Paul finished Romans 13 by urging us to not seek ways to indulge in our evil desires. But what about circumstances and situations where there is a difference of opinion as to whether what I am doing is right or wrong? Let’s be clear at the front: there is a standard of holiness. I can’t just decide – contrary to the clear teaching of God – that something is right, and then live out my decision. Well… I can. But if I’m serious about obeying God’s word, then I won’t be able to do so with a clear conscience.
On the other hand, when others do that, it’s not up to me to act as judge and jury. As Christians, we are all responsible to God. He is our master, and he is the one before whom we will one day stand and give an accounting of our lives. What’s more, God is faithful. Those that are his he will help to stand, and so guide that they will receive his approval.
Paul’s two examples are to do with what one eats and when one worships. Some think that certain food shouldn’t be eaten by Christians. Others think you can eat anything. Some think that a particular day (Saturday? Sunday?) is the Holy Day; others see every day as being holy. Says Paul: the thing that matters is being convinced in our own mind about what is right. Note: just because I think I’m right doesn’t mean I have to force you to do as I do. I need to be tolerant of your having come to a different position on this. God will, I believe, ultimately bring us to a point of clarity.
So – are we not allowed to try and argue our reading of scripture and our context? Of course we can. Paul himself presents the case for being able to eat anything. But so often these “arguments” are less about love and more about being right. We should argue – but we don’t need to win. We can try and convince – but ultimately, each of us stands before God. And if you don’t think as I do – or I as you – then we cannot condemn each other. We are both Christians – and God is our master.
I think Paul would have us get some perspective. The kingdom is about goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If we live such a life of love for fellow believers – serving Christ by aiming for harmony in the church and trying to build each other up – then God will be pleased. And others will approve too. Sure, we might differ on the details. But we are united in our love for Christ and our desire to see him honoured.
Which means, of course, that even if I think I’m free to do something – I don’t have to. I can give up my freedom for the sake of another person. If I’m not willing to do that… I’m not really loving them. I might pressure them into acting against their conscience. Which, as Paul says, is to pressure them into sin.
Would that I would not.
Lord – thank you for being my master. Please help me to be humble and patient with others. Help me to not insist on my own rights – but to always put others first. Help me to be like your Son Jesus, Father. By your Spirit make me like him, I ask.