Respect One Another
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The obvious moral laws of Christianity are above question. Like their Author, they remain the same yesterday, today, and forever. Adultery, murder, stealing, lying, etc. are always wrong. Honoring parents, loving one another, etc. are always right. When it comes to cardinal truths, we are not at liberty to believe what we wish to believe. Where the New Testament speaks clearly, we acquiesce.
Much about Christian living is left to us to decide. There are many doubtful matters, things the New Testament makes no definite pronouncement on.
Lest we think this issue does not apply to us, here are some of the not-for-sure issues we have had to face at Second Baptist in my 21 years here as Pastor. Is “pre-Christian” an acceptable term to use to describe unbelievers? Should our church boycott Disney, Target, Starbucks?
What kind of music should we use in public worship? Shouldn’t we worship on Saturday? Is it okay to speak in tongues or have a prayer language? Why don’t we use the King James Bible only?
Is it wrong to observe Halloween and Christmas (especially the tree)? Should women be allowed to teach men in Sunday School classes? Is it okay to watch R-rated movies, listen to Rock and Roll, or country music? Should we try the Lottery, play cards, go to a casino, or use dice?
What is our position on the Second Coming? Where do we stand on Calvinism? Believe me; the list could go on.
Questionable matters similar to these were disrupting the church at Rome. Paul’s advice to them can help us today when we deal with matters not specifically addressed in the New Testament.
Rom. 14:1-2 (Holman) Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables.
When people who are fellow Christ-followers do not agree with us on questionable matters, our response must be to “accept” them. We are to make them feel welcome, and not angrily dispute doubtful matters with him.
Do not try to convince other believers to accept every jot and tittle of our beliefs. Have respect for the opinions of others. Welcome people. Let them on their own hear the Word preached. They will grow in grace quickly this way.
One doubtful matter being debated in the Roman church was that some members had become vegetarians for religious reasons. Meat sold in the marketplaces had often earlier been a part of sacrifices offered to pagan gods.
Some Christians believed it sacrilegious to eat such meat. To insure they never ate of a pagan sacrifice, they avoided meat altogether. Other Christians saw nothing wrong with eating meat, no matter what it had been used for previously. It was a questionable issue. Arguments could be presented for each side.
Rom. 14:3 One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does, because God has accepted him.
The fact there were differences in practice among believers did not bother Paul. What upset him was the way these differences were handled. The “liberated” crowd viewed the cautious ones with contempt, while the latter looked on the former with condemnation. The meat-eaters would have called the vegetarians radicals, stick-in-the-mud’s, puritanical. It would be easy for the vegetarians, who saw their carnivorous comrades as morally loose, to slip into Pharisaism.
One thing is sure. Whenever arguments arise over matters of interpretation, both sides are immediately wrong. We must never despise or judge one another. It is a terrible thing to scorn another believer’s views.
Respect the sincerity of our fellow Christ-followers. God accepted them. If they are “good enough” for God, surely they can be deemed “good enough” for us.
One day a Quaker, after hearing Whitefield preach, approached the evangelist and said, “Friend George, I am as thou art. I am for bringing all to the life and power of the everlasting God; and therefore if thou wilt not quarrel with me about my hat, I will not quarrel with thee about thy gown.”
Never look down on believers for what they do or do not do in questionable matters. Never ridicule fellow believers. Each is precious in God’s sight.
Rom. 14:4a Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls.
Heaven is the only court where a believer is to be tried. Do not worry about judging fellow believers. God does this for us. He has relieved us of that burden.
This is good news. We do not have enough time on our hands to be another believer’s Judge. We all have much fence-mending to do in our own back yards.
When we tend to our own faults, no time is left for meddling with others. If we must criticize, find a mirror somewhere and have at it. Leave others alone.
Rom. 14:4b And stand he will. For the Lord is able to make him stand.
This is an amazing thought. People who are doing totally opposite things may nevertheless be acceptable in God’s sight. Neither side in this matter was necessarily completely wrong. Both may have been right. The astounding truth is, the strong in this passage are not presented as being any better than the weak.
Actually, two such groups are helpful to a church. They counterbalance one another, and help us avoid the extremes of legalism and licentiousness. They may be compared to centrifugal and centripetal forces that keep our planet in its orbit.
Earth travels through space at a tremendous rate of speed. This causes a centrifugal force that keeps it moving outward in a circle. This movement is tempered by the sun’s gravity, which exerts a centripetal force keeping earth from flying out into the far reaches of space. Similarly, “liberated” ones among us drive us away from legalism while “cautious” ones restrain us from open sin.
Rom. 14:5 One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind.
Here was another questionable matter at Rome. Evidently, some of the Jewish Christians had trouble discarding the Old Testament designation of Saturday as a Sabbath Day, and wanted to keep it as a weekly holy day.
It was hard for Jewish Christians to be weaned from what they had long been wed to (Henry). It was not clear in their minds to what extent Christ had done away with a weekly Sabbath observance.
Notice, Paul did not make a dogmatic statement on this matter. Instead, he used this debate as a chance to say it is wrong to force people to do anything against their will. “Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind.”
In other words, if people want to worship on Saturday, they have every right to do so. In fact, they must do so if they think this is what God wants them to do. The Jewish Christians who were not sure it was okay to drop Saturday as a Sabbath were duty bound to maintain it in their own lives.
Every person must do what she or he in their own heart deems right. Let me pause a moment here, and remind us we are discussing only matters for which there is no clear-cut definitive statement in the New Testament.
The maxim “Be true to yourself” is valid only if said in the context of the new creature we are in Jesus. Be true to our spiritual self, not to our natural self.
Rom. 14:6 “Whoever observes the day, observes it to the Lord. Whoever eats, eats to the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is to the Lord that he does not eat, yet he thanks God.”
This verse presented an interesting sidelight by stating the early Christians universally thanked God at every meal. However, the verse’s main emphasis is that it gives us a principle whereby we must judge any questionable activity.
Can we do it for God’s glory? Can we “say grace” over it and ask God to bless it? The Romans—vegetarians, carnivores, Sabbatarians, etc.—were all trying to please God. None was indifferent or nonchalant in their attitude toward the will of God. Each one had his eyes on Jesus and was trying to satisfy the Master.
When it comes to a doubtful matter, trust that a person is doing his best to win the smile of God. John Wesley wisely said in a letter, “I will not quarrel with you about opinions. I am sick of opinions. Give me a good and substantial religion, a humble, gentle love of God and man.” Ultimately, this is what really matters.
God, give us firm convictions, but also true humility. Learn from a parable. Four men approached from different directions a pyramid painted a different color on each side. The first man said, “It is red.” Second, “White.” Third, “Blue.” Fourth, “Green.” As the four screamed at one another in rage, a fifth man circled the pyramid and ended their silly feud by saying, “You are all right and all wrong.” In debatable matters, the same could possibly be said often of all sincere believers.