Many Christians, and many Sabbath-keepers in particular, are very zealous for truth and for obedience to God. Commendable attitudes indeed. But we are often shackled by our own zeal. We become so concerned with doctrinal correctness that we neglect to love! Please don’t misunderstand, I am all for truth and for proper doctrines. But we can become so preoccupied with these that we neglect even greater truths—love for brethren, unity of spirit, oneness in Christ.
At the heart of our problem is the fact that there are so many different points of view and practices among those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul experienced a very similar situation. In practically every city there were new Christians who had come from different backgrounds. Some were Jews who continued to be very zealous for the law of Moses (Acts 21:20). Other Jews were more moderate. Then there were Gentiles who had previously been adherents to the Jewish religion. And there were Gentiles who came out of paganism. Quite a hodgepodge!
The New Testament reveals differences and conflicts in the churches at Colosse, in Galatia, Corinth, and Rome. How Paul dealt with these situations can be very instructive to us today.
From what we learn in Romans 14, there were differences of practice among the Romans relative to avoiding meat (perhaps because of concern that it had been sacrificed to an idol), and observance of certain days (perhaps special feast or fast days, or perhaps the calculation of timing those days). Though we don’t know too many of the details, we do know that Paul so easily could have straightened things out. He could simply have given them a formula for each problem. But he didn’t. Because there was an even more important truth involved: don’t judge your brother!
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters.... Who are thou to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand....
You then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat....
Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another (Rom 14:1, 4, 10, 13).
Among Christians today the situation is very similar to that at Rome. We have those who abstain, those who eat meat, those who drink wine and those who abstain, those who wear make-up and jewelry and those who don’t, those who observe annual feasts and those who don’t, those who observe non-Biblical holidays and those who don’t. We have people that say God, Jesus and Christ; others that use Yahweh, Yahshua, and Messiah, still others that use Yehova, Y’shua and Moshiach, and some that believe we should not pronounce the Eternal’s name at all. We have some that use the Hebrew calendar, some that use other calendars, some that look for dark moons, crescent moons, or full-moons. On and on we could go!
Yet in the face of all the differences of practice and doctrinal belief among Christians, we are exhorted by Scripture to have unity of spirit:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit... (Eph 4:3).
But how can we find unity when there are so many divisions and differences? How can we minister effectively to the world and to one another if we are so divided and can’t even agree among ourselves? How can we hope to some day be presented as one bride to Jesus Christ if we are hostile and judgmental and condemning of one another?
People answer these important questions several ways. Some look at all the conflict among Christians, throw up their hands and leave religion altogether! They become atheists, agnostics, or merely believe in a God, but nothing more.
Others deal with the lack of unity by drawing a box around themselves and their particular set of beliefs. They insist that they only have the truth, that they don’t interpret the Bible like other people, they just “believe what it says.” They believe they alone are the true church, that they alone are unified in spirit. Of course they must close their eyes to so much of the working of God that is going on outside their organization and keep their heads buried in the sand. And they can’t ask too many questions or think too much or they’re likely to learn something new—and discover that they are wrong about something.
But there is another way for Christians to have unity even in spite of all their differences—and that is the answer found in Romans 14: accept your brother for whom Christ died! We can be one in spirit, in faith, in hope, even though we have differences in practice, belief, and organization—if we learn and practice the truth about acceptance and love—if we recognize that God is running the show, that He is in control of His Church, that He is leading each of us step by step, and that all of us see through a glass darkly—probably to a greater degree than we would care to know!
There are a number of reasons that we tend to condemn those who don’t believe exactly as we do:
1. We place a very high value on truth and on obedience.
To be sure, these are admirable traits and worth pursuing; but we can become so preoccupied with the quest for one point of truth that we neglect an even greater truth. For example, we can become so concerned about the Sabbath truth that we neglect another truth: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God, does not have life” (1Jn 5:12). We can be like the Pharisees who were so concerned about the truth of tithing garden herbs that they neglected the truth of justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt 23:23).
