Glory To God.

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. – Romans 16:25-27 ESV

Paul wraps up his letter with a doxology – a statement of praise to God. This entire letter has been a treatise on the praiseworthiness of God for His power, grace, mercy, patience, power, sovereignty, love and the greatest expression of that love: the sacrifice of His Son as the payment for mankind’s sins. Paul wanted his readers to know that the very same God who made salvation possible and who, in His mercy, chose them to receive redemption, was fully capable of strengthening them and keeping them “according to his gospel.” Notice that Paul personalizes the gospel, calling it his own. In the early stages of his letter he referred to it as the gospel of God (Romans 1:1) and the gospel of His Son (Romans 1:9). In chapter 15 he called it the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:19). But here he makes it his own. It is the gospel of God because He is the one who made it possible. It is the gospel of Christ, the Son, because He is the one whose sinless sacrifice fulfilled the demands of the Father. But it was Paul’s gospel because he had been commissioned by Christ Himself to share the good news of salvation for the Gentiles. This is the mystery Paul refers to: “according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all the nations” (Romans 16:25-26 ESV). Paul referred to this mystery in his letter to the Colossian believers.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. – Colossians 1:24-27 NLT

The gospel was at one time a mystery, hidden from the eyes of men. It was clearly revealed in the Old Testament, as Paul has so strongly proven, but the Old Testament saints were not able to see all the aspects concerning God’s plan of salvation for all the nations. Even the disciples of Jesus saw Him as a Messiah for the Jewish people. They had no concept of Gentiles being included in Christ’s Kingdom. They were shocked when they found Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well. They were more than likely confused by the conversation had with the Gentile woman concerning her sick daughter.

Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Gentilee woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”

But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”

Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”

But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”

Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed. – Matthew 16:21-28 NLT

When Jesus said to the woman, “It isn’t right to take food away from the children and throw it to the dogs,” He was simply expressing what the disciples were thinking. Jews would not mix with Gentiles. They were considered inferior. But Jesus came to change all that. His death would not be just for the Jews, but for all mankind, and Paul’s God-ordained commission was to make the mystery known to any and all who would listen, in order “to bring about the obedience of faith.”

The gospel, this incredible mystery, is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV). The gospel was made possible by the love, mercy and grace of God. It was made possible by the gracious gift of His Son. It was made possible by His Son’s death, and confirmed by His resurrection, accomplished by the power of the Spirit of God. Everything about the gospel was God’s doing. Even Paul’s miraculous conversion and divine commissioning. So to Him alone belongs “glory forevemore through Jesus Christ” (Romans 16:27 ESV). The words of the great old hymn, To God Be The Glory, by Fanny Crosby, sum it up perfectly.

To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done.

Wise and Innocent.

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you. – Romans 16:17-23 ESV

As long as we live in this world, we will face opposition, from within and from without. Paul had a lot of experience dealing with both. But the one he seemed to warn against the most was the inside job, those who posed as brothers and sisters of Christ, but who ended up causing division and disunity. In his other letters, Paul referred to them as false apostles, describing them as “those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15 NLT). In 2 Corinthians 11:26, he refers to dangers he had faced from “false brothers.” In his letter to the Galatians he described “so-called Christians there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations” (Galatians 2:4 NLT). Paul warned his young protege, Timothy, “Teach these things, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life. Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy” (1 Timothy 6:2-5 NLT).

The fact is, there have been and always will be false teachers and false believers in the church. They can be recognized by the character of their teaching. If it does not line up with the teaching of Christ and the writings of the apostles as found in the New Testament, then they are to be avoided like the plague. The difficulty is that, much of the time, their false teaching seems to have a ring of truth to it. And that is intentional. Warren Wiersbe warns, “Satan is the counterfeiter. . . . He has a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), preached by false ministers (2 Corinthians 11:13-12), producing false Christians (2 Corinthians 11:26). . . . Satan plants his counterfeits wherever God plants true believers (Matthew 13:38).”

