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June 26th, 2013

                Verse of the day:  “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do.  And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with – even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department.  Remember, they have their own history to deal with.  Treat them gently.”  (Romans 14:1, The Message)

                Key thought:  See above.  (Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase greatly expands Romans 14:1, but it makes for a good summary.

                Prayer:  Father, I humble myself before you as my ultimate Judge.  Judge my thoughts, judge my motives, judge my words, judge my actions.  Keep me accountable to you with a short rope.  Especially keep me accountable for the humility of allowing others to answer to you, not me, through Jesus Christ by whose death alone any of us can be declared righteous.  Amen.

(This will be my final Romans devotional for about a week – at least I think so.  Beginning tomorrow, Linda and I will be at the UCC’s General Synod in Long Beach, CA.  My blog, corinthpastorbob.com, will have daily entries on the Synod.)

I love Romans 14 and 15.  Thus far in Romans Paul has outlined the gospel, clarified the place of the Jews in this age, and urged us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices – a life of service, love, and friendship, grace, submission, and personal holiness.

That’s all great – but in every Christian community, we wind up disagreeing on the details.  Mention predestination, the rapture, spiritual gifts, politics, divorce, women in leadership, communion, the Lord’s Day, or a number of other issues – and we start squabbling like kids in the back seat.  We either fight or move further apart.

We’re not sure exactly what specific issue Paul was addressing in Romans  14 and 15.  We do know it’s not a compromise of the gospel, because Paul is not livid like he is in Galatians.  There are many parallels with 1 Corinthians 8, where the issue was whether to eat meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols, but Paul never speaks of idols or idolatry in Romans 14 and 15.

What seems most likely is that some Christians in Rome with a Jewish background, even though had embraced salvation by faith in Christ, were still holding tightly to Jewish rules about clean food and drink as well as about proper observation of Jewish festivals.  They sincerely believed that anyone who loves the Lord should want to keep ALL his laws from ALL the Bible.

Here is the beginning of Paul’s answer to the complexities and frustrations of Christian disagreements in Romans 14–

  1. Accept those who differ with you.  Welcome them even if they feel they need strict rules and boundaries and have trouble with YOU for not following them.  Stay in relationship.
  2. It’s too easy to stay in relationship for the purpose of changing them.  Don’t make that mistake.  Arguments over legitimate differences of opinion create unnecessary rifts.
  3. Do not condescend toward the one more with more rules than you have, and do not judge the person with more freedom.  Both sides should knock down the barriers.
  4. You’re not the judge or boss of your fellow Christian.  They answer to their Master.
  5. Do what YOU are convinced honors the Lord.
  6. Remember we each belong to the Lord and are each accountable to him.  Note how easy it is for this point to quickly become a debate over the details of the last judgment.  Paul does not at this point want to take away the earlier confidence that there is “no condemnation” for those who are in Christ Jesus.  But “no condemnation” does not mean I have a license to sin.  Paul’s primary focus is that whoever I’m judging doesn’t need ME as a judge.  He already has one.  (For a thorough discussion of Scriptures about our being declared righteous yet still accountable, see Chris Van Allsburg’s blog, written after this morning’s men’s Bible study.)

The reason these chapters are so important for me is that I’ve spent 35 years in the United Church of Christ and in the local church trying to distinguish essentials from non-essentials.  My chart of core-confessions-convictions-conscience was presented to the Search Committee when I came to Corinth in 1993 and has been shared with every new member class since I came.  The ability to distinguish essentials from non-essentials is a critical skill for every Christian.

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