I just got an app on my phone for the daily office, which is a set of scriptures for each day. I thought I would try offering some brief reflections on them for my blog and see how long I can keep it up. Today’s epistle reading was what most caught my eye: Romans 14:1-12 which talks about winning arguments vs. winning each other for Christ.
The first verse is very convicting: “Welcome those who are weak in faith but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.” How often do I make the assessment that someone else is weak in their faith precisely because my purpose is to quarrel over opinions? In an argument, I look for the proof of my opponent’s weakness for the sake of my own justification and reassurance. I’m very good at deconstructing other people’s theologies and spinning out theories of their “real” motives that they’re unaware of. There is a proper place for deconstruction, but too often I use it for self-justification.
What would it be like to welcome someone else’s weakness not as a vulture but as a pastor? There is something very beautiful and sacred about being exposed to others’ vulnerabilities even if they are revealed to us by accident. It ought to set off mercy in our hearts to see another believer’s weakness rather than licking our chops and going in for the kill. One of the early Egyptian desert monks whose name has escaped me talked about our constant duty to “win each other for Christ.” What a tragedy it is to win an argument and lose a brother or sister for Christ as a result!
Winning someone for Christ (and letting them win us for Christ simultaneously) requires a different skill set than winning an argument. You need more than logic and deconstruction and scriptural proof-texts. You need the fruits of the spirit like patience, peace, self-control, gentleness, kindness, etc, which are not pieces of knowledge that you can conquer and own but gifts from God that often take a long time for Him to cultivate in us. It doesn’t imply any compromise in my obedience to the truth to strive to do better than argumentation in my discourse with others. On the contrary, it requires much greater spiritual discipline and a commitment to seeing every situation through evangelistic eyes.
The other verse that jumped out at me from Romans 14 was verse 4: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servants of another? For before their own Lord they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” God is making people stand whom I want to knock down. Often I want to knock them down because they think and say things that hurt people I care about. But nevertheless, God wants them to stand and He is using what they read in their Bibles and discover in their prayer life to draw them closer to Him. It’s often incomprehensible to me that we worship the same God, but we do and He delights them every bit as much as He delights in me. David understood this concept when he refused to lay a hand on his enemy Saul saying, “Who am I to touch the Lord’s anointed?”
Furthermore God is the only reason I have a leg to stand on at all. So there is no place for condescension. This is not to say that we shouldn’t bear witness to the truth as best we understand it particularly when others’ misunderstandings are actively harming people. But we must always be cognizant of our own weakness so that we can view others’ weakness with genuine empathy. God’s plan is too important for us to get entangled in arguments that tear the body of Christ; our goal should be simply to help each other behold the beauty of Christ. The joy that is shared among those who have seen the beauty is way more worth winning than any argument.