By Tim Frank
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Carthage
As we conclude this series on the six building blocks of Christian relationships, we address a pressing issue in the church, in society and in our lives today.
This issue concerns how you relate to someone who has a different opinion, tradition or preference from you. While this lesson does not dismiss the importance of moral standards or core Christian beliefs, it focuses instead on secondary issues which have nothing to do with one’s salvation or faith in Christ and yet can lead to heated differences of opinions among Christians.
In Paul’s day, the big issue in the church was “to eat or not eat” (Romans 14:1-4; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13). For the Jewish believers, the issue was wrapped up in the Old Testament dietary laws. If one were raised in a strict Jewish family and taught from childhood that certain foods were unclean, it would be repugnant to consider eating such food or associating with others who were eating.
For the Gentile believers, the issue of eating or not eating was rooted in eating meat offered to idols. To eat that meat now, after salvation, would seem like they were betraying Jesus as their Lord.In a believer’s decision to eat or not eat, a weaker brother might see offense in the practice when, in reality, it was just food. Paul says in Romans 14:14 that he is convinced by the Lord that there is nothing unclean of itself.
In our day, it is not the question of eating or not eating that causes divisions in the church, yet we struggle just the same with differences of opinion. For example, as we regather in our churches after COVID-19, there will be those who are still greatly concerned for their safety in this pandemic.
There will also be those who believe everything concerning COVID-19 is blown out of proportion. Other examples of current disputable matters are our preferences in worship. Does the preacher wear a suit and tie, or are jeans ok? What kind of music do we sing? Does the pastor preach from the KJV (King James Version) only, or is the ESV (English Standard Version) ok? There is no end to the subject of disputable matters in life and in the church.
Before I alienate everyone (that is what questioning the superiority of one’s opinions and preferences will do), we should consider five principles from Romans 14:
- Jesus is Lord of all who place their faith and trust in Him (Romans 14:9, 17). Your salvation is not determined by your preferences but solely by your faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
- The goal of life is to live for Jesus Christ, not to keep rules, rituals, and laws (Romans 14:5-8).
- There are disputable matters that have the potential to divide Christians from one another (Romans 14:1-5). To each person, his opinions, preferences, and traditions hold strong attachment to his understanding of right and wrong. One must be on guard not to make moral or ethical judgments of others based on one’s side of disputable matters.
- In disputable matters, the stronger, more mature believer is called upon to accept and show patience with the weaker, less mature believer in the faith (Romans 1, 13-16, 20-21). Do not place something in a brother’s path that would cause him to stumble.
- Always keep in mind, the kingdom of God is not in the keeping of laws, rituals or traditions. The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy which only comes by one’s faith in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:16-20). Pursue unity and peace in the church in order to love, encourage and edify one another.
I remember a senior adult’s comment to me, “I don’t much like this new music, but I love to see all the young people singing and worshiping God.” That dear saint had the concept of accepting others for the glory of God. One day, we will each give an account to God for how we lived for Christ (Romans 14:10-12). On that day, may we hear Him say, “Well done” (Matthew 25:23).