Alternatively, you could call this message "How to Put Up with Those Who Annoy You in the Church". "Forbearance" is cleaner though, so I'll go with that. Paul always seems to spend a portion of his letters dealing with the in-house drama of each church. We need these reminders in order for us to keep our focus on what's really important.
Let's dig in and see what we can learn so that we can be better together when the inevitable conflict comes:
[Romans 14:1-6] These may seem silly to us, but they were real controversies in the early church. I had never met a vegetarian until I was in college. Where I grew up in the midwest, everyone was a meat-eater unless they were a spoiled child or part of the 'fringe population'. I thought a vegetarian was someone who ate the animals who ate vegetables. These days, vegetarianism & veganism are more mainstream -- but the opinions are still strong. The early church also struggled with when to meet for worship. Saturday? Sunday? What about the Jewish feast days?
I wonder why we get hung up on non-essentials like this? Most likely, it's because we insist that the things that are important to me MUST be important to everyone else. Here's the thing: we can come up with thousands of reasons to not be together, but there's one really big reason for us to be together: Jesus.
[Romans 14:7-12] Paul reminds us of the reason why we live (hint: it's not for ourselves or our over-inflated view of our own opinions). We live for Jesus. "Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." Knowing this keeps us from acting with hostility toward those with whom we disagree.
Out of curiosity, I watched the recent reboot of the TV show 'Rosanne'. I was amused to see that the first episode addressed the family split between Rosanne (a Trump supporter) and her sister Jackie (a self-proclaimed 'nasty woman' who voted for Jill Stein). Producers did a great job capturing the conflict of our times while integrating a (sort-of) story of reconciliation into the episode.
I dream of a church of political diversity, rednecks and high-techs, various cultures and races, the old and the young, people for whom nothing matters more than following Jesus while all other considerations are of secondary importance.
[Romans 14:13-18] Honestly, these verses have helped me focus on what is most important as a pastor. We all have people in our life that enjoy playing the role of perpetual irritant. Too many times, people use their platforms and relationships to irritate and inflame. Paul tells us we won't do this to the people we love -- even if we 'feel strongly' about our opinions on these disputable matters.
How can I serve the people that I can have serious disagreements with at times? How do we practice oneness in the church in an era when people seem willing to walk away from each other over trivial disagreements? When our 'god' is what we eat, our personal opinions, or our politics, we will be zealous for that 'god'. It tells us a lot about what we are living for. If we'd put as much life and energy into the Gospel as we do our politics, we'd turn the world upside down!
[Romans 14:19-5:4] If we are in Christ, we will not be willing to destroy the work of God because of our personal preferences. If we love one another, we will avoid the opportunity to insult or tear down those who disagree with us on disputable matters. The word is 'forbearance' (to bear with those who you think are weak in their opinions).
We will not build a church on our personal causes of justice, our strongly held opinions, or our individual biases. We will be a diverse church; we are a diverse church. We will instead hold tightly to the essentials and build on Jesus and the ancient words of Truth from God's Word.
Take a look at Romans 15:5-6 to wrap this all up. The evidence of the Holy Spirit's work among us isn't that we all have the same opinions and eat hamburgers. It's that we can be diverse (like the Roman church was) and still be united in Christ. I confess there have been many times I've given up on this idea of 'one mind and one voice' in the church...but this little church on Wax Road gives me hope.
The miracle isn't sameness. It's oneness.
And oneness (unity) in Christ is needed now more than ever.