How well do you get along with others? When you make a decision to do something, do you think about how it will just affect you, or consider its impact and influence on the people around you?
I don’t know if they still do this, but when I was a kid, report cards had two sections, equally important to both the teachers who filled them out and the parents who reviewed them. One section was called “scholarship” and used for academic grades, a review of how well we were learning the material presented in a variety of subjects. The other section, probably even more important to my parents, was called “citizenship” or “character,” a review of my conduct. Children were evaluated in a variety of social interactions, such as cooperation, courtesy, effort, attentiveness, friendliness, health habits, leadership, orderliness, respect for property, self-control, sportsmanship, and reliability.
“Back in the day,” these were expected of all children. We were being taught how to get along with others and conduct ourselves in a way that valued others. It was important to see oneself as part of a larger whole and recognize that your attitudes and conduct affected more than just yourself.
I was reminded of those little blue report cards while reading Romans 13 and 14 today. Paul is writing to a diverse body of believers. Some were Gentiles, brought up in idol worship and vain philosophies. Others had come to faith from the strict laws followed by Orthodox Jews. I would imagine within both groups, there were different levels of commitment to the laws, from very conservative to more liberal interpretations, just like today. Yet, Paul holds all of them, in all of their differences, accountable to act and speak and serve God with a deep love and respect for one another as part of the body of Christ.
Romans 12:18 – If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Romans 13:8-10 – Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
Romans 13:14 – But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
Romans 14:19 – So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God or the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
Romans 15:1-3 – Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”
We serve the Lord by living in a way that serves our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are concerned, and indeed, held accountable if our actions cause others to stumble and sin. We are not held accountable for their sin. “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). If I knowingly do something wrong and it influences you to sin, God will judge you for your own sin, but He will also call me to account for my actions.
What if we actually believed this? What effect would it have on the words we use, the clothes we wear, the places we go, the things we drink, the pictures we post, or the entertainment we pursue?
I don’t believe Paul is advocating we live in legalism and fear, but he is teaching us that we ought to be concerned about one another’s weaknesses. We ought to see ourselves not so much as individuals but as part of the same body. If you knew that your eyes would be detrimentally affected by eating shellfish, but the rest of your body would be fine, would you risk your eyes? Of course, not! Your eyes are important to your whole being, and you would willingly, gladly, give up the temporary pleasure of that shrimp dinner to protect something that was precious to you. In the same way, as Christ-followers, we are not to just think about ourselves and our freedoms in Christ but consider how exercising our freedom could affect others.
As a child, when those report cards came out every six weeks, I knew that section on character better not have any boxes filled in with a big “U” indicating “unsatisfactory.” As long as we worked hard, paid attention in class, and did our assignments, my parents were quite gracious if we weren’t at the top of the class on academic subjects, but there were no excuses if our conduct lagged. An “unsatisfactory” at school resulted in “unacceptable” at home, and there would be consequences.
I want God to fill in my report card with “Well done, good and faithful servant.” To that end, may we live as Paul instructs us, with a concern for others. May we lay aside our “freedom” in service to the kingdom of God, so that all of us, together, will honor and serve the Lord in a way that brings the most glory to Jesus.