Summary: Paul’s final theological words to the Romans hold a lot of weight. But in some ways Paul says to ’lighten up!’ when it comes to dealing with people who are different than us in the body of Christ.
We’ve been talking a lot about getting along in a hostile environment. That, to use an old adage, honey attracts more flies than vinegar. To be a compliant citizen of your nation, even when it doesn’t reflect the character of God very well, is a good thing because it allows the spotlight to be on Jesus rather than on you as you assert your rights.
In the body of Christ Paul encourages us not to make a big deal of things that aren’t—to know when to make an issue of the differences between us. When it involves debatable practices and lifestyle—it’s better to help bring peace and strengthening, than to insist on our own way.
That being said, Paul concludes this section of the practical application of being a willing sacrifice by coming back to the One we should most emulate: Jesus Christ. Jesus really had two natures that He displayed. One was welcoming, and the other was exhortational, even judgmental at times. Jesus was kind and gentle to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11) but harsh and angry toward the money changers who had turned God’s house into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13).
Matt 11:28-30 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
And yet He also said:
Matt 23:15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. NKJV
What’s the difference? To those who realized their lack and were open to the Lord, Jesus was open. To those who had closed their hearts, and were busy taking others away from knowing the One True God, He was unrelenting.
I think in some ways that is a good principle for us. If someone is sincerely in error and you can tell is open to instruction, then by all means, wrestle in the Scriptures with them.
Apollos: Acts 18:26 When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
On the other hand, you may encounter churches, ministries, and Christians who are pretty set in their ways, and they do not fall in line with Scripture. You might try to reason with them from the Word, but in the end, you may be better served to “switch rather than fight.” (to change an old ad slogan).
In Acts 15:36-41 Paul had such a huge argument with Barnabas over Mark that they split ways. Time and wisdom prevailed and eventually Paul reconciled with John Mark. Sometimes we do more damage in the process of fighting than the original dispute called for.
So pick your battles well. If others are being led seriously astray, perhaps it’s time for action, but always know when you are no longer being effective.
That brings us back to chapter 15. Here Paul gives the final argument about why we should not judge those in the body of Christ who are different in the way they approach their walk.
1 – 3
Are you strong in the Lord? Use that strength to love, rather than judge. People will fail, and they will fail us. It really isn’t all about us. And again, this isn’t just a “I’ve got to do whatever anyone else wants” kind of argument – notice how Paul couches it in terms of “please his neighbor for his good.”
In chapter 14 he says (19) “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Sometimes the “good” your neighbor needs is a real exhortation to leave off the flesh and dedicate themselves anew to God, even if that means you don’t get invited over to watch the game on his monster 65” HDTV anymore.
Even further, following the example of Jesus, He let our failings fall on Him. (Psalms 69:9 For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me”). So if someone is a jerk to you, don’t lash back. Perhaps that person is hurting so badly they don’t know any other way to act. They’re undergoing trials and aren’t yet mature enough to understand God’s purposes so they fight back at you and say all kinds of bad things to you. Shrug it off. Let it go.
4 – 7
I love verse 4. This verse is one of the reasons why I think it is so vital to study the Old Testament. We think of it as dry and boring—just a list of laws and stories featuring people with unpronounceable names. Well, that might be true—but what we fail to understand is that every page is really a picture of Jesus. Every story is really the story of God’s plan for saving a sinful human race. And there are so many things to challenge and encourage us. That’s why I love our Wednesday studies so much. The Old Testament is a treasure trove of lessons on how to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.