Paul, out of his love for the body of Christ, takes time to warn his readers about those “who cause divisions and create obstacles to the doctrine that you have been taught.”  He is talking about the fundamentals of the faith, particularly when it comes to salvation. Anyone who attempts to add anything to the gospel is to be avoided at all costs. If their teaching is Jesus plus anything, they are wrong. Jesus plus works. Jesus plus circumcision. Jesus plus a second blessing. Jesus plus signs and wonders. Jesus plus anything adds up to nothing. It is NOT the gospel as taught by Jesus and His disciples. Paul says these people “serve their own appetites.” They’re in it for selfish reasons, including anything from power and prestige to personal profit. They use smooth talk and flattery. They use clever-sounding words and convincing arguments. But in the end, what they teach is contrary to sound, healthy doctrine and it is divisive. They tear down rather than build up. They create schisms and attempt to splinter healthy congregations. They are not interested in dialogue or debate, but demand their way be the only way.

So Paul says, “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” He echoes the words of Jesus when He was sending out His disciples on their first ministry trip without Him. He said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 ESV). We need to be wary of those who show up teaching “new truths.” After more than 2,000 years of Christian history and scholarship, there is little that is new under the sun. In fact, much of what shows up in our day as new insights into Jesus, the gospel, the nature of the Church, and so much more, is far from new. They are simply rehashed teachings from centuries past. We live in an age where anything new and innovative is attractive. But Paul would have us be careful and stick with the sound doctrine taught by he and his fellow apostles. We should always be suspect of anything that shows up in the church as “new and improved.” A new view on Jesus is probably a false view. A new gospel, if it veers from the gospel as found in the New Testament, is no gospel at all.

At the end of the day, we must trust in the grace of God to protect us and to keep the gospel message pure. Ultimately, Paul reminds us, He will “crush Satan” under our feet. The truth concerning Jesus and the gospel of God will win out. And in the meantime, we must keep our focus on the matchless, priceless grace of God that saved us and sustains us. We must keep trusting in His way, His Word and His perfect plan for the redemption of the world.

Diversity. Unity. Fidelity.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. – Romans 16:1-16 ESV

Phoebe, Prisca, Aquila, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodian, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Phililogus, Julia, Nereus, and Olympas. That’s quite a list. Twenty four hard-to-pronounce names of people to whom Paul wished to express his personal greetings. Having never been to Rome before, we are not quite sure how he knew some of these individuals. In a few of the cases, Paul had met them before.Phoebe, the woman by whom he was sending his letter, was an active member of the church in Cenchreae, a port city of Corinth. She was most likely a Gentile and had been a patron to many in the church. She was evidently from the wealthier upper class, but had used her resources to assist others in the church in Corinth. Paul had also enjoy a prior relationship with the husband and wife team of Prisca and Aquila. They had worked alongside him in his missionary journeys. We read about them in the Book of Acts.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. – Acts 18:1-3 ESV

This couple, who had been forced to leave Italy because of an edict of the emperor Claudius, had risked their lives for Paul and had made a tremendous impact on the Gentile churches. They were now back in Rome and were continuing their efforts to grow believers in the church and spread the gospel throughout the city.

The amazing thing about Paul’s list is that we know little to nothing about most of the individuals listed. But they provide us a glimpse into the makeup of the local churches in Rome. It is interesting to note that verse 1 of Romans 16 is the first time in his letter that Paul uses the word, “church.” The Greek word is ekklēsia and it means “gathering, congregation, assembly.” It literally means “called out” and was used by the Greeks to refer to any group that had been called out for the purpose of a meeting for deliberation. It was the perfect designation for the people of God, those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ. They had been called out by God. They were to remain in the world, but not be of the world. In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said to His Father, “They do not belong to this world any more than I do” (John 17:16 NLT). “And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world” (John 16:14 NLT). Paul’s list contains the names of those who had been called out by God to be a part of His universal church. They were people of all walks of life. There were Romans and Greeks, freedmen and slaves, the wealthy and the poor, the influential and the insignificant. There were men and women, young and old, the educated and the illiterate. All had been placed into local congregations by the grace of God and because of their faith in Jesus Christ His Son.

As Paul has so painstakingly explained in his letter, there was no reason for anyone in the body of Christ to boast. All had been equally guilty and worthy of God’s condemnation at one time. None had earned favor with God because of their own self-manufactured righteousness. There was no one whose wealth or social influence had gained them any brownie points with God. Every single one of them had received their justification before God the same way, by placing their faith in the righteousness of Christ. None had been more righteous than another. Their sinfulness was equally condemning in God’s holy eyes. But God had extended grace and mercy. Paul made this point quite clear earlier in his letter.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. – Romans 3:22-24 NLT

