Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Romans 14 and Relationships

     A dear friend included in an e-mail today the following:

     I was reading Romans 14 and maybe you want to check this one out. I won't tell you what I think yet, but it made a great impression on how one approaches others. Very interesting.

     Reading this portion of the apostle’s letter was refreshing. It was encouraging, especially reading it in the greater context of the entire letter, with all that the dear apostle includes. In this wicked world of sin and turmoil, those who hold steadfastly to the pure Gospel find themselves often feeling alone. We hear from every direction, especially from those we wish we could embrace as brothers and sisters in the Lord, “Judge not. Judge Not! JUDGE NOT!!” We hear that love is equal to tolerance. People often quote particular passages from the Scriptures in this regard. But is this what the Lord actually says? Are people hearing Him for what He truly declares? Or are they utilizing selective hearing?

     Regarding Romans 14 it is important for us to remember that St. Paul writes this to those who are brethren in the Lord and not to the world, nor to those who are heretics. He is writing regarding the interaction between the saints within the church in Rome. What he here writes has not direct correlation to those who are not of the true faith. So we need to be mindful of this in how we apply it.

     The issue in Romans 14 is a lack of understanding regarding the old ceremonial laws from Moses. The kinds of meat that are allowed and which festivals to observe were the issue. Do we have the divine service on Saturday, Sunday, or every day? Do we dare to eat pork and lobster and crab and camel? Must we observe certain times of fasting or are we free to eat without such obligations? These are the kinds of questions addressed in Romans 14, questions that lingered for the first century Church.

     So long as those who were weak and unable in their hearts to let go of some of the old ceremonial requirements did not insist that these were necessary for salvation, St. Paul says that those who are strong and able to live free of these should be patient with the weak, even to the point of being willing to set their freedoms aside for the sake of their weaker brethren for a time if it appeared to be helpful.

     Not understanding this, in more recent times, has led to the development of sects such as the Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses, sects that have abandoned the Gospel and have supplanted it with various forms of works righteousness.

     To make certain that misunderstanding on this matter is avoided so that tolerance of schismatic opinions in doctrine and practice is not accepted, St. Paul says in his conclusion of this letter:

     “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)

     So, then, while we are to be patient with those who are weak, we are not to permit them to impose their weaknesses onto the life of the Church. Most of all, we are not to allow them to abide in false doctrine themselves nor to bring this false doctrine into the life of the Church. Such are not to be counted as brethren. They are to be confronted a couple of times, and if they refuse to hear, they are to be counted as pagans and tax collectors. (Matthew 18, Titus 3:10-11)

     Whatever other thoughts one may have regarding this chapter of the apostle's letter, these are some important reminders.

     It is wonderful reading, especially in its context. The dear apostle reminds us that we are not the judges, only the proclaimers of what we ourselves receive. Thus, whatever judgment we speak we must first receive for ourselves. When we approach judging from this perspective, it changes us and makes us very cautious and gentle, for when we apply the judgment to ourselves, this is what we desire. Yet we also must hear God's judgment honestly and without compromise, otherwise we lose the Gospel. Since this is how we must hear God's judgment for ourselves so as not to lose that which we desperately need, so also we will proclaim it in this same manner to others.

     Sadly, it seems that we have entered into the time that the Lord foretold when people would no longer be willing to hear sound doctrine but would gather to themselves many teachers to tickle their ears telling them what they prefer to hear. In this age it seems that holding to the pure doctrine of the Scriptures leaves a person standing alone. But we are not alone. The Lord Himself assures us of this. Wherever we gather to the pure Gospel, He is with us to give to us that which we need most, along with all the other worldly blessings that He showers upon all, upon both the just and the unjust. But in His Holy Communion, we enjoy His saving presence, even as we partake together of His body and blood. This is why compromise cannot be tolerated.

     Romans 14 does not teach us to compromise. It teaches us to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of one another. Sacrifice does not equal compromise. In fact, it is the opposite. Compromise seeks to avoid the pain of sacrifice. Compromise is an act of selfishness whereas sacrifice is an act of selfless love. This is the love that we receive from God Himself which then moves us to act with that same love both in response to Him and also to one another. This love, far from being tolerant, is rather a continual call to the repentance that God works through the pure Gospel.

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