Too often the church argues about the non-essentials.
This is a recurring habit, as old as the first disciples. It’s also very human. You find it at the local coffee shop as the seniors in the corner banter about joint pain remedies. You hear it at the daycare as preschoolers debate – in heated battle – about the nuances of the rules of duck-duck-goose. We’re all pretty good at weighing-in on what’s trivial.
Here’s an example from antiquity. The church in Rome seemed entrenched in heated conflicts. For one, they had their own version of the “beyond meat” debate. Should you eat only vegetables or is bacon still on the menu? They also wrestled with the importance of holy days. Is it appropriate to observe sacred days or are all days essentially the same? Things must have been pretty intense for Paul to commit a large portion of his letter to this issue.
Paul summarizes his solution to the conflicts in Romans 14:17-19:
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Paul reminds us that sometimes our priorities can become disordered. When we focus too much on the non-essentials we lose sight of the big picture. We make mountains out of molehills. We elevate secondary or tertiary matters and put primary matters in a corner. The kingdom isn’t about eating and drinking – it’s about the life of the Spirit working in and through the people of God, producing righteousness and peace and joy. (And nobody puts primary matters in a corner.)
Paul also says that the kingdom life should be about building people up rather than tearing them down.
My father was a demolition and explosives expert. He made his money by destroying and blowing things up. He was masterful at demolition – but he was a lousy carpenter. I’m not overstating when I say I would be hesitant to sit on a bench if he built it. My point is that tearing things down and building things up are two very different skill sets. It is far easier to deconstruct than to construct.
We are living in highly polarized times. Ideologies are re-emerging and ideologues are rising. People are shouting at each other across the great divide but few are building bridges. It’s far too easy to label people as “conservative,” or “liberal,” or “snowflake,” or “fundamentalist,” or “millennial,” or “boomer.” And because of the impact of post-modernism, we have become adept at deconstructing other people’s positions. Sadly, we’re masterful at tearing them down but we lack the skillset to build.
In my late twenties, I spent two years studying undergraduate philosophy at a university. I swam in a sea of postmodernist deconstruction and developed the capability of ripping apart anybody’s worldview, including my own. But when you burn everything to the ground, what remains? Over time, I found myself spiraling down into disillusionment and nihilism (which, as it turns out, are symptomatic of our times). I decided that I didn’t want to live in a world of doubt and despair. I wanted to hope. To build. To create. This is one of the reasons why I left the academy and went back into the ministry.
Jesus invites us into a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. He’s calling us to something higher, something greater. What if the people of God excelled at building each other up? What if the world could see the beauty of the kingdom in how we live and how we love?
My prayer is that we would be a people who love each other fiercely, who sacrifice our preferences for the greater good, and who build each other up.
And may the world see the kingdom within us and through us.
This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.