Each of the individuals Paul lists were dear to him. They each had their own unique name and personality. Each had come to faith in Christ in their own personal way. They brought different talents and spiritual gifts to the body of Christ. They had their own individual roles to play within their local congregations. But at the end of the day, they were one. They shared a common faith in a common Savior and shared a common bond with every other believer around the world at that time. Paul sent greetings to them for all the churches of Christ. He wanted them to know that they were not alone. They were part of a much larger family made up of other individuals who bore other names, but who shared their belief in the risen Christ. We are the called out ones. We live in the midst of a world that hates us because we share a common love for Christ. We don’t belong here. We are aliens and strangers. This is no longer our home. But we are brothers and sisters in Christ, compatriots who share a love for the cause of Christ and the Kingdom of God. We are in this together because God has placed us together into the body of Christ. May we learn to look past our diversity and embrace our unity through a growing desire for mutual love and fidelity.

A One-Track Mind.

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.  I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.  – Romans 15:22-33 ESV

Paul had just said, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20 ESV). Now he tells them that he hopes to see them, but only in passing as he makes his way to Spain. Paul was a starter, not a builder. Yet his many letters, that comprise most of the New Testament canon, prove that he cared deeply about the ongoing maturity of the body of Christ. He wanted to see believers grow, but more than anything else, he wanted to see the lost come to faith in Christ. So he was always looking for fertile fields in which to sow the seeds of the gospel. Paul took the charge of Jesus seriously: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Luke 10:2 NLT). Paul knew that there were those who would do the sowing and those who would reap the harvest, and his job was to plant so that others might come along and water the new seeds of faith so that they would grow into full maturity. That is exactly what he told the Corinthian believers when he heard that they were dividing themselves between those who claimed to be his followers and those who claimed to follow of Apollos.

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 NLT

Paul wasn’t looking for glory or trying to establish a name for himself. He simply wanted to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to as many people in as many places as he possibly could. But he also cared deeply about the discipleship of those who came to faith in Christ. He had a passion for the reputation of the body of Christ and all the congregations he had helped to plant. He was concerned about the unity of the body and the acceptance of his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ by the church in Jerusalem. He wanted them to be one. When he discovered the division taking place in Corinth, he wrote, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NLT). Paul wanted to see the body of Christ prove its love by ministering to itself selflessly and lovingly, regardless of location. So he told the believers in Rome that he would try to come to them as soon as he finished his task of taking an offering collected from all the churches to “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” He reminded his Gentile readers that since they “have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (Romans 15:27 NLT). The Jewish believers in Jerusalem were suffering and Paul wanted to see the Gentile believers play a part in ministering to them. Paul’s goal was unity and impartiality.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” – 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 NLT

Paul’s mission was not just to make converts, but to establish a strong and vibrant church, made up of those who understood the grace of God and were willing to extend that grace to others. For Paul, being saved was not the end. He was concerned that those who were saved lived in keeping with their salvation. They were to be new creations, exhibiting the characteristics of Christ, living in submission to the Spirit and expressing the love of God to all those around them. And as verse 31 indicates, he was under constant attack for his unfailing commitment to the cause of Christ. His mission was not an easy one. His ministry was far from trouble-free. He traveled far, suffered much, failed often, but never lost sight of his mission: “to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard” (Romans 15:20 NLT). 

A Man On A Mission.

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed,  by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” – Romans 15:14-21 ESV

As Paul begins to sum up his letter, he provides us with a glimpse into his heart. After spending nearly 15 chapters defining and defending the gospel and its non-negotiable dependence upon faith alone, he takes time to remind his readers why he wrote the letter in the first place. He was passionate. In a way, he was possessed. He had a received a personal commission from Christ Himself to take the gospel to the Gentiles and he would stop at nothing to see that he fulfilled his responsibility. That is why he could put up with all kinds of suffering, abuse, rejection, ridicule, and apparent lack of success on many occasions. He was relentless in his mission. He would not be distracted or deterred from his life’s calling.  He described it as “the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God.” Paul considered his job as an apostle and missionary was an expression of God’s lovingkindness and favor.  His responsibility to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles was a privilege that was undeserved and unmerited, and he did not take it lightly. And he had every reason to be proud of his work for God. Not in a self-centered, boastful kind of way, but because he knew that anything he had accomplished was by God’s grace and through His power. Paul had a healthy understanding of who he was and what he had accomplished. “For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NLT). His hard work and determination had paid off. He could look back on all his missionary journeys and see the fruit of his labors. There were thriving, growing churches filled with new believers from all walks of life. Jews and Gentiles, having come to know Christ as their Savior, were worshiping together and living out Paul’s metaphor of the body of Christ. That is why he could say, “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.” He had done his job. He had fulfilled his commission. But he was far from done.

