Did you hear about those two Christians who shared all the same opinions about COVID-19?
No, me neither.
Over a year into this whole situation, our different viewpoints continue to proliferate. A few months ago, the issue was masks; today, it’s vaccines. What hasn’t changed is the apparent willingness of many Christians to fight and divide over their viewpoints.
As I’ve been thinking about all of this, I wonder if it might be a good time to hear a reminder from Romans 14:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand… Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?Romans 14:1–4, 10
Last September I got to preach on this passage, and we considered the parallels between what the Roman churches were dealing with and what we’re dealing with today. Here’s a clip from that message, both from the video and my notes:
Here’s the deal: when it comes to Christian fellowship, we should have a disposition that holds unity as a significantly higher value than our personal rights and freedoms. We should have a heart that willingly surrenders our personal rights and freedoms and comforts and privileges for the sake of unity with our brothers and sisters.
That’s what it means to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We’re eager to please others, not ourselves (Romans 15:1-2). And if some of our personal freedoms need to fall by the wayside, we’re good with that, because unity with the blood-bought body of Christ is what we’re eager for.
So let’s talk really practically about what this passage and these lessons might mean for us at this stage of our life together as a church. The first is obviously the whole COVID-19 scenario. One of the real difficulties of this situation, especially for us here in Nipawin, has not been the virus itself, but rather all of the differences of opinion over the virus situation and the way that those differences tend to create rifts in between Christians.
And so one of the major lessons coming to us out of Romans 14 this morning is that we are in sin if we allow our opinions about the virus to cause division between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Here’s another way we can put this: whatever your opinions and convictions and beliefs are about the virus, about the government’s response to the virus, about the use of masks—about any of this stuff—, there are sincere, godly Christians who are trying their best to honour the Lord and who hold to the exact opposite position that you do.
I know because we here at the church hear from both sides. There are some Christians who are bothered by the way that we’ve gone along with the provincial government’s guidelines on meeting and masks. They think that we as a church are compromising by complying with these guidelines. And there are other Christians who don’t think that the guidelines have been strict enough, and that we as a church should have been doing more to protect people.
So there’s not just two positions, but three. There’s those who say that this is a serious public health crisis, and we should be doing our utmost to love our people by keeping them safe. There’s us as church leaders, saying “We’re not experts, so we’re just going to submit to our government leaders, just like Titus 3 says, and just like we do with speed limits and building codes.” And then there’s those who say “And what’s next, then, the Mark of the Beast?”
And less you snicker or laugh, each of those positions are held by people whom Jesus loves so much that he agonized and bled and died for on the cross. And the question for all of is, what’s more important to us: our position on the virus situation, or our relationships with our brothers and sisters whom Christ died for?
As I was thinking about this, I reflected on how much these tensions are fuelled by information. We take our different positions because we listen to different sources of news or information. Maybe you know someone or listen to someone whom you are convinced gives you better information than anyone else has.
And it reminded me of the words of 1 Corinthians 8, which addresses a very similar situation as Romans 14. The first three verses of that chapter say, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:1–3).
Even if you have the best information and knowledge on the virus situation, if this knowledge is puffing you up over and against your brothers and sisters, instead of fuelling the really important work of love building up your brothers and sisters in Christ, then there’s a problem.
Because building up the body of Christ as we carry out our mission together is what really matters.
If you notice, as I preached last week about our mission together as a church this year, I didn’t say a word about COVID-19. Because this whole COVID-19 situation is tiddlywinks compared to the great work of the gospel that we’ve been called to do together.
I remember hearing that when the Canucks were doing really well in the Stanley Cup playoffs, back in 2011, the emergency rooms in Vancouver were empty. People took a Tylenol and sucked it up because there was history being made and they wanted to be a part of this great moment with the rest of their city.
That’s such a great illustration about how our opinions and ideas and convictions about COVID-19 need to take a back seat to the work of the gospel and our unity as a church.From https://ebcnipawin.ca/sermons/various/a-united-church-in-a-divided-age/