A glass of wine or not a glass of wine? To dance or not to dance? To work on Sunday or not to work on Sunday?
Let's face it, we tend to feel strongly about our personal preferences regarding what Christians should and should not do. And when others violate our spiritual preferences the finger-pointing begins!
Lessons from Paul
This is nothing new for Christians. Paul had to address the subject of preferences with the early believers in Rome who were troubled by a few issues. Believers who had been saved out of Judaism wondered what to do about the holy days prescribed in the Old Testament and the keeping of certain strict Sabbath rules.
With their newfound freedom in Jesus, they didn't know what to do with the ceremonial laws concerning "unclean" meat, not to mention the meat offered to idols in the pagan temples of their day.
In the face of conflicting preferences, note that Paul doesn't take sides. Rather, he says, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans chapter 14, verse 5). Paul continued, "He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. 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" (Romans chapter 14, verse 6).
Simply put, each of us should be convinced that what we are doing can be done to please the Lord.
Rejecting a judgmental spirit
Before you start thinking that this doesn't apply to us because we don't deal with these particular issues today, think again. The issues are different, but the lesson is the same. Each of us is individually accountable to God for our actions. Which, by the way, means that no one is accountable to you for what they do or don't do.
When we think that our point of view on personal preferences is the only point of view, we start finger-pointing and end up violating God's call for us to reject a judgmental spirit. Often without even realizing it, we hold our preferences as standards of biblical spirituality. If thoughts like, He can't be too serious about God—just look at his car! or, I can't believe she watches that TV program! have ever crossed your mind, you know what I am talking about!
According to Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, one of the Greek words translated "judge" is partially defined as "to form an opinion" and is cross-referenced to the word "sentence." God is the only One who has the right to condemn or sentence; therefore, when we pass judgment on another, we are, in a certain sense, setting ourselves up as God in his life.
So what's the solution?
Take Paul's exhortation to heart and "stop passing judgment on one another" (Romans chapter 14, verse 13). Some matters of personal preference are just that—personal, which means that it's between that person and God. Paul called them "disputable matters" (Romans chapter 14, verse 1)—referring to issues that are not clearly outlined in Scripture as right or wrong.
Rather than using our preferences as a spiritual whipping post, we must give room for others to express a different opinion and to love them as Jesus does.
And that's the bottom line: love. It sounds cheesy but it's the glue that keeps us together when we face "disputable matters." When we dispute over personal preference we need to think about Romans chapter 14, verse 13. We need to stop passing judgment and make up our minds about what really matters.
First published June 2, 2014
Mercy Cornish (22) lives in Christchurch with a degree with Hons in media and communication and works with Canterbury Television as the director of scheduling and programming.
Mercy Cornish's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mercy-cornish.html