Guests: Bruce Johanson and Zdravko Stefanovic
What should Christians do when they don’t agree?
Having emphasized the supremacy of love in the Christian life (12:9-10; 13:8-10), Paul now begins to wrap up his letter by providing examples of how love should be manifest within the body of Christ when there are differences of opinion. It is important for us to note that Paul’s counsel does not pertain to differences about the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith (cf. Gal. 1:6-9). He is specifically concerned with disagreements that arise in the “gray” areas in the Christian life where more than one perspective is equally valid (cf. 1 Cor. 11:16).
1. When Scripture is not explicit on an issue, on what basis should Christians decide what is right and wrong? And do Christians always need to agree? Consider Rom. 13:8-10; 14:15-19.
The difference in opinion dividing the “weak” and the “strong” in Romans 14 is related to food. The issue Paul has in mind was not whether Christians should follow the dietary laws given to the Jews in the Old Testament. This cannot be the case because Jews were not prohibited from eating all forms of meat—only animals God designated as unclean. While the issue is not entirely clear in Romans, it seems that the issue was either related to believers who abstained from eating meat because they could not know for sure whether it had been properly slaughtered according to Levitical law (Lev. 3:17; 7:26-27; 17:10-14; Acts 15:20, 29), and/or the fear that the meat being sold in the market place had come from sacrifices made in pagan temples. The latter was a particular problem Paul had already encountered among believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:14-33).
Although Paul disagrees with the position of the “weak in the faith” in regards to meat (14:14), he chooses to surrender his own rights in order to not cause a fellow believer to stumble in faith (cf. Rom. 14:20-21; 1 Cor. 8:13).
2. Why should Christians seek to please their neighbor instead of themselves? See Rom. 15:3-4
3. When we talk about exercising our freedom it typically means the right to do the things we want to do. Technically speaking, freedom also involves the opportunity to wave our rights at times. Spiritually speaking, when might the exercise of our personal rights equal a wrong?
4. Paul obviously values the importance of unity in the church. Why is unity so important?
In Romans 15:30-33 Paul asks the Romans to pray for him. As it turns out, Paul’s request to be delivered from the “unbelievers in Judea” was not ultimately granted. Shortly after writing Romans, Paul returned to Jerusalem where he was nearly killed by the Jews and then thrown in prison for several years. Finally, after appealing to Caesar, Paul’s desire to travel to Rome became a reality—only it was as a prisoner to be judged by the emperor.
5. In light of Paul’s circumstances, what principles can we gather from Paul’s brief instructions regarding prayer?
6. Romans concludes with a rather lengthy list of Paul’s friends. What indication do you see of diversity in the list? What does this list of friends tell us about the nature of Paul’s ministry and Paul’s view of ministry (notice, for example, the women on the list—particularly the deacon, Phoebe)?
7. Reflecting on all we have studied and discussed this quarter, what, in your opinion, stands out the most for you in Romans?