Certainly, we must be better than other churches.
We teach the Bible. We are free to eat bacon. We can mow our lawns on Sunday. We go to movies, have televisions and have musical instruments in our worship services.
I am picking on a narrow range of topics. Some churches teach that a Christian should not eat certain foods. I like bacon, so I chose bacon as a representative food. Some churches teach that a Christian should not work Sunday, so I chose mowing the lawn as a representative activity.
All Christian churches should teach the Bible. This is taught in both the Old and New Testaments. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ()
And, 2 Timothy 3:16 says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, ()
When Jesus returned to heaven after making atonement for our sins, He left us with what is known as the great commission. He said:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. ()
In this commission, He tells us to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Teaching what He has commanded requires that we teach the Word of God, the Bible. The difficulty comes when we have different understandings of how these commands are to be put into practice.
The Church in Rome was made up of both Jews and Gentiles. For those who grew up in Jewish households, the observation of the Old Testament dietary restrictions and of the Sabbath and feast days would have been ingrained in them from their earliest days. Therefore, for some of these, it was a difficult thing to give up these traditions.
The Apostle Peter had a difficult time giving up these traditions and even argued with God briefly about it. God decided to have Peter share the Gospel with a Gentile named Cornelius. Before telling Peter that He wanted him to go to Cornelius, God gave Peter a vision. A blanket descended from heaven, and it was full of ceremonially unclean animals, animals that an observant Jew would never touch or eat. Then a voice said, get up Peter, kill something and eat it. Acts 10:14-16 tells us:
But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. ()
Can you imagine? Peter told God no three times! However, the message was clear. “What God has made clean do not call common.” Having received this message, Peter then went to Cornelius and shared the Gospel with Him, which opened the door of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Even given this, later on, Paul says of Peter:
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" ()
Peter had a revelation from God, which led to him becoming the first to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and yet even he had difficulty giving up the Jewish traditions and ways. In Galatians, Paul rebuked Peter for sectarianism. However, in His letter to the believers in Rome, He is addressing how we are to treat and live with believers who differ with us in their understanding of how to live the Christian life. He uses as his examples food and days. Some did not eat meat and some observed days, such as the Sabbath.
In Romans 14:3, Paul addresses the two temptations that face us when we differ in our opinions on matters of practice. Romans 14:3 says:
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. ()
The two temptations are to despise or to judge. Generally speaking and consistent with the passage, the one who eats will be tempted to despise the one who does not. In other words, if I feel I have freedom in Christ to go to movies and eat popcorn, the temptation will be for me to look down on the one who does not. Or, for another example, if I enjoy musical instruments in worship, the temptation will be for me to look down on the one who does not. Corresponding to this temptation, there is the temptation for those who abstain to judge those who eat. In other words, if I go to the movies and eat popcorn, the one who does not could be tempted to judge my actions as being unbecoming or not fit for a Christian. Or, as in the previous example, the non-instrumental music crowd could be tempted to judge me as unChristian for enjoying instruments in my music.
Paul offers three strong arguments to suggest why we should not despise or judge our fellow believers when they are seeking to serve the Lord the best they know how.
First, he says they are the servants of another.
We find this in Romans 14:4.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. ()
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” This implies that the other Christian is the servant of the Lord. He or she is not my servant. He or she is not your servant. He or she is the servant of the Lord.
There are many things that are clearly sin. For example, murder is clearly not a practice fitting for a Christian. Lying, malice, envy, stealing, adultery, sexual immorality, and many such things give us cause to question if the one practicing such things is a servant of the Lord. These are indications that one is not a servant of the Lord.
However, there are many things that one might do as an attempt to obey the Lord about which we might disagree. For example, I have already mentioned music, but what about baptism? One person gets immersed in obedience to the Lord, and another gets sprinkled. Which is right? One person worships on Saturday and does no work on that day, and another worships on Sunday. Which is right?
This is the kind of situation in which it is important to remember that our fellow believer is the servant of the Lord. It does not matter if their practice makes me uncomfortable when they are doing what they are doing to please the Lord.
The first argument that Paul presents as a reason not to despise or judge is that our fellow believer is the servant of another. The second argument is similar.
The second argument is that we all belong to the Lord.
We find this in Romans 14:7-8.
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. ()
We tend to think that we have the right view. Each of us has our own set of experiences. From these accumulated experiences we learn and grow and develop our own particular view of the world. Becoming proud and puffed up is a danger to all of us in this process. In 1 Corinthians 8:1-2 when dealing with the question of eating certain foods Paul says:
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. ()
This pride in the knowledge that they had gained was a problem in the Corinthian church. This is why Paul had earlier said:
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. ()
Again in 1 Corinthians 4:7 he says:
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? ()
What I am trying to point out in all these verses is that to judge or look down on a fellow believer because of differing practices is a symptom of the sin of pride. I am the Lord’s, and I answer to the Lord for how I live and serve Him. You are the Lord’s and you answer to the Lord for how you live and serve Him. Where is there room for pride? Are my experiences somehow better or more significant than yours? One grew up observing the Sabbath, and another grew up not observing the Sabbath. Is one better than the other because of how they grew up? Both received their experiences from the Lord and were individually called by Him to serve.
The second argument against despising or judging our fellow believer is that we all belong to the Lord. The third argument Paul gives is that we each will give an account of ourselves to God.
Romans 14:10 says:
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; (Romans 14:10 ESV)
We will each stand before the judgment seat of God. When I stand before God, I will not answer for whether my fellow believer used instruments or not. I will answer for my own obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. My lawyer is Jesus Christ so I will be okay. My fellow believer has the same lawyer so he will be okay. This is why Romans 14:3 says, “It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
The key to this third argument is found in Romans 14:11.
for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." (Romans 14:11 ESV)
“Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue confess to God.” In the end, God will be glorified. The call of these three arguments combined is that we should live with the realization that we will each give an account to God for the deeds done in our body.