Given advances in transportation and communication, and given the mobility of peoples throughout the globe, our world today is surely the most multicultural in all of human history. But the Roman Empire of the first-century A.D. wasn’t too far behind. Especially in large, cosmopolitan cities such as Rome, people from throughout the Mediterranean world gathered, bringing along their unique languages, religions, customs, and deities. Thus, the mission of the early church to make disciples of all nations often led to confusion and conflict, as new believers brought their cultural assumptions and biases into the Christian community. It would be natural, for example, for new Jewish converts to Christianity to assume that they should continue to honor the seventh-day Sabbath. And those from the lower classes, who had eaten meat only during pagan celebrations, might easily assume that Christianity demanded vegetarianism.
In Romans 14, the Apostle Paul addresses these situations and the difficulties they posed for the Roman church. Apparently, cultural variations combined with differences in Christian maturity had led to conflict, with believers judging each other over their particular practices. For example, vegetarian Christians condemned their meat-eating siblings as selling out to paganism, while the meat eaters accused their “weak” siblings of inadequate understanding and immaturity.
Paul begins by urging the mature to “accept other believers who are weak in faith” (v. 1). The verb translated as “accept” suggests, not just toleration, but gracious welcome. Such a welcome means that Christians should not pick fights with others over inessential differences of opinion. Rather, they should provide a place in Christian community where people experience God’s love and acceptance and in this context are able to grow into maturity as disciples of Jesus.
Though the issues we face today aren’t the same as those in first-century Rome, we too can become judgmental and divisive in our attitudes toward other Christians. Romans 14 encourages us to examine our own feelings and actions.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Are you welcoming into your Christian fellowship those with whom you have differences of opinion? Are you making a particular effort to provide a place of safety and support for those who are immature in their faith?
PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, today I think of how much your church is divided. Sometimes the divisions have to do with truly weighty matters. But so often divisive disagreements have to do with that which is not essential. Forgive us, Lord, for failing to welcome our sisters and brothers as we should.
I pray for your church today, Lord, that we would become more accepting of others when it comes to our differences. Even when we disagree about matters of substance, may we do so in a Christ-like manner. And when it comes to differences of opinion about the inessentials, may we embrace each other in spite of these differences.
Lord, you know the people I tend to look down upon in church. I can be critical of their weakness in theology or discernment. Forgive me for my judgmentalism. Help me to welcome all brothers and sisters, including those who are weak in faith and understanding. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
During the last few weeks of the summer, I take a break from writing new reflections. We’ll be sending out reflections I wrote a couple of years ago on Paul’s letter to the Romans. I pray that God uses these to deepen your relationship with him and to strengthen your faithfulness as his disciple. We’ll be sending out new reflections beginning on Tuesday, September 4.