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For Our Neighbor’s Good (15:1-4)

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People come from many different backgrounds and cultures. Our customs, practices and ways of thinking are different. Because of these differences it can sometimes be difficult to understand one another, let alone accept one another. Sometimes there are misunderstandings even among people who share the same background and who love one another.

This is true for the followers of Christ as well. Even though they have all heard and believed the same message about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ; even though they have all placed themselves under Christ’s authority, they still have different practices and differences of opinion. Some have a strong faith which allows them to do certain things. Others, whose faith is not as strong, have a conscience against those things.

If we are not careful, these differences can cause division, or even cause someone to sin – to the place where it destroys his faith. In chapter 14 of his inspired letter to the followers of Christ at Rome, the Apostle Paul gives several principles which will help us get along with each other even when we have different convictions regarding acceptable behavior. Among them are:

1) If we have a conviction against something we are not to try to bind it on others. What we believe concerning these things is between ourselves and God.

2) We are not to offend others with our freedoms.

3) All is to be done to God’s glory and with thanksgiving.

While teaching these principles, Paul mentions three specific areas about which people think differently. The first area has to do with food. In verse 2 he writes, “One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.” (NIV)

The first people to become disciples of Christ were Jews. Although Christ declared that all food is clean (Mark 7:19), no doubt some of the Jewish believers still observed the dietary restrictions given in the Law of Moses. They could not eat things like pork with a clear conscience. It would be a cause of offense if a Gentile follower of Christ offered them pork. Similarly, some Gentiles may have been influenced by the Greek philosophy which teaches that matter, and particularly, flesh is evil. It would have been difficult for them to eat any meat at all. It would have caused offense if a Jewish follower of Christ offered them meat.

A second problem with eating meat was more serious. In Paul’s day, much of the meat sold in the marketplace had been offered in sacrifice to idols. Being sacrificed did not change the composition of the meat in any way, but the association with idol worship did cause some people problems of conscience. They felt that to eat such meat was to participate in idol worship.

What was Paul’s solution to this problem? In another place he writes, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake – the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?” (1 Corinthians 10:25-29 NIV)

Another area of dispute has to do with observing holy days. In verse 5 Paul writes, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike...” (NIV) Paul probably had in mind the feast days commanded in the Law of Moses. Is it necessary for Christians to observe them? Some said yes, others no. Similarly, some thought it permissible to celebrate Gentile holidays. Others did not.

What was Paul’s solution to this problem? He writes that each person should be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5). By this Paul means that either position is okay. No one is less of a follower of Christ regardless of which side of the issue he takes. No matter which side we come down on, we are entitled to our own opinion. Secondly, if a special day is celebrated, it must be done “to the Lord” (Romans 14:6). Why should we object if something is done for the Lord, even if it is not required by Scripture? On the other hand, if we cannot dedicate a holiday or feast day to the Lord, then we should not celebrate it.

A third area of dispute is the drinking of wine. He mentions this in verse 21. Some hold that it is permissible to drink wine, others do not. What is Paul’s instruction about it? If drinking will cause a brother to fall, it is better to avoid it altogether, even if we have concluded that drinking is permissible.

The key to all such disputes is to act in love. As Paul has already said earlier in his letter, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10 NIV)

To drive the point home, Paul refers to the example of Christ. In chapter 15, verses 1 through 4 he writes, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, to be building him up. For even Christ didn’t please himself. But, as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through patience and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Just as Christ sought our good instead of pleasing Himself, we also ought to seek to do what is good for our fellow believers. Just as Christ worked for our good, we should do good to others so that they will be built up. We should be willing to even endure insults for the sake of our fellow believers, just as Christ endured insults for us. When people insult us for our convictions, or for helping our brothers, it is really Christ they are insulting, not us.

Instead of letting our differences divide us, we should be united. Please listen to our next program to learn more about Christian unity.