As Father’s Day or my springtime birthday would approach, a common answer to my family’s question of “what would you like” was that I simply wanted “peace and a pleasant atmosphere”. Two parents, five children, and frequent international student guests made for a busy and diverse household. The diversity caught me of guard. Oh, my family looked the part, my kids clearly came from the same pot, but I often marveled that in spite of our collective sharing of a similar life in terms of home, culture, and even dna; we had such different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. The differences could lead to very spirited conversations! And so, another common saying in my house became: “please learn the difference between preference and principle”. You can die for a principle, but please no bloodshed over preferences.
Not unlike our desire for peace and harmony in our homes, Paul exhorts his readers in Romans 14 to live in a gospel informed, gospel inspired unity. Differences amongst us are inevitable, and with human difference comes human judgment toward the different. Diversity and unity seem as likely to comingle as oil and water. But Paul gives us hope with something to do and something to remember to help make the body of Christ a place of “peace and mutual upbuilding (Rom 14:19)” In view of the fact that all of us will give an account to God (v12), we ought not judge one another (v13). In fact, he takes it one step further to say, in preference to our brother, we shouldn’t flaunt our liberty in an area where a brother may take offence or stumble. Paul was referring to preferences in the area of food or drink, rather than fundamental gospel truths which are non-negotiable. He writes that we are not to, for the sake of mere preferences, “destroy the work of God (v20)”, whether that be the work of God in our church or the work of God in a brother’s life. To help us do, he gives us something to remember: the one who serves Christ is acceptable to God (v18), “one for whom Christ died” (v15). If our brother, in spite of his different preferences, is acceptable to God why would he not be to me?
Living in harmonious unity does not require us to be identical in personality or preference, but it does require a common commitment to the principle of valuing the work of God in others. As we re-engage with public Sunday worship we will have many different opinions about safety precautions, liberties, and worship styles because of the pandemic. May we keep our eyes focused upon the work of Christ on the cross, and the work of Christ in each of our hearts.