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Disagreements and Division

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 14:5–12

God has left many things unanswered in His Word. He did this, not so we would argue and judge one another, but to encourage us to develop our own convictions before Him, knowing that He is the only one who can rightly judge our lives and our service to Him.

Transcript

I have a little plaque in my office that says, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there will be disagreement as to what the Bible teaches.”

That is a challenge, isn’t it? Even when the Bible is clear on some doctrine or some issue in life, there can be disagreement. But there is a clear-cut right and wrong. The greater challenge, however, is disagreement when the Bible is not clear on what we are calling “the gray areas of life.” They involve everything from entertainment to housing to education, and for these Christians in Rome, what to eat and what not to eat.

Paul is addressing that issue here in Romans 14. It all came down to what was on the menu. Was it more spiritual to eat only vegetables, or was a believer free to eat some non-kosher meat as well? Which side was God on?

So far, we have discovered that both sides of the argument have valid points that troubled their consciences. We have also learned that both sides of the argument included genuine believers and that both sides could be equally unloving.

Now in verse 5 Paul brings up another issue. He puts down the menu and pulls out a calendar and writes this:

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.

In the early church, people were debating different holy days and seasons. The controversy really boiled down to one issue: Which day was the right day for worshiping God?

This was especially difficult in the first century with a predominantly Jewish membership. In fact, in the early days of the church, they all worshiped in the synagogue on the Sabbath day—Saturday.

But when we reach Acts 20:7-8, we find the first mention of believers meeting for worship in people’s homes. And they are worshiping on the first day of the week—Sunday—in honor of the Lord’s resurrection.

Later, we read of the Corinthian believers setting aside financial gifts on Sunday for the needs of others (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). In the book of Revelation, the apostle John has his great vision on Sunday, which he calls “the Lord’s day” (1:10). So, Sunday became a special day as the church celebrated the living Lord.

The Old Testament’s Sabbath was a unique sign for the nation of Israel. And of the Ten Commandments given to them, the Sabbath command is never repeated in the New Testament.

Judaism and the Jewish festivals were fading in the church as it became composed of believers from all the nations. But false teachers were trying to pull the new believers back under the rituals of the law and away from the reality of Christ’s finished work on the cross. Strict observance of the Sabbath and all the other special Jewish days was prominent among their demands.

Paul writes to the believers in Galatians this warning:

How can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. (Galatians 4:9-11)

And he wrote this to the Colossian believers:

Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance [the completed reality] belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

Paul could have settled the argument right then and there by telling them, “Just worship on Sunday.” But instead, what does he say here in Romans 14:5? “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

The truth is, we can worship the Lord as an assembly on any day of the week. In fact, in the early church, they were meeting every day of the week.

Now if you think Paul is suggesting that you can just do whatever you feel in the moment, think again. Paul says to think it through: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

In some ways, this dispensation of grace today is more challenging than the old dispensation under the law. Back in the Old Testament it was pretty clear-cut. It was Saturday or nothing; it was a turtledove for the sacrifice or do not bother at all.

Today we can confess our sins immediately; we can pray at any time of the day or night. But wait a second, do we bow our heads and close our eyes, or do we keep them open and look upward toward heaven? Do we pray standing, or kneeling, or sitting up?

The council of Nicaea tried to settle the debate back in the fourth century. The council drew up formal statements on the correct posture for people praying in church—when they were to stand, or kneel, or remain seated. The apostle Paul would have simply said, “Pray any time you want and as much as you can” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

So, what do we do about all these issues in life where the Bible does not give us clear commands or direction? Well, Paul gives us some guidance here for wrestling through these gray areas.

We can put his guidance in the form of a couple of questions: Can I do what I am doing and still be right with God? Is it something God would join me in doing? Note what Paul writes here in Romans 14:6-9:

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.

Have you ever thought about the fact that you can do whatever you want, so long as you can invite the Lord to join you, because above all, you want to walk with Him?

Now with that, Paul adds another warning against a judgmental attitude: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?” (verse 10). In other words, why are you judging each other over traditions and nonessential things?

Now, remember beloved, there are things we are called to exercise judgment over. Immoral, unrepentant people are to be judged and removed from the church assembly (1 Corinthians 5:1-4), and false teachers are to be judged and avoided (Romans 16:17). Ungodly cultural trends are to be judged. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:15, a spiritually minded Christian judges all things. So, we are constantly to be making judgment calls on things that might be ungodly or unwise or simply unnecessary.

But beloved, there’s a big difference between making judgment calls and being judgmental. Making judgment calls is discerning; being judgmental is divisive.

Here at the end of verse 10, Paul reminds us, “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” In other words, since we are all going to give an account to God one day, we ought to be less interested in making everybody accountable to us. In these nonessential, gray areas of life, we do not have the last word. God will have the final word.

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