GLORIFY GOD "WITH ONE MOUTH"
"With one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." -ROMANS 15:6.
NOT all Christians make the same choices or have the same preferences. Yet, all Christians must walk arm in arm on the road to life. Is that possible? Yes, if we do not make major issues of minor differences. That is a lesson that the apostle Paul shared with fel-low believers in the first century. How did he explain this important point? And how can we apply his inspired counsel today?
The Importance of Christian Unity
2 Paul knew that Christian unity is vital, and he gave fine counsel to help Christians put up with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians 3:12-14) Nevertheless, after establishing many congregations and visit-ing others over a period of more than 20 years, he knew that maintaining unity could be a challenge. (1 Corinthians 1:11-13; Gala-tians 2:11-14) Thus, he urged fellow believers living in Rome: "May the God who supplies endurance and comfort grant. . . that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5, 6) Today, we likewise must glorify Jehovah God "with one mouth" as a united group of his people. How are we do-ing in this regard?
3 Many Christians in Rome were personal friends of Paul. (Romans 16:3-16) Although their backgrounds were different, Paul ac-cepted all his brothers as "God's beloved ones." He wrote: "I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ concerning all of you, because your faith is talked about through-out the whole world." Clearly, the Romans were exemplary in many ways. (Romans 1: 7, 8; 15:14) At the same time, certain mem-bers of the congregation had different view-points on some matters. Since Christians to-day come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, studying Paul's inspired counsel on how to handle differences can help them to
speak "with one mouth."        .
4 In Rome there were both Jewish and Gen-tile believers. (Romans 4:1; 11:13) Some Jew-ish Christians apparently could not bring themselves to stop practicing certain cus-toms they had observed under the Mosaic Law, even though they should have realized that such practices were not essential for sal-vation. On the other hand, a number of Jew-ish Christians accepted that Christ's sacrifice freed them from restrictions they had ob-served before becoming Christians. As a re-sult, they changed some of their personal habits and practices. (Galatians 4:8-11) Still, as Paul pointed out, all were "God's be-loved ones." All could praise God "with one mouth" if they maintained the proper men-tal attitude toward one another. We today may also have varying viewpoints on certain matters, so we do well to consider carefully how Paul explains that important principle. -Romans 15:4.
"Welcome One Another"
5 In his letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of a situation about which opinions varied. He writes: "One man has faith to eat every-thing, but the man who is weak eats vegeta-bles." Why was that? Well, under the Mosa-ic Law, pork was not an acceptable food. (Romans 14:2; Leviticus 11:7) However, that Law was no longer binding after Jesus died. (Ephesians 2:15) Then, three and a half years after Jesus' death, an angel told the apostle Peter that from God's standpoint no food should be viewed as defiled. (Acts 11: 7-12) With these factors in mind, some Jewish Christians may have felt that they could eat pork-or enjoy some other food that had been prohibited under the Law.
6 However, the ve'ry thought of eating those formerly unclean foods would likely have been repulsive to other Jewish Chris-tians. Such sensitive ones might have felt in-stinctively offended at seeing their Jewish brothers in Christ eating such food. More-over, certain Gentile Christians, whose reli-gious background likely never included di-etary prohibitions, may have been puzzled that anyone would make an issue over food. Of course, it was not wrong for someone to abstain from certain foods, as long as he did not insist that such abstinence was neces-sary to gain salvation. Still, the different viewpoints could easily have fueled contro-versy in the congregation. The Christians in Rome would need to be careful that such differences did not prevent them from glori-fying God "with one mouth."
7 Paul gives a second example: "One man judges one day as above another; another man judges one day as all others." (Ro-mans 14:5a) Under the Mosaic Law, no work was to be done on the Sabbath. Even travel was severely restricted on that day. (Exodus 20:8-10; Matthew 24:20; Acts 1: 12) When the Law was set aside, however, those prohibitions became obsolete. Still, some Jewish Christians may have felt un-easy about performing any kind of work or about traveling a long distance on a day that they had previously viewed as sacred. Even after becoming Christians, they may have set the seventh day aside exclusively for spiritual purposes, even though from God's standpoint the Sabbath was no lon-ger in force. Were they wrong to do so? No, provided that they did not insist that the Sabbath observance was required by God. Hence, out of consideration for the conscience of his Christian brothers, Paul wrote: "Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind."-Romans 14:Sb.
