We have heard a lot, in recent years, how “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” And He does – if you are right with Him through faith Jesus Christ (Rom 8:28). (It’s not so “wonderful” if you refuse faith in Jesus Christ; in fact, it is rather dreadful.) But did you know that God loves your church (Eph 5:25) and has a wonderful plan for your church?
That plan finds its highest goal when “the God of patience and comfort” grants us that “with one mind [lit. with one passion”] and one mouth [we] glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6). And, when “the God of hope” “fills [us] with all joy and peace in believing, that [we] may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13). God’s purpose for us as a church is to “glorify” and “enjoy” Him.
This: not just as individuals, but together. We fulfil God’s purpose for us as a church when we glorify and really enjoy Him “with one passion”, and worship Him “with one mouth”. Paul Barnett comments: “Common and united worship in the one body of the crucified but risen Christ, notwithstanding the differences that otherwise would divide, is [the] great goal for believers.”
But sadly, the church(es) in Rome that Paul wrote to were divided. They were divided along the lines of cultural differences between Jew and Gentile. Jews condemned Gentiles, and Gentiles mocked Jews. Jewish Christians despised Gentiles as disobedient, because they didn’t keep up with the religious ceremonies prescribed in the Old Testament. Gentile Christians, with their “superior” understanding that such ceremonies were no longer necessary (see Acts 10) mocked their Jewish counterparts. (This forms the backdrop to Rom 14)
Similar problems arise in the church today. Probably not over pork – everyone (it seems) likes bacon now. But there are other cultural issues which can divide churches today. Such as music. Whole cultures develop around music today. Churches divide along the fault lines of these cultures.
It is not that we can be careless in such matters; or that it should be open slather. Even the most broad-minded Gentile Christian’s eating habits still needed some regulation: just because he could “eat anything” (or, so he thought) didn’t mean it was O.K. for him, eg. to take drugs. There are still limits as to what New Testament Christians should do, or not do – yes, even in matters of “Christian liberty.” Some of those limits are common sense; some may even become a matter of right and wrong (note Paul’s: “when you thus sin…” in dealing with matters of Christian liberty in 1 Cor 8:12). The same is true when it comes to other cultural issues that arise in churches, such as music.
But when churches divide over this, or any other culture-related issue, it is sad. Paul prayed that the culturally divided Christians in Rome would “with one passion and with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is contrary to God’s wonderful purpose for His church to divide over these issues.
Here are eight rules, in four pairs, as to how can we can deal with issues like this so that we don’t divide over them.
1. Two “Don’t”s
1) Don’t Dispute (Rom 14:1). NIV: “…without quarrelling over disputable matters”. ESV “…not to quarrel over opinions.” Rather “receive”, or “welcome” the one with whom you differ. “The Message” translation: “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with.” Distinguish between what is essential, and what is non-essential.
2) Don’t Despise (Rom 14:3). Don’t despise someone who may represent a different culture. It could be in something like music. Or it could be in any one of a number of areas where, culturally, we differ from one another. Don’t make fun of their opinion, don’t put them down.
2. Two “Be”s
1) Be: Fully Convinced in Your Own Mind (Rom 14:5). Be fully persuaded in your own mind as to what you believe on these things. Don’t feel threatened because someone is fully persuaded in his mind a different way. We can react like that: we can think that if a person has a different opinion to us, then he’ll think I am wrong – until we can prove to him that I am right. So we expend extraordinary amounts of energy trying to prove him wrong. We don’t have to do that: we can hold differing opinions (Rom ch 14) and still “glorify God with one passion and one mouth” (Rom 15:6). But:
2) Be: Focused on the Main Thing (Rom 14:8-9). What is the main thing? That “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” because “to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Paul spells out what is “of first importance” in 1 Cor 15:1ff. We are not at liberty to hold differing opinions when it comes to the main thing: i.e. the central truths of the gospel. Nor are we at liberty to hold all sorts of views as to whether or not we will obey Christ’s Word in the Bible, including keeping God’s commandments. Eg. see Rom 13:8-9
3. Two “Please”s
1) Seek Not to Please Yourself (Rom 15:1) Yes, even if this means you forgo “rights” and “privileges” such as Paul refers to in Rom 14:20-21. You might think it the end of the world to have to give up your bacon, or whatever: “Why should I – just because it makes my guest feel uncomfortable? He’ll just have to get over it.” But, giving up our “rights” is at the heart of “not pleasing self”.
2) Seek to Please Others (Rom 15:2) This is not a matter of “men-pleasing” (eg. Col 3:22), which in any case is ultimately about self-serving. But this is about “pleasing” others so that it genuinely helps them (“for his good, leading to edification”). What do we have to guide us?
4. Two Directions
1) Imitate the Example of Christ (Rom 15:3) Paul quotes from Psa 69:9, “Zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” Christ suffered much for the sake of “God’s house”. If Christ could be patient and suffer such great things for the sake of God’s house, surely we can be prepared to give up a little for the sake of God’s house (His church) today. Follow the example of Jesus: the “Servant King”
2) Immerse Yourself in the Word of God (Rom 15:4) Paul found direction in the example of Christ, which he discovered from reading God’s Word. That is where we learn to be “patient” in our relationships with each other, and find “comfort” in our relationships with each other.
“May the God of patience and comfort grant you… the patience and comfort [that comes from your study of the Scriptures] that you might have hope.”
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
And, may we all, “with one passion and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”