It’s amazing how different people can see things so differently, even when looking at the exact same thing. I recently heard about a Brit, a Frenchman, and a Russian who all looked at the same painting of Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden, but came to three different conclusions:
“Look at their reserve, their calm,” said the Brit. “They must be British.”
“Nonsense,” said the Frenchman. “They’re naked, and so beautiful. Clearly, they are French.”
“Look at them,” said the Russian. “They have no clothes, no shelter, and only an apple to eat. Yet they’re being told this is paradise. They must be Russian!”
The same thing can happen to each of us as Christians. We can all look at the exact same passage of Scripture, yet come to vastly different conclusions. How can we live in unity with each other, even in the midst of our differences? Here are a few ideas that the Apostle Paul gave the Romans, and which we can apply to our lives today:
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord…
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died…
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall…
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 14:1-8,13-15,19-21,15:7).
I love reading these verses because they remind me that I don’t have the ultimate answer to every question regarding the Bible. I’ve come to many conclusions over the years, and I feel fully convinced in my own mind that those conclusions are right. Yet I’m reminded by these verses that there are some things that are even more important than being “right.” Like being loving, caring, considerate, and pleasing to God and to others.
Benjamin Franklin said in his autobiography that he was incredibly tactless in his youth, arguing with others to the point where no one wanted to talk to him anymore. Yet he eventually became known as one of the most diplomatic men who ever lived, even becoming the American Ambassador to France.
What changed? Franklin said it was something an old Quaker friend said to him when he was young. Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, paraphrased what Ben’s Quaker friend said that day, saying it went something like this:
“Ben, you are impossible. Your opinions have a slap in them for everyone who differs with you. They have become so offensive that nobody cares for them. Your friends find they enjoy themselves better when you are not around. You know so much that no man can tell you anything. In deed, no man is going to try, for the effort would lead only to discomfort and hard work. So you are not likely ever to know any more than you do now, which is very little.”
Benjamin Franklin took these words to heart and decided to make a change in his life. As Franklin says in his own autobiography:
“I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiment of others, and all positive assertion of my own, I even forbade myself the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix’d opinion, such as ‘certainly,’ ‘undoubtedly,’ etc., and I adopted, instead of them, ‘I conceive,’ ‘I apprehend,’ or ‘I imagine’ a thing to be so or so, or ‘it so appears to me at present.’ When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny’d myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition: and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances, his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear’d or seem’d to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag’d in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos’d my opinions procur’d them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevaile’d with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be right.
“And in this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length so easy, and so habitual to me, that perhaps for these fifty years past no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had earned so much weight with my fellow citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old, and so much influence in public councils when I became a member; for I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my points.”
Benjamin Franklin realized that there were more important things than being right. And by giving deference to the ideas and opinions of others, he did win more friends and influence more people.
We as Christians can do the same. It’s important to discover your convictions and hold onto them strongly. But there’s a difference between holding strongly to your convictions at the expense of others, and holding strongly to your convictions for the sake of others. One strives to be right no matter what, the other strives to build others up no matter what. Which are you trying to do?
I know for me, I still have a long way to go in how I present my beliefs to others and how I listen to others when they share their beliefs with me. In the end, I want the love of Christ to prevail.
It’s good to be fully convinced about what you believe. Yet it’s also good to give God enough leeway to allow God to speak into other people’s lives, just as He’s spoken into yours.
As you work on renewing your mind this week, remember that God is working on the minds of others as well. Give them the grace they need to let God do His work in their lives, just as He’s given you the grace you need He works in yours. As Paul concluded:
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for speaking to us and giving us clear direction for our lives. Help us to remember that You’re speaking to others and giving them clear directions for their lives, too. Help us to be mindful of the ideas and opinions of others, allowing for the possibility that they may just be right. In the end, help us to accept one another, just as You have accepted us, in order to bring praise to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. My sister, Marilyn Byrnes, has recorded a beautiful instrumental version of the song, “You Raise Me Up,” as an encouragement to my wife as she undergoes her cancer treatments. My sister has offered to send you a copy of this single song on a CD to encourage you as well, and as a special thank you for your donations to our ministry of any size. If you’d like a copy of this song on CD, just click the link below to make a donation and request a CD. We appreciate your gifts of any amount, and we pray this song will bless your heart as it has blessed ours.
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Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 14:1-15:13. Why does Paul say we should not condemn others for what they’re doing, when they’re doing it in accordance with the measure of their faith?
2. What are some of the benefits that could come from fully convinced of something in your own mind?
3. What are some of the negatives that could result from imposing those beliefs on others, even though you may be fully convinced of them yourself?
4. What motivation does Paul give us in Romans 15:7 for why we should “accept one another”?
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