From the first blush of the New Day that dawned following the Cross Event and the rising again from the dead of Jesus of Nazareth, the world began to feel the explosive effect of an entity unknown to any previous generation of men upon the earth.
The promise Jesus had made to a handful of seemingly unqualified men at Caesarea Philippi had begun to be realized. He had said on that day, “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
If we were reading an epic and sweeping novel, we would anticipate a church joined together in common purpose by the Denominator of Christ, a church of agreement and harmony, a church walking in unified purpose and resolve.
That was not the case. Even from her first moments and initial meetings together, the newly born church at Jerusalem was afflicted by disunity. Fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Jesus did not see every issue, view every doctrine eye to eye.
Sadly, and to the sabotage of her success, the church has failed to find and to live within the fair boundaries of unity for all of her existence. Yet this very issue – unity – was, and continues to be a central desire and prayer of Jesus.
The existence of some 40 or more thousand Christian denominations should tell us something about unity and disunity, agreement and disagreement. If in fact there is legitimate need for tens of thousands of Christian denominations, so-called, it is indicative of the failure of Christian people to truly love one another, accept and receive one another in a spirit of grace and forbearance in Christ.
Consider the holy prayer, spoken by the holy Son of God, in cloistered communion with the Father. The words are recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John’s gospel:
“ . . . that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Since the whole theme of unity is key to the king of glory and to the church of His building, we need often to examine our own hearts and minds in the light of Jesus’ high priestly prayer on our behalf.
Paul devotes two full chapters to the issue of “issues.” He repeats himself, writing in chapter 14, Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things and in 15, We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
The Key to becoming like-minded when there are differences of belief, opinion, and understanding is found in 14:5 Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. One version has this: follow the convictions of conscience. The Living Translation says Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter. The responsibility is on the individual believer.
The key to finding agreement is not in the voracious study of every commentary until a suitable (to us) meaning is discovered about these things” or to parse the Greek until a unique understanding is found, but the key is to be fully persuaded, to follow your convictions. There must be the component of faith that involves itself within us if we are to gain understanding, find knowledge, and walk out our faith in Him.
Shakespeare’s Polonius memorably advises his son, Laertes, This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!
Consider these words of Paul: (Romans 14:5) “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.”
(14:14-16) “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil.”
(15:5-8) Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. 8 Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers,
There are issues that seem to be spiritual, that are almost important that in reality amount to nothing in the eternal heart of God. It is a complete and destructive waste of time to debate topics that have no practical, helpful and eternal value.
Allow me to repeat myself: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Paul is dealing with dietary issues (that have little application in the 21st century, but are instructive in principal to our lives) and now writes about calendar observances (which also have little, literal application to us, but serve to provide philosophical instruction).
We have our problems, our disputes over eschatological calendarizations – Some of us are convinced that Jesus will appear the second time before the time of the Great Tribulation while others are convinced He will arrive in the middle of Tribulation and others are fully persuaded that His arrival will follow The Tribulation. Still others teach that He will not return at all, and there are those who teach that He will return, but there will be no Tribulation.
It is a waste of precious and irretrievable time to argue and to postulate about which day of which week and of which hour of that day or night Jesus will return for His Bride.
When we think about the Day of the Lord and of the catching away of the church, the “rapture,” (a word that does not even appear in our Bibles) the objective ought not be first to discern the moment of His return, but to know He is coming again and to “work while it is day” because as surely as Summer follows the Spring, “the night cometh when no man can work.”
Paul is not, in Romans 14 speaking about specific, isolated questions of the application of faith so much as he intends to use the questions of proper food and the observance of days to address a whole panoply of potentially divisive issues – The church at Rome had their own slate of problems, and we have ours.
Here is only a sample of today’s issues that divide brothers and sisters, denominations and churches . . . the collective Body of Christ in the earth:
Eschatology, Losing one’s salvation, The Eucharist, Dietary Laws, Alcohol, Dancing, Movies, The Sabbath, Celebration of Christmas, Military Service and War, Politics, Tongues, Miracles, Prophecy, Worship, Ecology . . .
