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How are we to treat others who differ in matters of conscience?

Paul gives us the principles we need to build and maintain the unity of the faith.

Romans 13:1-7

Paul teaches Christians to be subject to governmental authorities. Paul wants Christians to be good citizens. But does subjection to governmental authorities mean turning a blind eye to injustice? Paul seems to align obedience to government with obedience to God.

Discuss

Paul teaches that Christians should be good citizens. But what happens when government is evil? Would God require Christians to be subject to Hitler? Would God require us to abandon our faith if required by the government? How did Daniel respond when prayer to His God was outlawed? (Daniel 3:10-12) What are the implications for us in relation to our government? Can you think of any examples of Christian civil disobedience?

What is the Christian’s role in civil society? Prophet (represents God before people) or Priest (represents humans before God)

Romans 13:8-10

Paul, following Jesus, describes love as the most important ethical consideration in interpersonal relationships. He lists four of the ten commandments, not to exclude the others, but simply as exemplars. Love sums up all the commandments and is the fulfillment of God’s law.

Discuss

How do we love someone who is breaking one of the ten commandments or any other commandment of God? How do we love adulterers? Murderers? Thieves? Greedy people?

Romans 13:11-14

Paul expands on what it means to love. He reminds us that the completion of our salvation is drawing nearer every day. He describes our lives now as “sleep,” but our presence in heaven as “awakening.” Therefore, we are to throw off sin and put on the armor light—behaviors that are consistent with God’s commands. By using the word armor, Paul implies that these commands have a protective factor. He mentions several specific activities we are to avoid: carousing (drunken sexual orgies; sometimes associated with the worship of other gods), drunkenness, sexual promiscuity (any sex outside of marriage), sensuality (unrestrained sexuality activity), strife (conflict, quarrelsome), and jealousy. Paul concludes this section with an admonition to put on Christ (same verb as in verse 12) and to make no provision for the flesh—anything that opposes Christ which he has just enumerated in verse 13.

So, what we have are several light/darkness analogies that delineate proper Christian sexual behavior:

  1. People generally sleep at night and are awake during the day (v. 11)
  2. Night is almost gone day is near; therefore, put aside the deeds of darkness and act as if in the light of day (v. 12)
  3. Our daytime behavior excludes all kinds of sexual immorality (v. 13)
  4. Finally, we are to put on Christ, which means not engaging in the behaviors listed in verse 13.

Discuss

In our culture, love seems to mean acceptance and indulgence of any behavior, whether or not it aligns with God’s commands. How do we balance grace and truth in addressing someone who is breaking God’s commands?

How is our sexual behavior an indicator of our commitment to Christ?

Romans 14:1-23

In these verses, Paul is addressing one group of Christians who believed that they had to keep all the Jewish dietary laws and another group that rejected those restrictions. Paul’s point in the first four verses is that neither group should judge the other; it’s between God and the individual.

Verses 5-9. Paul discusses those in the fellowship who observe the Jewish festival days. Essentially, he is saying in the case of both food and festival, that there is no right and wrong. What matters is that the individual has a clear conscience and that we are living for God, in either case.

Discuss

What are some areas that Christians disagree on that are matters of conscience. That is, how do we respond if people engage in a particular behavior that does not violate a biblical principle or command, yet Christians have disagreements about whether or not Christians should engage in that behavior (e.g. dancing, playing cards, etc). I once had a friend whose grandfather did not allow him to fish on Sunday because it wasn’t church related and he considered it work. I know others who find fishing a welcome diversion and very appropriate as a Sabbath activity. Who’s right?

Verses 10-12. Paul is very clear that no matter what position one takes on Jewish dietary laws or Jewish holy days, we are not to judge one another. We are to “take care of our own business,” so to speak, because we are ultimately accountable to God.

Verses 13-18. The goal ought to be for everyone not to cause another person to stumble. Paul says that he knows that all foods are clean and that he is free to eat them; however, he refuses to allow his freedom to disturb the faith of someone who does not share this belief. For instance, it stands to reason that Paul would have enjoyed a good shrimp cocktail, but he wouldn’t eat it in front of someone who believed they had to keep Jewish kosher laws, which forbid the eating of shrimp). Ultimately, he says, the kingdom of God is not about what one eats or drinks.

Verses 19 to 23. What really matters in matters of conscience, in this context Jewish dietary laws and festival days, is our interpersonal relationships. We should strive for peace (freedom from anxiety or worry) and building one another up (rather than tearing one another down). Those who have a greater freedom of conscience regarding food and festival should not encourage those with less freedom to violate their conscience because it leads them to sin (at least in their own mind) and damages their relationship with God.

Discuss

Where is Paul placing the responsibility? The group with more freedom or less freedom?

What can we do at a very practical level, to strive for peace in the midst of disagreement and conflict in matters of conscience?

Romans 15:1-13

These verses are a continuation of the previous discussion that includes more implications of what Paul has previous said.

Paul places the burden of responsibility on those who are “strong,” on those who experience more freedom. The job of the strong is to protect the conscience of the “weak,” or those who experience less freedom in Christ. If we flaunt our freedom, we are acting selfishly, which is contrary to the example of Christ who lived solely for the benefit of others. We are to deny ourselves for the sake of the conscience of those whose consciences are weaker. The end result is for the entire community, and everyone in it, to be able to maintain hope, to persevere in the faith, and be of one mind in Christ, and glorify God together.

Discuss

How does Paul’s teaching about self-denial run counter to our individualistic society that says we basically have no obligation to others (i.e. What I do is really nobody else’s business.)?

How willing are you to deny yourself for the sake of another’s conscience?

Romans 15:14-21

Here Paul changes topics and begins to talk about his missionary work and hopes to go to Spain. He first encourages the Roman church. They are good people, he says, with the hope that they will follow his teaching in this letter. He has taught boldly on some major themes: salvation and righteousness by faith, empowerment of the Christian by the Holy Spirit, and how Christians are the new people of God. The goal of Paul’s ministry is to go into regions where Christ has not yet been proclaimed. He is a gospel entrepreneur.

Discuss

What new frontiers has God called you to in sharing the gospel of Jesus? What people has God called you to share the good news of Jesus with?

Romans 15:22-33

Paul expresses a desire to come to the church at Rome, even though it will be only in passing. Yet, he is on his way to Jerusalem because he has a contribution for the Jerusalem church from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia. This collection for the church at Jerusalem played a major role in Paul’s missionary journeys. In the last four verses of the chapter Paul invites the Romans to pray for the success of his ministry. This section concludes the main body of Paul’s letter.

Discuss

In what ways do you pray for the ministry success of others?

Prayer

Father, give us all the humility to serve others, to place others above ourselves. Help us to exercise our citizenship faithfully. Give us grace to strive for righteousness and holiness in all we do. In matters of Conscience, give us the humility to place others before ourselves.

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WadeArnold

Husband. Father. Pastor. Psychologist. I am passionate about leadership and discipleship.

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