I wonder if the tag line for the church in Rome might have been, “If you are prickly and critical, there is a place for you here.” Their reputation evidently reflected their membership; it was a church struggling with divisive opinions.
In my last posts we looked at the first set of disruptive opinions that unleashed reciprocal judgement and mutual rejection – the conflict between those who were free to eat anything and those who ate only vegetables (Romans 14:1-3). How did Paul restore the relationships? Not by proving one was right and the other wrong, but reminding them of the gospel, that God did not accept and welcome them based on their opinions. And so our love and acceptance of people with different opinions should reflect God’s acceptance of us. That’s the first principle.
Now a second disagreement was dividing church friends – were some days to be treated differently because they were of more value, or were all days the same (Romans 14:5). The believing Jews in the church no doubt made observing the special days of their tradition important. The Gentile believers in the church had no such traditions and no compulsion to observe them. So who was right?
Paul, by the Spirit of God, provides a surprising, and for some, a disturbing answer. Both could be acceptable (Romans 14:6 – “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord…the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God”). Paul eliminates tradition, opinions, and preferences as the basis for deciding what practice is right. Rather he takes them to the Lordship of Christ, “Christ died and lived again that he might be Lord…” (Romans 14:9). The issue is this, in my heart am I following and surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus in determining what I do?
Eugene Peterson in The Message captures it well, “That’s why Jesus died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty opinions of each other.”
The Second Principle: What made people with two different practices both acceptable? Commitment to following Jesus as Lord and Master. That’s what he wants – he wants us to be following him. And when we do and don’t follow ourselves, he will guide and lead us, mold us and shape us according to his unique and perfect plan for us…all with his perfect timing. He will do that for me and I need to trust he is doing that with you.
Next week: A 3rd Gospel principle for dealing with differing opinions and practices.
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