Families are designed to help us learn to live with people who are different than us.
My 3rd child has started going to public school. That means that she is getting up earlier. What does she want to do in the morning? Talk. My wife and I like to quietly read and meditate in the morning, if possible. There’s nothing wrong with either preference. We’re just different.
But how are we going to deal with it? Can we tolerate the differences, live with them, and even thrive with them?
Sadly, many families don’t prepare people well for living with differences. Instead, they do one of three things. They either seek to suppress the differences, continually fight about them, or eventually flee from them.
The church is also designed to be a place where a diversity of people come together. A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus as the one who saves us from our predicament in sin and brings us to forgiveness and new life. Anyone can hear the message about Jesus, accept it, and become a Christian that very moment. Ideally, they also become a part of a particular community (i.e., the church) at that time.
When this happens, you have people who have a lot of different ideas, a lot of different backgrounds, and a lot of different experiences coming together to try and make the community work. Romans 14 describes the situation in the early Christian communities. The Christian teacher named Paul wrote to the Christian community in Rome describing this situation, “One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. . . . One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike” (Rom. 14:2, 5).
So, what are we to do with this diversity? The church has often tried the same things that families try: suppress the differences or continually fight about them. They also do what families sometimes do when these becomes too difficult. The differences are so hard to deal with that they just separate (which leaves them just as ill-equipped to deal with differences as before).
In the same letter, Paul gives some helpful instructions on how to live together in diversity. Here’s what he proposed:
- Receive or accept each other. “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (Rom. 14:1). What if our basic stance toward others was to accept and receive them whatever their differences?
- Do not have contempt for others. “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (Rom. 14:3).
- Don’t take the stance of a judge. “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (Rom. 14:4). It’s easy for us to set up ourselves as the one who is evaluating everyone else. It’s better to come alongside people and see ourselves as all being evaluated by the One Judge (see vv. 5–11, and note, curiosity is a more helpful stance).
- Seek to remove things that are a hindrance to others’ progress. “Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (v. 13). We should consider how our actions will affect others.
- Remember not every hill is a hill to die on. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit . . .” (Rom. 14:17). Paul had an opinion on foods and days. He just said his views on these matters were less important than other matters. Learn to distinguish what’s more important and less important.
- Help others grow. What I’ve said so far doesn’t mean we just leave people where they are. We should help them grow. Here’s what Paul said, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (v. 19). What if we took this attitude in all our communities? What if we thought of everyone’s interests and what would help move us forward in the best way rather than simply looking to our own interests?
I believe that Paul presents a beautiful, compelling, and wise vision of communities living together and thriving diversity. I believe that any person who adopts Paul’s recommendations will contribute to making their community better, and so I want to try and live this out in any community in which I am involved.
I also believe that this is not just up to me. I believe the good news that the power of God is available through the resurrection of Jesus to renew me as an individual and the communities of which I am a part. That’s the good news that Paul preached in the 1st century and is still available to us today.