Is it such a shame to say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “I don’t have an opinion on that issue?” Is it such a shame to admit that we are still growing and learning and to accept as brothers and sisters other Christians who are also growing and learning? We must learn to say, “This is how I see it and how I will live, but I will love and accept and give my life for my brother who honestly sees it differently.”
2. Two value thinking: if I’m right on this question, then everyone else is wrong. If it’s right for me, it’s right for everyone.
To be sure, there are absolutes and Christians must not compromise with those absolutes. But is it possible that what you see as absolute, another sincere, truth-seeking, Bible studying, God-fearing Christian may not see as absolute? Is it possible God is leading your brother down a somewhat different path for purposes and reasons far beyond your knowledge? Is it possible God is leading both of you to an even greater depth of understanding than what either of you see now? Is it possible that each of you has different lessons to learn so you both can come into the fullness of Jesus Christ—in God’s due time? Can we allow that God is the Master and we are merely servants? Or must we arbitrarily superimpose the things God has shown us on everyone else? Must it be done now?
There are many Bible examples of diversity: Daniel served God in the Babylonian palace while Ezekiel was a captive. John the Baptist socialized little where Jesus did a lot (Matt 11:18-19). Timothy was circumcised by Paul, but Titus was not (Acts 16:1-3, Gal 2:3). Peter had to be killed for the Gospel, but John was allowed to live to old age (John 21:18-22, Rev 1:9).
3. We view God in terms of rules, not in terms of a relationship.
Unfortunately too much of our spiritual security rests not in an intimate personal relationship with God, but on adherence to rules and regulations. Hence, if we are to judge ourselves accepted by God—based on the rules we keep—we must judge others, who don’t keep exactly the same set of rules, as rejected.
Our quest for truth is commendable; but we are shackled by our own zeal. We are so intent on certain points of truth that we neglect more important points—like love and acceptance and humility.
The book of 1 Corinthians teaches a powerful lesson in regard to the body of Christ, the church. It is not a picture of a monogeneous mass—but of a varied body, with each member functioning effectively, doing what other members cannot do. Just like the human body has eyes for seeing, feet for walking, fingers for grasping, so the spiritual body has many different parts—parts that function for different purposes and with different methods to serve one God.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.... The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable (1Cor 12:4-6, 12-13, 21-22).
We can be so quick to consider ourselves as stronger, or having more truth, or being more open-minded than other Christians. But before we get too satisfied in our self-righteousness, we’d better remember what Paul wrote: “...those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”
God is the One—He is the only One—who sees the whole body. We see only a portion of it, and we must be very careful how we pass judgment. For however stringent we are in judging others, God will be just as stringent in judging us (Matt 7:1-5). If we must err, let it be on the side of being too accepting of others, not on the side of being too judgmental and critical.
Just because you are willing to accept someone who has different beliefs, you are not compromising your own convictions. You can continue to strongly believe in, teach, and share your own understanding of God’s Word while you have fellowship, love and respect for others who have a different understanding of some points.
The apostle Paul set a terrific example for us. He was willing to be all things to all men, unconverted men. He was willing to accept them where they were in order to win some to Christ. How much more should we be willing to accept those who are already won to Christ?
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews... To the weak I became weak, to win the weak, I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some (1Cor 9:19-22).
Paul certainly didn’t compromise with truth; but, he was willing to accept people where they were. We should do the same. Sure we might have a doctrinal truth which another person doesn’t; but, can we respect and understand his views before we try to share ours? Can we realize that there are many things more important than most of the doctrinal issues Christians argue about? Can we recognize that maybe, just maybe, since we see through a glass darkly, we could learn some truth from other Christians, even those we might consider as having less truth than ourselves? Can we let God be their Master and Teacher? Can we see ourselves as fellow servants?
To love someone means to really understand them and the circumstances that have brought them to where they are, to respect them as children of God, as potential kings and priests, to accept and love them even at their worst.
We have so much to offer to the world and to one another as fellow Christians. To be able to effectively share what we have we must learn to accept everyone where he is. Then, even though we have differences, we can grow together, we can have unity of spirit, and we will be able to effectively share with a world in great need.
— Richard A. Wiedenheft