Someone once said, “My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I’m right.” Most people you talk to will have opinions about politics, food, sports, style, movies, music, etc. We can have opinions about anything and everything. Since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed politics and debate and being right. A few of my opinions may have changed, but I’m still just as opinionated about a great many things – I’m still convinced that I’m right and when I have the chance to do so I’ll prove it to you. Indeed, the longer I live the more things I have formed an opinion about, which naturally translates into the more things that I’m right about. I get along great with many people with whom I disagree. Of course, I’m right and they are wrong. But we get along so well because we enjoy the debate. Yet this is becoming more and more difficult to do today. We live in an increasingly polarized society and now many people take opinions personally. If you don’t believe me then take a stand on something on social media and sit back and watch the firestorm. Even in real life, now if we have a difference of opinion we stop being friends, we start hanging out in different groups, and we encourage others to come join us and attack the person who dared to disagree. If you want to win the debate, I’ve notice that one of the best tactics is to label yourself and your opinion in a positive way and label your opponents and their opinions in a negative way. In a culture where strength goes with honor and it is shameful to be seen as weak, you might say that you are the strong and they are the weak. Paul wrote to Christians in Rome who were greatly divided. Those who held the majority view called themselves the strong in faith and those with whom they disagreed they called the weak in faith. But listen to what Paul says to them:
- You are to
genuinely welcome those whom God has welcomed
- Both Pentecost and Paul’s words in these verses are reminders that God has welcomed all kinds of people. On Pentecost both Jews & converts, Cretans & Arabians heard them telling in their own tongues the mighty works of God. Among them were Jews and Gentile converts visiting from Rome. When the Romans called those they disparaged as funny sounding with the label “barbarians,” that wasn’t a compliment. But on Pentecost no one sounded funny to the Roman visitors and God did not descriminate against barbarians including Cretans and Arabians. God welcomed all kinds of people. The same thing is at stake in this discussion. Those that the strong considered weak in faith were the Jewish Christians and perhaps some Gentile converts who chose to continue observing the feast days and food regulations of the Law of Moses. Paul was speaking primarily to Gentile Christians who have chosen not to do so. The word he used for vegetarians actually literally means those who just eat greens. That the weak only eat greens is an exaggeration, but by exaggerating Paul makes his argument relevant for all the positions along the scale from uncritical omnivores who eat everything to someone who would only eat greens. Most people fell somewhere between those extremes. Nevertheless, each was to genuinely welcome the other because God had welcomed the other.
- You genuinely welcome one another today regardless of differences of opinion because you belong to the Lord. God welcomed you and God welcomed the person who disagrees with you and so you welcome each other. You don’t welcome the other so that you might quarrel with each other over opinions. You genuinely welcome the other one without any ulterior motives or agendas. That rules out the strong getting along with the weak because they enjoy to debate. That rules out the one with the majority opinion despising the one with the minority opinion or the one who uses their liberty to despise the one who does not. To despise means to treat them as nobodies. It is easy for those in the majority to treat those in the minority as nobodies. And it rules out the one with the minority opinion passing judgment on the one with the majority opinion on these kinds of things or for the one who keeps the ceremonies of the law to judge the one who doesn’t. To pass judgment is for God alone to do. Instead, you welcome each other despite your differences. This is not to say that we can believe and do whatever we want but that if we live we live to the Lord and if we die we die to the Lord – either way we are the Lord’s – I do not belong to myself, He is Lord. I will tell you that this is impossible for me to do as someone who wants to debate and prove that I’m right—and not just on the big things to which we all should agree—but what is impossible for me to do God can do through me. God humbles those who enjoy being right. (We can have opinions about a great many things, but Paul would encourage us to put aside our personal preferences and other such personal opinions and instead welcome one another so that we can better reach the world. For…)
God is on a mission to welcome others into your family
as sisters and brothers in Christ.
- God could work through the cooperation of Christians in Rome to take the gospel to the rest of the Roman Empire. I was reminded of the saying “all roads lead to Rome,” and how this saying can be flipped around that therefore all roads lead away from Rome. So if the Christians in Rome could welcome each other and put aside their personal preferences and other opinions then they would be able to cooperate with each other to help Paul plant churches in other places heading on the roads away from Rome – places like Spain. They needed to be united on the meaning of the gospel. Let me be as clear as I can be: Paul would be quick to agree that we ought to contend for the truths of the gospel – He is not calling for us to uncritically welcome those who disagree on the essentials of the faith. Thus Paul spent several chapters laying out the gospel that unites genuine believers in Christ. They needed to be united on that gospel foundation, which unfortunately many today would consider to be an opinion. But now he turns to say that they do not need to quarrel over what really are just opinions. When it comes to preferences and other such opinions the Christians in Rome were not to let such things divide them. The extent to which the Christians in Rome cooperated with each other could have made the difference between a successful or unsuccessful mission to the people in the region of Spain.
- And despite the fact that not all roads lead to Niagara Falls, people from all nations manage to find their way to the Falls, which means if we can cooperate together then the gospel may very well go out from here to all nations. God is on a mission to welcome others into your family as sisters and brothers in Christ. Thus we must be united behind the gospel message that the one who is righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus will live. But when it comes to preferences and other opinions if we can welcome one another and love one another – things impossible for us except that God can do them through us – then we can join together on His mission. It is rather obvious that quarreling with one another rather than loving one another makes it harder to fully participate in what God is doing. Likewise, it makes sense that it would be difficult to welcome others into your family as sisters and brothers in Christ while treating sisters and brothers in Christ with whom you disagree as nobodies or passing judgment on them. But Paul reminds us that every knee shall bow and tongue confess to God. We Christians will all stand before the judgment seat of God and give an accounting. It is not our place to pass judgment, but thanks be to God it is our Christ who will cause us to stand in the judgment. It is not right to treat as nobodies those whom God has adopted as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Every knee shall bow. May He be honored. Amen.