Dear church,

After reading Romans 12, a good friend remarked to me, “I belong to you, and you belong to me.” That’s a good takeaway from that chapter. The apostle Paul was combatting the pride that sometimes breaks into a church family when people think their gifts are more important than the gifts of others. Paul wrote, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

So we don’t think of each other more highly than we ought. We recognize every member of the body of Christ has value and a gift from God to share with the church and the world.

And so, “I belong to you, and you belong to me,” is a good takeaway from Romans 12. And, if so, a good takeaway from Romans 14 might be, “Each of us belongs to God.”

Those two things go hand in hand – our mutual obligation to one another and our individual commitments to God. On the latter part, we respond to God as our consciences lead us.

In the Roman church to whom Paul was writing, there seemed to be a couple of factions of church members at play And they were not getting along.

Some of them weren’t overly concerned with matters on conscience as it related to food and special days (like the Sabbath and maybe the Passover and other Jewish festivals). These likely felt they were free in Christ on matters like that.

In contrast, others were led by their consciences to abstain from certain kind of foods and to keep the holy days. These likely felt obedience and devotion to God dictated they keep these traditions and, I suppose, couldn’t imagine abandoning them.

And these two groups were judging one another. The unity of the church was threatened. And Paul desired that the divisions be healed.

Paul told the church “not to quarrel over opinions.” Ah, Paul showed what he thought about the things that were dividing the church. They were merely “opinions.” Paul urged the church to walk in love and to put opinions aside, to stop judging, and to find a way forward to peace and mutual upbuilding.

If that meant someone abstained from eating certain kinds of food for the sake of his or her brothers and sisters in Christ, then so be it. If that meant someone put a lid on their lips and declined to comment when in the presence of a wine-drinking fellow church member, then so be it.

Both sides were expected by Paul to give up things that were a matter of opinion. “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.” The beauty and diversity of the church ought not to be wrecked because any one member has a strong opinion that he or she just can’t help but share.

Of course, this kind of thing happens in churches all the time. We can be quick to criticize our brothers and sisters in Christ. “I would do things differently,” we say.

But Paul said each person must live according to his or her conscience before God – and his or her brothers and sisters in Christ must graciously accept that person’s idiosyncrasies.

Of course, there are limits to this. Blatant and unrepentant sin doesn’t get a pass. But mere “opinions” do. We are to live in unity as the church. And each of us has a relationship with our Master.

“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.”

And so each of us approaches God in humility, asking him how we should live. Should no work be done on a Sabbath? Should our families celebrate holidays like Halloween? Is it OK to drink wine? We search the Scriptures, and we listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. And we trust in the Lord who is able to make us stand. And we don’t judge our brothers and sisters in Christ as they live out their own relationships with God.

I belong to you, and you belong to me. And both of us belong to God.

Chris

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