A Matter of Perspective

“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).

Romans 14 dealt with a hard, tricky problem in the first century church—cultural differences. While cultural differences involve many things, may I point to just one familiar to most of us? The impact of culture on most people is this: culture frames the way we think. What we see and understand in the majority of situations is determined by what our culture teaches us to see and understand.

For example, one looks at a situation and sees spiritual danger. Another looks at the situation and sees nothing alarming. Another looks at the same situation and sees actual good. The first sees moral degradation. The second sees innocence. The third sees constructive fellowship. Which is correct? Possibly all are. Why does each see something different? Likely, their culture conditioned the way they looked at the situation.

That was the situation in Romans 14. One strong in the faith could eat anything (an expression of a Gentile culture). One weak in the faith was a vegetarian (Jewish culture feared the meat markets in Rome). One recognized some days as more significant than other days (Jewish culture emphasized the importance of days). Some understood that all days were of equal significance (an expression of some converted to Christ from both Jewish and Gentile perspectives).

Our approach would use a simple question: “Which position is right and which is wrong? What should a Christian eat? What should he/she not eat? Should some days be significant and some not be significant? If Christians should observe days, which ones should he/she observe?” To many of us, it is a simple question of right and wrong. If we decide and convince others of our “correctness,” we solve the problem. All we need to do is announce, “This is the correct behavior for all Christians in all nations.”

Interestingly, Paul the apostle (the Jewish man who was God’s apostle to non-Jews) did not give that solution. He did not issue an edict about what Christians should and should not eat or what days Christians should or should not observe. Instead, he wrote about Christians not condemning Christians, Christians not judging Christians, Christians understanding they were servants, and Christians knowing their only Lord was Jesus Christ. He even began his statement with this affirmation: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (Romans 14:1). He even wrote: “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God” (Romans 14:22).

He also wrote: “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). That was not written as a frightening statement intended to terrify. In fact, no Christian needed to be terrified by that statement unless he/she exploited the weak, judged the Lord’s servants, condemned the innocent, or tried to coerce other Christians. To those who disagree without being disagreeable, it is a comforting statement. “Whatever conclusion you draw, the Lord will listen to your motives.” We tend not to listen to each other, but the Lord will listen to our “whys.”

David Chadwell
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 26 July 2007

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