If social media has revealed anything about people, it’s that we can disagree on just about anything. And worse, we are quick to write each other off over those quibbles!
Sadly, that is often true of the church, too. We disagree, fight, and break fellowship over the tiniest issues. But it shouldn’t be that way!
That was the case among the believers in Rome. They found that church life had enormous potential for trivial conflict.
For example, when Christians met “as the church,” they met to eat a full supper (cf. Acts 2:46; 1 Cor 11:18, 20). But in some assemblies, eating together gave rise to divisions.
You see, for centuries, Jews and Gentiles couldn’t eat together. The Jews were under strict food laws that made it all but impossible to eat with Gentiles. So, when Jews and Gentiles were both added to the Body of Christ, they found it difficult to eat together. Jews were reluctant to give up kosher food laws, even after God revealed that all food was now clean (cf. Acts 10:15). Others struggled with eating meats that were prepared in pagan rituals (cf. 1 Cor 8:1-8). And still others with ascetic backgrounds thought that truly spiritual people would eat a restrictive diet (cf. Col 2:21; Rom 14:2).
All these disagreements over food meant that believers found it very hard to meet en ekklēsia and share the Lord’s Supper. So Paul wrote to the Romans urging those who were stronger in the faith to bear with the weak (Rom 14:2-3). Yes, there was a right and wrong opinion about the food laws. But for Paul, that was not a fellowship-breaking issue. He wrote:
Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us, for the glory of God (Rom 15:7 NASB).
Here is an additional “one another” command, among 58 or so that give you a thicker picture of church life as God meant it to be. We should “accept one another.” The ESV translates it as “welcome.” What does that mean?
Earlier, in Rom 14:1, Paul told the Romans, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not to have quarrels over opinions.”
Zane Hodges and Robert Jewett agree this is about welcoming someone to eat at the Lord’s Table. (And don’t argue over trivial issues during the table talk!) The basis for acceptance at the Lord’s Table is not having the right opinions on every single issue, but whether or not “God has accepted him” (Rom 14:3).
We know that God’s acceptance is by faith apart from our works (Rom 3:28), including the work of dietary laws. Our acceptance is by His grace. And that graciousness should also characterize how we accept each other.
When Paul said we should “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us” (Rom 15:7), he was urging Roman church life to be characterized by the same grace that Jesus showed to us. As Govett said:
“The seventh verse is the great canon of reception into the Church of Christ…It is not—‘This person applying for communion follows with us: he accepts all our doctrines and observances.’ But, ‘he is accepted by the Son of God.’ He may require to learn much that he sees not now; or to put away many views he now holds. That is a work to be wrought in him by the Holy Spirit” (Govett, Romans, p. 514).
The Holy Spirit has His work and you have yours. Your job is to see Christ in other believers and so welcome them like family: “Take your fellow-Christians to your hearts as well as to your homes. If Christ’s example is followed, as Paul enjoins, the welcome will be unreserved and God will be glorified by his people’s mutual love and kindness” (F. F. Bruce, Romans, p. 242).