-too-frequent hemorrhaging of contempt, arrogance, and disunity when it comes to non-essential issues. Let us be adamant, steadfast, and unwavering in matters of theological orthodoxy, yet let us be patient, humble, and accommodating to one another in all other matters such as:
Politics: There are genuine, committed Christ-followers who are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. No party or political persuasion has a monopoly on “being Christian.” For this reason, we must extend loving grace toward one another in the arena of politics as long as individuals, churches, and other entities hold biblically-supported positions. For example, a Christ-follower cannot support abortion because it is a clear violation of Scripture.The role of social justice and the advancement of the Gospel: Al Mohler and Jim Wallis recently debated the relationship between social justice and the gospel. While both men support the Christian’s need to fight for social justice, they strongly disagree on the primacy of social justice. Wallis contends that it is a core aspect of sharing the gospel while Mohler sees it as an important response by a people who understand the gospel. These two men disagree strongly, but do so with respect and patience toward each other.The Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC: There is a fantastic conversation occurring in Southern Baptist life that will be discussed further at the Florida Baptist convention next week. At the heart of the issue is how we as a people can best fund efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. Some contend we must increase giving to international missions by decreasing giving to state efforts. Others counter that there is much work to be done in the United States and we cannot afford to slow these efforts down by cutting funding. Both sides make a great point. Both sides love Christ and want to glorify Him. This is a matter of strong disagreement, but it should not divide Southern Baptists.A potential name change by the Southern Baptist Convention. This issue pops up every few years and this was the year it was due to happen I guess. While many people have a deep sense of connection to the Southern Baptist Convention name, others, while appreciating it, believe that it does not adequately describe us and perhaps even hinders the gospel. Strong feelings surround this issue, but again, it should not be one that breaks apart Southern Baptists.
In the text this week, Paul pleads for unity in the church while alluding to two issues that faced the church in Rome in his day: eating certain foods and celebrating certain days. The former probably referred to the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols (cf: 1 Corinthians 9-10) while the latter most likely centered on observing the Sabbath. As your group discusses this chapter, try to find other matters that are relevant in your gospel community. For example, there may be disagreement on worship style in your church, the name of the “Sunday School” ministry, or the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall. All of these issues must be framed around this fundamental question:
Do we truly want to be unified as Christ clearly commands in John 17 or not?
As we will see in Romans 14 this week, the church must fight for unified diversity in all matters apart from orthodox doctrine. But assenting to this in our Bible study groups is one thing; actually modeling it in our speech and conduct day-in and day-out is another.
The text this week naturally divides based on paragraphs into three fairly even sections for study.
I.) We are all unified in relationship with God (1-4)
The first thing we need to do is notice who Paul addresses in this section. He begins the chapter by instructing the reader to accept the one who is weak in faith which means that the audience is the one who is stronger in faith. Paul uses these terms not to delineate the “good” Christian from the “bad” one, but the mature believer from the immature one. The one who is weak in faith is simply one who has not grown deeply in his or her faith. This could be simply because he or she is a new believer or because he or she is progressing more slowly on the journey of faith. But lest we get on a tangent about spiritual immaturity, don’t miss the point of these verses! Paul is issuing an imperative to correct the behavior of the strong believer! It is the one who is supposedly mature that needs correction, not the weaker one. This is a good opportunity to discuss humility and our need to be careful to focus so much on what others are doing that we miss our own flaws (cf: Matthew 7:1-5).
Paul continues by warning the stronger believer to accept the weaker one into his or her community of faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. In other words, don’t welcome an immature believer into your church or small group and then seize every opportunity to criticize them. That is not welcoming them in. That is painting a target on them and passing out sticks.
Also notice that Paul clearly has opinions in mind here and explains that one person has faith that he may eat all things while he who is weak eats vegetables only. The assumption is that (1) both are genuine believers, (2) both desire to please God, and (3) both have reached different opinions on this issue after prayerful consideration. If that is the case, how could the one who eats regard with contempt the one who does not eat or how could the one who does not eat judge the one who eats? If God has accepted both, shouldn’t we do likewise? And if God has accepted both and both are God’s servants, who are you to judge the servant of another? That is the Master’s prerogative, not ours.
