An unbelieving world is always watching in at the church. It has too often seen division and disunity over minor issues. Let us ask that God grant His church to live in harmony with one another as we love and serve one another, both for His glory and so that the watching world can hear the sweet music of Christians dwelling together in unity.
Solos are easy. To perform a good solo, a musician or singer can simply lock themselves in a room and practice until the cows come home. They work on hitting the right notes, making sure their intonation is correct, and ensuring they follow the proper dynamics. I’ve played musical instruments and have sung my entire life, and the rules for performing a good solo are fairly straightforward. Harmony, on the other hand, is difficult. Not only is the musician required to ensure all their own skills are on point, the same skills for performing solos, but there is an added challenge when adding harmonic lines. The musician must make sure they are in tune and in time with their fellow performers. Note changes must take place at exactly the right time and proper intonation is vital, or else the entire performance falls apart. But oh, when that harmony is struck rightly, the results are astounding, far beyond what a simple solo can bring. No matter the genre of music one prefers, harmonic singing or playing is always more pleasing to the ear. But getting it just right is much harder and takes more work.
Much like music, harmony in relationships and in the church is difficult. It takes hard work and sacrifice for each individual to live in peace with others. Too often we just want to go off and do our own thing, paying little if any attention to those around us. But oh when that harmony is attained, the results are amazing and the benefits are endless. In Romans 14 and 15, Paul goes into detail about efforts that Christian brothers and sisters must take in order to live in harmony with one another. This is his stated goal in 15:5, that God would grant the church to live in harmony with one another. It must be acknowledged right off that true Christian harmony and peace is a gift granted by God to His church. Christian unity ultimately isn’t something we manufacture; it is a gift of God. But when the Spirit of God is at work in His people, we are able to help maintain that unity that we already have in Christ. So what is the situation and what are the instructions that Paul provides in these chapters?
In Romans 14-15, Paul is wrestling with the interplay between Christian liberty and love, a topic which he also famously addresses in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Here in Romans, Paul brings up two specific topics that were causing divisions in the church: eating meat (14:2) and observing the Sabbath (14:5). Paul makes abundantly clear here and elsewhere that the Christian is free in Christ to eat whatever food they desire and is not forced to observe the Sabbath of Israel. Yet for various reasons, eating meat or not keeping the Sabbath holy pricked the conscience of some brothers or sisters. We can think of any number of things that may fall into this category today, things which Christians are free to do that don’t violate the law of Christ and His Word. How then does Paul instruct us to work through these issues?
First, Paul says that Christians must welcome the weaker brother or sister. He says this right off in 14:1 and again 15:7. Paul is clear: disagreements over matter of conscience are not reasons to separate from fellowship or to exclude someone from fellowship. The reasons are clear: to divide over these issues is not glorifying to God and not in accord with the example of Christ (15:5-7). If the church were to divide over minor issues of conscience, we’d be no better than the Lions Club or the Rotary, which are only bound together by mutual interests or mission. No, the Church of God is bound by something far greater: we are united to Christ our Savior and thus united to one another in Him. And so first, we must be committed to always welcoming one another and not allowing the seeds of division to take root.