One Another Texts: Living in Harmony
Solos are easy. To perform a good solo, a musician or singer can simply lock themselves in a room and practice until the cows come home. They work on hitting the right notes, making sure their intonation is correct, and ensuring they follow the proper dynamics. I’ve played musical instruments and have sung my entire life, and the rules for performing a good solo are fairly straightforward. Harmony, on the other hand, is difficult. Not only is the musician required to ensure all their own skills are on point, the same skills for performing solos, but there is an added challenge when adding harmonic lines. The musician must make sure they are in tune and in time with their fellow performers. Note changes must take place at exactly the right time and proper intonation is vital, or else the entire performance falls apart. But oh, when that harmony is struck rightly, the results are astounding, far beyond what a simple solo can bring. No matter the genre of music one prefers, harmonic singing or playing is always more pleasing to the ear. But getting it just right is much harder and takes more work.
Much like music, harmony in relationships and in the church is difficult. It takes hard work and sacrifice for each individual to live in peace with others. Too often we just want to go off and do our own thing, paying little if any attention to those around us. But oh when that harmony is attained, the results are amazing and the benefits are endless. In Romans 14 and 15, Paul goes into detail about efforts that Christian brothers and sisters must take in order to live in harmony with one another. This is his stated goal in 15:5, that God would grant the church to live in harmony with one another. It must be acknowledged right off that true Christian harmony and peace is a gift granted by God to His church. Christian unity ultimately isn’t something we manufacture; it is a gift of God. But when the Spirit of God is at work in His people, we are able to help maintain that unity that we already have in Christ. So what is the situation and what are the instructions that Paul provides in these chapters?
In Romans 14-15, Paul is wrestling with the interplay between Christian liberty and love, a topic which he also famously addresses in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Here in Romans, Paul brings up two specific topics that were causing divisions in the church: eating meat (14:2) and observing the Sabbath (14:5). Paul makes abundantly clear here and elsewhere that the Christian is free in Christ to eat whatever food they desire and is not forced to observe the Sabbath of Israel. Yet for various reasons, eating meat or not keeping the Sabbath holy pricked the conscience of some brothers or sisters. We can think of any number of things that may fall into this category today, things which Christians are free to do that don’t violate the law of Christ and His Word. How then does Paul instruct us to work through these issues?
First, Paul says that Christians must welcome the weaker brother or sister. He says this right off in 14:1 and again 15:7. Paul is clear: disagreements over matter of conscience are not reasons to separate from fellowship or to exclude someone from fellowship. The reasons are clear: to divide over these issues is not glorifying to God and not in accord with the example of Christ (15:5-7). If the church were to divide over minor issues of conscience, we’d be no better than the Lions Club or the Rotary, which are only bound together by mutual interests or mission. No, the Church of God is bound by something far greater: we are united to Christ our Savior and thus united to one another in Him. And so first, we must be committed to always welcoming one another and not allowing the seeds of division to take root.
Secondly, Paul instructs us to not pass judgment on one another (14:13). Now Scripture is clear elsewhere that there are indeed things that the Christian must judge and discern. For example, we judge brothers or sisters who are in sin (1 Cor. 5:12). But when it comes to issues of conscience, Paul is equally clear: do not pass judgment. What harm does it bring me if someone doesn’t want to eat meat or doesn’t want to do work on Sundays? It also would make us hypocritical at times, as when we all stand before the judgment seat of God, each of us will have things in our lives for which we will be called to account (14:10).
Thirdly, Paul instructs us to pursue peace and edification (14:19). As sinful humans it is too often the case that we focus on the negatives about each other. Here, Paul tells us to focus on the positive: work towards the building up, growth, and benefit others. Instead of asking “Why is Jonny doing such and such that offends me,” ask “What can I do for Jonny that would help his growth in Christ?” In other words, instead of focusing on how the actions of others may affect me, I should be asking how my actions affect others, and specifically finding ways to build them up.
Finally, Paul instructs us to bear with the failings of the weak. The answer is clear: I must be willing to sacrifice my own rights and liberties in order to serve my brother or sister whose conscience is weaker. The example of this of course is Christ Himself, who considered equality with God not something to be grasped, but who humbled Himself and became a servant. The abstinence of my own liberty won’t necessarily be permanent and may only be when I’m interacting with that weaker brother or sister, but sacrifice is the answer nonetheless.
An unbelieving world is always watching in at the church. It has too often seen division and disunity over minor issues. Let us ask that God grant His church to live in harmony with one another as we love and serve one another, both for His glory and so that the watching world can hear the sweet music of Christians dwelling together in unity.
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.