One of the themes I found became evident when I read about how brethren deal with differences in judgment on certain practices or habits. In chapter 14, Paul uses the examples of choices of diets (i.e. vegetarianism) and the importance to some of specific days of the year to point out a bigger character flaw. In the past, I would read that section of scripture and try to disprove that it was a chapter on allowing all Christians to eat unclean meats and foods. Well, I've moved beyond that and realized that, hey, there's actually some pretty serious lessons to be gleaned here. Not that it entirely escaped me before, but it became more evident with the recent examples of attitude which directed my thoughts more to this particular problem. In essence, Paul was saying that some people among the Roman Christian community were vegetarians, similar to those who may come from a Seventh Day Adventist or Jehovah's Witness background today, and that in and of itself, is not wrong spiritually. Neither were specific days that were kept by their peers, either non-pagan civic days or Jewish festivals outside of God's Holy Days, just as we might keep a day of Thanksgiving or 4th of July today. But apparently, some of the congregations of that area felt otherwise and pressed the issues into an flare up that required Paul's attention in his letter. Paul points out that this is an interpersonal issue rather than a doctrinal issue, otherwise he would have made a judgment for them to stop being vegetarians or carnivorous flesh-eaters.
One modern day example of this problem is make-up. I understand the vanity problems that arise in today's world and just how important how we look has become. I understand just how much pressure is coming from the world to look hot. I've had some of my female friends tell me they make themselves up sometimes more for the impression they make on other women than they do for looking good for the men. Men will drool just the same, I told them. :) And when it leads to a woman adoring herself in the mirror all day long and becomes a god, yeah, it's a problem. But is it really a problem for everyone at that point? Or just something that's been misused just like alcohol or video games or working out?
How often do interpersonal issues of opinion tear apart the church or send new people with good intentions packing? And it's not like those with the difference in opinion have bad intentions every time necessarily. They may hold themself to a different standard of dress, or of keeping the Sabbath, or speech, education, or whatever than you or I do. But it's when these differences are interpreted to be strict "doctrines" of the church that so-and-so enacted way back when and an argument arises over it that the tension can boil over and make it a church-leaving problem.
Sure, I've noticed things in people that, if they would only change, they'd be a whole lot happier... in my opinion. And sometimes keeping that to my ever-so-blunt self can be very difficult. So here are some things that help me to step back and deal with these issues:
- Think about whether I do the same thing in question... That usually gets me (except in make-up).
- Think about whether the issue is really a matter of salvation or just personal preference.
- Ask the question, "Can I prove from the Bible that it's a sin?"
- Talk to a minister about the general issue, not naming names.
- Let God work it out with the individual(s).
I find with the last one that He usually does, which leads to me learning a tad bit more patience. Often times, when we butt in where we don't belong, it quickly can turn into a problem. If a person is truly converted, God will eventually show them their shortcomings and help them to overcome them just like He is in our life. If we want others to know when we're overcoming and growing in grace and knowledge, we should focus more closely to find positive change in our family, friends and brethren as they grow, too.
The other side of chapter 14 is finding out what might offend our friends and family and going out of our way not to. All to often I hear (or think to myself), "So?? That's their problem, not mine!" when we're made aware of an offense we caused someone else. Sometimes our first reaction is, "They don't like that? Well, I'll show them just how bad I can be!" It used to drive my wife nuts when I popped my knuckles, and when she'd complain, guess what ol' Mikey did? You know it... I was like a bowl of Rice Krispies for the next 10 minutes. :) But in truth, I should have been far more considerate of her poor ears. So if you know that something makes another member uncomfortable or upset, try to tone it down a bit around them. Be considerate of others and be willing to go above and beyond to promote peace with those you know. If you find out that you've possibly offended someone, you might try apologizing or cease doing the action around them. Being a peacemaker is a difficult job, but it's worthwhile in the end if you can bring the church closer together or draw in new people by your example.
In conclusion, I base what I've learned in Romans 14 on two simple lessons: Try not to get offended over non-salvational issues, and try to not be offensive unless others are offended by the Truth of God! You can't always help what people think if they're not called... Romans 12:17-18 also sums it up pretty well: "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men."