How do you handle interactions with Christians who disagree with you? In a world that is growing increasingly divided, the church should set the example and operate as a unified body working together towards a common mission. Yet far too often, we find ourselves quarreling with our brothers and sisters over little things, and these lead to divisions that can distract you from the mission at hand. In Romans chapter 14, Paul gives some insight on how to interact with those who disagree. However, it’s important to note that he is not talking about disagreements over moral issues that clearly contradict the bible. Rather, he is talking about matters of Christian liberty, things that the bible does not clearly take a stand on and in which we have liberty to make our own decisions based on personal conscience and conviction. The big issue in Paul’s day was food. Gentile Christians believed that all food was now clean, and Jewish Christians were still convinced that they could only eat food that the Old Testament law declared to be clean. The issues are different in our day, but we can all point to things that Christians commonly disagree on, such as drinking alcohol in moderation, serving in the military, whether or not to get the covid vaccine, or go trick or treating on Halloween. All of these are matters of conscience that you should definitely seek the lord and be convinced in your own mind on (Romans 14:7), but it is important to know that there will be other serious, Jesus-loving Christians who will do the same and become convinced of an opinion that is contrary to yours.
So what do we do? There are several practical instructions in Romans 14. First, Paul says in vs. 3 “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” In other words, if you believe something to be right in your conscience, don’t hate, mock, or look down upon the one who chooses not to do what you feel like is okay to do. On the other hand, if you believe in your conscience that something is wrong for you to do, don’t judge those who feel like they have the freedom to partake. Second, we are to respect the consciences of others. Paul writes in vs. 13 “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” If I believe something to be right but I am around somebody who doesn’t believe so, for me to carry on and do that thing in their presence would be wrong. A good example of this is the issue of alcohol. If you believe it is okay to drink in moderation but you are around somebody who has struggled with drunkenness in the past, to partake in their presence would be a hindrance and cause them to stumble. Or to invite someone over to a Halloween party when you know they don’t think that is right would be very disrespectful. Paul uses strong wording in vs. 15 when he says “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.” Respect is a key element of love. If you love someone, you will respect their conscience on these matters and “welcome them as Christ has welcomed you (Romans 15:7).”
Why? Because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ and he died for them (Romans 14:15), and the advancement of the kingdom of God is more important is more important than these matters (Romans 14:7). Outsiders are watching, and we must not let our disagreements turn people away from the love of God. Paul says in Romans 15:5-6 that we are to “live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the goal, that through the love that we show one another and the way that we can put our differences aside and put Christ first, God would be glorified and the Gospel would advance.