Paul in Romans 14 provides believers with principles to assist them in their responsibilities to one another. God’s church stands strong when united and will fall when divided. God call’s us to unity.
The May 1987 edition of National Geographic included a feature about the arctic wolf. Author L. David Mech described how a seven-member pack had targeted several musk-oxen calves guarded by eleven adults. As the wolves approached their quarry, the muskoxen bunched in an impenetrable semicircle, their deadly rear hooves facing out, and the calves remained safe during a long standoff with the enemy. But then a single ox broke rank, and the herd scattered into nervous little groups. A skirmish ensued, and the adults finally fled in panic, leaving the calves to the mercy of the predators. Not a single calf survived.
Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 that wolves would come after his departure, not sparing the flock. Wolves continue to attack the church today but cannot penetrate and destroy when unity is maintained. When believers break ranks, however, they provide easy prey.
In Romans 14:1-13, Paul challenges the believer to accommodate weaker ones. He continues his teaching in Romans 14:14-23, describing how Christians are to be watchful of weaker ones. The weaker one is weaker in faith. In other words, they are weaker due to poor theology. However, they are loved by God, and those who are strong in the faith have the responsibility to be careful not to lead the weaker astray.
The strong need to be careful in exercising their liberty. Why should this be? For one, the weak brother or sister might be led into sin. Also, flaunting freedom is not acting in love, especially when it hurts others. The very nature of liberty, which is love, causes us to refrain. Lastly, believers should be willing to refrain from exercising their liberty because they should have a paramount concern for the church’s well-being.
Tolerance, of course, can be taken too far. Some theologians suggest that anybody who claims to be a Christian should have a right to their beliefs no matter what they are. However, the New Testament sets clear boundaries, marking some matters as clear truths of the gospel (i.e., Jesus is the only way to salvation). No Christian can deviate from these or tolerate the beliefs of those who hold different views on them. But toleration on the nonessentials is what Paul calls for in this chapter. Many of the issues that divide Christians today fall into the adiaphora, not explicitly required or prohibited in Scripture, and Paul would mourn over the divisions we have created as a result of some of these petty issues.
There are two questions believers ought to ask themselves. The first, am I acting in faith or in doubt? If an action violates your conscience, don’t do it. An old hunting proverb is fitting here, “If in doubt, back out.” If you do not know if something is permissible or not, don’t do it! Any action that violates my Christian conscience is a sin. The second, does my action strengthen or lesson another believer’s walk with God? If my actions cause another believer to drift further away from God rather than closer to Him, I ought not to flaunt my freedom in front of him/her. I am to enjoy my freedom in Christ, not lash it out to hurt others. If something I am doing would cause another to fall, I will stop doing the particular act (especially in his/her presence). After all, this is the selfless and loving response.
Like the muskoxen, we are stronger, as Christians, when we are united. The world and the flesh and the devil seek to destroy us; let’s not join them in destroying one another. As Christians, we are to be watchful of one another, enjoying our freedom, while being careful not to hurt others with our liberty. The law of love ought to lead us in selfless unity. United, we stand strong, divided, and we fall.
It would be a powerful statement for each of us as individual believers and together as a church family to commit to being watchful of one another, to be united, forming a protective wall of Spirit-empowered unity and peace. Won’t you join me in committing yourself to such a life? Our church, our homes, our community, the world around us will never be the same! Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!