Each of us are making an impression on the people we interact with. Just the other day, my wife and I were having a conversation and she asked me a question about someone we've both worked with in the past. Her question was this, "How does he make you feel when you interact with him?" And I answered, "Well, years ago I felt blessed by my conversations with him, but now, he usually makes me feel belittled or of lesser value than him." Sadly, that's exactly how she experiences him now as well.
How do you suppose others experience you? Do they feel better or worse after talking with you or working with you? How do your conversations and demeanor come across to your church family? What kind of impression do you suppose you're making on those you know who aren't followers of Christ?
One of the biggest hangups many people in this world have toward Christians relates to the fear of being judged or condemned by them. And even among believers, there are plenty who no longer attend or participate in the life of their local church because of a fear of being unkindly judged. Is this an issue you've ever wrestled with? Loved or judged? How do we make others feel? What counsel does Romans 14:1-12 give us about this subject?
I. Value your relationships more than your opinions
One of the greatest compliments that could be said about the church in Rome during the era in which Paul wrote this letter is that it was a diverse church. The believers there came from vastly different backgrounds. Some of the Christians had been pagan Gentiles prior to coming to faith in Christ. Others were devoted Jews. Some had been slaves, some were poor, and some were rather wealthy. But it takes work for a diverse group of people to learn to get along. It didn't happen automatically in their era, and it doesn't happen automatically in ours either.
It's also important to note that we're all at different stages of spiritual maturity. You may be someone who has followed Christ for many years and devoted yourself to prayer and the study of Scripture, or you may be new to your faith in Christ. It may also be the case that you've been a believer for many years, but you don't possess a very disciplined faith, and as a result you're growing at a much slower pace than you could.
So, since we have different backgrounds and we're at different seasons of spiritual maturity, how should we treat one another? One of the principles Paul explains here is the importance of valuing relationships more than we value our opinions. In the context in which these words were written, you had people from pagan backgrounds who refused to eat meat because they were concerned that it may have come from the meat markets that were associated with pagan temples, and may have been used in sacrifices to idols. So they chose to eat only vegetables. You also had people from a Jewish background who may have been hesitant to eat foods that were once forbidden to them under the Old Covenant.
So what should we do when presented with dilemmas like these? Should I be sensitive or arrogant toward your opinions and preferences, or should I be demanding regarding my own opinions? Aren't we being shown here that we should value people more than we value our opinions when it comes to areas of Christian liberty?
This certainly plays out in our day as well, and admittedly, it's a struggle for me to treat some of my opinions as areas of liberty. For instance, I have strong opinions in areas like parenting, work, entertainment choices, and whether or not it's wise to drink alcohol. Some of you know my opinions on these subjects, and some of you don't. But what matters more, my opinions or the people I meet who are created in God's image? According to Scripture, people matter more, and the ways I interact with them should demonstrate the fact that I value them over my own opinions, preferences, and areas of Christian liberty.
II. Honor the Lord with a clear conscience
Holidays can be an interesting topic of discussion among believers. When I preach, my preference is to work through one book of the Bible at a time, but throughout the year, there are various cultural and religious holidays that dot our calendar. Another pastor once asked me, "What do you do when you're preaching through a series and there's a holiday in the midst of it? Do you keep preaching your series, or do you pause to acknowledge the holiday?" I didn't have a consistent answer to his question because sometimes I pause the series and sometimes I don't. There isn't a set rule that dictates what needs to be done in that moment, so I trust the Holy Spirit's guidance to lead me in that area of pastoral liberty.
Among the believers in Rome, however, commemorating holidays often turned into a source of contention and debate. Under the Old Covenant, the Jewish people were required to celebrate certain feasts and holy days. Under the New Covenant, we acknowledge that these celebrations were pointing to Jesus and aspects of His ministry that He has now fulfilled. We are no longer under any obligation to celebrate the Passover because in Christ, we have been passed over for judgment. We are no longer obligated to celebrate the feast of First Fruits because Christ has risen from death as the firstfruits of the resurrection. And so on.
But, as you can imagine, there were plenty who still felt convicted to celebrate these feasts. Paul speaks of it as an area of Christian liberty. If you want to celebrate, go for it. If you don't, you're under no obligation to. Just be considerate to your brothers and sisters who have different opinions, and make sure whatever decision you make is made in such a way that you honor the Lord and keep your conscience clear. Give thanks to God if you participate, and give thanks to God if you abstain.
III. Our new life in Christ isn't self-centered
Some of the least self-centered people I have had the privilege to know throughout the course of my life were the women in my family. In addition to my mother, I was also blessed to have two fantastic grandmothers, as well as a great-aunt who functioned like a bonus grandmother to me. They're all with the Lord now, but during the time I had the privilege to spend with them, they blessed me in more ways than I could count. And if I could summarize much of what they did for me and my sisters, I would have to say it was sacrificial in nature. They made many of their decisions based on how those decisions would impact our family.
The body of Christ is a family as well. When a family is healthy, it tends to be sacrificial and others-centered. Members of that family make decisions with the best interest of other family members in mind. This is a concept Paul wanted to stress for us in this passage. We're a family, and everything we do will have an impact on the greater health of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
None of us lives to himself any longer. None of us dies to himself any longer. We're called to glorify Christ when we live our new life, and when we treat the selfish intentions of our old nature as dead. Therefore, I cannot consider myself a mature Christian if I'm not concerned with how my decisions will impact others.
Our new life in Christ, isn't self-centered.
IV. It isn't our job to condemn each other
The day is going to come when we're all going to give an account for our lives before the Lord. I'm not going to give an account to Him for your life, and you're not going to give an account to Him for my life. We will be giving an account for our own lives, and He will be the one to judge the quality and sincerity of the way we chose to live, and the work we chose to do.
Knowing this, Paul reminds us that it isn't our job to condemn each other. But what about believers who are clearly living in rebellion toward the revealed will of God in Scripture? Is it wrong to point that out to them? Would that be judgmental to do so?
As one family in Christ, it isn't our job to condemn each other about opinions and areas of liberty, but it is our job to correct and admonish one another when it comes to areas of God's will that are made abundantly clear in His word.
So if my brother or sister in Christ is welcoming sin into their life, would it be loving for me to pretend evil is good? There's a big difference between condemning someone over a debatable matter and correcting someone over an issue of God's moral will that's abundantly clear in His word.
Loved or judged? How do we make others feel? With the power and wisdom Christ supplies, we're called to see others with His eyes, and value them more than we value our own opinions and preferences. Christ is honored when His heart is reflected in the way in which we love one another.
© John Stange, 2019