Dealing with Differences of Opinion

Is one day more important than another? Paul answers this question and others in Romans 14.

Romans 14

1Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won’t. And those who won’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should.

5In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter. 6Those who have a special day for worshiping the Lord are trying to honor him. Those who eat all kinds of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who won’t eat everything also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7For we are not our own masters when we live or when we die. 8While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. 9Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.

10So why do you condemn another Christian ? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. 11For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,‘every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.’”

12Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God. 13So don’t condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian’s path.

14I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15And if another Christian is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16Then you will not be condemned for doing something you know is all right.

17For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too. 19So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

20Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble. 21Don’t eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble. 22You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by doing something they know is all right. 23But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn’t eat it. They would be condemned for not acting in faith before God. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.
(Romans 14:1-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In Romans 14, Paul is dealing with a common issue among Christians – how should we handle issues on which we disagree?

In a previous post on this chapter of Scripture, I addressed the issue of whether Paul was advocating moral relativism. The short answer is “No”, but you can read my thoughts and explanation in my post “Does Paul Advocate Moral Relativism?”.

In this post, I want to focus instead on Paul’s admonition that we not condemn one another by arguing about minor doctrinal views and personal preferences. For some reason, probably pride and arrogance, people everywhere have this tendency to think all of their views and preferences are correct. Christians are not immune to this phenomenon, so we can tend to think that all of our doctrinal views and religious preferences are also correct, whereas those who may disagree with us or think differently must be wrong in their thinking and understanding.

As a result, we can fall into the trap of trying to correct every view and idea of others that differs from our own.

Paul says that when we condemn other Christians for their actions and preferences which differ from ours, we are potentially putting an obstacle in their path. Instead of taking on the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others, we should let God do the work of convicting and transforming.

Several years ago, in my first ever seminary class, I learned some valuable principles that I think apply here.

Alan Scholes, in his book “What Christianity is all About” outlines three different categories of thought that we can place almost all of our views and positions into. In the book, these categories were talking about doctrinal positions but I think the categories can extend beyond just our doctrinal views and can include other views and positions as well.

The first category is what Scholes refers to as Opinions. Opinions are thoughts and beliefs I have regarding a particular topic or issue but I recognize that others may have different views and I don’t assert that my view is necessarily correct or the only view that a person can have.

The second category is what Scholes calls Persuasions. A persuasion is stronger than an opinion. I may have done some research on an issue and therefore may be persuaded that my position is logically correct, but I still allow for others to hold different positions.

The third category is what he calls Convictions. A conviction is a persuasion that is so strong that if someone were to disagree with me, it could impact or hinder my relationship or my ability to be in fellowship with that person.

Scholes argues that for followers of Christ there should be a limited number of doctrinal issues that we hold at a conviction level, which would limit our ability to partner with or fellowship with that person.

It doesn’t mean I couldn’t have a relationship with them but if we differ on these critical conviction issues, it may limit my ability to work with and partner with them.

Most other issues I should hold at an opinion or persuasion level.

The problem that many Christians experience is we too often elevate opinion level preferences to conviction level status. Paul gives several examples of this happening in his own experience. He first gives the example of whether you can eat meat or not, and then follows up with the example of whether worship should be reserved for a specific day for everyone.

Paul says that these issues are not critical. It’s ok to have your own opinion and you may even be persuaded that your view is right, but you shouldn’t impose your opinions and persuasions on others who may have a different view. On these non-critical issues, we should allow for a diversity of views and allow God to work in people’s hearts and minds if a change in view is required.

You may be wondering what constitutes a “non-critical” issue. Couldn’t someone argue that we should allow for a diversity of issues on just about any doctrine and position?

The answer is no, we shouldn’t allow for diversity in every doctrine and there are definitely issues we should hold at a conviction level. If you want to know what those issues are, just familiarize yourself with the scriptures because they are clearly spelled out.

For example, Paul leaves no room for people to hold a diversity of views on the nature of God or the person of Jesus. Those who taught a divergent view of Jesus were labeled as false teachers by Paul and other New Testament writers. See my posts here and here regarding this.

In general, if a person’s doctrinal viewpoint results in false teaching or an inaccurate or deficient view of God, Jesus or salvation, then it should be rejected. But if the person’s view has no impact on our view of God or our understanding of critical doctrines such as the doctrine of salvation, then some latitude should be allowed.

In Paul’s examples, you can see that whether or not a person eats meat is not relevant or critical to our understanding of God or salvation. Similarly, the exact day of the week that is reserved for worship has no impact on our understanding of salvation.

