Romans 1-9 gets all the love. All the attention. As it should. It’s a dynamic exposition of sin, God’s wrath, justification by faith, and the power of the Spirit. It’s a tour de force from the Apostle Paul.
But today, as I’m finishing up reading through Romans, it struck me how important Romans 14 and the first six verses of chapter 15 are. I was struck a second time when I realized how vital they are for Christians, particularly in the United States, at this particular juncture in history.
To sum it up, Paul first tells his readers that Christians are not to pass judgment in non-essential matters (in his context, he’s referring to the choice to observing festival days or not). In non-essentials, people are free to do what they like (provided, of course, they aren’t being a jerk doing it.) Everyone is accountable to the Lord in these matters.
Second, he writes that believers are not to cause others to stumble. Paul isn’t forbidding women from wearing a bikini, here (that’s an entirely different blog post). Rather, he’s cautioning his readers to watch their actions so that others aren’t tempted to return to a particular lifestyle they had before their conversion.
Then, at the beginning of chapter 15, Paul gets at the root: Don’t live to please yourself. Live to please your neighbor. Welcome one another.
In other words, people–even other Christians–are different than you. We agree on the most fundamental tenants of our faith. But there are other areas where we disagree. Welcome these people. All of these people. Live in harmony with them. Love them. Accommodate them.
Welcome one another.
Christ has welcomed you.
Why would Paul say that? Thick guilt trip? No. True freedom from the peripheral entanglements that enslave us? Yes. Jesus has welcomed all sorts of people into his kingdom, and there’s one common denominator. He is God and everyone else is not. That’s quite the difference. That’s quite the welcoming.
If Christ can welcome sinners, like you and me, we can welcome brothers and sisters in Christ who have different affiliations or are in another tribe, whether they are political, social, racial, economic, or otherwise. We can say to them, “I know we don’t see eye to eye on some things, but please come in. You’re family.”
Will there be some things to sort out? Oh my, yes. Will there be some course corrections that need to be made? Definitely. Will there need to be contrite confessions and long-term changes made? On all sides.
But what divides Christians in this country today is no worse than what divided Jews and Gentiles in the first century. Consider that task! The power to change back then and now is found only in the person of Jesus Christ, the One who welcomed rebellious enemies into his fold. It’s easy for us Christians to forget that even (especially!) we need Jesus.
At the end of the day, Jesus did not live for himself. He gave himself away.
Are we willing to do the same?