The third of the ‘one another’ sayings in the New Testaments is “Accept one another” (Romans 15:7).
We all want to be accepted. This is especially evident in the teenage years when we all dress alike because of peer pressure, longing to be one of the groups. People often do crazy things in order to be accepted.
Within each of us there is a deep seated need to belong. Many of us will go to any length to fulfil it. It might mean getting drunk, smoking pot, shooting drugs, getting involved in immorality because everyone is doing it, joining a gang, or following strict rules of do’s and don’ts among Christians.
Along with the deep- seated need to belong there is a deep-seated prejudice that tends to reject those who are different. I believe this is partly due to fear – fear of anyone or anything we cannot understand. It is simpler to reject than to try to understand.
Prejudice can also be attributed to a proud attitude that thinks we are better than those other people. As a result we treat those who are different in all kinds of negative ways. We ignore them, we look down upon them, we put them down, we make fun of them, and we outright reject them. It is because of this deep-seated sin of prejudice that we all try to impress.
This malady of prejudice reveals itself not only in society but, more sadly, in the church. James had to deal with it in the first-century, and our churches of the twenty-first century are not different. There are countless churches throughout the land where a person is not loved and accepted until he or she meets a certain dress code or rigorously follows certain standards of spirituality (often made up of don’t).
But Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7). He says we are to accept each other just as Christ accepted us. And how was that? Paul goes to explain. Christ came as a servant of the Jews, as a minister of the circumcision. Salvation came to Israel through Christ in confirmation and fulfilment of the truth of the Old Testament promises (Romans 15:8-12). Paul explains, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons and daughters” (Gal. 4:4,5).
Paul was saying that Christ is God’s instrument for accepting all people. Because He fulfilled God’s promises to His special people, the Jews, Jesus was able to also accept the Gentiles. Because of His perfect life, He was able to die for the sins of all mankind.
The Old Testament Scriptures Paul quoted (Psalm 18:50; Deut. 32: 43; Ps.117:1; Isa. 11:10), forecast the reception of the Gentiles into the faith. He explains, “so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy…” (Rom. 15:9). Their only claim was upon the mercy of God. God had made no promise to the ancestors of the Gentiles. Christ came to confirm the truth of the promise made to the ancestors of the Jews, but He also came so that the Gentiles might obtain mercy and thus glorify God.
Of course, it was mercy that led God to choose Israel in the first as His people. Moses said to the people of Israel that God’s basis for accepting Israel is His mercy and love (Deut. 7:6b-8). Paul argues that our acceptance of each other is to be the same as God’s acceptance of us-based on mercy and love. How unlike our natural acceptance of people! We tend to accept only those who are acceptable to us. We approve only those who meet our standards, those who live by our values. The truth is that we do not accept people; we accept their points and their positive characteristics. Our fundamental problem in accepting one another is that our love and our acceptance are conditional. Both Moses and Paul state that God’s is not.
The lack of acceptance is demonstrated by the numerous cliques in our churches, the individualistic attitude that are righteously pontificated, and the ridiculous number of denominations. Too often denominations have started because of fleshly disagreement instead of as a movement of God. Too often our attitudes are like those displayed by spoiled children, who won’t play if others don’t play their game.
Are you an accepting person? Or do people have to prove themselves before you will accept them? Do they have to measure up to specific standards before you deem them worthy of acceptance? Who we are, Paul asks in effect, to refuse someone whom God has accepted (Rom. 14:3, 4). He proceeds to say that we have not been called to be judges: God alone is Judge. In light of the fact we all will stand before Him one day, we must be careful not to condemn one another. We are responsible for our own lives, not for someone else’s life. We must accept people unconditionally, no matter what.
As Christians we must not set up spiritual barriers for other people, as the Pharisees did. We accept everyone. Of course, this does not mean that we condone everything others do; it means that we accept them as human beings, and fellow believers in Jesus Christ. Let us repent of our judgmental attitudes, our self-righteousness, our prejudices, and our self-centeredness. Love is all-inclusive. Love accepts everyone, regardless of colour, status, prestige or spirituality. In a world drunk with the importance of achievement and success, let us accept each other as Christ has accepted us-unconditionally and sacrificially.
By Rev. Eric D. Maefonea