A few months ago, I switched my Bible reading/devotional plan to match Doug’s so that we could be reading the same thing and discussing together. Then a few weeks later we pulled the girls onto the same plan so we could work on teaching them to truly see spiritual growth result from their morning reading. It has been neat watching their discernment and understanding grow as they have read alongside us. Much still escapes them (some of which I’m very thankful for!), but they are picking up more and more as we all discuss what we’re learning each morning.
A few weeks ago we were reading a passage in Romans. I was struck by these verses from Romans 14:
…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. Romans 14:17-20
Naturally I was reminded of how frequently it seems that many of the issues between our brothers and sisters both of different denominations and within our own denominations seems to come back to criticisms such as these. We worry ourselves into a frenzy because a fellow believer doesn’t live out his Christian life like we think he should. Instead of living out this verse and finding a way to build up and encourage that fellow believer, we criticize and try to convince him of all of the reasons why he should live like we do. And so, we fall apart.
Even being struck by this passage myself, I was still quite surprised during our lunch-table discussion of our daily reading when my sweet Olivia picked out the same few verses. It wasn’t as if all of our reading came from Romans. We were also reading in 1 Samuel, either Jeremiah or Lamentations, and the Psalms. There were plenty of things to stand out to Olivia in all of those other passages. But, she noticed this passage. And she commented that we as Christians spend too much time criticizing one another for what we eat, drink, wear, and do and too little time finding ways to build up and encourage one another. She thought about how often our effectiveness in witnessing is negatively impacted because of our internal squabbling, and she questioned why we couldn’t choose to focus on spreading God’s truth to the hurting world instead of picking at each other.
It’s one thing for an adult to see it. It’s another thing for a ten-year-old to take a passage out of Romans (which is pretty hard to read, to be completely honest) and see how we as believers are living out the complete opposite.
There are certain things that are worth standing up for. There are foundational truths of Scripture that we cannot bend on. But, even a child recognizes that we go far beyond those things. Even a young mind knows that we squabble over things that really should have no significance.
In all honesty, we can do nothing about the fact that others continue to squabble over petty things like how we eat, drink, etc. But, we can change what we do about it. We can stop being critical. We can stop stressing about whether or not someone else is reflecting Christ properly. We can stop being so concerned about our right to do what we feel we are free to do that we intentionally offend and upset other believers. We can instead make sure that we personally are reflecting Christ to the best of our ability and spreading the gospel with as much integrity as possible. And, we can put more effort into encouraging and building up one another than into pointing out one another’s short-comings. The more we do, the more we just might find others in the body following our example – and just maybe the church will grow stronger for it.