Beginning in Romans 12 Paul provides insight into these changes – serve God with our spiritual gifts (12:3-8), have right behavior (12:9-21), submit to government authority (13:1-7), love others (13:8-10), and resist the flesh while submitting to God (13:11-14). Again, these things do not happen by chance, but as a person gives control to the Holy Spirit in daily living (Ephesians 5:8-21). In Romans 14 Paul began revealing another big area of change – unity. Believers would no longer be divided by their traditions and backgrounds, but they would learn to lovingly accept one another. Although Jews and Gentiles alike were receiving salvation and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, they were having a hard time letting go of some of their past experiences. Less mature Jewish believers were looking down on more mature Jewish believers who no longer participated in some of the rituals of the ceremonial law. On the other hand, the more mature Jewish believers were intolerant of those Jews with a weaker conscience. The Gentiles were also guilty of not respecting each other. Gentiles with a weaker conscience were judging other Gentiles who chose to eat meat which had been offered to idols and sold in the market. The more mature Gentile believers knew that the idols were worthless so they did not see a problem with eating this meat and felt as if the less mature Gentile believers were being judgmental. In both cases, Paul wanted the Jews and Gentiles to develop a healthy respect for one another because the things over which they were disputing had no bearing on their salvation. In essence, Paul was promoting a unity amongst diversity.
However, in the last part of Romans 14 Paul gave special instructions concerning their behavior in matters of preference. Paul writes,
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to
put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and
am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to
him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if
your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in
love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil…” (14:13b-16).
Although Paul acknowledged that there are some issues which are non-essentials, he also advocated having respect for differing viewpoints. The more mature believer should not flaunt his liberty in the presence of a less mature believer for fear that he may hinder his spiritual growth. Even though a believer is free in Christ, he must be conscious of how his choices affect those around him. As a side note, Paul is not granting permission to engage in those things God clearly labels as sin, but he is granting freedom to choose in those matters which may be unclear.
Instead of dwelling on those things which make believers different (Paul is not speaking about doctrinal issues), they should rather pursue “the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (14:17-19). It is important that Christians not be involved in arguing about things which destroy God’s work (14:20).
Paul closes out his teaching on this subject regarding unity in diversity by giving a guiding principle to his readers, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak…. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (14:21-23). Mature believers should respect those who may be offended at their freedoms. Less mature believers should not judge others, but they also must not train themselves to violate their conscience. Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 is an important one. Believers should practice love and acceptance with one another even when there is a differing opinion. The point is not in always being right, but always being righteous.
Dear God, give me a respect for those who may be shaped by different backgrounds and experiences. Teach me to accept and love them.