The right to have an opinion does not automatically make your opinion right. In the past few years, I have come to realize something: the judgments of the Lord are right; mine are not. I am constantly judging people on outward appearance, and that is almost always a short-sighted approach, if not completely wrong.
After a long theological portion of the letter, Paul addresses many very practical issues we all face in Romans 14. He is in effect saying, “Since God has done all this for us, here is how we should live.” The issue of judging one another, or rather, of putting our opinions and personal convictions upon others, is dealt with here at length.
Consider what Scripture says: As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions (verse1). Yet we do quarrel.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? (verse 4). Yet we do. We do it all the time, and we do it uncharitably.
We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… (verse 10) But, do we really believe we will be judged by God, not only for our own convictions but also for our judgments upon others? This is a fearful thing and requires us to evaluate ourselves and make the necessary changes in our hearts and actions.
It must be made clear that Paul is not talking about blatant sins or obvious character issues here. One cannot say, “I just don’t feel that lying is wrong” or, “Adultery may be against your conscience, but I am past all that — I believe I am free to do it.” No, Paul is writing here of the much more subtle, “gray areas” of life.
Neil Silverberg’s famous story illustrates this. He tells of being in Communist East Germany years ago and being condemned by a group of beer-drinking German pastors for allowing a Christian musician to play rhythm and blues worship music in his Alabama church. It is laughable, really. If those German ministers had drunk their beer in tee-totaling Alabama, they would have been run out of town and condemned as non-followers of Christ. Sometimes if we would simply care enough to listen to someone’s story before judging, we might find ourselves understanding their context and actually loving them in a Christ-like way.
We must be careful not to make our personal convictions law for everyone else in the body of Christ. The kind of music we listen to, the things we consume or do not consume, tattoos, piercings, the clothes we wear, the length of our hair; these are all areas where judgments have been made. Some people feel free in their conscience before God to engage in certain practices. They are free to practice these things without violating scripture, even if we feel that we cannot.
Paul ingeniously redirects us back to the ultimate law in order to correct this. If I feel free to do certain things that are not prohibited by scripture but you do not, I am compelled by the higher law — the law of love — to give up my right to those practices so that I may not cause you to stumble. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love…It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble (verses 15 and 21). The point is that we all must honor the Lord and honor each other in our convictions.
Did it ever occur to you that you can love those whom you disagree with? And you can love those who disagree with you. We have to do everything in our power to keep the unity of the body and to love our brothers and sisters. If I am not willing to do this, I must reevaluate if I am truly following Christ.