Over coffee and blossoming friendship, Susan and I shared our stories, our fears, and the victories we’ve experienced in Christ. Just before I had to leave, I remembered that a specific decision was weighing on her and asked about it: “Have you made a decision about your kids and school?”
|This post is a good excuse for a cute first day of school picture, don't you think?|
She nodded, indicating that they had decided to make a change. I could tell she felt a little uncomfortable, nervous even, and I knew why. Our kids go to school together. We were alike, and her decision was about to make us different. Would I receive that as an indictment about my own choice?
Susan is a woman of deep faith, and I knew that she had sought the Lord’s direction through prayer for many months. “That’s wonderful,” I said, “I am so happy for you that God has made it clear!”
There was a time, however, when I struggled when others in our church made choices different than my own. I worried that I was not spiritual enough or that others were judging me or that perhaps I was actually missing what God was saying to me. I wrestled in prayer, rehashing over and over with God what He had already laid out clear.
This discomfort with differences and resulting division is, unfortunately, not unusual among women in the church. And our greatest struggles and misunderstandings are typically concerned with open-handed issues, such as education choices, working/non-working choices, financial choices, and parenting practices. As a result, we self-divide, huddling into groups that share our convictions and can best relate to us. We create further division when we evaluate and judge others based upon our convictions.
This is dangerous for the church and not at all biblical. In my own season of struggle over these issues, I discovered an incredibly helpful framework in Romans 14 for how to relate to all women in the church regarding open-handed issues.
The basic framework is based on three main truths:
- Truth #1: The grace of Christ allows for differences on open-handed issues. We don’t all have to do everything the same way. (vs. 1-4)
- Truth #2: Each of us lives by faith as unto the Lord. We will account only to God for how we lived. (vs. 5-10)
- Truth #3: In the end, the kingdom of God has little to do with open-handed matters. It is instead about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. The one who focuses on these things is approved by God and man. (vs. 17-18)
How do we then apply this framework as we relate to other women in the church? Paul, also in Romans 14, gives us practical commands:
- Don't judge others who think differently on open-handed issues. Trust God to lead that person. (vs. 12-13)
- Don't worry about what others are doing. Focus on what God wants for you, because you will one day stand accountable to Him for these things. (vs. 10)
- That said, consider others. If your conviction causes grief or causes another to stumble, you aren't walking in love. In other words, don’t flaunt your freedom. Don't destroy another person for the sake of your conviction. Don't put your conviction above love. (vs. 15-22)
- Pursue conversation and activity which makes for peace and edification, not division. (vs. 19)
- Don't self-condemn because someone else has a different conviction by faith. (vs. 22)
- Whatever you do, it must be from faith (not fear) or it is sin. (vs. 23)
- Edify one another in their choices according to faith, even those different than your own. (15:1-2)
- Don't separate from others with different convictions. Receive one another just as Christ received both the circumcised and the Gentile. (15:7-9)
As I began to personally meditate on the truths of Romans 14, focus on following God’s leading in my own family by faith, and seek to edify and understand the women around me, I experienced the freedom and joy of living as unto God rather than being concerned with what everyone else was doing. He released me from self-condemnation.
This same freedom is available to women in our churches as we cross false boundaries, champion one another’s faith, and focus on what is truly at the heart of the kingdom of God. This is how love abounds among both “Jew” and “Gentile”.
*shared with Susan's permission :)