It can be so easy for believers in Christ to go off on tangents that distract us from the important things concerning God’s kingdom. Those tangents can be anything from what kind of foods we consider acceptable to consume to what religious days we should observe to what arguments we should make to justify bad habits, wrong beliefs, or sinful behaviors.
The church at Rome in the first century was so preoccupied with passing unjust judgment on each other over diet and holidays that Paul was forced to address the issue in Romans 14. Vegans were condemning meat-eaters, meat-eaters condemned vegans, those who weren’t wine drinkers condemned those who drank it, those who observed Passover or other holidays condemned those who didn’t set aside time for special observances, etc. So Paul had to make it clear that God allows us to have personal preferences regarding non-essential beliefs, but expects us to distinguish correctly between what is personal preference and what the Lord clearly considers sin. Here’s what he said in Romans 14:
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. …16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. 19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
What were the non-essentials? One’s diet (of course, provided that the food wasn’t dedicated in a heathen ritual). The essentials? Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Those are the things that are acceptable to God and are important to his kingdom. When one is in a right relationship with God that comes from repentance of sin and accepting Jesus as Lord (the only way we can receive righteousness) which results in obedience to him, then one lives at peace with God and does things that promote the peace of God, which then results in the joy of the Holy Ghost. We have joy in him and he has joy in us. However, churches are in a state now where some churchgoers falsely equate righteousness, peace, and joy as keeping quiet about sin or calling sin a good thing.
Paul’s words mirrored what Jesus said when Jewish leaders tried to condemn the disciples for eating without following their strict rituals. Jesus then specifically stated in Mark 7 what is really unrighteous– “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Jesus condemned what we allow in church today, especially the sexual sins of sodomy, co-habitation, adultery, and other types of sex outside of marriage. We also accept blasphemy (by believing Jesus isn’t the only way to God), deceit (people who portray themselves as wholesome but are anything but in their personal lives), and a whole bunch of other sin he clearly condemned in this scripture. God help us.
This is why Paul showed the necessity of benedictions in closing his letters to churches. One benediction that stands out to me is 2 Corinthians 13:14:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
Paul was made aware of many sins going on at Corinth and that there were quite a few who voiced their dislike for him and his associates. But after he addressed the problems, he prayed the blessings of the Trinity on them, including:
- Grace. This unmerited, undeserved favor comes to us via the Lord Jesus and empowers us to do what God calls us to do.
- Love. This is from the Father as displayed in his Son’s self-sacrifice for us which leads us to love him by sacrificing ourselves for him and to look for opportunities to share this love with others. It prompts us to hate sin, not make excuses for it.
- Communion. The Holy Ghost is always in us to provide this fellowship and communication from God and to God so we can understand what pleases him and what doesn’t and then direct our way accordingly. He’s always ready and willing to talk to us if only we would make the time to talk to him.
And this benediction which Paul prayed over all who would read his epistle is what I pray for all of you who read this.
Harry A. Gaylord