One of the interesting aspects of humanity is the fact that all of us are different. These differences make the world interesting to say the least. After all, the world would be a very boring place if everyone was identical. On the other hand, differences can lead to problems if they are not dealt with. In terms of Christianity, these differences can divide people into two groups-those who have weak faith, and those whose faith is strong. Those who have strong faith are to accept and help those who are slipping in their faith. We see an example of how differences in faith can divide people in the passage from Romans 14:1-12.
Many Christians in Rome were converts from pagan religion. Part of pagan religion involved sacrificing animals in honour of a god. Any meat that was not burned in fire or eaten during the ritual could be sold in the market. Converts from pagan religion were afraid to eat meat that was offered to idols, so they usually did not eat any meat that they did not prepare themselves.
Some people in the church who felt free to eat meat passed judgment on those who did not. Those who made the criticisms were weak in their faith. When Paul suggested vegetarians also judged those who ate meat, he was saying that the sin of despising and disgracing brothers and sisters can work both ways. Neither behavior is acceptable to God; both must be avoided in the body of Christ. Paul urged those who were on either side of the issue to show understanding, compassion and tenderness. He urged those who were strong in faith to be considerate in the exercise of their freedom and strengthen the weak. Love and fellowship in Christ should be the basis for Christian acceptance of one another.
The church faces similar issues today. How many churches condemn their members who don’t behave according to that church’s teachings? Every church could be changed if it took these principles to heart:
- A life of grace begins with mutual acceptance. Accepting another person doesn’t mean that we must agree with him or her. We can respectfully disagree with ideas or opinions without rejecting the person who holds them.
- An attitude of grace requires releasing others to be who God wants them to be.
- A commitment to grace forbids one from judging someone else. We don’t know all the facts of the situation. We can’t be objective. We can’t redeem. God is the only person who can fulfill these criteria.
All of us are faced with people who seem different. We have different values and can use those to judge ourselves superior to others, but God has already judged us and found us worthy of love, compassion and salvation. Instead of focusing too much on how our differences stack up against each other, we should turn our focus toward the God who sees us and loves us all the same. All of us are the same in the only way that matters. We are God’s beloved, for whom Christ died so that we may life forever. None of our differences compare to this one, essential similarity.
We belong to God. He will renew our minds. We must give Him the chance to change us and fellow believers. We must not try to control others’ behavior based on what pleases us. The motivation to change behavior must come from a conscience that has been changed by God. God is pleased with the individual Christian because of Christ, not because of his or her views on peripheral matters. Christians are to have the same attitude, striving toward unity, not unnecessary dissension.
We are not to judge others when it comes to non-essential matter of faith. We must ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” Every believer should make sure their conscience does not condemn them and then act on what they believe, being responsible to make judgments about things not specifically covered in Scripture. The centre of Christian life is faithfulness and love toward God-whether in obeying Scripture or seeking to apply scriptural principles .
Paul wants believers to deal with controversial issues on the solid base of commitment to Christ instead of surrendering to pressure. This does not mean that it doesn’t matter what Christians believe or how they believe. In many matters, Christ and the apostles were clear. In many areas of spiritual experience there are no hard and fast rules, so a certain degree of freedom has been granted.
God tells us that there will be a day when each of us will have to give an account of what we did with the gifts He gave us. Why does He do this? It’s because He knows that we don’t want to behave well unless acting badly has consequences. If we judge another person, we assume God’s role. We place ourselves above Him.
To play the role of God in another person’s life is dangerous. God is the only person who has the right to judge others. His standards are much higher than ours. If He is not pleased with a person’s conduct, He will deal with the situation as he sees fit. He will use the Holy Spirit to change the offender’s conduct so that it will be more Christ-like, just like the Holy Spirit changes our behavior. Christians will stand one day before Christ’s judgment seat, not to determine their salvation, but to have their works examined before receiving rewards.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1564)
- Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010, pp. 286-294)
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 1 Bible software package.
- Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982, pp. 244-247)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
- Joe Gibbs, “Judgment Day.” Retrieved from www.GamePlanForLife.com
- Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for Romans 14:1-12.” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com