Pursue the Things Which Make for Peace

“Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19)

Paul knew about disagreements between Christians and anticipated them. These differences resulted from “weakness” (Romans 14:1). This was not general weakness, but weakness in one area. Weakness in this example referred to one who could not eat certain meats with a clear conscience. Thus, it was a problem of knowledge. This was not a weakness of conviction either for the action in question was motivated by the desire to please the Lord, i.e. “to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks” (Romans 14:6b).

Differences of conscience are to be expected in any setting where people from different places and people with different levels of knowledge and experience are seeking to work together. These differences will be exacerbated by the reckless practice of so-called “strength”. There must be patience for the inexperienced. There must be respect for those who abstain for conscience’ sake. If there is not, we will not be able to to draw others into our groups or use our relationships to help others. In religious matters of conscience, the so-called strong one can have his faith to himself before God (Romans 14:22). He is not required to practice everything that he knows publicly to please God, but he may destroy a brother or a sister if he flaunts a liberty before them which they are not ready to accept (Romans 14:15).

If we find ourselves demanding or defending our rights, we may very well be avoiding submission. The Lord does not desire a church that eats meat on one side of town and a church that does not eat meat on the other side of town. Yet, if we try to force a “weak” brother to act contrary to their conscience, we may cause them to feel as if they have no other option but to separate from us. If we do not allow the strong to even have their convictions to themselves and demand conformity in matters that really do not involve us or influence us directly, we become a judge of our brother and possibly the law of God (James 4:11). This will eventually drive brethren away as well.

Both the strong and the weak bear the responsibility of submission. The weak cannot use his conscience to control the strong any more than the strong can use his knowledge to pressure the weak to comply with his understanding. Both the strong and the weak must be open to compromises which are offered in a good faith effort to respect all sides of a conscientious difference. Both are to accept one another, and pursue the things which make for peace.

It may be human nature to become obsessed with issues that we disagree about once they are discovered. We act as if unity means perfect conformity within the group. However, Paul seemed to understand unity as a process by which individuals increasingly conform to the gospel and so find unity even in groups with different levels of knowledge, different abilities, and different personalities. The former view seeks to enforce a group standard based on the present knowledge of those who are supposedly the strongest within the group. The latter view strives for unity by each individual trying to better understand the Lord’s will and patiently bearing with the inevitable differences that result from our individual weaknesses and individual areas of ignorance.

We often talk about the importance of submission, but it is equally important for us focus on the things that we agree about it, or as Paul stated it: “Pursue the things which make for peace”. How often have we found ourselves at the center of a controversy because we had become consumed with things that we agree about? Hopefully, never since controversy implies disagreement. If we focus on the things we disagree about, division will be unavoidable. This is not to say that we can never discuss subjects about which we disagree, but at the end of the day, there has to be a willingness to submit to one another for the sake of Christ and focus on the things that unite us, even if we don’t come any closer to agreement in a particular area of disagreement for a long time. There are too many important things that we agree about for us to go our separate ways, divide our strength, and potentially bring shame upon the name of Jesus.

Mutual submission and respect combined with an intentional focus on the things that we agree about are the keys to unity with people in every area of our lives. However, God’s people cannot be fruitful disciples or even please Him without the pursuit of the things which make for peace.