Paul wrote, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” He was neither content or complacent. He was not one to rest on his laurels. In fact, he had told the church in Rome, “For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Romans 1:11-12 NLT). Paul was not distracted by the things of this world. Money and materialism had no appeal to him. Which is why he wrote, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him” (Philippians 3:8-9 NLT).

Paul made it his “ambition” to preach the gospel. The Greek word he uses is philotimeomai and it means “to strive earnestly, make it one’s aim” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). You might say that Paul had a one-track mind. His single focus in life was to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. It was his sole passion. And what should amaze us is the incredible impact of one man committed to a singular cause. Paul changed the world. He revolutionized the culture in which he lived. Everywhere he went, he left a wake filled with radically changed lives. One man. One mission. One gospel. One hope for making men right with God: the gospel of Jesus Christ. How easy it is for us to see ourselves as insignificant and incapable of making a difference in the world in which we live. We sometimes feel alone and outnumbered. We see our faith as too small and our influence as too weak when compared to the darkness that surrounds us. But like Paul, we must understand that any difference we make is not going to be dependent upon us, but on the power of God within us. Our job is to make ourselves available. We can make a difference – with God’s help. As we know from the life of Paul, one individual can make a world of difference, when he or she is committed to the cause of Christ and dependent upon the Spirit of God for strength.

And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. – Colossians 1:27-29 NLT

Welcome One Another.

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. – Romans 15:8-13 ESV

“Christ did not please himself,” Paul wrote back in verse three. No, Paul reminds us, “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9 ESV). As Paul sums up his admonitions and encouragements for unity between the members of the body of Christ, he uses Christ Himself as the example to follow. While it is true that Jesus came to the Jews, having been born into the line of Judah as a descendant of David, His intent from the very beginning was to make salvation available to Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise made by God to Abraham: “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 28:18 NIV). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul clarifies the meaning of this promise. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV). Jesus was the means by which God was going to bless all the nations of the earth, and that includes the Gentiles. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’” (Galatians 3:7-8 ESV).

God’s intent all along had been to make salvation available to all people groups, not just the Jews. Paul’s missionary journeys to the Gentiles was not God’s plan B. He didn’t come up with an alternative plan when the Jews failed to accept His Son as their Messiah. And Paul makes this perfectly clear by quoting from four Old Testament passages that predicted that the Gentiles would respond to God’s offer of grace and mercy:

For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. – 2 Samuel 22:50 ESV

Rejoice, O nations, with His people – Deuteronomy 32:43 NASB

Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! – Psalm 117:1 ESV

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. – Isaiah 11:10 NIV

The Hebrew word used in these passages for “nations” is gowy and it usually refers to non-Hebrew people or Gentiles. That is why Paul replaces it with the Greek word, ethnos, which refers to pagans, Gentiles or the people of foreign nations who did not worship the one true God.  God’s promise to Abraham that He would bless all the nations (Gentiles) of the earth through Abraham’s offspring was fulfilled in Jesus. He became the sole sacrifice for the sins of men, Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus told Nicodemus, the Pharisee, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV). The apostle John reminds us, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NLT). Those of us who would be considered Gentiles have been extended the mercy and grace of God made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. And Paul tells us, “therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7 ESV). We have been included. We have been welcomed into God’s family. Not because we deserved it. Not because we had earned it. In fact, Paul makes the truth of our amazing status quite clear: “You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:21-22 NLT).  And the apostle Peter confirms Paul’s words:  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV).

So we are to welcome or receive one another in the same way that we have been welcomed by Christ – with open arms, no pre-conditions, no requirements based on good behavior, and while we are still sinners. Our unity doesn’t require unanimity.  We don’t always have to agree. We won’t always see eye to eye. We will have our differences, but we will always share our common unity in Christ. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous” (Romans 3:23-24 NLT).