The first guideline for the church then is to remember that we are all cleansed and accepted by God through faith in Jesus Christ and, therefore, have no grounds to break fellowship over matter of opinions. Instead, let us strive to manifest Philippians 2 humility in our relationships with fellow believers as we seek to out-yield to one another.
II.) We are diversified in our expressions of worship of God (5-9)
Paul now further narrows his focus on each believer’s motivation in regarding one day about another or every day alike and for eating or not.
First, notice that again, Paul assumes that each believer is fully convinced in his own mind. This is not to say that they are narrow-minded, but instead that they have contemplated the issue and have resolved it. In other words, neither believer has taken this issue lightly. Again, let us respect and honor one another and always assume that they have wrestled with an issue and all the implications of his or her decision.
Second, Paul assumes that each believer has chosen his or her behavior of observing days or eating for the Lord. The implicit motivation is to please, honor, and worship Christ. The person who observes the day does so as a way to praise Christ, just as does the person who does not observe the day. Abstaining or participating in these activities is not done for selfish reasons, but for Christ.
The second guideline for the church then is to recognize that we each worship, honor, and glorify God differently and must be slow, extremely slow, to criticize another in how he or she does so. Think of a worship service. The one who raises his hands ought not to condemn his brother next to him who does not. He ought not to think that the other person is not as spirit-led, worshipful, or mature in his faith because of his posture. Likewise, the person who does not raise his hand should not condemn the one who does as a charismatic radical who is only trying to draw attention to himself. Meanwhile, the man in a suit should not judge the person in jeans and a t-shirt and vice versa. Of course this second principle should not be restricted to worship, it also applies to every area of life but you get the idea.
Before we move on to the final section of this week’s text, we have just made a dangerous assumption with our groups if we do not ask a critical question. We have just addressed our need to give the benefit to the doubt to our fellow believers that they have made their decisions with the paramount motivation of glorifying God. But do we do that? Is that how we make our decisions? It would be of great value to challenge our group members to consider how and why they make decisions.
III.) We will be judged by God for our treatment of our brothers (10-12)
Paul concludes this section by asking again why do you judge your brother or regard your brother with contempt? I cannot help but recall the account of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 when I read these questions. They are an odd juxtaposition of brothers and sisters in Christ and contempt and judgment. They just don’t go together naturally. They are at odds with each other; or at least they should be.
Paul is done appealing to reason and here he uses the “nuclear option” by reminding us that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. The judgment seat, or Bema, is described in 1 Corinthians 3 and other places. The picture is borrowed from Olympic type events where winners would stand on a podium, the Bema, to receive their reward. All believers will stand before Christ one day and receive reward for faithful service and loss of reward for unfaithfulness. This judgment has nothing to do with salvation, but the “icing-on-the-cake” rewards that the Bible mentions (e.g. crowns). It is on this platform that each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Don’t miss this sobering truth as it relates to our topic. One day you and I will stand before Christ and explain why we chose to eat, or honor a day, or support the Great Commission Resurgence. At the same time we will be required to explain why we dismissed a fellow believer based on his or her view of God’s sovereignty, or why we fought with other church members over music, or why we dug in our heels when the church wanted to change a ministry name, start a new ministry we didn’t like, or disband one we loved. In short we will have to defend our opinions and in doing so, we will receive reward when we have held our opinions with grace and humility and we will lose reward when we have done otherwise.
The third, and final guideline for the church then is to remember that one day all of our actions and more importantly the motivation behind our actions will be exposed and laid bare before Christ. There will be no way to hide behind a pretext of spirituality. The truth will be revealed. Does that make you nervous? Then what do you need to repent of and seek forgiveness from your brothers and sisters in Christ about?