Nothing builds a relationship like a disagreement. You may think this has a twinge of sarcasm, but consider it for a second. At one point or another, the people we love the most will rubs us the wrong way. Conversely, the people who love us the most will get rubbed the wrong way. Living without conflict or disagreement does not match reality.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to share from Romans 14:1-23 at Browncroft Community Church. The Roman church had encountered a disagreement surrounding eating meat, drinking wine, and observing certain holidays. Interestingly enough, Paul focuses on the relationship of the people in the church rather than the right or wrongness of the issue.
One of the major critiques of the church and Christianity is disagreeing. Often, followers of Jesus disagree on issues with no clear direction from scripture. I had the opportunity to survey people on Romans 14. Listen to what they said frustrated them when followers of Jesus disagree or debate:
“Christians don’t really debate, they sling opinions and then duck.”
“Using scripture to support one viewpoint, as in misquoting, taking out of context, picking out one verse over many others to make a point.”
“Winning at all costs. It’s like they have to win the debate in order to prove their position is correct in the eyes of God.”
“Most people debate from an attitude of my position is 100% correct and there is no room for any other stance.”
I think these responses cause us to take inventory with God. Our major problem with disagreements comes from making rightness and winning the goal, rather than love in the relationship.
Paul in Romans 14 teaches us how to disagree well. He shows us how the Gospel meets us in our everyday relationships. From this passage we can adopt three practices to reframe our disagreements:
1. Stop Judging and Expecting People to Conform to Your Position (Romans 14:3-4, 13)
Judging seems like everyone else’s problem. In issues of disagreements, we make judgments by expecting others to conform to our beliefs on disputable issues. It becomes a line drawn to the right on our side. Paul in this passage calls us to step back and recognize God as the real judge. Judging clouds us from seeing the issue and relationship with others clearly.
There’s a significant difference in critiquing and evaluating issues as opposed to judging a person. One seeks to understand the disagreement and the sides. The other makes a verdict on a person which only God can do.
2. Accept One Another by Getting Comfortable with Disagreement (Romans 14:1, 19)
John Stott points out that the reference to “acceptance” in vs. 1 carries the implication of Christ accepting us. The Gospel reminds us that Christ has welcomed us as we are rather than a future version of ourselves. Paul has asked the Romans and us to do the same for others especially those whom we disagree.
Acceptance is not passive. It becomes active by understanding a person’s story and getting their background. It learns to appreciate their differing viewpoint. From the view of this passage, acceptance gives a person room to disagree on a disputable matter.
3. Cut Others Slack because We Need Grace
At the heart of the disagreement in Romans 14 was a narrative that dismissed people’s conscience. You and I will have certain sensitivity towards issues and other disagreements we will not. When we remove our judgmental view and accept others, then we can begin to offer each other grace. It becomes an opportunity for us to love each other and make a disagreement a non-issue.
Take the opportunity today to read Romans 14. How might God challenge you to reframe the disagreements in your life?
The way we handle disagreements reveal our understanding of Christ’s grace in our lives.
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Photo credit by Sylwia Bartyzel.