May God “give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify … God.” Romans 14—15:13 (NIV)
The Apostle Paul’s letters should be read as conversations between two parties. Often we may read them statically, not thinking about what those who received the missives would be saying or doing. As Conrad Gempf shows us in How to Like Paul Again (Authentic, 2013), Paul encourages the freewheeling Corinthians to embrace a stronger sense of rules but wants the rule-bound Galatians to enjoy more freedom.
Here in his letter to the church at Rome, he instructs the newly formed group of Jewish and Gentile believers. Their different backgrounds and the new covenant brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection – with its impact on how the believers interpret the Old Testament laws – result in conflict and disagreement. Paul asks for grace and love on both sides; for the unity that flows from Christ living in them to pervade their actions and relationships. He reiterates how all are one in Christ, for Christ serves the Jewish people and brings hope for the Gentiles.
And so however we interpret the shades of Sabbath, we can do so loving and supporting one another. We might yearn for new believers in the faith to see joining us at church not as a leisure option that can be easily cast off for family get-togethers or days out, but as a key faith-building exercise. We can hold our tongues, not spewing forth judgmental words on our friends but praying for them. And we can receive the Lord’s grace and affirmation when we’ve too strongly interpreted the laws, when our actions become restrictive to the point of closing off the Holy Spirit. As often we might move from one extreme to the other, we seek God’s guidance and wisdom as our corrective and joy.
For reflection: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).