Romans 14: a message of tolerance
November 30, 2007 § 2 Comments
I was struck by the clear message of tolerance espoused in Romans 14 when I read it a few days ago. I can’t quote the entire chapter here, although all of it is relevant, but I do encourage you to read it from your Bibles. Again, I would recommend the New Jerusalem Bible, for its cogent translation.
The basis for the argument of tolerance here is simple: it’s all about free will. Should anyone say Christians are forced by God or their church to do anything, please point them to this chapter. Should your church force you to do anything, point it to this chapter.
Truly, this chapter sets the record straight when it comes to one’s relationship to God. There need be no intercessor. We can have a direct relationship to God, and what we do because of faith in Him, we do for Him. We are only responsible to Him for our beliefs. It is so important to realize this, because it takes the onus off the church or church members to “set someone straight” when it comes to their religious beliefs. Yes, people ought to be told what’s right, and it’s our duty as Christians to inform them, but everyone should and must make their own decisions when it comes to their own beliefs.
No one should ascribe blindly to a set of beliefs, just because… Again, it comes back to free will. If God gave us such an important privilege, should we waste it by saying we believe such and such a thing because our family or our church believes it? No, far from it! We should diligently search the scriptures to arrive at our own conclusion on the matter. Why? Because we are each personally responsible to God for what we do and what we believe. It is up to us to study for that divine “exam” — should we fail it, we all know where we’ll go.
Does this scare you a bit? Well, it should. Free will is a huge responsibility, with tremendous repercussions. When God chose to create us in His image and bestow upon us free will, He took a fantastic risk. He knew what would happen. He did it anyway, risking the destiny of one third of His angels and of the entire human race, because He wanted us to be able to choose for ourselves whom we should serve. He took that risk knowing full well that His Son, Jesus Christ, would have to pay with His life for our sins. The price is more than we can ever imagine, but He did it so we could have free will.
Knowing all of this, can you treat your own free will lightly? Can you treat the Bible and its laws and principles lightly? I think not. It would be a grievous sin if you should do that.
But do you know where you should tread lightly? In your relationships with others, particularly those who share some of your Christian beliefs. Romans chapter 14 says just that. Why? Because of free will. We need to worry about our actions, our deeds, our beliefs and our faith, and let others do the same. This chapter is a cautionary note to those of us who would act like busy old ladies, gabbing away all day about what we should or shouldn’t do instead of tending to our own spiritual needs.
The following points are made in this chapter:
- Do not argue about religion with new believers (verse 1)
- Do not argue about clean or unclean foods (verses 2, 3, 6, 14-17, 20, 21, 23)
- Do not argue about which day of the week to worship God (verses 5, 6)
- Do not judge one another (verses 3, 4, 10-13, 17)
- God alone decides who is right and who is wrong in their beliefs (verses 4, 9, 10, 11, 12)
- Let us each be fully convinced of what we believe (verses 5, 22)
- What you do, do to honor the Lord (verse 6)
- We all belong to God (verses 7-9)
- We will each be judged by God (verses 4, 10-12)
- Do not discourage or place obstacles in the path of your fellow believers (verses 13, 15, 20, 21)
- You commit sin when you do something that conflicts with your own faith and beliefs (verses 14, 15, 23)
- Do not put yourself above your brothers in faith (verse 10)
- Serve God by showing His saving justice, peace and joy to others, not by showing them how to eat and drink (verses 17, 18)
- Seek peace between Christians and ways in which you can support one another (verse 19)
- Worry about your own behavior, and let not your words condemn you (verse 22)
Given this list, tell me, do you think it gives you free rein to eat, drink, be merry and worship God on whatever day of the week you please? I think only a very superficial person, or one with ulterior motives, would think that after reading through Romans 14. After all, verse 21 says the following: “It is best to abstain from eating any meat, or drinking any wine, or from any other activity which might cause a brother to fall away, or to be scandalized, or to weaken.” Again, it is your own responsibility to find out what these foods, drinks and activities are for you, and to stay away from them of your own accord.
What Romans 14 seeks to do is to free us from bickering with each other, and to spur us to search the Bible for ourselves and find out where we stand with God. Seriously. Do it now, for tomorrow you may die. No joke. None of us knows how much longer we’ll live.
What Romans 14 also does NOT do is to give churches free rein to enforce certain days of the week, as the Catholic church has tried to do for entire centuries, and as certain Protestant churches or foolish Christians have also tried to do since the 1800s. During the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages, the church persecuted those whom it considered had strayed from the church’s beliefs. And in the 1800s and early 1900s, there was a strong movement toward establishing Sunday laws here in America and in other countries, when there is no Biblical support for Sunday as God’s Holy Day whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the weight of the evidence is clearly in favor of Saturday, also known as the Sabbath. Besides, Romans 14 clearly condemns any sort of movement that would force people to worship on a certain day. We are each responsible for our own beliefs, and will answer to God for them. Again, it is our responsibility to search the scriptures and to find out which day of the week to consider Holy.
I know there is a LOT of advice in this chapter, and I don’t want you to read this post and be confused. Therefore, let me repeat that the general message of the chapter can be summed up by the following verses found in it:
“For none of us lives for himself and none of us dies for himself; while we are alive, we are living for the Lord, and when we die, we die for the Lord: and so, alive or dead, we belong to the Lord.”
“Let us each stop passing judgment, therefore, on one another and decide instead that none of us will place obstacles in any brother’s way, or anything that can bring him down.”
“Blessed is the person whose principles do not condemn his practice… Every action which does not spring from faith is sin.”
I tell you, this chapter is shockingly candid about what we should do as Christians. It left me speechless when I read it, and although I’d read it and even transcribed it by hand before, the message didn’t sink in. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty as charged. I’ve been judging others left and right, and I shouldn’t have done it. I’ve been an obstacle to others in the past. I should have been more tolerant. I will do my best to be more tolerant in the future.
We really need to become more accepting of one another as Christians. As long as we believe in the Bible and pray to the same God, we should try to live together peacefully, in harmony, and help one another grow in our faith. In the end, we are each responsible only for our own actions to God. And if we stick close to Him, I’m sure He will reveal His truth to us and guide us lovingly on the path to salvation and heaven. Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said Christianity has wonderful principles, but we as Christians don’t live up to them. What a wonderful world this would be if we did!