Series: Followers of Jesus
Message: In the Tension
Preacher: Mark Witas
Reflection: Japhet De Oliveira
Live Wonder: Zan Long
Live Adventure: Zan Long
Live Purpose: Vanessa Rivera
Editor: Becky De Oliveira
Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Romans 14:1-23 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: When I was a kid, even though I was the firstborn of all my cousins, I knew, along with everyone else, that my cousin Nicole was the gatekeeper to our granddad (now deceased). If any of us needed something special, or if we broke something and had to explain what happened, going through Nicole was guaranteed a higher rate of success than going it alone. Understanding who you are talking to and knowing when to talk to them and how to talk to them is really critical—particularly when it comes to difficult subjects. I have counselled more than twenty couples over the last two years as they began their journey toward marriage. One great question every couple has to answer is, “How and when do you broach difficult subjects?” (Perhaps not in the mornings for those who happen to be grumpy until noon or not when they’re hungry for those who become bear-like when their blood sugar drops.)
When you read Romans 14, did it feel like the right time for Paul to have introduced this topic? Think about how amazing the words of Romans 12 were. They provided a challenge for us to establish intelligent faith. But no sooner have we caught our breath than Paul launches into one the most controversial and misapplied chapters in the Bible—Romans 13. Still not having recovered from that, we are hit with Romans 14. The weak vs. the strong. The chapter on compromise and engagement. What is Paul thinking? Surely his readers deserve some respite and recovery. Or could it be that this chapter—this subject, this issue—has to come hot off the heels of Romans 12 and 13 as it can only be understood in the context of these ideas?
Scholars have differing views about who the two groups are, the ones Paul categorizes as “the weak” and “the strong.” Some have suggested that the groups refer to the level of spiritual maturity held by different people. This would imply that we should simply be gracious to those who are young in their faith journey. This was the most common interpretation of this chapter when I was a child. I often heard my local faith community use this interpretation to extend a level of tolerance or grace towards others. I recall hearing all kinds of tragic stories that simply needed more grace. It seems that certain people took it upon themselves (with incredible zeal) to withdraw all the the possible grace that was needed by those who were weaker. They were like a gigantic black hole, absorbing all creation into nothing.
Why would they do that?
Several stories in the Bible help us understand this practice. A classic that is well worth re-reading if you get the chance is found in 1 Samuel 14. King Saul’s son Jonathan gains a victory, against all odds, over the Philistines. Saul requires that everyone fast after the battle, and Jonathan ignores that order and eats some honey. This means, of course, that King Saul has to have his son killed. His warriors, mercifully, prevent the execution from going through. There is so much more to the story, but what stands out most is King Saul’s own inadequacy. His failing to secure the victory and his jealousy and need to cover up his sins draw him into a place where he is quick to cut off grace for others—even his own son.
Recalibrate: What makes you want to extend or withdraw grace from people or a situation? Is what you are feeling really grace?
Respond: Pray for a clearer appreciation of grace.
Research: Read 1 Samuel 14 again and compare the grace of God with the grace of humanity.
Remember: “Do not, then, pass judgment on one another any longer” (Romans 14:13, KNT).
Japhet De Oliveira is senior pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, and co-founder of the One project. Originally from southeast London, he served in the South England Conference for nine years—as a pastor and later as conference youth director—before moving to the United States in 2006. He is married to Becky and they have two sons, Joshua (18) and Jonah (14).
The Bible says so much. Its biggest message is a huge “I love you” from God. Check out this cute video with your little one. Talk to your child about all the people and things that you love. Make it a habit to talk about what and whom you love rather than being critical and judging others.
The International Children’s Bible says, in Romans 14:1, “Do not refuse to accept into your group someone who is weak in faith. And do not argue with him about opinions.” Have you ever wanted to be a part of something but have not been asked or allowed to join? Jesus came to earth to ask everyone to live love and He allowed anyone who wanted to live love to do just that. Rather than refusing to accept someone because you don’t think they are good enough, live like Jesus did and accept everyone and love them.
My first internship assignment in graduate school was to spend time with a mental health consultant at a preschool. While it wasn’t the internship I was originally rooting for, I’m glad I spent my summer with those 3- and 4-year-olds. I would walk into the room as a stranger and, minutes later, all the children wanted to play with me. I was soon greeted with big hugs and loving words on a daily basis. If you ever want to feel like a rock star, get to know a preschool class.
What happens when we get older? Do we get increasingly picky about the people we choose to hang out with? Are we meaner? The teenagers I work with as as counselor express social concern, often saying, “I don’t have friends.” This is a problem because people are social beings. We are healthy when we are connected to others.
So what is Paul telling us in Romans 14? He’s reminding us how we are supposed to treat each other. If you haven’t done so already, read Verse 4. What has been the basis you’ve used to judge other people? Your knowledge of what’s right and wrong? Your entitlement in the situation? Pray that you treat others in a kind, respectful way.