Unity in Diversity.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Romans 15:1-7 ESV

For fourteen chapters Paul has gone out of his way to establish the fact that there is no place for bragging or pride in the body of Christ. There is no reason for anyone to think he is better than anyone else. All men, regardless of race, color, religious background, or the extent of their sins, stands before God as guilty and condemned. And all who enjoy a right standing before God do so because of what God has done in Christ. No one has earned their way into God’s good graces. No one was less sinful and, therefore, more deserving of God’s favor. As the old hymn states, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” We all enjoyed a sense of unity in our shared guilt and sinful standing before God. And those who have been shown grace and mercy by God also share a unity based on their complete dependence upon the gift of His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross. As Paul wrote the Galatian believers, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NLT). We are all one in Christ. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been adopted by the same Father into a single family and enjoy a shared inheritance. And while there is diversity in the body of Christ, there is not to be division or disunity.

In chapter 14, Paul addressed the relationship between stronger and weaker members of the body of Christ. He continues to address this issue in the opening verses of chapter 15. But when Paul refers to strong and weak, he is not talking about degrees of spirituality or holiness. The strong are not better than the weak. They are all one in Christ and there is to be a selfless, loving relationship between the two. In the Greek, the word Paul uses for “strong” is dynotoi and in this context it means, “able to do something” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). These individuals, like Paul, know that what they eat does not defile them and so they are able to eat meat without guilt. They know that their relationship with God is based on faith, not a list of dos and don’ts or legalistic regulations. But their “weak” brothers and sisters in Christ are adynatoi or “unable” to do the same thing. As of yet, they lack a freedom in their faith and a knowledge of their relationship with God that would allow them to break away from their self-imposed rules of conscience.

But rather than the strong dismissing the weak and flaunting their freedoms in their faces, Paul urges the stronger believers to “bear with the failings of the weak” (Romans 15:1 ESV). He is not telling them to simply put up with or endure their weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. He is telling them to bastazō or “take up in order to carry or bear, to put upon one’s self (something) to be carried” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). This is the same word Paul used when writing to the believers in Galatia: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). We are not simply to tolerate those whose lives are still marked by a less developed understanding of faith, we are to walk alongside them and lovingly assist them. There is no place for self-pleasing in the body of Christ. Elsewhere, Paul tells us, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NLT). This is the same passage where Paul wrote, “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2 NLT). We are to be ready, willing and able to give up our rights in order to help a brother or sister grow in their faith.

And our model in all of this is Christ. “For even Christ did not please himself,” Paul reminds his readers. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul said that we are to have the same attitude that Christ had, who, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 26-7 NLT). He willingly gave up His divine rights and took on human flesh so that He could provide mankind with a way to be made right with God. He modeled selfless, sacrificial love and gave Himself up for those who did not deserve God’s grace, mercy of forgiveness. And Paul is encouraging us to live our lives with the same attitude or mindset, so “ that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6 ESV). Paul knows that this will not be easy. It will require endurance and encouragement. It will demand that each of us dies to self daily. As we live in unity as the body of Christ, patiently loving one another and bearing with one another, God receives glory. This does not mean there are never to be any  disagreements or points of debate within the church, but it does mean that unity is to trump disunity every time. Loving is to supersede winning. Being one is to be a higher priority than being right.

We are to welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed us. That word means “to receive, i.e. grant one access to one’s heart” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). No walls. No lines of division. No barriers that prevent unity or discourage mutual love. Our goal should always be oneness. Our objective should always be the building up of the body of Christ – for our mutual good and God’s ultimate glory.

Dead To Rights.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:13-23 ESV

Paul bookends this section with virtually the same words. He opens with “let us not pass judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13 ESV) and ends with “blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself” (Romans 14:22 ESV). The only difference is the one on whom the judgment is assessed. We are not to judge each other and our actions toward one another should give us no cause to judge ourselves. And in both cases, it all seems to revolve around the issue of rights. Paul used himself as an example. He declared that had the right to eat whatever he wanted, because nothing was unclean for him. Paul would have been very familiar with the teaching of Jesus. “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:15 NLT). When Jesus had spoken those words, His disciples were confused, so He provided clarification. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes)” (Mark 7:18-19 NLT).

