Read Romans 14 and then come back here. Go ahead; I’ll wait for you right here.
I understand this passage better now than I did at one time. Lord knows I didn’t understand it at all for years after I became a Christian and for years more after I started preaching. Back then, somehow, someway, I managed to read this chapter over and over and still miss three things Paul takes as givens in the life of faith together, namely:
1. Contrary to what seemed to be being drilled into me over and over again, agreeing on everything in the name of Christ is not job one.
2. No matter how hard we preach it, how consistent we teach it, how passionately we pray for it, or how obviously we try to exemplify it, we’ll never even get close to the point where all Christians agree on everything.
3. How you love God with all of our your, heart, mind, and strength is revealed best not by having all of the right convictions, but by truly loving others more than yourself.
You see, while I was taught that if we’ll all just focus on God there will be no variation in our beliefs, Romans 14 says radical variation is inevitable. While I was taught that Christians back in the day we are all perfectly united, can be now, and must be always, Romans 14 says they weren’t back then and agreeing on everything is not where it’s at. And while I was taught that the way we showed real love for God was by perfectly holding and expressing one right set of beliefs, Romans 14 says loving people who differ with me is far more important than the uninhibited expression of my beliefs.
What disturbs me most of all, though is not just that I could have misunderstood exceedingly clear Scripture for so long, but the fact that I taught my mistaken understandings to others and I know I’m anything but alone in this experience. And that leads me to want to unteach some of what I know I taught and calls for me to try to help others to see what I know they have yet to see. Let me just try to parrot what Paul says here, but in other words.
- There are a number of matters that come under the heading of religion that are not only not worth arguing about, but mustn’t be argued about (vs. 1).
- Don’t look down on those who hold to a different set of beliefs (vs. 2-3).
- Always remember: God alone is judge and so, you’re not (vs. 4).
- Everyone has a right to their own convictions and we should respect such (vs. 5-6).
- Whatever we believe and do should be done not for ourselves or others, but with God in view (vs.7-9).
- We will all answer to God for our convictions, not for the convictions of others (vs. 10-12).
- If you’re headed down Judge Others Road, do a U-turn and take the first exit (vs. 13a).
- Determine to make life easier, not more difficult, for others by respecting people’s convictions (vs. 13b).
- What’s right for one person can be wrong for another because our conscience and convictions differ (vs. 14).
- If you are truly about doing the loving thing you will seek to be sensitive to the convictions of others (vs. 15).
- Being humble with your convictions doesn’t mean becoming a doormat; give respect and expect respect (vs. 16).
- Don’t frustrate, rather, facilitate the establishment of God’s rule in the community of faith (vs. 17).
- Look for the ways that God and people both applaud and go after them (vs. 18).
- If you can’t make accommodations for people with your positions, your positions are wrong (vs. 19-21).
- Refuse to flaunt your convictions; keep what can be kept private, private (vs. 22).
- Follow your conscience informed by Christ, not the crowd (vs. 23).
I don’t live under any illusion that I understand everything in Scripture, particularly this Scripture, completely. I have much, much, much yet to learn, no doubt. But, here’s to the learning of it.
What have I missed? What have I got right? What can we learn together?
Heavenly Father, give me insight into the practical living out of your will in my life with others. I pray in the name of him in whom I believe and who has brought me into the fellowship of all who belong to him, Jesus Christ. Amen.