Please read Romans 14+15 in your go-to version of the Bible. I used the NIV to prepare these remarks. (This is the third in a series of three posts.)
True faith requires us to get along with each other.
By the way, if you want an explanation of this post’s title, please repeat it aloud until you hear the word that’s really there. Forbearance is the virtue of extending forgiveness in advance of an offense: it is essential for godly relationships.
This week an article posted on the Harvard Business Review website caught my eye. The title of the article was “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” The author was Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States. He served in that position from 2014 to 2017.
His point is that loneliness is more prevalent than we may realize and why it’s a problem.
“Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that t real number may well be higher.”
“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making.”
“Loneliness is t feeling of having inadequate social connections. Why has this feeling increased over past decades? Partly because people are more geographically mobile and are thus more likely to be living apart from friends and family. Indeed, more people report living alone today than at any time since the census began collecting this data.”
(Retrieved from https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic on 09.27.17>)
After we’ve had a chance to complete our understanding of God’s teaching in RMS 14+15, we’ll revisit this article and adapt Dr. Murthy’s advice to businesses on how to help people with the problem of loneliness.
Let me make this simple. God has two solutions to the problem of loneliness: family and the Church. This fact makes it even more of a shame that we have so thoroughly messed-up BOTH these institutions. The result is that loneliness is a problem growing in width and depth.
- God’s solution has many layers.
Our motive is love and in this order: God, others, self (14:15). Given the culture we have, here’s an ethical principle our nation needs to hear and practice: your freedom (“rights”) NEVER trumps your responsibility to love.
The value of other people is NOT dependant on what YOU think of them; the value of other people depends on what God thinks of them. V. 15 reminds us of what God thinks of them; they are SOMEONE FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED.
The standard is unity (14:7-9, 19-21; 15:5-6) as an expression of our commonly-held life. 14:7-9 explain why we are not in this alone: we’re part of a team, the winning team, as a matter of fact. Let’s observe something important: you may feel alone sometimes, but you are never really alone (14:7).
The most important reason we’re never alone is that the Lord Jesus is always with us. In life and in death He is with us and we BELONG to Him (14:8).
Jesus died on the cross to make this depth of relationship possible (14:9). It is His action not yours; Jesus picked you first. It’s GRACE, folks.
In 14:19-21 an important objective is set before us, a main reason to be church. THEREFORE (14:19) alerts us that an application is coming; in this case three of them.
One, MAKE EVERY EFFORT means that unity is a greater priority than getting your way. Sacrifice selfishness to succeed in spirituality!
Two, DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE requires us to choose our words and deeds carefully; to intentionally select things that cause PEACE.
Three, DO WHAT LEADS TO MUTUAL EDIFICATION means to choose things that will build others’ faith and confidence in the Lord.
The FOOD & DRINK in 14:20-21 are examples of non-issues that became issues because a weaker sibling in the family of God made them an issue. Maturity and freedom do not give anyone the right to purposely ignore the conscience of others or give offense. Love trumps one’s rights. If you truly love God and your neighbor, you’ll show it by being considerate.
The weaker sibling is someone who has genuine but wrong convictions. This obviously does not include people who are choosing to be obnoxious, willful bullies, and hypocrites. We don’t let them rule the day by pettiness.
Unity is not something we accomplish on our own strength; God provides it (15:5+6). God gives us ENDURANCE and ENCOURAGEMENT; He gives us THE SAME MIND TOWARD EACH OTHER THAT CHRIST JESUS HAD (a sacrificial one).
These gifts are for the purpose of glorifying God the Father by having ONE MIND AND ONE VOICE. Of course, having ONE MIND AND VOICE is not possible in our humanity; it is a gift from God. God is glorified when we are in unity; He is not when we are in disunity.
Have your convictions but temper them by accepting others (14:1, 3, 5-6, 14-16, 22; 15:1-4, 7). Accepting one another means two things.
One, do not quarrel at all & especially not over DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1). Paul offered the choice of SACRED DAYS (14:5-6), and MEAT offered to idols (14:6) as examples of disputable matters.
Two, no matter which side of an issue you take, don’t TREAT anyone w/ CONTEMPT. In Jesus, it is possible to be FULLY CONVINCED without being obnoxious. The “secret” is that regardless of which side you take, you do it for the Lord, not self. This will keep your pride from getting in the way of your better judgment. Whatever your conviction is, redeem it from selfishness by doing it with THANKS to God. This orientation will take selfishness out of the equation, keeping our priorities in proper order.
