What affect does your behavior have on those you encounter: a great deal, none, or very little? Does the effect of the behavior change if the person knows you? And does the effect of the behavior change if the person knows you are a Christian?
Consider the common scene of road rage. You are driving down the road minding your own business and going the speed limit to boot. Someone flies up behind you and rides your bumper, waiting for an opportunity to pass.
As you watch them in your rearview mirror, your anger level rises. You imagine things you would like to say to them or do to them. You make plans for a little sign language when they finally pass, and, to release the pressure of the anger, you mutter a few unmentionables under your breath so the children won’t hear.
When the tail rider finally passes, you give the planned sign language and then gasp in shock. You know this person, and, what’s worse, they know you as a member of a local church, a Sunday school teacher, a deacon, or an usher.
Our behavior does make a difference, and Paul continues to deal with this matter of sensitivity in most of this chapter.
Our Behavior Should Reflect Patience with the Spiritually Immature (vv. 1-3)
Paul continues his theme of trying to understand those who don’t have the same understanding as mature believers. The specific topic is the same: eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols and is now being sold for public consumption in the marketplace.
For believers who didn’t understand idols were nothing and that eating meat sacrificed to them meant nothing, this was a troubling scenario. They were also troubled by believers who were eating this meat and obviously thinking nothing of it. Should the mature believers stop eating this meat, try to convince the immature believers it was acceptable, or just ignore the situation altogether? Paul reminds us our interests are not what should be foremost in the discussion or decision.
We may have knowledge a certain attitude is acceptable for believers who are living under the liberty of Christ, but as Paul says, “We cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves. We must be considerate of the doubts and fears of those who think these things are wrong.”
Our responsibility is to please others rather than ourselves. Now we might ask, “Doesn’t this move into the category of being people pleasers?” We know we can’t please all the people all the time. Even Jesus was unsuccessful at this—and didn’t try. And Paul’s instructions should not be misconstrued to mean we are to try.
To please some people would involve disobeying God’s instructions. Paul’s teaching must be taken in context. He is speaking of harmony among God’s people. We are to do all within our power to live in peace with other believers. Rather than focusing on self, we should focus on the needs and concerns of others.
Christ gives the example. His ministry was first and foremost what the Father wanted him to do. The struggle he went through even as God’s incarnate Son is witnessed in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked the Father on several occasions to remove the cup of suffering and death that was soon to come. But he put his interests beneath the Father’s by accepting the Father’s will regardless of how painful it was (Luke 22:42).
Believers are at different levels of maturity. From babes and children to teens and adults, we run the gamut. Combining this with traditions we have been taught—some of which are not biblical, we understand how easy it is for us to disagree but also to do so in an unChristlike spirit.
As we interact with others, we must remember we are all growing up in Christ—and some are farther along than others. The question is not only whether our behavior is moral and upright but whether it is helping the less mature believer grow into maturity or destroying their faith? Our freedom should always be limited by love and concern for our fellow believers.
Our Behavior Should Be Based on Scripture (v. 4)
God’s Word has purpose. How those of old would have longed to have had God’s Word in written form as we do. To have the variety of translations to help us better understand the meaning. To have all the resources available to enlighten us.
God’s Word expresses his purpose and standards. His Word provides historical examples to learn from. His Word is alive and interpreted in our personal lives as the Spirit gives understanding, conviction, and application. We will not grow as we should spiritually or realize God’s full plan and purpose without a daily helping of God’s Word. God’s Word gives hope and encouragement. It affects our attitude about the past, present, and future. Reading of his actions in the past and experiencing them in our own life, gives us confidence in him for the future. God’s Word should be hidden in our hearts so we can walk in the Spirit and avoid a fleshly lifestyle.
Our Behavior Should Illustrate Harmony (vv. 5-6)
Jesus prayed for this in John 17:11. If Jesus prayed for harmony among believers, it must be important. Paul’s desire was the same, and he gives the key for achieving this harmony: have the attitude of Christ toward each other.
When we see ourselves as fellow laborers not competitors, when we understand we are working for the same goal, when we understand God’s love, it will be much easier to get along. Off all people, believers should have no trouble expressing unity, even though we are still human and will not agree on all things.
When there is unity, we sing the same song. We may not agree on the form of church government, the number of ordinances, or the best way to observe them—or even what to call our officials—but we will sing the same song of salvation: only through Christ. Paul says we can join together with one voice, which will praise and give glory to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This we can all do and agree we should do.
Harmony in our association goes a long way in making the gospel believable to unbelievers. A lack of harmony only reinforces what many unbelievers already believe: that there’s nothing to Christianity. To adequately see what they need, they must see something different in us. A divided church cannot adequately worship God.
Our Behavior Should Reflect Acceptance (vv. 7-12)
For harmony to be achieved, we must express an attitude of acceptance. We must accept all who God accepts, and God accepts all who come to him in repentance and faith.
Our acceptance of others is based on Christ’s acceptance of us. Taking into consideration all Paul has taught about our sinfulness, how can we possibly not accept those Christ accepts based on their repentance and faith?
This is something we need to seriously consider when our attitudes or likes and dislikes keep us away from fellow believers. Believers can do so much more together than apart. When we get along, God is glorified. The spotlight is put on him, and it becomes a good testimony of his power to create unity within his followers. Paul was not talking to a church who had this perfected, for the church in Rome was a mixture of Jew, Gentile, rich, poor, slave, free, mature, and immature.
Our Behavior Should Reflect Peace (v. 13)
Based on the hope we have in Christ, we should be happy and exhibit a peaceful attitude. Our hope is in forgiveness of our sins and eternal life in heaven. Happiness is attained by obedience to God’s Word, and especially to the instructions laid down in Jesus’ Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10). Peace comes in all situations because we know God is in control and has our best interests at heart. We also know peace through the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit.