By Jay McCluskey
Pastor, North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland
Focal Passage: Romans 14:1-4, 13-19
My father tells a sermon illustration about a man who did not know the meaning of the word “ancestor.” When someone told this man that he had “ancestors” he thought it was some disease or parasite. Consequently, he would swear that he DID NOT have “ancestors” (though certainly he did).
The topic of Romans 14 is another word which may cause an initial aversion: “scruples.” You initially might think that you do not have “scruples.” But like we all have “ancestors,” we also all have “scruples.”
The dictionary defines scruples as “a feeling of doubt or hesitation with regard to the propriety of a course of action.” In other words, a scruple is a sense of conviction or preference about how things should be done. Everyone possesses persuasions about the better way to cook, clean, do construction, drive a stick shift, and countless other items.
One of the places scruples show up is in church. Of course there are items upon which it is essential all Christians be “on the same page.” These include the sovereignty of God, the sufficiency of grace, the inspiration of Scripture, and the divinity of Jesus.
But there are other places in our walks of faith where Christians honestly disagree. For example, when I preach on Sunday mornings I wear a suit, a white shirt, and a necktie. I don’t think that pastors who preach in clerical robes or in bright casual shirts are less spiritual than me or preach any different gospel of grace. This is just the Sunday attire I prefer.
In the book of Romans Paul spends the first 11 chapters affirming topics upon which all Christians should agree: All are sinners; All are saved through faith in Jesus; and God desires all people, Jews and Gentiles, to experience salvation.
While they are united in this great salvation, in chapter 14 Paul recognizes that there are other things about which they genuinely differ.
In today’s world it might be differences such as hymns versus praise choruses or “fire and brimstone” preaching versus mild-mannered teaching. It could be theological differences regarding things such as interpreting the end times, forms of baptism, spiritual gifts, and the role of women in the church.
In this chapter Paul answers this question: “How do you build community with people who sincerely live out their faith differently?”
Receive those different from you. Read Romans 14:1-2, NIV. Rather than adding distance, Paul tells us to welcome those with different thoughts about “disputable matters,” subjects about which Christians can honestly disagree.
Some years ago I was driving in a neighboring state when I came across a simple white-framed church. On its sign was the name of the congregation plus these words: “King James Version” and “Premillennial.” While the sign functioned to reveal the profile of the congregation, it also seemed to say: “If you are not one of us, you are not welcome here.”
In a great many matters, we are to have our own convictions, but it also is a great duty to allow others to have their opinions without regarding them as sinners and outcasts or second class Christians. “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (Romans 14:3 NIV). Welcome all because the most important matter was that God receives all.
Do everything you do “to the Lord.” Take a look at Romans 14:5-8 NIV. Notice how many times the phrases “of the Lord,” “for the Lord,” and “to the Lord” appear. Interestingly, these affirmations are associated even with actions that seem opposite of each other.
Restrict yourself for the sake of another. Examine Romans 14:13-15, NIV. On our journey of faith we sometimes encounter “Stop signs.” But here is a “Yield sign,” instructing believers to defer to another. Remember, one of the characteristics of love is that it does not insist upon its own way (I Corinthians 13:5). Christian maturity encourages and does not hinder another’s spiritual growth. To be the church means we are capable of disagreeing without being disagreeable.
— McCluskey is pastor, North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland.