Greetings to all of the peace-loving and unity-seeking listeners to the Bible Reading Podcast - you guys are the best! And if you are are the kind who likes nothing better than a good argument with other Christians - who takes joy out of showing simpletons how wrong they are, and can't push away from the keyboard when you find somebody wrong on the internet, well then maybe this episode is for you. Cheers!
Today's Bible readings begin with Genesis 44, where Joseph initiates his reunion with his treacherous brothers by implicating the youngest in a theft. Job 10 continues Job's gut-wrenching speech from yesterday, containing some of the most honest and most unfiltered commentary in the entire Bible. For those who do not believe a follower of God can be depressed, then Job has something to say about that. (As does Elijah, Moses, David, and many, many other heroes of the faith):
“Why did you bring me out of the womb?
I should have died and never been seen.
19 I wish I had never existed
but had been carried from the womb to the grave.
20 Are my days not few? Stop it!
Leave me alone, so that I can smile a little
21 before I go to a land of darkness and gloom,
never to return.
22 It is a land of blackness like the deepest darkness,
gloomy and chaotic,
where even the light is like the darkness.”
Mark 14 sees Jesus leading the Last Supper, and experiencing painful betrayal, followed by his arrest at the behest of the Sanhedrin. It also has Mark's retelling of the adoration and worship of Mary of Bethany, which was the subject of episode 26 of this podcast. Our focus passages for today and tomorrow will be Romans 14 and 15, and they are all about unity, agreement and a sincere call to avoid arguments and conflict among followers of Christ. Let's read!Worth remembering that the biblical commands about unity also apply to husbands and wives!
Christians are known by many to be argumentative and divisive, which is heartbreaking considering Jesus' prayer for oneness in John 17:
20 “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. 21 May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. 22 I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.
When Jesus' followers are not in the unity that He prayed for, then we are muffling the communication of the good news to the world and are missing out on an opportunity to let the world know that Jesus was sent by the Father. I believe this hinders our evangelism massively in the U.S. and other parts of the Western world where nonbelievers look around and see hundreds, if not thousands, of denominations and scoff at Christians. Christian unity is essential to Gospel fruitfulness, according to the prayer of Jesus. I love Romans 14 because it gives Christians practical and powerful commands and advice on finding unity. Consider these verses:
1. Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about disputed matters.
4. Who are you to judge another’s household servant? Before his own Lord he stands or falls.
10. But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
13. Therefore, let us no longer judge one another.
13. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in the way of your brother or sister.
19. So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.
21. It is a good thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.
21. Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God.
Consider what it would be like if Christians followed just the above commands in Romans 14! No arguments about disputed matters. No judging. Pursuing what promotes peace. No stumbling blocks or pitfalls. Keeping your opinion to yourself on issues that the Bible is not clear on. Consider these awesome words from Pastor Richard Baxter, an English Puritan from the 1600s:
Lastly, observe how we sin against the sad experience of the church in all ages, by laying our religion or unity upon these smaller or unnecessary things. What hath distracted the church so much as contendings about their ceremonies and orders, and precedency and superiority!
The Practical Works of the Reverend Richard Baxter
What wisdom! How many Christians, churches and denominations have divided over SMALL or UNNECESSARY things?! How many Christians and churches have been distracted by arguments over church service orders and other Christian ceremonies? How many Christian groups have splintered over biblically unclear issues like eschatology/last days, the issue of alcohol, the issue of dress, raising hands in worship, music style, Bible translations, the exact nature of communion and more? You might have a firm and clear opinion on some of those matters, and I do too, but we have multiple commands and mandates in Scripture to be in unity, to be one in thought and mind, to be at peace with each other, and we must stop ignoring those commands in the church! I love what Pastor Mark Dever said about this topic in a recent sermon. I beg you to come read these words on the Bible Reading Podcast website so that you remember them well:
I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . . I am suggesting that what you believe about the millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one. Of course all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us. Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians (whether near-ly in a congregation, or more at length in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ for whose unity he’s prayed and given himself. Therefore, I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united. Therefore for us to conclude that we must agree upon a certain view of alcohol, or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the millennium in order to have fellowship together is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore both unwarranted and therefore condemned by scripture. So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view.I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation.
I wholeheartedly agree with Dever here, and would count it a privilege to go to church with him and serve alongside him, even though he and I disagree on several of the issues he mentioned (including the Millennium) - but these disagreements PALE in comparison to the dozens of New Testament commands and urgings to pursue UNITY. Note that I am not suggesting that we must never contend for the faith or for clear biblical truth and commands - we must not compromise on that which the Bible clearly commands. There is indeed a time to stand up and contend for clearly revealed biblical truths, but we must avoid contending on 'doubtful issues,' and we must seek the guidance of the Word of God and His Spirit to walk in the wisdom to know the difference. I think Jared C. Wilson captures the crucial balance and wisdom required quite well on this issue, so allow me to close with some words from him:
We live in crucial times for the church, especially in the West. There are skirmishes a’plenty, opportunities every day to go to war with our neighbors, with our brethren, with every Twitter rando with an itchy keyboard finger. We are called to wage relentless war on our sin (Heb. 4:12) and the spiritual powers of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). But not every invitation to battle with flesh and blood ought to be accepted. And rarely should such invitations be given.Those in Christian ministry ought to especially take this to heart. Fighting is sometimes necessary. Liking to fight is not. In fact, it is forbidden.Consider whether you are in fact with every caustic tweet chipping away at your qualification for ministry. It is not manly to get up every morning thinking of the brethren as your enemies, not even the ones you disagree with on important matters. “The Lord’s servant is not to be quarrelsome” (2 Tim. 2:24). Pastors are forbidden argumentativeness (1 Tim. 3:3).And while the Lord’s violent cleansing of the temple may offer some model of holy zeal worth emulating, he said an awful lot more directly about blessing those who hate, praying for those who persecute, and turning the other cheek. Those are direct orders.
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