Accept One Another
One of my great joys in life is that I get to live near my family. Every Sunday night, my parents, grandparents, and any of my sisters who are in town gather together for family dinner. We sit around and talk, laugh, and eat. It is such a special time. And we all always get along…that is until someone accidentally shows up with a jar of vegan mayonnaise and gets reminded that the only mayo in our family is Best Foods. Or you get into a discussion about who should win the NBA final…I’m just going to say that I was right about that one. The family discussion I am anticipating tonight has to do with a golf tournament that I know nothing about because, and I am going to commit family blasphemy here…I don’t really care that much about golf. There are a lot of family flash points. From cultural issues to social issues, to political issues, to sports, to food.
It’s true in the families that raised us, and it’s true in our church family. There is a lot to argue about. And it seems that we are pretty good at it. A recent survey of people leaving the church found that one of the top three reasons cited for leaving was that church members were divisive. Just last week, I overheard a conversation, yes, I was eavesdropping, between a couple on a first date in Seattle talking about how they each stopped going to church because of division. I have heard so many stories, especially in the last two years, of people leaving their life group or leaving the church because they disagreed on some issue.
We are in a sermon series called “One Anothers”, looking at the One Another’s of the New Testament that show the way our church family should treat each other. Because the Christian life is more “we” than “me,” less “you” and more “y’all.” We are not meant to do this thing alone. And so, it is important that we know how to live with one another. This week, we tackle a tough “one another”. What do we do when we disagree with one another? Because there certainly is a lot to disagree on, isn’t there? Wouldn’t it just be easier if we surrounded ourselves with people who are just like us? The problem with that is, well, that I think that would be a little bit boring, and that is not what we see in Scripture. In our text today in Romans 15, the Apostle Paul addresses a disagreement in the church at Rome. And in these Holy Spirit inspired words we are called to accept one another so that we may live in unity and bring glory to God. Listen to God’s word for us today:
Romans 15:4-7 (New Living Translation):
“These things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. The Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled. May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.”
This is the Word of the Lord!
At first glance, our text today reads a little warm and fuzzy. Hope, encouragement, harmony, unity. But when we look at the surrounding context, it is a much more challenging word. This is Paul’s closing argument on how we are to live with brothers and sisters in the church we disagree with.
Chapters 14 and 15 are what I like to call the “That’s just your opinion,” section of Romans. Paul is looking at what he called, “matters of opinion” that the church was disagreeing over.
And it is here that Paul tells them not to quarrel over these matters of opinion. Instead, he calls them to this radical act: Accept one another. This isn’t just any acceptance. It’s not a “put up with one another’s existence”. No, it’s much deeper. The word here could also be translated welcome or receive…it means to accept that brother or sister you disagree with hospitality and kindness. It means you actually have to learn to love the people you disagree with, like family. You have to love them in a “have them over for family dinner,” kind of way.
But how do we do that? Well, first, we need to talk about the type of “disagreeing” we are talking about, then we need to reframe “disagreeing” with a Gospel perspective, and when we do that, then we will be able to take steps toward accepting one another in a way that moves us to community and unity.
So, let’s start with what kind of “disagreeing” we are talking about here:
There are doctrines in our faith that are non-negotiable…essential. For the first 11 chapters of Romans, Paul lays out these non-negotiables in a rich theological treatise. So, before we even get started, hear me say that we have non-negotiables. In fact, our denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, has 7 beliefs that we call essentials. You can find these linked in the guide.