A Spirit of Unity

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” ~Romans 15:7

SpiritOfUnityRomans 14 gives us the background for the above exhortation from the apostle Paul. There are two groups of Christians in this church in Rome. Weak and strong. Paul’s words. The weak believers are vegetarians. The strong believers enjoy a good steak. The weak brothers keep all the Jewish holy days. The strong brothers don’t. The weak Christians are developing all kinds of elaborate worship and lifestyle theologies and drawing lines in the sand over what’s right and what’s wrong. The strong Christians don’t have very many lines and they’re not as concerned about which worship and lifestyle practices are right or wrong. The weak are criticizing the strong for being spiritually insensitive. The strong are looking down on the weak for being spiritually immature and inferior. The strong proclaim freedom in Christ. The weak say that doesn’t mean anything goes. The weak tell the strong, “You’re wrong.” The strong tell the weak, “Grow up.”

Over what?

Over food. Over days. Over worship styles and traditions. The use of technology. Women’s roles. Alcohol. Praise teams. Divorce and remarriage. Clapping. Creeds. Dancing. Songleaders. Preachers(!) Small groups. Bible translations. Politics.

Are you a weak Christian or a strong Christian? Again, these are Paul’s words. Is your faith weak or is it strong? According to what Paul’s talking about in Romans 14, which are you? Are you the one who worries and frets and draws lines in the sand and develops intricate tests of fellowship for other Christians? Or are you the one who has a total grasp on our salvation in Christ and understands that the things we argue about and worry about don’t really matter at all? Are you the weak brother or sister? Or the strong?

What is it that makes you strong? What is it that makes you weak? If I were to ask somebody else about you—whether your faith is strong or weak in this context—what would they say about you? Why would they say it? What do they see or experience in you that makes them think that way?

Romans 14:1-4 > Nobody looks down on anybody. Nobody condemns anybody. For God has accepted him. Accepted whom? Who has God accepted? The brother or sister or groups of brothers and sisters who disagree with me on this church tradition or who don’t see eye to eye with me on this disputable matter, this matter of opinion that should not in any way divide the Lord’s Body. You’re not his master. Christ Jesus as Lord is his master. Not you. Whether he stands or falls is up to our Lord. Whether he’s right or wrong is up to our Lord. And Paul goes ahead and makes the call. He’ll stand! Whether he agrees with you or not. Whether y’all are on the same page or not. He’ll stand because he’s in Christ. So, you accept him because Jesus accepts him. Christ died for him, Paul says. What are you doing?

Romans 14:5-8 > Each of us should be fully convinced in our minds that what we’re doing is the right thing to do in the eyes of our God, but don’t bind that on another brother who doesn’t feel that way. If he practices something different, we assume we’re both doing it to the Lord, before the Lord, in the presence of the Lord with a clear conscience. We assume that my sister with a different belief or a different practice is not believing flippantly or practicing casually. She’s doing it with careful study and reflection and prayer and conviction. She’s fully convinced in her mind that she’s doing the right thing. So everything’s OK.

Paul is calling for unity in Spirit here. Not unity in opinion, not unity in practice, not even unity in belief. And he’s dealing with what at this time in the Church were huge issues. Unity comes with where your heart is. What’s your motivation? What drives you? Who are you thinking about?

Paul clearly identifies himself as one of the strong. But it’s interesting to me that he doesn’t say the weak need to change their minds or their opinions or their practices. In fact, he goes so far as to command them not to change their practices unless their minds are fully convinced. Paul’s prayer is not that all the Christians in Rome come to the same opinions on these things. No. He’s praying that they may possess a spirit of unity that transcends the differences.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~Romans 15:5-6

Peace,

Allan

10 Comments

  1. Joanna Ashlock

    Just curious–what translation was quoted in the Romans passages?

  2. Allan

    No translation. No quotes. It’s my exposition of the text. The only Bible actually quoted is at the top and bottom of the post, from the NIV.

  3. Paul

    I will be the first to admit that I believe hand-clapping, like just about anything else, has the potential for abuse and misuse. I also believe that when we come together as the family of God, that we should apply the following principles: “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26) and “Let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Cor. 14:40). If anything is done in a disruptive or dishonorable manner, then it is contrary to biblical principles and certainly not conducive to edification. This is a very subjective area, however, as most will readily admit. What might be considered “disorderly” in one congregation, may not be deemed as such in another! What builds up one group of disciples may tear down another. Each body of believers must determine for themselves, appealing to the Word of God for their guiding precepts and principles, what is or is not acceptable in their own corporate worship. One congregation may be edified by singing a song during the Lord’s Supper; another may not. One may deem it spiritually appropriate to express joy via applause when one is immersed; another may not. These are personal choices. Where we “cross the line,” in my estimation, is when we seek to bind or impose our convictions and choices on others as the only acceptable ones. To break fellowship with others over our personal choices is actually the literal definition of the word “heresy.” We must cease this behavior in the church, and begin accepting one another, differing convictions and all (Romans 14).

  4. payton

    thank you for your post allan.
    thank you for your comments paul.

  5. Debbie

    I think Paul put things very well. I would only add that this whole thing should be applied to individuals…not congregations as a whole. I don’t think you will find a congregation anywhere where everyone is on the same page about every thing. I know that in our congregation at Legacy there are differing opinions on clapping, singing during the Communion, clapping after a baptism, etc. I also know that some feel so strongly about some of these things that they have chosen to leave our congregation. That’s when it really bothers me.

  6. Rob's Dad

    If this is the greatest story ever told, then doesn’t it make sense to highlight it with song and drama and genuine emotion?

  7. Caleb Courtney

    AMEN!

  8. Allan

    It bothers me, too.
    It also bothers me when a dear, dear sweet brother tells me with tears in his eyes last night after worship that, if he’s the reason this person left, then he’ll just leave instead.
    Why is it OK for some people to leave, but a tragedy when other people leave?
    Why is it OK to ask some people to stop clapping or kneeling or raising their hands out of “consideration for others” and not OK for those “others” to exercise that same “consideration for others?”

  9. Debbie

    I didn’t say either one is OK. I just wish there was an easy answer for the problem….and it IS a problem. I’ve come a long way in accepting things that might be a little out of my comfort zone and I think that maybe that’s what we all need to do. But the “how” to do that is what is hard.

  10. jason reeves

    What the Apostle Paul is calling for within Romans is unity. However too often we mistake unity for uniformity. Uniformity is “only this is accepted here” – “as long as you color inside the lines you’re welcome to worship with us.” Uniformity is diametrically opposed to what the Apostle is demanding in the context of Romans 14 and 15. The emphasis is that we are united in Christ. Period. Remember Paul is writing to the church. To those who are saved. He’s not trying to convert anyone. And so to those who are united in Christ he pleads for (demands even) unity. Unity even within, and especially within, diversity. Clapping and hand-raising??? Good gravy, the church in Rome is struggling with 1500+ years of tradition. And Sabbath. Sabbath! How big of an obstacle that must have been. And yet the Apostle calls the church beyond themselves and to the fact that it is Christ who unifies us – not what is or is not “accepted” culturally within the Christian community – but Christ, who unifies. When we begin to get that, then and only then will we begin to be the people that Paul calls us to be – that Christ demands for us to be – and that God so desperately desires for us to be.

    Too often the discussion is relegated to “how” we worship, rather than Who we worship….

    Glory to God!

    Jason

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