Summary: To accept one another, we are to concede differences.
Have you ever tried ordering water in the restaurant nowadays? First, the waiter asks, “Hot or cold water?” Let us say you chose cold water. He then asks, “Tap water or bottled water?” Okay, bottled water. “Mineral, alkaline, ionized, carbonated, flavored, purified or distilled?” So much to choose from!
Now let us look at Bible believers. Other than the assorted denominational labels, we also have all sorts of differences or preferences. To have long hair or short hair for women? To wear or not to wear makeup or jewelries? Skirts or pants? Traditional hymns or contemporary music? The list can go on and on. How do we deal with these differences? Should we debate or divide over these issues? How do we accept the different? Romans 14 gave us the answers. In our acronym A-C-C-E-P-T, so far we saw that we are to ACCEPT one another in Christ, CONCENTRATE on the essentials and CONCEDE differences. We will expand on the third point. Let us read Romans 14:1-8. “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
We have four commands in our passage today. Let me summarize these commands: “We are to accept each other just as God accepted us and not judge one another on matters of personal convictions.”
The first command is in verse 1: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” When the Bible talks about “disputable matters” or what we call “personal convictions,” we are not talking about essential doctrines. We saw last week that the Bible clearly spelled out for us the fundamental doctrines of our faith. We are to unite or agree with the essentials. We are also not talking about moral issues. Adultery is not a matter of preference. You cannot tell the truth only when it is convenient. When the Bible specifically commands it or prohibits it, we ought to obey it. We are not free to change or suit it to our wants. These are clearly written in black and white in the Word of God. What we mean by “disputable matters” are amoral issues or what we call “gray areas.” Those are things not clearly spelled out in the Bible.
Our passage cites two examples. Verse 2 says, “One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.” The apostle Paul was not talking of health issues here. He was talking about dietary practices for religious reasons. There are believers who because of their religious background could not eat certain kinds of food. For example, there are Muslims who became Christians. But still they can’t eat pork. Should we encourage them to eat bacon? No, we don’t have to. Another example Paul gave is the matter of observing holidays. Verse 5 says, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.” Should we still observe fiestas? What about Holy Week, All Saint’s Day, Christmas or New Year?
The answers are not clearly spelled out in the Bible.
But the Bible commanded us to accept one another in Christ despite of our differences of opinions. “Fellowship among Christians is not to be based on everyone’s agreement on disputable questions. Christians do not agree on all matters pertaining to the Christian life, nor do they need to.”
The key phrase here is “whose faith is weak”. It refers to “overscrupulous believers… the faith of such persons is not strong enough to enable them to perceive the full liberty they have in Christ.” Let me give a contemporary example. When you look at canned goods, you would notice the “halal” logo, which is an Arabic term for “permissible.” Generally, “it most frequently refers to food that is permissible according to Islamic law… anything that is permissible under Islam.” Personally, I believe we can still eat it. But some would not because the word can also mean that the meat for example was slaughtered according to Islamic rituals. Even if they are already free to eat those things as Christians, because of past associations they cannot eat in good conscience. How should we treat them? We are to accept them “without passing judgment on disputable matters.” It means to “welcome, but not for the purpose of getting into quarrels about opinions”. That means we don’t even have to debate it. We can discuss it so that we can better understand each other. But we are not to force people to agree with us. We can accept one another without agreeing with each other. We can still respect one another even if we disagree or even if we don’t see eye to eye on issues.