Managing Our Differences, Part 3
This series seeks to outline a scripturally informed view of what to do when we disagree with each other on issues — including sometimes very important issues — that fall short of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Our starting point has been the heated disagreement (paroxysm is the word in the text) between Paul and Barnabas.
So far I’ve suggested that
1. God never uses flawless vessels. He always uses only flawed vessels because that’s all he has. (See Part 1.)
2. God can use our differences to advance His kingdom. The result of the Pauline-Barnaban paroxysm was a doubled mission outreach. (See Part 2.)
There is another related but distinct consideration for which we also have specific Scripture:
3. God uses our differences to glorify Himself.
One of the bottom-line principles when it comes to issues of liberty is 1 Corinthians 10:31. The verse makes a great life motto. But it is more than a call simply to sanctify all the mundane activities of life by doing them in a way that glorifies God. The contextual application is far more specific.
This verse is the determinative dictum for choosing whether to exercise a liberty, or not. The fully contextually informed gist of Paul’s statement is this: In a situation potentially involving the testimony or conscience of yourself or others, whether you choose to eat or not eat, whether you choose to drink or not drink, or whatever you choose to do or not do in such a situation, make the choice that most glorifies God.
The deciding factor is not whether I have the liberty. The deciding factor is what decision will most glorify God in any given situation.
“Gospel-centered” and “cross-centered” are big buzzwords these days. Some have suggested that this focus is too narrow, that there’s more to the Bible than the Gospel and the cross. That’s true. But it’s also true that some who use those terms fail to apply them broadly enough.
For example, have you ever noticed the language of Romans 14:15?
Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
In other words, according to Paul, reining in my liberty to avoid grieving a brother in Christ is about as Gospel-centered and cross-centered as it gets.
In both 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15, Paul is dealing with potentially different conclusions between believers on a broad range of issues; but you find Paul propelling the discussion to the same applicational conclusion in both passages:
- Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 8-10 with a call to glorify God in our choices (1 Cor. 10:23-31).
- Paul concludes Romans 14 with a call to glorify God in our choices (Rom. 15:2-6).
1 Corinthians 10
23 . . . all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s (good). … 31Whether, therefore, ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all for the glory of God.
2 Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. 3 For even Christ pleased not himself . … 5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: 6 that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God …
Our decisions in various circumstances will often differ from each other’s; but if the basis on which we make those decisions is (as Paul exhorts us) the good of others for the glory of God, then God will be glorified even in and by our differences.
Commenting on Jeremiah 35, Derek Kidner facetiously (and ironically) describes the Rechabites as “those obstinate puritans who, as everyone knew, needed dragging into the sixth century!” But he goes on to make a secondary observation:
“God, who loves unity and truth, is no lover of uniformity. By his own order of Nazarites, he called some people, but not others, to an austerity not unlike that of the Rechabites, to make a particular point; and the fact that Jesus and John the Baptist glorified God by different lifestyles should open our minds to the reality and value of specialized callings… .”
That emphasis on our differences raises an important question that we need to investigate further: why is there so much on which we differ? More on that next time.