Paul’s advice on how to deal with differences of opinions can be summed up well by verse 19, which states:

So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Reflection

What are some critical doctrines that you think you should hold at a conviction level, meaning that if others disagreed with you it would negatively impact your ability to fellowship with them or even consider them to be legitimate followers of Jesus?

What are some opinion-level issues that you see Christians today elevating to conviction level status?

What are some issues or views that you personally hold at a persuasion level? What makes it a persuasion for you rather than just an opinion?

What steps can/should you take if other believers are condemning you for views that you think are opinions or persuasions and not convictions?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

Does God Exact a Higher Standard for Rich People to Enter Heaven?

Matthew 19

16Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good things must I do to have eternal life?”

17“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “Only God is good. But to answer your question, you can receive eternal life if you keep the commandments.”

18“Which ones?” the man asked.

And Jesus replied: “‘Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not testify falsely. 19Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

20“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”

21Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22But when the young man heard this, he went sadly away because he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. 24I say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

25The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

26Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

27Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?”

28And Jesus replied, “I assure you that when I, the Son of Man, sit upon my glorious throne in the Kingdom, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life. 30But many who seem to be important now will be the least important then, and those who are considered least here will be the greatest then. (Matthew 19:16-30, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this famous story, a rich young man comes to Jesus and wants to know what good deeds he has to perform to inherit eternal life. It seems that many Jews of that time period believed that there were certain righteous acts that could guarantee salvation. This man wanted to know what the magic deeds were that would assure heavenly admittance.

Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments and when the young man asks which ones, Jesus repeats several of the 10 commandments.

The young man is puzzled because in his mind, he’s kept all of the commandments, so he asks Jesus, “what else must I do?”

Jesus seizes on this opportunity to show the person that he really hasn’t kept all the commandments. If it were possible for anyone to fully keep all the commandments, it would have been unnecessary for Jesus to come and redeem man in the first place.

So Jesus tells the young man that if he really wants to be perfect, or complete in his devotion to the law, then go and sell all you have and give the proceeds to the poor.

The text says that the man walked away from Jesus sad because he was a person who own many possessions.

In debriefing this encounter with his disciples, Jesus says that it’s very hard for a rich person to get into heaven. In fact, Jesus makes the claim that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.

So who can be saved?

This is exactly the question the disciples asked and it may be the question you’re asking as well.

What exactly is Jesus teaching? Does he really mean to communicate that it’s more difficult for rich people to enter heaven than others?

At first glance, this seems unfair and unjust, as if rich people have a higher standard they must meet in order to gain entrance into an eternity with God.

Jesus is not saying that rich people cannot go to Heaven; instead He’s making a statement about need and priority. Coming to Jesus and following Jesus is a matter of recognizing your need for Jesus and then forsaking everything else and making Him the priority in your life.

People who have a lot of possessions often have a harder time recognizing their need, since their material needs are already satisfied. In addition, if you own a lot of material possessions, you can become very attached to them. Hence, people who own a lot of things often have a harder time forsaking those things and making Jesus the center.  For this reason, it’s harder for them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Look at what Peter says in verse 27:

“we’ve given up everything to follow you.”

This is the sentiment of following Jesus – giving up EVERYTHING!

It doesn’t matter how rich or how poor you are materially. What matters is being poor in spirit, which simply means that you recognize that you need a savior. If all of your needs are met and you’re feeling pretty content with life, you may have a harder time realizing that you’re a sinner who is in desperate need of help.

If you recognize your need for a savior then the next criteria is a willingness to make Jesus the priority. Jesus never makes selling all your possessions a prerequisite to being saved. He only made this comment to this person in order to bring about an awareness that didn’t exist before, namely, that this young man thought of himself as a person who was not a sinner, but someone who had always upheld every aspect of the Law.

The requirements and standards for getting into heaven are the same for everyone. But some people, who may see themselves as self-sufficient may have a harder time admitting a need for a savior. For people who are wealthy and self-sufficient, recognizing need and brokenness may prove to be harder than for people who are poor and more desperate.

Reflection

How are you doing with Jesus in terms of recognizing your need for a savior and your willingness to make Him a priority in your life?

What are the things that you hold most dear….those things that if Jesus were to ask you to forsake them, you might be tempted to walk away just as the rich young man did?  What is it about those things that make them so important and elevated in your life?

Peter asks a question in verse 27 – “what will we get out of it?”  What do you think most people are expecting to get out of this thing called Christianity? 

What do you think you are going to get out of Christianity?

