This week's Bible Study - May 31, 2015
Quotes of the Week:
“Progress and healing involves seeing every person as not so different from ourselves.”
Bryant McGill, Voice of Reason
Who do you find it easiest to accept? Most of us gravitate towards people that are more like us. We generally feel more comfortable with those who have similar likes and interests. It is easier to talk about things that we have in common. Berkley and I have really enjoyed watching the St Louis Cardinals and we have been fortunate to go to several games over the past couple of years. Talking about the Cardinals is easy if you are a fan or if you just truly enjoy baseball. However, when we are at the games and the fans for other teams are very boisterous, well, it can be much harder to accept. Acceptance can be based on where you are from, the type of food you like, the places you have traveled and so on. When there is commonality, there is more chance for acceptance.
Unfortunately, as we go through life, we will come across many people who are very different than us. Either they aren't normal, or perhaps we're not normal. At any rate, they may be different. They may have different likes. Their personalities may be very different than our own, or ones that we comfortable with. They may have different thoughts on what you can or can't do, or what you should or shouldn't do. In fact, they may have many differences than us. Is it harder to accept these people?
Even within our churches, we may have problems accepting some people. However, in this passage from Romans, where people also had many difference, Paul is encouraging the church to accept one another.
As Paul starts in this passage, some people jump to assumptions. He writes about "we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength". When most people read this, do you think they put themselves in the first category (the strong) or the second (the weak)? The problem was not the object of their faith, as all believers look to Jesus Christ, but it was more likely dealing with side issues. For them, it may had more to do with food regulations, as in what is right to eat or not eat. For us, it may have more to do with things like alcohol usage, smoking, movies or views on other side issues. Some consider themselves to be strong because they lean towards a very legalistic lifestyle and others consider themselves to be strong because they see fewer problems in these side issues. In either case, the strong tend to please themselves by showing their strength. They may choose to avoid or exclude others who believe differently. They may judge or criticize the beliefs of their counterparts or they may engage in long debates, trying to change the convictions of another (unwilling to change their own).
When a "you are with me or against me" type of stance is taken on these side issues, it will certainly impact unity and the willingness to accept one another. Although it may start seemingly innocently enough (as if they want to simply improve someone else's thinking), it can become very much like drawing a line and when others don't agree, a very critical attitude can ensure. I am sure you have seen relationships that have been impacted due to a disagreement on an inconsequential issue.
The solution is not for the weak (the 'other' party) to 'shape up', but for the strong (insert your side here) to 'put up'. We need to realize that a staunch "you must do as I do, or maybe as I say" stance helps nobody get stronger, but can severely hinder the weak. Often, when people are made to feel as if they 'must' give in or else, very brittle relationships are the outcome.
We need to remember the way that God has stated that we should live in a way that pleases Him. In His word, God has clearly made us known of His expectations and things that we should do and avoid. Throughout our lives, we all veer from these standards (in some point or another), and when we do so, it is incumbent upon us to repent and turn back to God. However, when we are talking about these side issues, we should live in a way that satisfies our own consciences. After we have strived to please God, we should live in a way that pleases others. This doesn't mean that we alter everything we do to please them, but that we are looking out for their good as well. And, even when you feel that God has personally led you in a particular direction on an issue, it is not your job to mandate that others agree when they may not have felt led in the same manner. And, finally, we should look to live in a way that is pleasing to ourselves. There is nothing wrong with doing the things that you want to do or that please you, as long as it is in line with God's purposes for your life and it isn't causing harm to others.
Our supreme example is Christ, who did not live to please Himself. If Christ had been all about Himself, we would not even be talking about Him today. He sought to do the will of the Lord and when it put Him in conflict with the 'religious elite', He followed the Lord's will. When questioned, He was always able to answer according to Scripture. Similarly, we need to understand what Scripture says and apply that to our lives, without mandating our own views upon others.
Paul made it clear that it was God who gives perseverance and encouragement to do what we have been called to do. In life, we often feel convicted and know that we need to make changes in life, but many times, we simply think we need to try harder. True, there is effort involved, as God will not just change you to be a robot, but all the effort in the world cannot enable us to live as we have been called. We know that God offers patience, endurance, hope and unity, but we often fail to ask Him for these types of things.
We all need perseverance and encouragement. We will all have disagreements with others in life, and if we chose to let our own views and opinions drive us, we have not shot at unity. Perseverance is required to keep on keeping on. Encouragement is required for us to realize that we need to accept one another. We are not called to be of the same mind, in that we agree eye to eye on politics, sports teams, hobbies and other views, but that we are to be of the same mind according to Christ Jesus. The primary purpose of that unity is so that we can all come together to glorify God.
