We have reached the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome and he has been talking about how we are supposed to get along with each other when we might have drastic differences in what is right for Christians to do. For instance, is it morally right for a Christian to drink wine, beer, or cocktails? Or, is that wrong for them to do that? Is it morally wrong for a Christian to celebrate special days, such as Lent, Christmas or even birthdays? Or, and here is one that will get some of you, is it morally wrong for a believer to smoke? Is it morally right for a believer to eat pork?
We could list all kinds of things folks argue about. Years ago, when I was working six 12-hour days, I would mow my lawn on my only day off: Sunday. Of course, as you might expect, that outraged many of the members of the church I attended. However, as I explained to them, this was my only opportunity to mow the lawn. Funny thing is, I was in a men’s group and each one of them knew the stress I was under, yet not one of them offered to mow the lawn for me.
Being the incessant teacher that I am, I also had to point out that their complaint of my “working on the Sabbath,” was not correct. Indeed, the Hebrew word, Sabbat, which has been changed to Sabbath, does mean to cease, to stop, to desist—to quit working. Rest might be the result, but that is not really what the word means. What the Hebrew sages say it most points to is quitting your normal activities; it does not mean that you necessarily stop doing “anything.”
You see, up and through the sixth day, the universe and then the earth was a bee hive of activity—God’s activity. But, God didn’t create something that had to constantly be re-created or tinkered with. No, he created something that could produce and re-produce without further direct creative intervention. This is why Jesus tells us to accept Him as Savior, and then “rest in Him.” When we are created as a new being on our salvation, we are 100% complete. We do not have to undergo further re-creation. We need to “cease” our human works that aim to make us acceptable to God, to be holy—because everything that needed to be done on our behalf was done—just like Creation itself. Did you catch that? Quit attempting to earn your Godly brownie points and start enjoying your new creation . . .
Now, in the first chapter of Genesis, Shabbat is the actual name for a specific day of the week. It is the name of the seventh day, the day that God set apart as holy. Yet, the name also embodies its purpose. One of the reasons often given why the Church doesn’t observe the seventh day Shabbat—or, in some people’s view the church has changed Shabbat from the seventh day to the first day—is that the Shabbat was given to Israel, and is therefore only intended for Israel. Or, it’s believed that the Shabbat was simply part of the Laws of Moses—you know, those rules and ordinances God set down shortly after Israel left Egypt. The truth is that around the late second-century AD, it became a goal of the now gentile dominated church to abandon anything that seemed to be set apart for the Jewish people, eventually, in the fourth-Century, the church officially abolished the Shabbat.
I already told you about the church that reached fist fighting over a Christmas tree. A friend of mine was a member of a church that split simply over the issue of Christmas. The Pastor and others were decrying the celebration of Christmas and came right out and said no member could celebrate the Holiday.
You see, these are simply a small sample of the things Christians have struggled with. I suppose I could go on and on, because there is an extensive list along these lines. Back in the 1960’s, they were chastising Christians for going along with the change from Fahrenheit to metric system. What they were arguing is that it was a “humanistic” system because the number 10 was the number of man (you know, 10 fingers; 10 toes).
What I am saying is that there are all kinds of things you could get upset about and divide over. The apostle has been giving us some very helpful guidelines, and I am not going to retrace these arguments for you because there is really no need to retrace them, because in the opening two verses of Chapter 15, Paul summarizes them for us:
We who have strong faith ought to shoulder the burden of the doubts and qualms of others and not just to go our own sweet way. Our actions should mean the good of others – should help them to build up their characters (Romans 15:1-2)
From that, I can think there are two rules you should follow when you have to decide whether you can do something you feel comfortable with, or give way to someone else’s qualms.
First: Choose to please your brother instead of yourself. Don’t insist on your way of doing things; be quick to give in. I know it isn’t easy, but this is what love does. Love does not insist on its own rights. Isn’t that what Paul wrote in First Corinthians 13? If you are going to life the life of love, love will adjust and adapt to others. Read that verse from J. B. Philips’ translation again:
We who have strong faith ought to shoulder the burden of the doubts and qualms of others, and not just to go our own sweet way. (Romans 15:1)
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome