In this election season, we face a weird set of circumstances - events that have put normally eye-to-eye-seeing believers at odds with each other. But the truth is, there are always Christians on both sides of the political divide (even if that's not true within our own circles of friends).
This time, though, the divide has spread into groups that would normally agree with each other. And people are not simply divided about whom to vote for. We may also differ from our brothers and sisters about which issues are most important in making that decision. And we even disagree about how much to care about each issue, and how to talk about our politics in places like work or on social media.
In other words, we don't just differ about how to vote - we differ about differing!
But Romans 14 gives us some great principles about what to do when Christians differ, even on issues that seem really important. If we - and our relationships - are going to survive this election, we'll have to pay attention.
"Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God..." (v. 10)
There's a difference between debating and "passing judgment." On many issues in the political sphere, faithful Christians might interpret things differently - and be truly convicted before the Lord. And He will ultimately judge faithfulness. So when complex issues (like how to vote) aren't clearly defined in Scripture, we should be careful before we decide someone's not following the Lord.
"Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." (v. 5)
On the other hand, it's important that each person come to a point of conviction before the Lord. This means we have to do better than simply "going with the flow" - even if that "flow" includes Christian friends or leaders or community group members. We must do the work of prayer and thought individually, even as we incorporate wisdom from others.
"...decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." (v. 13)
"It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble." (v. 21)
The specific issue at hand in Romans 14 was eating certain types of food. Some Christians thought it was okay; others thought God forbade it. But what Paul (the author of Romans) was most annoyed by Christians flaunting their personal opinions through their words or their actions.
He didn't mean Christians could never share a controversial opinion (Paul shared his own opinion on the issue right here!). But they should only share it wisely. They had to realize that one's own "politics" on this issue might damage relationships, so sometimes it was better to be quiet (v. 22).
We have to realize this too.
"For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love." (v. 15)
"So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." (v. 19)
Ultimately, love was the aim of Paul's commands here. As you look back on your political discussions, your social media posts, your emails and yard signs - has LOVE trickled through all those things? Have you truly aimed "for peace and for mutual upbuilding," even if it meant changing the way you discuss politics? Are your own relationships - with neighbors, coworkers, fellow church members, and so on - more important to you than "stating your opinion"?
It's not wrong to make stands as long as we're truly convinced God is calling us to make them (see #2 above!). But how we do it matters, too, and even when we do it.
As you read Romans 14 for yourself, how would you hold up to the "media scrutiny" of God's word? And will your relationships survive this election?
No matter how you've done so far, you've still got a week to aim "for peace and for mutual upbuilding." And then no matter who wins, we'll need to keep right on applying these Romans 14 principles for months to come... right up until the next campaigns get started.
(Our next blog post deals with the importance of voting - see "I Voted. They Couldn't." by clicking here.)
Assuming you survive the election, check back weekly for our blog on External Focus issues at watermark.org/blog/external-focus. Or subscribe below!