August 03, 2008
I came across a couple of passages this week that are worth recalling. The Romans 14 passage in particular is deeply relevant when dealing with the issue of Christian tolerance or lack of it. Some people are surprised to find it’s in the Bible at all.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. ...
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. ...
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? 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 confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Romans 14, ESV, emphasis mine
Sorry for quoting almost all of the chapter (I imagine most of you skimmed it, but Romans 14 is awesome. It’s worth a sermon. Probably a whole series of sermons. Click on the citation link to see what I cut out. There are many issues which come down to opinion in Christian living. Church music. Tattoos. Earrings. Pants for women. Drinking alchohol. The list is infinite. This passage advises us on how to deal with inevitable differences.
- Do not despise the one who disagrees with you. Young one who hates hymns, do not despise the old one who hates your music. Old one who disapproves of tattoos, do not despise the young one who’s sporting one. As long as the person who doesn’t wear earrings does so to honor God and the one who does because his conscience is clean (not to spite someone), God is glorified.
- Do not judge or despise your brothers on trivial things. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?” As we’ll see in the next passage I quote, there are times when Paul advises you to judge your brother, but do not judge him over trivia. When in doubt, it’s trivia.
- Do not hurt your brother through your freedom. Do not flaunt your differences of opinion and make him uncomfortable. “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”
- Do not hurt your brother through your rules. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
- “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” It’s ok to speak up when people rag too much on modern music. Or hymns.
- “Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.”
- “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” I think this can be taken in two ways. First, you are blessed if you can honestly take stock of the things you approve of without guilt or nagging doubt. Beware of approving things you feel a little guilty about or unsure of. Second, it’s better to have fewer rules in one’s life that make you pass judgment on yourself for what you approve.
Turning to subject of righteous judgment ...
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
1 Corinthians 5:9–13, ESV
From this passage, I take away that it’s not Christian’s job to condemn the outside world. The first part of this passage strikes me as particularly interesting: Paul clarifies that by saying one shouldn’t associate with sexually immoral people, he isn’t referring to people outside the church. “God judges those outside.” Let Him do so.
Where we need to draw the line of association is when it is “our people” who are sinning egregiously. “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anoyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” I emphasized greed because we tend to be hypersensitive to sexual sin and blind to other sorts.
It occurs to me that Christians already have a reputation for being cruel to their members who transgress sexually, so let me also quote the words of Paul from Second Corinthians, probably referring back to this very passage.
Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.
2 Corinthians 2:5–8, ESV
“The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all.” (Chesterton)