I read an article the other day titled, Too Many Pastors are falling on their own Swords, which was published just this past week. I want to read to you a portion of it not because I am your pastor, but because of what it says.
I was on a Zoom call recently with 10 pastors across three denominations, when one of the participants shared a struggle with suicidal thoughts in these challenging days. By the time the meeting concluded, four of the 10 had found the courage to admit their own suicidal ideations. I was the youngest person in the group, so these aren’t young, green pastors. These are veterans who have gone through plenty of difficult things in their time, but today’s intensity and difficulty is unprecedented.
One pastor shared the heartbreaking story of going back to church too early and losing a beloved church member to COVID-19. Another shared how congregants were daily emailing him with threats to leave the church if they didn’t reopen immediately — and withholding their tithes until then….
I know of another pastor who wasn’t in this meeting who after preaching about race one week, a congregant came to the church office and kicked his office door off of its hinges in an attempt to incite the pastor into a fistfight.
One shared that the survey results the congregation took about whether they should return to in-person worship or not resulted in a nearly perfect 50/50 split, with several members writing in the comments section that they would leave if the church (1) didn’t open immediately or (2) attempted to open at all.
Leading anxious congregations amidst a pandemic, a hyper-partisan culture, a civil rights movement, and an upcoming election is destroying the lives of our pastors. Literally.
Meadowbrooke is not this way… but I do know that what many pastors are feeling is real; in another church I experienced first hand Christians at their worst.
I believe that the topic the article is addressing is symptomatic of a systemic problem in the Church. The problem is our own pride.
We Are More Judgmental When We are Less Humble
What Paul was addressing in these verses is the tendency we all have to make little things into really big things.
The weak is not immature Christians who pride themselves on the things that they do not do, and the same is true of the strong whose conscience is not bothered by where their meat came from or whether what they are drinking has alcohol in it.
Look at verses 5-6, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:5–6).
So the weak is the person who esteems certain days or things as better than other days or things (share examples).
The issue Paul is addressing is not what bothers or does not bother a Christian’s conscience, but how their choice to abstain or indulge in certain things affects the way they treat those in the church who do not feel the same way as they do.
I love what one person said about the little things we tend to make into big things:
Wide disagreements exist today in our churches over certain practices. A Christian from the South may be repelled by a swimming party for both men and women, then offend his Northern brother by lighting up a cigarette. At an international conclave for missionaries, a woman from the Orient could not wear sandals with a clear conscience. A Christian from western Canada thought it worldly for a Christian acquaintance to wear a wedding ring, and a woman from Europe thought it almost immoral for a wife not to wear a ring that signaled her status. A man from Denmark was pained to even watch British Bible school students play football, while the British students shrank from his pipe smoking.
I have a very good friend who considers Saturday to be the Sabbath and will not eat pork; he honors Saturday as the Sabbath and refrains from eating pork not because he is a weak Christian, but because he wants to honor God with his life.
I view Sunday as my Sabbath and part of Monday as my day to rest not because I am a stronger Christians then my friend, but because I want to honor God with my life.
We both agree that there is room and freedom regarding our convictions. We also agree that some of the things we have strong convictions over are not gospel issues or theological hills we are willing to die on or break fellowship over.
Do you know when such convictions become sin? When our convictions regarding small things become our theological checklist to measure the spiritual health and strength of others.
This is why in chapter 14 Paul issued the following challenge:
“So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (Romans 14:12–14).
I believe the stumbling block Paul is talking about here is if I showed up at my friends house on Saturday morning for the purpose of arguing with him why he ought to help me work on my house on Saturday and then enjoy a ham sandwich and a beer with me afterwards.
It would be sin for me to look down on him because my conscience allows me to enjoy such things when his does not.
When we are Humble, We are Able to Love More (vv. 10-23)
One of the slogans of the seminary I attended was, “Major on the majors and minor on the minors.”
My role is not to be the Holy Spirit in your life when it comes to the small things. If your conscience is bothered by my sense of freedom to enjoy a beer or vise versa, that is between God and you.
This is why Paul writes: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10–12).
There are certain things that I am still uncomfortable with. The point is that one Christian’s freedom could be another Christian’s stumbling block. To enjoy your freedom at the expense of another Christian’s weakness is not only inconsiderate, but unloving.
I believe that we will be judged in light of the two greatest commandments:
- How our love for God affected the way we live our lives.
- How our love for our neighbors affected the way we treated others.
So, how are we to live with each other as followers of Jesus who are bothered by some things that others who love Jesus are not bothered by? Paul tells us in verses 13-16: Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. (Romans 14:13–16, ESV)
Things are nuts in our world right now. It seems like we are all on edge and that one little careless word spoken, a mask worn or a mask left unworn, or a political post should not be reasons that divide us a followers of Jesus.
We need to look for ways that build each other up and create unity in the Church instead of looking for reasons to break fellowship.
We ought to give one another the same grace to grow that Jesus is presently giving us. We will all one day stand before the judgment seat of God according to Romans 14:10, by what creed are you living by that shapes the way you love those within the body of Christ?
Is your creed like the poem I discovered this week that sadly reflects much of the American Church:
Believe as I believe,
No more, no less;
That I am right,
And no one else, confess;
Feel as I feel,
Think only as I think;
Eat what I eat,
And drink but what I drink;
Look as I look,
Do always as I do;
Then, and only then,
Will I fellowship with you.
Or is your creed the one Jesus told us to live by:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, ESV)
What the world needs to see more than ever is not what divides Christians, but what binds us together.
We all can do a better job at extending grace to one another knowing that we have been forgiven much. In closing I leave you with the prayer the apostle had for the Christians in Rome:
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5–7, ESV)
 Flynn, Great Church Fights (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1976), p. 46.