Summary: Learning to live with one another in harmony while distinguishing between what is detrimental and what is neutral is one of the most difficult aspects of Christian life.
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honour of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honour of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honour of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.’
“So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
One of the greatest tragedies to plague modern Christendom are the anathemas Christians pronounce against one another. These maledictions toward other believers usually arise out of arguments over opinions. Paul warns Christians not to “argue about doubtful issues.” Both strong Christians and weak Christians can be equally adept at pronouncing judgement against each other because of private opinions. Thus, for all the problems we face in this world as Christians, one of the gravest dangers to our faith and practise is the loss of unity arising from the attitude of fellow Christians.
In a church I pastored for a brief while, one worshipper admirably blended godly gentleness and strength. This man had suffered greatly during the Second World War. He had been a sergeant in the Dutch army when the Nazis invaded Holland. Joining the underground resistance, during the following six years he lived under unrelenting threat of imminent death. His family—his wife, his children, and even his brother—paid an unimaginable price for his conscientious choice to resist the nightmarish evil imposed by the German occupation of his homeland.
During those years of living without a public identity, knowing that momentarily he might be captured and tortured until dead, Gerry acquired the habit of smoking a pipe. He did not smoke heavily, nor even frequently; but in later years he did enjoy sitting quietly each evening with his pipe and smoking a bowl of fine cut tobacco.
Gerry loved God, and he loved to sing. He joined the church choir, but his tenure would be brief. One woman, a self-appointed arbiter elegantiae of the Faith objected to his singing in the choir. “He has an unsanctified voice,” she announced to the assembled choir. Confused as to her meaning, one choir member asked for clarification. “He smokes a pipe,” she haughtily announced, “and therefore he has an unsanctified voice.”
Upon hearing his account, and having previously encountered that shrewish creature, I laughingly told Gerry that he should have responded that evening by saying, “Madam, you have an unsanctified tongue. Here is a pair of scissors. Cut it off.”
Strong or weak, we each bring to church attitudes and opinions that can hurt or restrict others. It is all well and good for me to encourage you to affirm one another and to encourage one another, but how should we treat one another at worship?
THE ISSUE FOR THE CHURCH — A church must be a welcoming place where wounded people can find refuge. Christians are not cut out with a cookie cutter; rather, we differ in every imaginable aspect, with the sole exception that we have each put our faith in the Risen Son of God. We have each been born from above and into the Family of God through faith in Christ. Nevertheless, we are each at differing stages of maturation. Among us are some who have grappled to understand and to apply divine truth throughout long years. These individuals have internalised the great truths concerning the Son of God and they are making every effort to walk with Him in the Spirit.