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Matters of Opinion

Perhaps this is a cynical opinion, but it seems that some Christians are seeking for a reason to be divisive.  There is a constant stirring of controversy and strife in the brotherhood, and much of it is unnecessary.  Certainly, when the way of faith is assailed, it is the solemn duty of every Christian to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3; 1Pet. 3:15).  However, it is also the responsibility of Christians to know when not to be contentious, and that is the case when the source of contention is a matter of opinion.

The fourteenth chapter of Romans gives instructions for Christians to follow regarding matters of opinion.  The first verse says, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (NASB).  The word “opinions” here is from the Greek dialogismos, which means “an inward reasoning, an opinion” (W.E. Vine).  This word is translated as “scruples” in the ASV and “disputations” in the KJV.  This verse and this word qualify everything else that is stated in this chapter as pertaining only to matters of opinion (scruples or disputations), not matters of doctrine.

There are two essential instructions in this chapter – do not judge one another over matters of opinion (vv. 1-12), and do not cause a brother to stumble because of his opinions (vv. 13-23).  In the first instruction, Paul shows that neither person on opposing sides of a matter of opinion has the right to judge the other.  Notice verse 3 – “Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him.”  No one is more righteous than God, so no one may reject a brother if God accepts Him.  This means that we should not accept one another on the basis of personal opinions, but on the basis of the word of God, which tells us who is acceptable to God.

In the second instruction, Paul admonishes Christians to show love for one another by preventing one another from stumbling.  In this case, a brother who stumbles is one who sins by violating his conscience in doing something he considers to be sinful, even when God has not declared it to be sinful.  Notice verse 14 – “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”  Any brother who has such an errant opinion is weak in faith, but he is not sinful for holding that opinion.  He sins in this matter only if he violates his conscience according to his errant opinion.  Therefore, Christians who love a brother who is weak in faith will go out of their way to spare this brother from situations that might cause him to stumble and sin.

Let us be careful to apply this chapter only to the areas of opinion where God intended it to be applied.  We must not be too broad in our application, but we must not be too narrow, either.  The specific issues that Paul mentioned were the eating of certain foods and the observance of certain days, but the principles involved apply to any matters of opinion.  Therefore, any issue that is not resolved in the word of God should be governed by these principles, whereas any issue that is declared in the word of God must be regarded as immutable doctrine.  Some modern matters of opinion that are governed by these principles are whether certain days should be observed (holidays, birthdays, etc.), whether the Lord’s Supper should be offered more than once on a Sunday, and whether a woman should wear a covering on her head during worship.  Some modern issues in which these principles do not apply are salvation, unity of the church versus denominationalism, and divorce and remarriage.  The standard that determines when to apply these principles is the word of God, so we must be careful follow the word in all that we do.

Therefore, let us follow the instructions of God in matters of opinion – “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way” (Rom. 14:13).  If we follow the Scripture’s advice, we shall do well, and maybe some of the strife and division can be put to an end – “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19).

Stacey E. Durham




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