So Paul, even though he was a Jew, lived his life with a new-found freedom when it came to his eating habits. He no longer lived under the dietary restrictions associated with his Jewish heritage. But he was willing to give up his rights for the sake of a brother or sister in Christ. It all goes back to the “weaker” brother narrative in the opening verses of this chapter. There will always be those in the church whose understanding of the life of faith is less developed. They will bring to their faith a certain degree of legalistic expectations, believing that what they do or don’t do is what earns them favor with God. In Paul’s day, both Jewish and Gentile believers brought their own list of restrictions to the table. There were converted Jews who still felt it necessary to maintain the dietary laws of their Jewish faith. There were also Gentile believers who felt convicted about eating meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. Paul had to deal with this issue in the church in Corinth. He told them, “we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God” (1 Corinthians 8:4 NLT). But he went on to say, “However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated” (1 Corinthians 8:7 NLT). Then Paul dealt with the real issue. “It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). But for Paul, it all boiled down to the spiritual well-being of his brother or sister in Christ.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. – Romans 4:9-13 NLT

While a certain food may be perfectly fine for him to eat, Paul was not willing to demand his rights if it was going to cause a brother in Christ to stumble by sinning against his conscience. That is why he wrote, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes a brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21 ESV). It is a wonderful thing to enjoy the freedom that comes with the life of faith. Our right standing with God is not based on adhering to a long list of prohibitions and restrictions. But there will always be those who don’t understand this truth. They will have strong convictions regarding what they eat or don’t eat, what they can wear or not wear, and even what activities they can participate in or abstain from.

For Paul, the final word on all of this had to do with faith. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23 ESV). For the immature or weaker believer, conscience ends up playing a far greater role than necessary. Rather than enjoying the freedom that comes with knowing that his standing before God is fully taken care of by the finished work of Christ, he ends up operating off of his own inner sense of right or wrong. So if his conscience tells him not to eat something and he believes it is of God, to violate that belief becomes sin for him. He becomes burdened down with guilt for having done what he believed was against the will of God. Paul says, “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith” (Romans 14:23 ESV). So the stronger believer, rather than wearing his or her rights like a badge of honor, should love their weaker brother or sister in Christ, willingly setting aside their rights so that they might not cause a fellow believer to sin against their conscience. We are always to build up, not tear down. We are to lovingly teach and instruct one another, not boastfully and arrogantly display our rights and flaunt our freedoms in Christ. Peter summed it up well when he wrote, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 NLT).

Stop Playing God.

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. – Romans 14:10-12 ESV

Don’t despise. Don’t judge. To judge is to assume that you know what is right and wrong – for everybody. To despise is to treat with contempt those who, by your estimation, are “weaker” in their faith. Notice that, in both cases, Paul warns against treating your brothers in Christ this way. When you do, you are playing God. You are taking on a role that does not belong to you. Jesus warned His disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3 ESV). In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 NLT). It is presumptuous and dangerous for us to assume the role of God in the life of another believer. The day is coming when I will give an account for my own actions, but God will not ask me to give an account for my brother or sister in Christ. Paul reminded the believers in Corinth, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT). God will be our judge. He will determine whether what we have done was right or wrong. He will decide the quality of the works we have done since coming to know Christ. This will all take place at the Bema Seat of Christ. This judgment has nothing to do with our salvation, but with the rewards we will receive in heaven. Paul talks about this very event in his letter to the believer in Corinth: “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NLT).

But it is interesting to not that, on another occasion, Paul wrote the following words to the same church: “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, ‘You must remove the evil person from among you’” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NLT). Here Paul is telling believers to judge one another. But notice the difference. This has to do with sin in the life of the believer. It is not about grey areas or personal preferences. It has nothing to do with someone’s opinion. If the Word of God condemns their action as sin, then we are to deal with it accordingly. In this case, Paul was addressing an issue in the church in Corinth that had become intolerable. He painted a clear picture of the problem. “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2 NLT). Rather than condemn this man’s actions as unacceptable, they were approving of it by gladly tolerating it in their midst. In fact, they were evidently bragging about their progressive tolerance. So Paul let them have it. “Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old ‘yeast’ by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 NLT). Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul had written, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good” (Romans 12:9 NLT). It is not loving to tolerate and to overlook sin in the life of a brother or sister in Christ. And it does not make you more “spiritual” to refuse to judge someone in the body of Christ who is blatantly and consistently sinning. Paul gave us clear directions for dealing with sin in our midst. “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1 NLT). James says virtually the same thing. “My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins” (James 5:19-20 NLT).

