Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Applying the Love Principle to our Debate

When I was a young man, there were many areas of grey in my life. By grey I mean areas to which the Scriptures did not speak directly. As I have grown older, the grey areas have diminished greatly. However, there are still areas upon which well meaning individuals can disagree. These are the areas Warren W. Wiersbe was referring to when he wrote, “Some activities we know are wrong, because the Bible clearly condemns them. Other activities we know are right, because the Bible clearly commands them. But when it comes to areas that are not clearly defined in Scripture, we find ourselves needing some other kind of guidance.” This issue isn’t a new one. Paul addressed it in his Letter to the Romans. I believe Romans 14 provides the guidance we need. Here are the five things we should always keep in mind, when discussing issues we don’t agree upon.

First, we should respect the opinions of others. Paul wrote, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (Romans 14:1 NASB). We can respect someone’s opinion even if we don’t agree with it. This doesn’t mean we can’t give a alternate interpretation. It does mean we are to give it without seeking to diminish the other person’s character and intelligence.

Second, we need to reflect on the truth that we are the judged and not the judge. Paul wrote, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God...So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore” (Romans 14:10, 12, 13a NASB). Keep in mind we are talking about things that aren’t clearly commanded or condemned. For example, some might find attending an athletic event on Sunday to be an inappropriate manner to spend a Sunday afternoon. This same person may find no problem with watching it at home on his television.

Third, we need to refrain from being a stumbling block to others. Paul wrote, “…but rather determine this –not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way…It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (Romans 14:13b, 21 NASB). This warning is especially applicable to those who are vocal about their faith. There is always someone watching their actions, looking for something to justify their own questionable behavior. We need not be overwhelmed by what someone might or might not think, but we can make an effort to not intentionally do something that serves as s stumbling block for the purpose of exerting our right to do it.

Fourth, we need to rely on the Love Principle when making our decisions about things that aren’t clearly spelled out. Paul wrote, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:15-17 NASB). I believe Paul is saying we should be willing to forgo something we feel to be acceptable, if we know it is going to offend a fellow believer who does not share our belief. This falls under the command for us to submit one to another.

Fifth, we need to remember to always pursue peace and to build up one another. Paul wrote, “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:19 NASB). If we would heed Paul’s advice and pursue the things we agree upon, the harmony created would present a clearer picture of genuine Christian fellowship to the unbelieving world around us.

Romans 14 gives us five valuable lessons on how to deal with questions that lead to differing opinions among well meaning Christian brothers and sisters. Hopefully, we will all take his advice to heart, when we are debating a brother or sister in Christ about matters that aren’t clearly defined.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bitterness, the Wire Grass in our Life

A cheap way to have a yard with a plush carpet of grass is to plant a garden in the space reserved for the yard. Do nothing else. When the garden is ready to harvest, pull up the plants, mow what is left and you will have a great stand of grass. In fact, you may have grass my grandfather called wire grass. This grass was tenacious. It refused to die. He dug it up and threw it on the asphalt with its roots in the air, denying it any chance for water or soil. If he failed to get every bit of root, the grass came back as strong as ever in a matter of days.

Wire grass reminds me of bitterness. When bitterness takes root in someone’s life, it can take over. Just as wire grass can ruin a beautiful garden, bitterness can ruin a beautiful life. The focus of the bitterness becomes the driving force behind everything the individual does. Wire grass engulfs the vegetation in a garden causing the produce to bear less than its potential. In the same manner, bitterness extends its long tentacles throughout one’s life, preventing an individual from reaching full potential.

The damage from bitterness is not limited to the person who harbors it. It affects the lives of everyone the individual encounters. It can destroy peaceful relationships in a family, at a work place, in a church, on an athletic team, or in any group of people who are in regular contact with each other. The writer of Hebrews warned against this danger when he wrote, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15.

Some people attempt to bury their bitterness deep in their subconscious. That is like covering wire grass with dirt. For a time, it will look fine, but it will eventually surface and continue its destruction.

Dealing with the source of bitterness is a process. The process begins when we are willing recognize the problem. It is completed when our bitterness is replaced by God’s love. Paul gives us the process in Ephesians 4:31, 32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”