Unity is less about agreeing on everything, but more about having the same common objectives. Consider an orchestra, with many different instruments and many different levels of abilities among the members. While they may come from different walks of life, you can imagine the turmoil that would result if they did not choose to succumb to the common objective of the orchestra. It would be utter chaos. As believers, we are to have unity in our objective of glorifying God and reaching the lost for Christ. Unfortunately, many churches get sidetracked on the side issues, resulting in church splits and having a negative impact on their community.
We are called to be one with other believers so that we can glorify God with one hearth and mouth. When you think of the community (those outside the church), what do you think they see? Do they see a common vision across various Christian churches in the community, or do they see splintered organizations (often within the same church)? Have you ever wondered about the potential impact of the church on a community if all believers were of the same mind in Christ Jesus, despite differences in how things like baptisms, communion, music styles and other issues were the focus? These other things may be important to a church, but the key factor is faith in Jesus Christ and we often lose that emphasis when we choose to primarily focus on the areas of difference. You and I, your church and mine, cannot produce unity on our own, but we are called to persevere and practice unity that God can enable.
Paul encouraged the church to accept one another, just as we have been accepted. How have you been accepted by Christ, assuming you are a believer? Has He put requirements on you that you must adhere to so that you can be accepted? We certainly are called to seek God, but you know you - and I know me. When you are honest and think about all we have done in life, I find it amazing that Christ would still accept any of us. When we think of that, what reason do we have to not accept one another?
Jesus lived His life in such as way that even the Gentiles (the enemies of the Jews) would glorify God. This was prophesied in the Old Testament in many passages. This was always part of the plan. The Jewish people knew those passages, but they had their own idea of how things would play out and were unwilling to understand what the passages said. They were looking for what they had assumed would come - a worldly leader from the Jewish people.
While there are people today who may not agree with what Jesus said in His ministry, there are very few that could honestly have issue with the things that He said and did. He lived in a way that reached people far beyond the walls of the church. This should make us consider our own lives for a moment. We may live the 'Christian' life in the walls of the church or in comfortable surroundings, but are we sharing the hope of Christ to the lost people in our world? If you had to ask yourself this question, "Are any non-Christians or non involved Christians learning to lean on God due to you?, what would you say? Are you having an impact? Truly, when we model non acceptance of other believers and have an unforgiving spirit, what are they seeing?
Paul continues by requesting that the God of hope would fill them with all joy and peace that comes through believing. If there is one thing that sticks from this lesson, it should be that we cannot do what we are called to do on our own. We may agree with Scripture and may desire to be the people we have been called to be or what to do what we feel we have been called to do. However, if we are doing it out of our own power, we have missed the point. We need to realize that God is the great enabler.
If you find that you cannot get past something, even when you feel as if you have given it to God, do you not care enough to seek help in doing so? There are many Christian, biblically based counselors that can help you to find different tools to see things differently or to understand other's views. Or, you may just need to share your issues with another believer or two and ask them to pray for you and even they may have words that can be of help. This isn't to condone gossiping and trashing other people in your conversation, but an honest look at how you can handle things differently. When we choose to grit down and bear it, we are basically saying that we can do it all on our own.
Paul wrote that he knew that they were full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to admonish one another. They had a lot of good things going for them, but in the area of acceptance (or choosing not to accept each other), they were more focused on themselves.
If we think of Paul's background, he seemed to come from what you may call the Jewish 'select' team. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees and he was an up and comer in the Jewish faith. However, when Christ impacted Paul's heart, he realized it was less about himself and more about being on the right team. It is noteworthy that even Paul had issues with others, which resulted in mission teams being broken up. Nobody is perfect and even Paul had some work to do with accepting others.
In closing, are you truly practicing acceptance of others? You will find that the more things have to be about you, the more that you will have a problem with accepting others who have opposing views. It simply isn't about you and I. As much as we might like to think it is, it isn't. Don't simply resolve to try harder, because you and I cannot handle it on our own. We must learn to rely upon God to give us perseverance and encouragement, so that we have the same mind of Christ Jesus.
I don't doubt that you have good qualities. You may be very religious and you may truly want to be the person that God has called you to be. Does this desire carry over to acceptance of others with differing views? When problems with acceptance of others come to mind, do you make excuses or find yourself telling others or even God that there is a reason you act the way you are? When we do this, do we listen for that still small voice that reminds us of how we have been accepted, even as we are? Our prayer for you - and for us, is that acceptance will become more of a reality in our lives and that God will work in our lives to allow that to be true.