Here are some vitally important principles for harmonious relationships with fellow-Christians who can be so different to us and see things so very differently:
Don’t judge (1-3): Don’t look down on or condemn a fellow Christian who takes a different view to you on a secondary/tertiary issue. We are not dealing here with cardinal doctrines of the faith that we must all cling to, but debatable matters where believers will (and do) differ. In the church in Rome there were pressing issues about eating meat versus vegetarianism and special holy days. Some Christians took one stance and some another. We have our modern equivalents of these. Paul’s words are still sparklingly relevant: Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with… The Message.
The reason (4): for non-judgmentalism is quite simply that your brothers and sisters don’t belong to you but to the Lord. They’re not your slaves but His. You don’t have any right to try to control them. Furthermore don’t worry about them. You’re scared they’re going to topple over because they don’t share your cherished opinions. But it’s God’s business to keep them upright, and He will. Jesus is their Lord and not you. (8-12)(It reminds me of where Jesus effectively says, ‘What’s it got to do with you, Peter, regarding what I do with John? It’s none of your business! You keep your eyes on me, not him!!’ See John 21:22.) I was brought up in a very strict (even legalistic at times) evangelical environment. As a younger person, I remember feeling shocked and disappointed when I heard how a good Christian friend (an older man I looked up to) had enjoyed a cigar and wine with a meal (and shared this experience with another Christian!!). I now know that although some Christians choose to be tee-total for good reasons, the Bible does not forbid wine. And although I can make a good argument for not smoking, the Bible does not expressly forbid it. So I should not judge a fellow-Christian who does. (We no doubt all abuse our bodies somewhat. It’s not right, but we can have big blind spots as the majority do this damage in more evangelically acceptable ways.) Since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help. The Message. So…
Respect the other person’s conscience where it comes to disputable things (5b): There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience. The Message.
Christianity is about living and dying ‘to the Lord’: Look at the repetition of this phrase in (6-8). We don’t live and die to each other but to the Lord Jesus. At the end of the day we will give an account of ourselves to God and not someone else. It’s our own lives we need to focus on. Put away the binoculars and stop spending so much time looking over your neighbour’s garden fence! What’s important in all of this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli…It’s God we’re answerable to-all the way from life to death and everything in between-not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other. The Message. Remember this maxim: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in everything, charity