Practicing what he preached, Paul accepted other believers (14:14-16). His personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF. But he didn’t go around forcing his belief on others. Out of love, he was considerate and did all he could to avoid causing distress.
When you find yourself in a disagreement or argument, what is your first inclination?
– If you want to force your will and win at all costs, then know you are sinning. It’s serious. You are destroying someone for who Christ died.
– If you want to give in and do anything to keep even a false peace, then know that you are sinning because you lack the courage of your convictions, even tho’ God gives strengthens us to do right.
– As usual, the best way is in the middle. In this case, that means being careful to not do anything to offend sincere spiritual siblings.
A practical way to avoid this sin is to keep your opinions to yourself as Paul commanded in 14:22. If you’re not asked for your opinions, don’t volunteer them. Instead, do as Paul suggested and KEEP them BETWEEN YOURSELF AND GOD. Do this and you will be BLESSED because you will avoid unnecessary conflicts and embarrassing yourself.
Those who think themselves STRONG will prove it by not living to PLEASE themselves (15:1-4). This means bearing with the FAILINGS OF THE WEAK. We don’t assert superiority – especially if it’s real – but in humility, love them. This also means we aim to BUILD UP our neighbors in spiritual maturity by doing GOOD.
In this we have Jesus Himself as our example, as everything He did was aimed at helping others, not Himself. He even suffers the INSULTS intended for us. 15:7 provides perspective; we are motivated to accept one another in the way God has accepted us IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.
The teaching of God’s word makes His will plain: we are to love one another. The Scriptures help us to endure difficult people and toxic relationships graciously. The Scriptures give us courage by giving us HOPE. God is in charge; the truth will win out.
Another method is to keep your perspective broad by trusting God that He will get it right at the end (14:1, 13, 17-18; 15:8-14). A lack of perspective makes DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1) feel like a matter of life and death, even when they aren’t. Seeing things from God’s point of view reduces problems down to actual size.
The word THEREFORE in 14:13 introduces two more applications of this truth. First, STOP PASSING JUDGMENT ON ONE ANOTHER. This is a command to stop acting on your human nature. We tend to show prejudice and bias because we’re too hateful or too lazy to get to know people individually.
Another tendency is to “demonize” people who dare to disagree with us. We imagine them to be bad people because we’re unwilling to concede they may be right.
The second application is to not put a STUMBLING BLOCK or OBSTACLE in the way of another person. Don’t make living a life of faith harder; make it easier.
When we see life from God’s perspective we don’t allow DISPUTABLE MATTERS to become divisive (14:17-18). From His perspective, what matters is the KINGDOM OF GOD and it is made up of more important things that mere EATING and DRINKING. People who make God’s perspective their own will succeed in PLEASING GOD and will ultimately win HUMAN APPROVAL.
This lengthy and essential section on righteous relationships concludes with the ultimate example of God bringing people together: God brought the Jews and Gentiles together (15:8-15). The Jews were the people of God from the time he made them a nation at the exodus. Everybody else is a GENTILE.
BUT – God has always been working to bring the Gentiles into the family of God. In Old Testament times, this was accomplished by Gentiles converting to the Law. Case in point; Jesus served the Jews to fulfill all God’s promises to the Jewish founding fathers, but by His death and resurrection, He broke down the DIVIDING WALL between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:14), creating one new people, the Church. The Church is supposed to be God’s greatest achievement in bringing people together and just look at what we’ve done with it. To prove this point Paul offered a series of OT quotes – all of them with the word GENTILE in them – to demonstrate God always intended all nations to be included among His people.
The passage concludes on a positive note, offering all these divine blessings: HOPE…ALL JOY AND PEACE…OVERFLOW WITH HOPE. Paul also explained HOW we will come to these blessings. Two means:
AS YOU TRUST IN HIM. Interesting. The more we trust God, the more accepting we are of each other.
BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit is the power cable through which the divine energy of God is channeled to us.
Our days are pockmarked with bullet holes. Nationalism and tribalism give rise to war and other kinds of conflicts around the world. Have you seen the news and heard the rhetoric in the media and in government? We seem to be more divided than ever as a nation. The Church is divided into tens of thousands of splinter groups. Individual churches see feud and splits over matters that are trivial. Families are broken on a scale we would have thought unimaginable a generation ago.
We are in need of righteous relationships. In Jesus Christ, believers have all we need to make righteous relationships a reality. The only question is our willingness to believe, to sacrifice selfishness, and to enact the commands of God in the power of the Spirit. Righteous relationships do not come easy, but they are worth it.