Accept and encourage one another
May 24, 2020
Accept anyone who is weak in faith.
The Last of the Crazy Weeks?
So we've just about reached the finish line with getting our campus ready both for actual people and live-streaming. It's like the final sprint at the end of a distance race, or more appropriately the end of a workout when you use all of your remaining energy (unironically called the "burn-out phase"). So, one more week with little more than the passage and the study guide. And a comic strip from Peanuts.
Getting Warmed Up
The passage this week is about accepting one another as God has accepted us, In particular, Paul wants Christians with different comfort levels of faith to love one another and not accuse one another of error. For example, a relatively new Christian might have a problem with eating certain kinds of foods because they associate it with pagan practices from their recent past. But a more mature Christian might have realized that such things really don't matter - there's only one God, so don't worry about false gods. One says one thing, one says the exact opposite. That could be a problem!
Paul says that for matters that are not essential for salvation ("disputed matters"), Christians need to accept one another's range of feelings. In other words, there are things we can legitimately disagree about, and it's okay. (Note: the first 11 chapters of this letter are about establishing the fundamentals of the gospel that cannot be disputed. Don't forget that.)
Here's a contemporary application: returning to "normal" after COVID-19. Some church members think things are okay enough that we should get back together. Some church members are much more hesitant. Those two perspectives are mutually exclusive - we cannot both get together and not get together. Applying what Paul says here, people who want to get together should not get upset with or look down on those who do not. And those who do not should not accuse those who do of being reckless or uncaring. Once we are "fully convinced in our own mind" we should all realize that what matters is not our opinion at all, but God's. We pursue God's plan and standard with all our heart. And when we do, Christians who disagree about the steps along the way can still accept and embrace one another for taking the same journey.
Our Context in Romans
We have made it to the final main section of Romans. Paul has covered:
Part 1: What is the gospel? Salvation through justification by faith (chap 1-4)
Part 2: What does the gospel bring? Peace and freedom and life (chap 5-8)
Part 3: An aside on a very important question: where does Israel fit? (chap 9-11)
Part 4: How should the gospel affect us? Transformed lives in the power of the Spirit (chap 12-15)
There is a key framework for understanding this section (and this passage): God. Note how Paul ties everything in every verse directly to God. In other words, it's not about us and our opinions. Paul is not saying that "God accepts you and never wants you to change". Paul is not saying that God accepts our human standards and perspectives. "I have these sinful practices, but God accepts me and you should too." That's not at all what Paul is saying! In the background of everything is Paul's assumption of a sincere desire to follow Jesus and obey His teachings. If you are sincerely pursuing godliness, and you disagree with someone else who is sincerely pursuing godliness, then you must accept one another as God has accepted you and let God establish "the way" in His timing for you both to follow.
Again, this is not about holding one another accountable or pointing out clear sin in someone else. We are definitely to do that. Jesus made that clear, and Paul reiterated. But sometimes Christians have two very different views of the same decision, based on their life circumstances and progress of sanctification. Christians should not burn bridges over such differences, but accept and encourage one another, trusting God to make truth clear.
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
The long and short of it is this: who will ultimately judge us? God. So if someone has convinced themselves that they are approved by God, then let God be their judge.
Again, note that Paul is not talking about the person who is so off track as to be clearly heretical in their belief. Paul is assuming that we are talking about people who have basically agreed with his theology to this point. If you have every reason to believe that someone is a Christian, and they have a different perspective on a manner of living than you, accept them and let God deal with them.
One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
Here, Paul uses the example of cultural or religious practices. This could apply to former pagans and their festivals, or also to Jews and their festivals. Paul's test is this: if you are convinced that your practice is the best way to honor God, then that is between you and God. Don't let someone else - you can't know their heart any more than they can know yours - get in between you and God. That "if" is very important.
For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
Paul's lynchpin is so undisputable. God is the judge, so let God be the judge.
There are people who call themselves Christian who try to apply this acceptance to matters that the Bible clearly speaks about, and that's a problem. But even then, we are to let God be the judge. Paul's tone is necessarily ominous in that we must give an account of ourselves to God. If we have deliberately abused this call for acceptance and patience and grace by sneaking in beliefs and practices that we made up, we will be judged for it.
Realize that we are dealing with two different categories of acceptance. The kind that Paul is talking about in our passage - legitimate Christian disputes about disputable matters - must result in the kind of acceptance that exists within a church body. The kind I just mentioned above - the kind where you are convinced this other person is living and believing outside the will of God - may have to result in you parting ways with that person and accepting that God will deal with them appropriately.