Remember, the context of Romans 14 is judging and despising one another based on personal opinion, not the Word of God. It is to determine what is right and wrong based on your own standard, rather than God’s. It is similar to what the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day had done. They had developed their own set of rules and regulations that had little or nothing to do with the Word of God. And they judged others based on their ability to live up to their self-appointed standards. That was not their job. God had not appointed them the arbiters of truth. He had not assigned them the role of determining right and wrong. God has made it clear what sin is. And we have no business judging sin among the lost. But we do have a responsibility to judge and deal with sin in the body of Christ because it can be infectious and deadly. But even in judging the sin among ourselves, we are always to do it with love, desiring to see our brother or sister restored in their relationship with God.

We play God when we condemn what God has condoned and approve of what God has forbidden. The prophet Isaiah warned those who did such things. “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever” (Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT). Solomon wrote, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—both are detestable to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15 NLT). We must constantly control our desire to judge and despise others based on nothing more than our own opinions. But we must also be careful to refrain from playing God by ignoring His Word and tolerating what He has clearly forbidden.

The Black and White on Grey Areas.

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 honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For 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. – Romans 14:1-9 ESV

Opinions. Everybody has one. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with having an opinion, when it comes to our faith, they can be dangerous and destructive. So it makes sense that Paul would take on this delicate and sensitive matter as he deals with the practical nature of the gospel in the life of the believer. Paul has already said that believers are to “owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8 ESV). They are to “walk (conduct their lives) properly as in the daylight…not in quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13:13 ESV). Now he warns, “not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1 ESV). Paul knew that the church in Rome was just like any other church. It was made up of people from all walks of life, differing religious backgrounds, conflicting cultural heritages and diverse personality types. There were those who were more mature in their faith and others who were still spiritual babies. And he knew that the health of the church was ultimately dependent upon the degree of unity the believers maintained with one another. Unity was on the mind of Jesus when He prayed His High Priestly Prayer in the garden just hours before His death.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:20-21 ESV

An individual’s personal opinion can be one of the greatest threats to the unity of any local body of Christ. When Paul talks about opinions, he has something very specific in mind. The Greek word he uses is “diakrisis” and it refers to “passing judgment on opinions, as to which one is to be preferred as the more correct” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). What Paul is addressing here is the tendency of one believer judging the opinion of another based on their own preconceived notion of right and wrong. The writer of Hebrews warns us that the ability to discern right and wrong comes from time spent in the Word of God. “Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong” (Hebrews 5:14 NLT). Opinions that are not based on God’s Word will ultimately be divisive and destructive. Paul goes on to give examples of just what he is talking about. “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables” (Romans 14:2 ESV). In other words, one member of the local body has strong convictions about abstaining from meat, while another member sees no problem with it. Paul doesn’t deal with the why behind either decision. He simply says don’t despise and don’t judge. God did not welcome either member into the body of Christ based on their eating habits. Each belongs to Him. So, “who are you to pass judgment on the servant of  another?” (Romans 14:4 ESV). Let God deal with your brother’s particular opinions regarding food.

Where all of this becomes a problem is when our opinions are based on personal preference and not the clear teaching of God’s Word. We can easily develop strong convictions about a variety of topics that have no basis in Scripture, or they may be based on the poor interpretation and application of God’s Word. Too often, we can take general admonitions found in God’s Word and attempt to make them specific. For example, the Bible is clear that we are to treat God with awe and honor. We are to worship Him reverently and respectfully. But the Bible does not tell us exactly what our worship services should look like. We are not given specific directions regarding music style or order of worship. There are not clear indications or admonitions dealing with how we are to dress when we do gather together for worship. Where it gets dangerous is when we start arguing over specifics that are based on our own personal opinions rather than the clear teachings of Scripture. My personal music tastes should never lead me to judge another whose opinions differ from mine. My preference when it comes to clothing should not tempt me to look down my nose at someone who dresses differently than I do.

When all is said and done, our emphasis needs to be on the heart behind the opinion. Why does someone feel the need to abstain from meat? Why does that person have strong opinions about contemporary music? What is the motivation behind the way in which that person dresses? Paul says that the one who determines to observe a particular day as better than another should do so in honor of the Lord. In other words, make your decision with Him in mind. Whether you decide to eat or abstain, make sure you do so out of honor for God, not out of some self-centered opinion about right or wrong. We are to “live to the Lord.” We belong to Him. Our opinions are to be based on His will, not our own. Our preferences should be highly influenced by His desires for us. Judging and despising have no place in the body of Christ. We are to love one another, accept one another, prefer one another, esteem one another, encourage one another, and submit to one another. Unity is the key to experiencing true community and demonstrating the love of God to a lost and dying world.