Have you ever found it difficult when a fellow Christian, who seems to be in a good place with God, feels able to do things that you don’t feel are right? Or the other way round you are doing/ have done something, or have a view on something, that other Christians feel are wrong, and perhaps even criticise you for? I can remember back in the sixties (long long ago!) when I was a student questioning whether, as a Christian, we should be going to the cinema to watch James Bond, and indeed, maybe a dozen or more years later, in the eighties hearing that a pastor let his children watch James Bond on the TV and wondering about that. Now we can see James Bond repeats on the TV at regular intervals.
I find Paul’s discussion in Romans 14 and on into chapter 15 very helpful in this respect in a number of ways. It contrasts with the dogmatic positions on things that we, as human beings, can so easily take on some matters of Christian faith and practice. It seems there are truths on which we should stand firm, and sure, and unshakeable, but other areas where we are all on a journey, a pilgrimage with Jesus, being changed one degree at a time to be like Him.
Where does thanksgiving come into this? Well Romans 14:6 merits a long pause for thought (as well as the whole passage). “He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord, and gives thanks to God” Instead of arguing whether we should or shouldn’t eat meat, go to the cinema, go shopping on Sunday, wear different clothes to church, have women preach or be bishops, only have ordained people give communion, and many other things, it seems that Paul is giving us a vital key. Whatever is your current conviction wrap it up, like a tasty M&S tortilla wrap, in a lovely coat of thanksgiving – whichever way you’re going. If you find it hard to freely give thanks from your heart for how you are seeing it, maybe it’s time to check it out with the Lord. (see verse 22)
And with regard to others, this attitude of giving thanks is also very important and seems counter culture, at present, in our more polarised society, where many seem to increasingly believe, speak, write and tweet, “I am right and you are wrong and therefore you are bad.” Instead of judging my brother or sister, let me thank God for them with their convictions, whether they are a republican or a democrat, a brexiter or a remainer, an eco-warrior or not etc, etc..
As we thank God in our life and current position of conscience and conviction, it cuts the legs off our tendency to judge each other (verse13) and be ‘holier than thou’ (go on be honest – you’ve done that!). And it puts legs on my desire to honour my brother or sister in his/her current place of conscience/faith and not to cause them offence or stumbling in their faith by my actions or words.
If verse 23 is true, that everything that does not proceed from faith is sin, then thanksgiving to the Lord for my current convictions and conscience is a big practical way of walking closely with the Lord on my journey with Him of being changed one step at a time to be more like Jesus. Likewise recognising, honouring and being thankful that my brother or sister, who seems to currently have a different conscience and convictions, is also walking with Jesus in his or her journey. That doesn’t of course mean that I am not open to, and even expecting that, “Jesus is changing me” and you, and him, and her. But thanksgiving wherever I/we are at changes the atmosphere and, I believe, in fact feeds faith and makes us more likely to be more open to be changed by the Lord than does judgment, – which can frequently be the more natural human response.
Isn’t God clever, wonderful, gracious and mysterious (in a good way), to be able to happily walk with all His children in all their stages of growth, and with all our variety of views, convictions and consciences, that sometimes to us, in our society, seem so incompatible? Thank you Jesus that you love walking with me and all my different fellow believers – that is holy diversity!