Polarizing opinions shout at us on every side. People keep lobbing verbal grenades through Facebook and Twitter at those on the other side of whatever issue is important to them. And many Christians have joined the fray.
But did not God instruct us; “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Rom. 15:7). “This is impractical,” you say. “How can I accept him, he’s a democrat” Or, “She’s a republican!” Or, they’re “Blind Liberals, Naïve NDP, Bigoted Conservatives” or whatever label you choose to apply.
While accepting others, in a Christian context, does not mean we jettison our deeply held convictions it does mean we exhibit civility. Certainly, we must respect others as men and women created in the image of God. Surely, we must exhibit patience, love and forbearance for one another. Assuredly, it means we deal with each other gently without rancor or accusation.
Indeed, receiving one another, assumes that we exhibit interest in one another instead of erecting unassailable barriers between us. In terms of listening to others, Christians ought to be the most gifted people on earth. Jordan Peterson points out in rule number nine in his best seller, 12 Rules for Life; Assume the person you are listening to might know something you don’t! Listening, of course, means asking people questions about themselves and their beliefs.
In the context of Romans 14 and 15, accepting one another meant accepting people from diverse races or social classes. Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, entrepreneurs like Lydia and fishermen like Peter were to get along. Christians are categorically commanded to denounce any kind of elitism or racism.
That’s not easy. Even those with the same language but from different locations, have contrasting practices. In our first year as missionaries in Pakistan we boarded with a British family who insisted that tea had to be made a certain way and eggs had to be eaten before you put jam on your toast. They were scandalized when we brought peanut butter to breakfast!
In the Roman church, to whom Paul wrote, there were great differences of opinion. Some demanded that believers eat only vegetables while others promoted freedom to eat anything. Some had strong opinions about how to keep the Sabbath.
In today’s context Christ commands vegans and omnivores, climate change deniers, those with contrasting tastes in music, those with opinions about bottled water and the use of microwaves to all get along. Liberals and conservatives are called to join hands beneath the cross.
This directive also means we embrace those with annoying habits. Those who squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle, those who ask loud questions during a TV show or movie. Yes even those who drum their fingers incessantly and those who leave their grocery cart smack-dab in the middle of the aisle.
The exhortation also includes acceptance between those with diverse personalities. Consider the gregarious type for whom everything is wonderful; who’s always exclaiming, “this is so exciting, it’s all good.” Then there is the melancholic, quiet type of introvert who projects a more gloomy approach. Or the phlegmatic type with their ponderous but methodical approach to decisions. Even more challenging to many of us, is the strong, decisive, rather impatient choleric person who knows what to do, when to do it, and why we should get involved in their agenda.
Matthew Henry comments on this passage. Let there be a mutual embracing among Christians. Those that have received Christ by faith must receive all Christians by brotherly love; though poor in the world, though persecuted and despised, though it may be matter of reproach and danger to you to receive them, though in the less weighty matters of the law they are of different apprehensions [opinions], though there may have been occasion for private piques [annoyances], yet, laying aside these and the like considerations, receive you one another.
A CAUTION: This exhortation doesn’t mean we are to abandon our carefully reasoned opinions, but we must be open to their amendment. It does mean we should seek to understand each other’s personalities and modify our own annoying habits so we get along better.
This directive certainly does NOT mean we are to overlook heretical beliefs or immoral actions in professing believers. Paul deals with church discipline for immorality in 1 Corinthians 5. Acts 5 deals with church discipline for lying to the Holy Spirit. Acts 8 deals with trying to buy spiritual influence within the church. Other epistles deal fully with identifying and handling anti-biblical teaching; heresy.
A FURTHER NOTE: Paul instructs believers to follow Jesus directive, “Judge not that you be not judged.” He does that by clarifying the impression he had given in an earlier letter to the Corinthians. He had written, “not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” (1 Cor. 9:12).
There is a place within the church community to withdraw from those who practice clear sin and propagate false doctrine.
But let’s be clear. God has not called us to judge non-Christians, just avoid their bad habits. There is only one Judge, and He is God.
WHY ACCEPTING ONE ANOTHER IS IMPORTANT: The passage we have been applying states that accepting one another is important to bring praise to God. How so?
When we obey God’s command to love one another, we glorify Him. When we accept one another, we recognize that although we are all sinners, we have a common heritage of mercy received beneath the cross. Acceptance exalts the grace of God.
In turn, offering one another loving acceptance creates a climate that promotes in all of us endurance, encouragement, and hope. We are not going to grow in Christ in a climate of alienation or recrimination. Many have left churches because of bickering over mundane issues or because they cannot accept differing opinions on non-theological issues.
But when brothers and sisters join hands at the foot of the cross it is a foretaste of heaven. This in turn presents a united witness to the world at large.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5,6
(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright –– )