A Quick Review
In my intermittent One Another series I’ve established that Romans 14 addresses how to handle cross-cultural and convictional disagreements. God tells us there not to fight over matters that cannot claim compelling biblical authority and priority (see July 8 & 15). He forbids our quarreling over all non-essential, non-priority matters because he intends for Christian community life to be hovered over by a dove of welcoming and enduring peace. (Romans 14:1; Romans 14:17; Romans 15:5-7). This is not to banish all healthy and respectful debate, but it is to banish the opposite. To that end, let me distill Paul’s extended Romans 14-15 anti-quarreling counsel into ten reminders, intended for application.
Ten Reminders to Help Us Stop Quarreling in Church
God’s agenda is more important than mine.
God’s agenda for the Church is a call—in the face of all our mini- and mega-sized differences—to “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). This is what the kingdom of God is: Righteousness (vertical devotion, horizontal justice, and internal godliness); Peace (deepening wholeness in all our relationships); and Joy (Holy Spirit-produced gladness in Jesus and his church). This is God’s three-fold agenda which should trump our agenda every time, everywhere, with everyone.
It’s not about me.
Nestled into Romans 14:6-9 is the reminder that “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself”, and that we all “are the Lord’s”. This insight reminds us that disputes—which are almost always about me and what I want (see James 4:1-2)—usurp the place belonging to Christ. It’s about his Lordship, not ours (Romans 14:9). His Law, not our desires. His glory, not our preferences. His will, not our wants. His kingdom, not our culture. His truth, not our tradition. Consequently, those belonging to Christ must leave me and mine—and all the arguments they ignite—at the door.
Welcome is a command not an option.
Multicultural welcome—challenging as it is—is an imperative with no opt-out clause attached. Romans 14:1 and Romans 15:7 command us to welcome others; those others being ethnically and culturally diverse people. They are the circumcised (that is—Jews) and Gentiles (that is—all non-Jewish “ethnicities”) that Paul mentions in Romans 15:8-9. God commands intentional multicultural inclusiveness; which renders quarreling disunity and exclusivity as nothing but sin.
We all stand on equal and level ground.
We all stand before the Lord by his upholding grace alone; not by our own strength or merit (Romans 14:4). This means that the ground is equal and level beneath us, and that we do not stand on our own two self-sufficient feet. None of us occupies higher ground; no one is beneath us; no one stands on his or her own. We stand together, and we stand by grace. He who is holding me up is holding you up, too. So much for superior attitudes about ourselves and our opinions.
It doesn’t matter if I win.
By telling us not to quarrel (Romans 14:1) Paul is telling us that we should not need to win. A quarrel is a disagreement that morphs into a competition. It’s when, to borrow Soong-Chan Rah’s phrases, we turn disagreement into a “battle of messages” rather than a “learning conversation” (see my Respect the Image: Reflecting Human Worth in How We Listen and Talk, p171). Paul reminds us that winning a relationship is more important than winning an argument; that losing a brother or sister is a far greater sorrow than losing a debate (Romans 14:13-15).
I don’t need to say what I’m thinking.
The operative ideas in Romans 14:5 and Romans 14:20-22 are that each of us should “be fully convinced in his [her] own mind” and that we should keep the faith/conscience/convictions we have “between [ourselves]and God”. It is wise to keep as quiet as possible about our differences, especially if they are going to agitate. While we should open up (see Respect the Image, Chapter 2), we should not spew whatever’s churning in our mind. There are things to say and things not to say. And among the things not to say are opinions that cannot claim compelling biblical clarity and priority, and might disturb the peace. There may be a time and place, but make it seldom, and never to quarrel, and only to love.
God gets the final word.
When Romans 14:10-12 says that “each of us will give an account of himself to God”; and so, should “not pass judgment” on one another, it is saying that God has the final word. Rest assured: God will take care of it. So if a brother or sister has a differing perspective about something about which Scripture is not clear, it won’t help to correct them or say just one more thing about it. John Newton was right—“I believe scarcely anything has contributed so much to perpetuate disputes and dissensions in the professing church as the ambition to have the last word.” Friends: kill the ambition.
I shouldn’t quarrel with those for whom Christ died.
Paul rebukes our controversies by reminding us that Jesus died for those with whom we are picking these fights (Romans 14:15). When we harm or harass others by insisting on our own opinions, we destroy those whom Christ came to save. We would do well to remember the price tag attached to every redeemed child of God. How precious must the soul be for whom the blood of Christ was spilled (1 Peter 1:18-19)! Indeed, people are more precious than positions. So, instead of arguing with others, let us, like Jesus, suffer whatever it takes to build those others up (Romans 15:2-3).
I should practice golden-rule welcome.
We should do for others what we want them to do for us (Matthew 7:12). In Romans 15:7 Paul tweaks this “golden rule” by arguing that in Christ, we should do for others what has already been done for us (see also Romans 14:3). Sinners though we are, God has already welcomed us freely (Romans 3:23, 24 and Romans 5:1); impartially (Romans 1:14-17 and Romans 2:10-11); as we are (Romans 4:5 and Romans 5:6-10); without argument or accusation (Romans 8:31-34; Matthew 12:19-20); and permanently (Romans 8:31-39). It would be a very good idea to go and do likewise.
God’s omni-cultural vision should be mine.
Finally, in Romans 15:8-15, Paul incentivizes Church peace (and the abandonment of our arguments), by unveiling God’s omni-cultural vision for the Church. The Church is where Jews and Gentiles join—both in time and in eternity—to worship the Living God with gladly-praising hearts. It is where all ethnicities raise one voice to glorify the Triune God (Romans 15:5-6); and where the glory of all nations will be harmonized and choreographed in his presence (Revelation 21:22-26).
Pursuing this now isn’t easy, but it is imperative. Having seen God’s vision that welcomes all into an omni-cultural Church for forever, let us make it our ambition to welcome them in here and now. Multi-cultural church expression can be desperately difficult since we will not all agree even on what is essential and non-negotiable. But given all that Paul teaches us, shouldn’t we do everything we can to stop disagreeing so much about opinions, so that we can start agreeing much more about worship? Amen?
Amen and Amen.