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  • Writer's pictureRMB

Don’t Destroy God’s Work

Everyone loves an issue in black and white.


When Scripture speaks clearly about an ethical topic—forbidding or commanding—then we know we’re on solid ground. We all agree that sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin. Showing hospitality is just the right thing to do.


But then there are the many matters not addressed in Scripture, topics on which God’s Word doesn’t give us unambiguously clear direction:

 

  • Is it OK to drink alcohol?

  • Are vaccines wrong?

  • Is it a sin to use birth control?

  • May I read the Harry Potter books?

  • Am I allowed to go for a hike on Sunday?

  • Could I use homeopathic medicine?

  • And endless more…

 

The list is very long and diverse. If Scripture is silent, how do we find a God-pleasing path? We search the Bible for general principles, for patterns, and for examples that can guide our behaviour. And that is right.


Not only must we wrestle to find God’s will on such issues, we consider that other Christians might disagree with our conclusions. They too, have gone back to Scripture, but arrived at different convictions. It’s clearly not as simple as “black and white,” yet it is still important, because we want our faith in God to shape everything we do. So how do we disagree on matters that aren’t explicitly addressed in Scripture?

Christian freedom in the communion of saints is always a relevant topic.

And we approach it with care. The cultural mantra, “That’s his/her own choice” is one that can infect the church too, where we simply choose to ignore our differences and stop dialoguing about our views. This can lead to an undercurrent of tension and division. Though each of us is personally responsible before God, we live within a communion of saints.

 

Disagreeable People

 

Like so many challenges we face, this one too, is reflected in Scripture. The early church had vigorous debates over matters for which there was no clear direction from God. Near the end of Romans, Paul addresses “disputable things” (Rom 14:1). These are matters which should be left to the conscience of the individual believer.


And throughout Romans 14 and 15, the Holy Spirit urges the weak and strong to accept each other. When He speaks about a weak and a strong faith, it’s really a shorthand term for “faith life.”

Each Christian has faith in God, but it doesn’t lead every believer to the same convictions.

The one who is weak has many scruples about how his faith applies to life’s ethical choices. His conscience hesitates over things that God’s Word is silent about, or about which the Old Testament law has been abolished through Christ. The strong are more comfortable with these less-defined areas of behaviour.


Bible scholars debate what kind of situation is reflected in these chapters. In Rome, there were disagreements about a) clean and unclean foods, b) vegetables, c) abstinence from wine, d) observance of days, and e) the tension between Jew and Gentile. For instance, while the strong believe that God allows them to eat all things, the weak conclude that they’re permitted to eat only vegetables (14:2).


And it’s telling that the core problem wasn’t their respective menus, but the relationship among those with differing viewpoints. These differences of opinion were threatening the unity of the church. So Paul addresses two wrong attitudes: the strong holding the weak in contempt, and the weak judging the strong (14:3).


When we disagree about disputable matters today, this is still how it goes. For instance, those who are freer in their approach towards music tend to be contemptuous toward those who are more constrained: “They’re so uptight. They need to relax, live a little, stop being legalistic...”


Meanwhile, others are more wary: “I don’t have chapter-and-verse, but I don’t think this is really Biblical. I fear where this will lead them…”


Scripture forbids this suspicion and judgmentalism. The strong must not condescendingly regard the practices of others. And the weak should not pronounce doom on those who don’t share their preferences.

 

The Basis for Peace

 

Whether we are debating tattoos or arguing about homeschooling, we shouldn’t let our differences of opinion sabotage the communion of saints. There is only one sure basis for peace among those who disagree on disputable matters: faith in Christ.

The weak person should be received in love by the strong, for God has firstly received him through Christ. The strong shouldn’t be judged for their views, for the Lord alone is their master.

Weak and strong can stand together, side-by-side, before their God and Lord.

It is the values of God’s kingdom—“righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17)—that must shape our relationships. We want to pursue peace and upbuilding by our actions.


We want to do all things out of faith, and in love, and to glorify God. Because each of us will stand before the judgment of God, each of us must be convinced in our own mind regarding the (im)propriety of a particular action. And then when there is disagreement in disputable things, we must still accept one another in Christian fellowship.

 

Stumbling Blocks

           

This Scriptural wisdom is still needed. We continue to disagree about disputable matters—and sometimes we disagree in ways that are distinctly unchristian, with insults, anger, impatience, and avoidance. And we probably all tend to elevate our preferences to principles. That is, when we’ve reached a conviction through reflection and study, we struggle to accept that others might have a differing view.


We also don’t know sometimes how to move past these disagreements. Some might appeal to the verse about not putting a stumbling block in another’s way (Rom 14:13) as the basis for others to get more in line with our convictions: “You should stop doing that, because you’re being a stumbling block to me.” People equate ‘causing to stumble’ with anything and everything that gives occasion for disagreement.


But this misrepresents what Scripture says. If someone has a different preference than you, it doesn’t mean they’re causing you to stumble. “Stumbling” refers to sin.


Will the elders really be causing you to sin by their decision about the frequency of communion? Or will you actually sin because I don’t wear a tie to church?


I still need to think carefully about how I exercise my freedom, and I need to reflect on what will lead to peace—but in a spirit of love, you need to think about that too.

 

Do Not Destroy…

           

God’s desire for unity resounds in Romans 14-15. Those who share a faith in Christ have every reason to accept one another and to work together. I find the Holy Spirit’s plea in verse 20 to be poignant: “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.” For Paul, it is unthinkable that the Romans would demolish the church for the sake of a platter of meat or a cup of wine or a special day. How could they harm God’s congregation for such insignificant things as these?



The Spirit’s command is enduringly relevant for the church: ‘Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of…’

Fill in the blank: Do not destroy God’s work for the sake of…

Do not destroy God’s work for the sake of your view on the Sabbath. Do not destroy God’s work for the sake of your stance on Christian counselling. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of…


Will we undermine God’s precious gift of unity in Christ for the sake of our fallible opinions? No question, there are matters worth fighting about. In many places, Scripture speaks clearly about right and wrong beliefs and behaviours. Let’s contend for these. Let’s call out drunkenness, and let’s fight hard for doctrinal purity. But let’s realise that there are other matters that are truly disputable, when it would be wrong to judge each other.


If we despise or condemn or ridicule or slander one another, then we are “no longer walking in love” (Rom 14:15). This is sin, and God calls us to repent. And that really is black and white.

1 Comment


dhofsink
Mar 22

Thanks, I really enjoyed this post.

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