September 14, 2011

Thursday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Thursday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.137, 138, 2 Sam. 9:1-13, Lk. 23:50-24:12
Evening - Ps. 144, Rom. 14:13

Commentary
Romans 14:13-23

"Let us not therefore judge one another" (Rom. 14:13). One of the very first principles of Christian love is that we do no harm. All of the Thou shalt nots in the second table of the moral law, are given to teach us to do no harm. Certainly this principle still applies in God's Church today. Our mannerisms, actions, and words should be carefully guarded and sparingly applied to assure that we do no harm. Love does not end there of course. Love moves from, do no harm to, do positive good. And it is every Christian's calling to make the Church a positive place where souls receive the healing balm of the Gospel, not the withering criticism of our opinions. It is important to note that this verse does not preclude knowing that someone is doing right or wrong, nor does it forbid Biblical efforts to help others grow in Christ and overcome sin. The Bible is talking about matters that are inconsequential. It doesn't matter, for example, if we eat meat or not. It does matter if we make our opinions about it a stumblingblock or offense. Do no harm.

Verse 13 also tells us to turn our most intense judgment on our own selves. We are to judge ourselves to ensure that we are not placing stumblingblocks, or offenses in the way of others who seek to come to Christ. It may be that our actions are innocent in themselves. As verse 14 states it, "there is nothing unclean of itself." Again we must elucidate this statement. It does not mean nothing is sinful. It does not mean all actions and thoughts are morally equivalent and indifferent. It does not mean there is no truth, or that all behaviours and all doctrines are to be treated as righteous and Godly by the Church. This verse refers to things like eating meat or not eating meat, especially if it has been bought from a market that got it from a pagan temple. What those people did with the animal in the pagan temple is very wrong. But the meat is not evil because people did evil things with it. The meat is still good nourishment, and any Christian may eat of it freely, even giving thanks to God for it. But, to return to the earlier thought that our actions may be innocent, if they cause another to stumble we have done wrong. This brings up two important points. First, going back to verse 13, it is not our job to convince those who will not eat the meat that it is O.K. In other words, it is wrong to start futile arguments leading to strife and division in the Church over inconsequential matters. Second, it is wrong to conduct ourselves in ways that are offensive to others, such as with eating meat (14:15). It is wrong for us to use our Christian liberty in a way that makes it become an affront to others. Consideration for their feelings and convictions is called for, not abrasive show and aggressive argument, which often has more to do with self-justification than standing up for God's truth. If you offend the weaker brothers on this, you cause them to resist the meat and think evil of what is good (14:16). You retard, rather than advance, the cause of Christ, which is about much more than meat (14:17).

Verses 17 & 18 show things that define the Kingdom of God and its people. It is noteworthy that all of them promote peace and unity, rather than discord, among the members of Christ's body. Righteousness means to live according to the principle of Christian love. Peace is to actively live in ways that promote harmony and good will. Joy is the opposite of quarrelsome and argumentative actions which cause sorrow in the fellowship. These things serve Christ and are approved (shown worthy) by people. The world generally thinks of Christians as sour-faced cranks who live only to find fault with others. The Bible gives a much different picture; a people of love, joy, and peace.

Verses 19-23 close the chapter by encouraging us to follow after the things which promote peace and edification. To "follow after" is to pursue or chase. Peace is an active good will and working harmony among people. Edification is to build up one another. It is to do the things which help all of us increase in faith, in peace, in joy, in Godliness, and in unity in Christ. It is the calling of each one of us to promote and actively work to produce these things in the Church. While there are times when we must stand against error and sin, we are not to allow unimportant things to cause division. Let your liberty in Christ abound with all joy, but "have it to thyself" instead of beating up everyone else with it. If you have doubts about something, abstain, for to indulge is the same as sin. Either way, do not let it be a source of division and strife. Do no harm.