Letter to Christians in Rome: Chapter 14 (pt 3 of 15)

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I remember years ago when, after preaching, a man came up to me and started talking in a rather roundabout way. He said, “Let me ask you something. Do you believe that two Christians who love the Lord and are led by the Holy Spirit will read a passage of Scripture and both come out believing the same thing?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Yes, I think that sounds logical.” “Well,” he stated, “can you explain why, when I read the passage you preached on tonight, I believe it teaches there will be no millennium, but when you read it, you believe there is going to be one. What do you think of that?” Now being young and aggressive I said, “Well, I think it means that I believe the Bible and you do not.” (Of course I smiled while I said that, trying to be light-hearted and humorous).

However, he did not take it as a joke, and immediately an argument began and, with several other people gathered around, we went at it hammer and tongs for an hour or so. Afterwards, thinking about it, I realized how wrong I was. I had immediately started arguing. I had repent to the Lord and write that brother and tell him that I was sorry I had jumped on him like that. Of course, he had jumped on me, too, but that was his problem, not mine. I had to straighten out my problem, so I apologized to him and said, “I am sorry that I did not recognize the parts where we agree before we got on to those things over which we differ.”

Paul wants us to understand that this is what we are to do. Above everything else, accept people, let them know that you see them as a brother or a sister. Establish the boundaries of your relationship by some gesture or word of acceptance so they do not feel that you are attacking them. The Greek here says not to accept them in order to argue about your differences, or, as the New English Bible puts it, “without attempting to settle doubtful points.” Let there be a basic recognition that you belong to one another. Paul goes on to define more precisely the areas of debate that he has in view here in Verse 2:

One man believes that he may eat anything, another man, without this strong conviction, is a vegetarian. The meat-eater should not despise the vegetarian, nor should the vegetarian condemn the meat-eater – they should reflect that God has accepted them both. After all, who are you to criticise the servant of somebody else, especially when that somebody else is God? It is to his own master that he gives, or fails to give, satisfactory service. And don’t doubt that satisfaction, for God is well able to transform men into servants who are satisfactory (Romans 14:2=4)

Let me show you how this could work. Years ago, I was sharing a message in a “singles” group on having our Lord, actually being our Lord. I said that we need to heed his word whenever it is spoken.

Well, one of the female members took me to task on that, saying we follow the Lord because of his deep love for us. We serve him because he is so loving. As you can presume, we got into quite a disagreement and the other members were beginning to take sides.

Then one sister, Jan Zuidema spoke up and said, “Both of you are right.” We looked at her and asked her to explain what she meant. “Well, you were always rebellious and fighting against any authority and your Lord needs to tame you. You need his ‘Lordship,’ to calm you down and teach you to submit to his rule.

“Then you,” as she spoke to the female who was contesting my sharing, “Your dad was very domineering and authoritative. He ruled the family with an ‘iron fist.’ You need to have a Father who loves you. You need to discover the softness and tenderness of his love.”

Jan hit the proverbial “nail on the head.” See, each of us was trying to serve the same Lord, and each of us is different. We are carrying baggage from our past; scars that only He can heal. He will minister where we need it the most.

It was so easy for me to look down on and judge other believers who did not have the same convictions and views of Jesus “being our Lord.” It was probably just as easy for the sister who was criticizing my sharing to see me as being too “legalistic.” See, the Lord will deal with us where we are, baggage and all.

Now when it comes to what Paul was saying, he was referring to an issue the church was wrestling with. In fact, for them, it was a real moral question about eating meat. It was not just the Jewish restrictions against certain forms of meat (Jews did not eat pork, and even beef and lamb had to be kosher—but it had to be slain in a certain way). So a Jew, or even one raised as a Jew, after he became a Christian, always had an emotional difficulty in eating meat.

Then there was the problem in Rome and in other pagan Greek and Roman cities regarding the issue of eating meat offered to idols. Some Christians said that if you did that, it was tantamount to worshipping that idol. You were no different from the people who worshipped and believed in the idol. So it placed a stigma on your faith to eat meat that had been offered to idols. Other Christians said, “Oh, no. How can that be? Meat is meat. The fact that someone else thinks of it as offered to idols does not mean that I have to.” In these pagan cities, they sold the best meat in the butcher shop next to the temple because that was where the sacrifices were sold to the populace, who bought it without any question. So there was a real problem in the church.

As in every area of this type, there were two viewpoints. There was a liberal, broad viewpoint that said there was nothing wrong with this, and a stricter, narrower viewpoint that said it was wrong to do this. It really does not make any difference what you are arguing about if it is in an area that is debatable—something about which the Scriptures themselves don’t say anything about—then you always get this two-fold division. You can put many of the modern problems in the churches today, into this category. Should you drink wine and beer; should you go to the movies; should you dance; what about card-playing; what about working on Sunday; when you celebrate communion, can you use wine, or does it have to be grape juice; do you have to read the King James Version, or New International Version? I could mention all kinds of other things, but all of them fall into this category.

If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome

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