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Scruples Part 1

Opinions. Everybody has a pocketful. And some have a mouthful. Everybody thinks his are the best, of course. And can give you good reasons. And the longer he talks about it, the louder he talks about it.

Religious opinions are scruples. One feels especially motivated to get others to agree with these. These are not things the Bible actually addresses;' they are periphery matters that make far more difference to us than to God. To Him, it is "neither circumcision or uncircumcision," that matters (Gal. 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor. 7:19). He doesn't care if we take Saturdays off from work, or if we spend ten hours in the field. It makes no difference to Him if one's plate has meat and vegetables or if it has only meat or vegetables. He will let you into heaven off of either menu. These matters are left at large.

What do we do with a brother in our congregation who has a different set of scruples from us?

ACCEPT EACH OTHER IN SPITE OF THEM (Rm. 14:1). Apply this litmus test: "Is God going to send him to hell for believing this?" If not, then we must not reject a brother that God receives (14:3). "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye... Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God" (Rm. 14: 1; 15:7). The word used here, proslambano (receive, accept), is a compound verb. The prefix pros is a preposition that intensifies the basic verb, making it a command. In other words, Paul was not simply suggesting that strong believers accept weak believers; he is commanding it.

What does it mean to "receive" each other? Proslambano 2 means "to take to oneself, admit to friendship or hospitality." The verb described the gracious hospitality of the Melita (Malta) natives, who kindled a fire and "received" a shipwrecked group (Acts 28:2). When Paul was afraid the Philippians would reject Epaphroditus, he urged them to "receive" him as a fellowhelper of the truth (Phil. 2:29). John forbade Christians to "receive" into their houses those that did not bring the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 10), and criticized Diotrophes for not "receiving" those John sent to the church (3 Jn. 9, 10). In practical language, if we "receive" a person with a different scruple, we do not avoid speaking to him in the church foyer, leave her child off our child's birthday party list, or refuse to be on the same visitation team with him. If we "receive" a brother with a different scruple, we invite him over for cake and coffee and do not hesitate to help him when given the opportunity (cf. Mt. 7:12; 10:4042).

It is interesting that Jesus contrasted "receiving" a child with "offending" one: "And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend 6 one..." (Mt. 18:5, 6). It's true in adult relationships, too. If we omit the former, we invite the latter. How many congregations have had unrest because one clique was offended because another did not "receive" it? The Lord did not plan for His church to be divided into a hundred splinters (cf. Mt. 16:18), based on personal preference and traditions that have no ground in Scripture. It was

Paul's abiding concern that every Christian have a deep desire for preserving "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3) and for putting "on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" (Col. 3:14; John 13:34-35; 17:20-21). Our Master foretold that offences would come; and so they did for lack of the wisdom and love which could have prevented discord (Acts 10: 15, 28).

DON'T ARGUE ABOUT THEM (14:1b). There are some issues that some brothers just don't need to talk about. Don't let your Christian friendship and fellowship be disturbed with vain janglings (I Tim. 1:6). Bible classes or personal religious conversations should never descend to arguments over opinions that profit no participant. As a general rule we should spend our zeal in those things wherein we agree, and not dispute about matters that are doubtful.

It is sinful to argue over opinions. Solomon said, "He loveth transgression that loveth strife" (Prov. 17:19a). We must avoid provoking' one another (Gal. 5:26). Learn from previous conversations and don't light a match in a highly flammable area. Don't try to "settle it." Don't think that just a little more explanation can get her to switch to your position. Don't scratch the itch to get the last word. Paul goes on: "Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth" (14:22). The phrase "have it to thyself" means that in these indifferent things, though we must never contradict our conviction, we sometimes must conceal it.

Paul says we are to receive our brother, but not to doubtful disputations... (14: 1). That is, don't just  take him into your circle so you can start disputes with him. Paul had earlier warned the Romans to avoid contentiousness, strife, and envy (2:8, 13), and urged, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (12:18). In other letters, he said arguing 8 was a sign of carnality (I Cor. 3: 3) and that the church "has no such custom" as contentiousness (I Cor. 11:16). Foolish and unlearned questions must be avoided because they "gender strifes" (2 Tim. 2:23). Solomon was a bit more expressive: "As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife" (Prov. 26:21). We are forbidden to "dote" about "questions and strifes of words" because it will lead to "envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings" ( I Tim. 6:4). And these will keep one out of heaven. "Variance,' emulations, 12 wrath, strife" are works of the flesh (Gal. 5:20) and bar the path to God.

We must receive a differing brother, not to expose and embarrass him, but to instruct and strengthen him (I Cor. 1: 10; Phil. 3:15, 16). All cannot at once rise to full strength. Arguing with him is not the best means of removing his weakness. The way to help strengthen him is to try not to offend him and to show him forbearance and love, thereby enabling an atmosphere where he can grow. The best place to become strong is in the fellowship of the strong. The Lord's servant "must not strive; but be gentle unto all men apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves..." (2 Tim. 2:24, 25).

1 See Sept.-Oct. 02 GT articles: "What Romans 14 Does Not Teach." 2 An expanded definition: "take him to you, bid him welcome, receive him with the greatest affection and tenderness; treat him with all possible endearments." The Syriac has "lend them your hand" (porrigite manum).

Notes:

lambano:  Interestingly, forms of the two words dechomai and lambano are used interchangeably in this passage.  A more common word (dechomai) is used here. It means "to receive, accept."  skandalizo, "to entrap, trip up or entice to sin, apostasy or displeasure."  prokaleomai, "to call forth, challenge, irritate."  Strife (eris), "a quarrel, wrangling; contention, debate, strife. variance."  This is an interesting word (philoneikos) that means to be "fond of strife."  This word (noseo) literally means "to be sick." By implication it means to have a "diseased appetite." It is used here to mean "to hanker after" or "harp upon." 1 eris 12 zelos, "heat, i.e. zeal (in a favorable sense, ardor; in an unfavorable one, jealousy, as of a husband [fig. of God], or an enemy, malice): envy (-ing), fervent mind, indignation, jealousy, zeal."

Allen Wbster
Glad Tidings of Good  Things
Vol 7/october 17, 2002, page 2