Bread – Deference

July 25, 2012

Readings for Wednesday, July 25 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 8:30-35; Rom. 14:13-23; Matt. 26:57-68; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72


In Paul’s letter to the Roman church today, God through Paul says “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” Rom. 14:14-15

Earlier this week, I told someone that we always made great mistakes in planning for the lowest common denominator. By that, I meant that it was my opinion that we should always plan for excellence, not mediocrity, and we should not let the worse situation among us from dragging us down to their level.

And today I read this from Paul. Although admittedly Paul is making reference to a particular problem, what to do with food which had been sacrificed to idols (the “strong” in faith said “eat it;” the “weak” in faith said “don’t”), doesn’t his statement really have broader applicability? Isn’t Paul really saying that we should always behave in our Christian walk so that those who are “weak” in faith are not offended? Isn’t he really saying that we should adjust our behavior to the lowest common denominator?

So, like so much in life, what I think about something and what God thinks about it don’t quite line up. If only God would get it right!

Now I could (and many will) limit what Paul says to its circumstances (food sacrificed to idols), and by so limiting it neatly set Paul’s point into a tight corner which has little effect on my life. However, I know better and you know better. Paul is telling us not to exercise our freedom in Christ in ways which hurt those who do not have the same faith. He is telling us to defer to the weakest of our fellow Christian. He is telling us to love the weakest among us.

If we could analogize this to music, Paul is saying that those people who are excellent at music should slow down when someone is around who loves music, but who is not very good at it. Paul is saying that we should find such identity with those people who love music that we who are professionals should adjust our behavior to encourage those who are rank amateurs. The best professional in the room should adjust his focus and behavior to the most unaccomplished person, so that they are encouraged to increase their technique, their ability to produce good music and grow in love of it.

Now substitute the word “Jesus” for music. As Christians, if one of our brothers is convinced that worship only occurs on Sunday and we are of the understanding that worship occurs any day at any time, we should not cause offense to our brother by insisting that he go to church with us on Tuesday and forgo going to church on Sunday. Instead, we should encourage him to go to church on Sunday, every Sunday. We should do this not because we are wrong (or he is right), but because we love first the Lord and, because of that, our brother. We should defer to our brother or sister who needs deference. We should not be so ready to push our own agenda that we cause offense to our brother, who is struggling in the same direction toward the same Lord.

Elsewhere in Scripture Paul says to Timothy that the spirit of the Lord is reflected in power, self-control, and love. Isn’t the greatest power that which never has to be used, which is tamed? Isn’t the greatest form of self-control self-denial? Isn’t the greatest form of love the exercise of power and self-control to benefit another and not ourselves?

And isn’t doing what Paul says really the highest form of excellence? When we have the strength of conviction, the power of the Holy Spirit, the self-control from obedience to God, and the love which comes from Jesus who first loved us, when we are “excellent” in the faith, what better way to demonstrate it than to set it aside so that we do not “grieve” our brother or sister in Christ?

Is this so different from what Jesus has done for us? Did He not defer to our weakness, our bondage in sin, by coming to earth and taking upon Himself our burdens so that we might be free to love Him throughout eternity?

Am I right, that we should never sacrifice excellence for mediocrity in order to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator? Yes. But I am also wrong. Because we should never, ever forget to avoid actions which cause our brothers and sisters to stumble. If our brother invites us to church on Sunday because, for him, it is the only day to worship, we should gladly go knowing in our own mind that we can always go on Tuesday. It is the least we can do. Actually, given what Christ has done for us, it really is the very least we can do.


© 2012 GBF


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