While much of Christianity is quite simple to understand, there are elements of the Scriptures and of God’s moral standards that not all agree upon. We know that the word of God is clear about issues related to sexual purity, marriage, drunkenness, violence, gossip, and the like. But there are certainly areas in which well-meaning Christians disagree.
High on the list of things over Which good Christians disagree are issues related to the drinking of alcohol and the keeping of a Sabbath day. To some Christians, no believer should ever drink alcohol. To some Christians, no believer should ever eat at a restaurant on a Sunday. To other believers, alcohol in moderation is seen as a gift from God and something that believers are free to partake of in moderation. And some believers understand the Sabbath commands to be a fulfilled pointer to the perfect rest achieved by Christ as we rely fully on him in the gospel. Thus, those believers treat no particular day of the week as sacred even while they may continue to follow the pattern of working 6 days and resting 1.
How are we to resolve these issues? I’d guess that, if you have read this far, you have an opinion. You probably even have a strong opinion as to what is acceptable for Christians. You probably have a pretty clear idea in your mind as to where all good Christians should fall on the scale of Christian liberty.
But, can I ask you to consider something that Paul wrote to the church at Rome to help us in, not what to think about these issues, but how to talk about and treat each other regarding these issues?
Romans 14:1-4 – 1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 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. 4 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.
In case you are not thinking about drinking or the Sabbath here, recognize that the remainder of Romans 14 will walk down those particular paths. But, before we go down that road, Paul gives us some very strong counsel. He commands us to understand that each child of God will stand before the Lord and account to God for his or her behavior in these sometimes controversial areas. And Paul then tells us not to pass judgment on one another in these areas if we find ourselves disagreeing. He will certainly call us to be convinced in our own minds of the position that we personally live out. But we are not to be so foolish as to attempt to forcibly apply our standards to others or look down on others who disagree with us.
Please also notice that Paul addresses both sides of the issue. The one who eats and the one who abstains are both called not to look down on the other. That would also apply to drinking or Sabbath regulations.
We have a bent toward judging those who hold to different standards than we do. But Paul is clear that we should not do so. There are areas in which, if we hold ourselves to a stricter standard than do others, we are to be careful not to let ourselves judge others for not holding to our particular choices.
Some Christians are apt to try to tell those who are judging others for their freedoms to lay off. We like to use romans 14 as a tool to say to those who have standards that we think are the legalistic side of moralism to stop judging others in their freedoms. I’m guessing that you’ve seen that from time to time in blog posts or on social media.
But notice that Paul also says that the one who exercises his or her freedom in these areas has no right, none at all, to look down on or judge the one who disagrees. And for many in the modern church, this has been overlooked. There is no room for nasty condescension on either side.
So, let’s apply this practically. Are you convinced that no Christian should ever drink alcohol because of what you perceive as a bad social witness? Fine. But do not look down on or judge believers who disagree with you. There are believers who have come to a different conclusion, and have done so thoughtfully. Do not attempt to hold them to your standard.
Are you one who feels free to drink in moderation. Fine. But do not look down on or judge the believer who disagrees with your choices. Certainly do not try to talk someone into drinking alcohol who has personal qualms about the issue. Do not consider yourself superior to another because of your grasp of freedom. And, for goodness’ sake, do not flaunt your freedom by waving it in the faces of those who disagree with you. Live peaceably, not allowing others to restrict your freedom or judge you as you do not intentionally go out of your way to put down others or flaunt your freedom.
Friends, we are to live lovingly in the church. That means that we will have to learn to be kind to those who disagree with us. We need to be gracious enough to understand that not all issues are as cut and dried as we are given to think. We need to have godly kindness for those servants of the Lord who cannot see the issues as we see them. We need to be merciful and gracious, not quick to see ourselves as superior for our superior grasp of the issues at hand. Perhaps we are right. That is fine. But we must leave the hearts and consciences of others in the hands of the Lord to shape by his word for his glory.
Does this mean that we should never talk with each other about Sabbath keeping or social drinking? No, it does not. But our conversations must be kind and gracious. And both sides must understand the biblical mandate not to look down on the other side for a difference of opinion in these issues. May we honor the Lord by being gracious toward other servants of the Master, because, as Paul told us, they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.