 

Photo by Sean Foster on Unsplash

How Good do you Have to Be to Be Saved?

Romans 4

1Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What were his experiences concerning this question of being saved by faith? 2Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? If so, he would have had something to boast about. But from God’s point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride. 3For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous.”

4When people work, their wages are not a gift. Workers earn what they receive. 5But people are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work.

6King David spoke of this, describing the happiness of an undeserving sinner who is declared to be righteous:

7“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.

8Yes, what joy for those whose sin is no longer counted against them by the Lord.”

9Now then, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it for Gentiles, too? Well, what about Abraham? We have been saying he was declared righteous by God because of his faith. 10But how did his faith help him? Was he declared righteous only after he had been circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? The answer is that God accepted him first, and then he was circumcised later!

11The circumcision ceremony was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are made right with God by faith. 12And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13It is clear, then, that God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was not based on obedience to God’s law, but on the new relationship with God that comes by faith. 14So if you claim that God’s promise is for those who obey God’s law and think they are “good enough” in God’s sight, then you are saying that faith is useless. And in that case, the promise is also meaningless. 15But the law brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)

(Romans 4:1-15, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

What is required to be saved? How good do you have to be? If you fail to live up to the law, does that disqualify you from going to heaven?

These are the kinds of questions Paul is answering in Romans 4 and he uses Abraham as his prime example to explain that faith is the key to being saved, NOT obedience to the law.

You might remember that in Acts 15, there was a pivotal moment in the early church where this issue of circumcision was debated. I wrote about this critical issue in a previous blog post here, but the summary is that some Pharisees who had been converted argued that Gentiles had to become circumcised AND adhere to the law in order to be saved. Faith in Jesus was not enough.

Paul and Barnabas argued against this view and it was brought before all of the early church leaders at what has come to be known as “the Council of Jerusalem.” Long story short, all of the church leaders agreed with Paul and Barnabas and it was determined that circumcision was not a requirement for salvation.

In this chapter of Romans, Paul makes the argument for his position. Though the details of the debate that took place at the Jerusalem Council are not revealed, Paul’s outline in this chapter could very well have been the centerpiece of his defense against circumcision as a requirement for salvation.

Paul’s argument is as follows:

    1. Abraham was justified (declared righteous) by God BEFORE he was circumcised. Circumcision was a sign that Abraham had faith and that God had accepted him.
    2. If Abraham was accepted by God before being circumcised, then the acceptance (justification) is not dependent on being circumcised. It is based on the faith that came before the circumcision.
    3. Hence, Gentiles, who are not circumcised, can also be accepted (justified) by God  based on their faith.
    4. Therefore, circumcision is not required for Gentiles to be accepted.
    5. In the same way, Jews are also accepted by God based on their faith in Jesus, not on their circumcision, since Abraham was declared righteous as a result of his faith, NOT based on his circumcision.

What does this mean for us today?

It’s not likely that many of us think about circumcision as a requirement for salvation, so what are we to make of this passage?

Though we may not be advocating for circumcision as a requirement for salvation, we have a tendency, as humans do, of adding all kinds of work-related requirements to the salvation “formula”.

We have a tendency to think that salvation is secured by placing our faith in Jesus but then it is maintained by keeping a set of religious rules, which may vary depending on your denominational or family upbringing. In this scenario, if you break one of the rules, your spirituality or even your standing in the God’s family may be questioned.

If you think about it, adding any kind of religious requirement to faith is no different than adding circumcision to faith as a requirement for acceptance.

Paul’s argument stands for circumcision or any other work you might be tempted to add. Just replace the word “circumcision” with your religious rule in the outline above and Paul’s argument still holds.

The bottom line is that faith alone justifies a person in God’s eyes, not adherence to the Old Testament law or any other modern day religious code that we might be tempted to concoct. The truth is that Jesus came to die for us precisely because we are incapable of living up to any religious code, ancient or modern.

So let’s dispel the myth that Christians must practice a, b or c rituals to become saved, or that Christians cannot participate in x, y, or z activities or they will lose their salvation. Faith in Jesus is the key, just as it has always been.

Reflection

What religious rules are you tempted to want to add as a requirement for salvation? What is the basis for emphasizing those rules (church you grew up in, family environment, general culture, etc.)?

What activities are on your “prohibited” list of things Christians shouldn’t do. For example, I grew up in a church that generally frowned upon drinking, dancing, rock music, etc. 

Why do you think we have this tendency to add requirements to the process of becoming saved or for keeping our salvation?

 

Photo by Joshua Miranda from Pexels