SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
We Can Live in Harmony – But Only with God’s Help!
Romans 14:1-13; 15:5-6.
Key Verse: May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15:5-6
Differences will exist among Christians. Paul had his. We have ours. Paul and Peter disagreed. Paul and Barnabas separated after an argument about John Mark. Despite their strong differences, these early Christians found a way to work together because each was bound to Christ.
The challenge for us today is to find a way to love genuinely those with whom we disagree. We are not required to like everyone; we are, however, expected to love everyone! God will not have it any other way.
We can make room for love by celebrating our differences. God has not made us all alike. He does not expect us to agree on every issue. We can even laugh about our difference sometimes. None of us is always right. Someone said, “By the grace of God it is well to learn that you may be mistaken.” Even the wisest of us can be wrong sometimes. We must learn to disagree without having to be at each other’s throat all the time.
During more than 50 years of ministry I have watched Christians fuss and fight with each other repeatedly. All that time and energy could have been spent ministering to hurting people! The Evil One blinds us. He deceives us into thinking some other Christian is our enemy when all the time Satan is the real enemy! No wonder Satan often defeats us; we are too busy fighting each other and allowing him to have the high ground!
If we are to live in harmony, we must come together around the person of Jesus Christ. There is no other basis of agreement that can bind us together. Doctrine cannot. The Sacraments cannot. Music cannot. Ritual cannot. Fasting cannot. Traditions cannot. Ecclesiology cannot. Only Jesus can make us one and keep us one. A major commitment to anything else but Jesus tears us apart – and Satan smiles.
E. Stanley Jones wisely calls decisive these words of Jesus: “He that gathers not with me scatters.” Says Jones: “If this means anything it means that we gather around Jesus, if Jesus is Lord, we can transcend all our other differences and find a unity in a common Lord; but if we don’t do that, if we gather around something else, however good, we scatter. Chirstcentric we gather; anything-else-centric, we scatter.”
When living in harmony becomes important to us, we must put some of our pet ideas on the margin, not in the center. Paul put circumcision on the margin. He put eating certain foods, or not eating them, on the margin. He insisted that what mattered was being made “new” men and women by the power of the gospel. To build unity some things must be marginalized; the center must be reserved for Christ alone.
If we are to live in harmony, we must stop judging one another. We must cease and desist despising our brothers and sisters within the Body. Yet Satan influences us with the desire to “win” and have our way. It may be, and often is, nothing more important than how many candles will be lit in the sanctuary. Still, we are driven to control things. Seldom are we aware that Satan has had his way by getting us involved in a power struggle with other believers.
The secret may be in the words of Paul: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians ). We must learn to submit to one another if we are to live in harmony. Paul offers the only workable motive for submission: “out of reverence for Christ.” When we are submissive in love to one another, for Christ’s sake, it becomes a noble submission which Christ can use to give us unity in the church. We submit not because the other person is better, or smarter, or because we have to; we do it for Christ!
Think of it this way: we give up the struggle to win so that Christ can win! When we “lose” for his sake, then we have the joy of knowing that our Lord is pleased because his people live in harmony! Having our way becomes marginal in our motives, so that Christ can have his way with us all.
Why is doing our best to achieve harmony within the fellowship so important? The answer is in Paul’s words: Because “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God,” and because “each of us will be accountable to God.” We need no more reason than that!
One final observation is necessary. We cannot through our own efforts create harmony within the Body. Only God can create unity. We can want it more than we want to have our way. We can desire it will all our hearts. We can pray for it and receive it as a gift from the Father.
Essentially what Paul says in our key verses from chapter 15 is this: “May God grant you harmony with one another.” God can do it. God will do it when we are willing to meet his conditions, the chief of which is to stop judging and despising our brothers and sisters!
These two verses are worth their weight in gold. Study them carefully. Here is the pathway to harmony. If the day is to come when we live in harmony and with “one voice glorify” God, then some of us will have to stop judging others so harshly. We cannot glorify God and judge another at the same time. When giving God glory becomes more important to us than putting other people down, then God will grant us the joyous privilege of living in harmony together and praising Jesus with one voice to the glory of God! Grant it, Father, for the glory of your Name!
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