And the list could go on and on. This is only an incomplete list. A plethora of issues could easily apply to Paul’s advice. Issue upon issue, world without end could marshal our time and energies. We could immerse ourselves to the point of drowning if we so chose, but believers in Christ should focus their faith and their energies – should “major on majors and minor on minors” with regard to many of the unanswered and debatable questions that surround our faith.
A “first law” of dealing with the “issue of issues” ought to be that love must have preeminence. Our first objective must be first to love and secondly to be persuaded. If our persuasion rises from a foundation of love, the conclusion of our determinations will be far more palatable to God and to man.
If our persuasion comes first and if love comes second, we already are in error, and we do harm both to our own testimony and to the Body of Christ.
Paul’s response to a divisive Roman church embraces at least three simple points – considerations that are intended to be uncomplicated and easy to both recall and to employ.
In Chapter 14:3 he cautions about passing judgment on a brother (or sisters) in “such things.” The intent of his “such things” is to evoke the “non-essential” things.
His reasoning for prohibiting judgment is that God has received (our brother or sister). If a person is justified by faith, we are obligated to receive, to welcome that person even if we may disagree with issues that are non-essentials to the faith. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” “Allow your brother and sister to be fully persuaded in his or her own mind of God’s position on every issue.” Allow them because God has received them.
If a believer has gone before God in honesty and has cleared any given issue with God, whether it be the consumption of shellfish (a great sin to some in the Body) to drinking wine (a definite sin to Christians living on one side of the Atlantic Ocean, but an acceptable practice to Christians living on the other side of the Atlantic – One wonders what happens to the wine somewhere out in the Atlantic?) if that issue has been cleared with God and the believer has a clear conscience regarding such things, we should, we must receive them, even if it means we don’t share their shrimp or drink their Chardonnay.
If a person is made righteous and is accepted by God, as a son or daughter of the Father, we must also reckon God’s righteousness and His acceptance of a brother as sufficient for us.
Paul continues to expand his view in verse 4 when he asks, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed he will be made to stand for God is able to make him stand. (Italics, mine).
Paul’s second observation is that our brother will give an account of his life before God, and not before you or me. We too frequently judge according to our preferences and not according to God’s standards.
When we look at the manner of life of another believer and when we judge that one as less spiritual than are we, we violate God’s word and place ourselves at the judgment bar, wearing the wrong robes! I want to be found by Him, clothed in robes of righteousness rather than having donned the Judges robe that is tailored for only One Magistrate!
Rest assured, there will be an accounting day; a day of reckoning when either our thin excuses or our righteous judgments will be brought into balance by the Chief Justice of heaven. God will judge the vegetarian and the meat eater, and the exact, same standard will be used for us all.
Finally, in the same verse Paul writes, God will make us able to stand in the judgment. The differences of interpretation, opinion, persuasion on issues that are non-essential to our faith will not crush us on the day of our eternal adjudication.
God will as He ever has intervened on our behalf make up for all our miscalculations of life’s issues.
Paul instructs us: “Don’t Judge,” because God has accepted our brother/sister. “Don’t Judge” because our brother/sister will stand before God for judgment. “Don’t Judge” because where we are deficient, He is sufficient. Where we don’t have quite enough or the Admission Price, He has already paid for our entry into His glory and His presence for eternity.
Instead of judging, our goal is to “be fully persuaded” in our own minds that the manner of our own lives, and not the manner of a brother/sister’s life, that all our own behaviors and practices are supported by and are pleasing to God.
Because the day will come when you and I will surely give an account. God will not ask for a single witness either for the prosecution or the defense. He alone will judge us all, and His standard will be absolutely perfect, pure and just.
And where each of us has lack, where we did not get it right, where we misinterpreted a doctrinal issue, He will make up the difference for us through the abundant resource of His only begotten Son, and He will make us to stand on that day!