One of the hardest things to do in our day, is to appreciate and celebrate our differences. We live in a polarized time. The political season shines a spotlight on it, . . . but it's there all the time. We like to live around groups of people who agree with us on most things, which is ok. We like to share openly about our lives when we feel like we'll be affirmed in our decisions. . . which is great! The problem comes when we're not affirmed and not agreed with. When we find that a friend has a drastically different view or practice than us, what do we do? God's word, in Romans 14, helps us.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.
This is an excerpt from Romans 14 that is speaking about differences Christians were having regarding food and holidays. Some folks in the church in Rome had convictions regarding food (probably because of the food sacrifices made in pagan worship in those days) and others regarding celebrating certain days over others (reminds me of current Christian debates regarding Halloween).
One important observation from this text is that our convictions should be held "in honor of the Lord". In other words, your convictions shouldn't be held to simply be a contrarian, to be in the "right" in parenting, or finances, etc. . . . , or to "win" an argument. No, our convictions on secondary matters should be held before the Lord, and because we are convicted for Godly reasons. That is a crucial piece of the puzzle regarding Christian differences. . don't move too quickly beyond it. Are your convictions on a sticky issue being held for the right reasons?
Beyond that, the real issue is what we are to do when a good friend or acquaintance feels differently than us. Our cultural temptation is to "separate" from them at some level. . . we start to withhold information from them, we may not see them as much, and we might start to communicate differently. This all arises from our feelings being hurt, and our own insecurities (James 4:1-3). We crave affirmation in all of our decisions that we shouldn't need! If folks feel differently than us, great! We should be fully convinced before the Lord, in our own mind, as the text tells us.
The text in Romans 14 further encourages us to act differently than this, "so then, let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding" (vs. 19) To pursue "mutual upbuilding" means that we should really labor not just to tolerate each other and our differences. . . but to "see their side" and celebrate our differences. We should be able to be happy for our brothers and sisters in their decision-making on secondary issues. We should say "that makes a lot of sense to me", often! Even when we disagree because of our Godward convictions. . . .we should labor to see the "sense" of what others in the church are doing. In fact, if we can't understand why someone is making a certain decision, we should probably initiate a conversation and try to find out why. Maybe that will be a moment of growth for them and/or us? Maybe they haven't thought about it before?
But, we should stop withdrawing and disconnecting. No really, . . . let's stop withdrawing from each other. We should stop silently judging and looking down on one another. That doesn't make for peace. It is a burden I have for our churches that we would get good at Romans 14. . . . really good. After all, "they will know we are Christians by our love for each other".