One of the great challenges that all of us face is the belief that everyone should be like us (or do things the way we would do them)! Now, I think that followers of Christ could agree that there are several non-negotiable areas in the Christian life. Yet, often what happens is that we elevate those disputable areas to a level of the non-negotiables, and expect others to do things the way that we would do them. The Bible challenges followers of Jesus to allow for God to work in hearts and lives.
The issue in Romans 14 was over food. It was over whether or not followers should eat meat that had been previously sacrificed to idols. The lack of refrigeration meant that this meat could be obtained for a reasonable price. The consumption of this meat threatened to divide the followers of Jesus. One side, those whom have come to follow Jesus from previously worshiping the false idols, believed that the meat was tainted and should not be eaten. Others understood that the meat was just meat and understood that it was OK to eat. The challenge was that both sides believed they were right and the others were wrong. The Bible reminds us that really both were wrong, not because of the way they practiced their faith, but because of their lack of consideration for the others.
Paul begins addressing this situation by stating, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” (Romans 14:1) What they missed is that the Lord’s desire for His follower is not that they be uniform, the idea of being copies of each other, but that they be unified, committed to the same purpose. Unfortunately, much of the conflict among followers of Jesus is caused by “quarrels over opinions” or areas to which the Bible does not directly speak. Eating meat sacrificed to idols was one area for the church in Rome. Today our opinions could include the music we sing, the way we preach, the clothes we wear, how we spend our money and even how we educate our children. Yet, the Bible only offers general guidelines on these issues. One item mentioned in Romans 14:5 was the day of worship. I could not find a command in the New Testament that specified a requirement to worship on a particular day of he week. Yet, I did find passages that point out patterns with the admonition in Hebrews 10:24-25 to make sure we worship, but no specific day is required!
I am personally convinced that we have overlooked the need for unity as Christ’s followers. Jesus makes His point, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) One of the points that Paul makes to the Roman followers is that neither person is right because the work of God is destroyed over something that is not that important. What we often forget is that the Lord is working in each follower’s life. We become judgmental, take God’s place, when we attempt to make others live to our black and white convictions, which are not wrong. Or we cause others to sin, by encouraging them to follow our exercise of freedom, which in a way we over rule what God is doing in a person’s life.
Obviously, this was a challenge for the New Testament church just as it is today. For great insight I would encourage you to check out 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. The challenge is for us to respect God’s working in the lives of others because we have been called to unity not uniformity. Let us focus on our relationship with Jesus. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
-Pastor Joe Parkinson