8 Nevertheless, while warmly encourag-ing his brothers to be patient with those who were struggling with matters of con-science, Paul strongly condemned those who tried to force fellow believers to sub-mit to the Mosaic Law as a condition for obtaining salvation. For example, about 61 C.E., Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, a powerful letter to Jewish Christians explaining very clearly that submitting to the Mosaic Law was of no value because Christians had a superior hope based on Jesus' ransom sacrifice. -Galatians 5:1-12; Titus 1: 10,11; Hebrews 10:1-17.
9 As we have seen, Paul argues that making differ-ent choices need not be a threat to unity as long as no clear violation of Christian principles is involved. Hence, Paul asks Christians with a weaker con-science: "Why do you judge your brother?" And he asks the stronger ones (perhaps those whose conscience allows them to eat certain foods that had been forbidden un-der the Law or to perform secular work on the Sabbath): "Why do you also look down on your brother?" (Romans 14:10) Ac-cording to Paul, Christians with a weaker conscience must refrain from condemning their brothers who have a broader view-point. At the same time, Christians who are strong must not look down on those whose conscience is still weak in certain areas. All should respect the proper motives of others and not "think more of [themselves] than it is necessary to think." -Romans 12:3, 18.
10 Paul explained the balanced viewpoint this way: "Let the one eating not look down on the one not eating, and let the one not eating not judge the one eating, for God has welcomed that one." Further, he states:
"Christ also welcomed us, with glory to God in view." Since both the strong and the weak are acceptable to God and Christ, we should have a similarly largehearted atti-tude and "welcome one another." (Romans 14:3; 15:7) Who could rightly disagree with that?
Brotherly Love Produces Unity Today
11 In his letter to the Romans, Paul was ad-dressing a unique situation. Jehovah had recently abolished one covenant and es-tablished a new one. Some were having dif-ficulty in adjusting. That precise situation does not exist today, but similar issues may arise at times.
12 For example, a Christian woman may once have belonged to a religion that em-phasized plainness of dress and appearance. When she accepts the truth, she may find it hard to adjust to the idea that it is not forbid-den to wear modest, colorful clothing on appropriate occasions or to make tasteful use of makeup. Since no Bible principle is involved, it would not be proper for anyone to try to persuade that Christian woman to violate her conscience. At the same time, she realizes that she should not criticize Christian women whose conscience allows them to make use of such things.
13 Consider another example. A Christian man may have been brought up in an en-vironment where the use of alcohol was frowned upon. After coming to a knowledge of the truth, he learns the Bible's view that wine is a gift from God and may be used in moderation. (Psalm 104:15) He accepts that view. Still, because of his background, he prefers to abstain entirely from alcoholic beverages, but he does not criticize those who make moderate use of them. Thus he applies Paul's words: "Let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another." -Romans 14:19.
14 Other situations arise that call for the application of the spirit of Paul's counsel to the Romans. The Christian congregation is made up of many individuals, and they have different tastes. Hence, they might make different choices-for example, in the matter of dress and grooming. Of course, the Bible lays down clear principles that all sincere Christians observe. None of us should wear clothing or hairstyles that are eccentric or immodest or that identify us with undesirable elements of the world. (1 John 2:15-17) Christians remember that at all times, even when they are relaxing, they are ministers representing the Uni-versal Sovereign. (Isaiah 43:10; John 17:16; 1 Timothy 2:9, 10) However, in many areas there is a wide range of acceptable choices for Christians. *
Avoid Stumbling Others
15 There is a final important principle that Paul brings to our attention in his counsel to the Christians in Rome. At times, a Christian with a well-trained conscience might decide not to make a choice that is open to him. Why? Because he realizes that his pursuing a certain course might harm others. In that case, what should we do? Paul says: "It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stum-bles." (Romans 14:14, 20, 21) Thus, "we . . . who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those not strong, and not to be pleas-ing ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor in what is good for his upbuilding." (Romans 15:1, 2) When the conscience of a fellow Chris-tian could be offended by what we do, brotherly love will move us to be consider-ate and restrict our choices. An example of this might be the use of alcoholic bever-ages. A Christian is permitted to drink WI'1e in moderation. But if doing so might stumble his companion, he will not insist on his rights.
16 This principle could also be applied to our dealings outside the Christian congrega-tion. For example, we may live in an area where the prevailing religion leads its adher-ents to view one day of the week as a day of rest. For that reason, so as not to stumble our neighbors and create obstacles for the preaching work, we will avoid as far as possi-ble doing anything on that day that will of-fend our neighbors. In another situation, a wealthy Christian may move to serve where the need is greater among people who are of little means. He might choose to show con-sideration for his new neighbors by dressing very simply or by otherwise living more modestly than his finances permit.
17 Is it reasonable to expect those "who are strong" to make such adjustments? Well, think of this illustration: While driving on a highway, we see ahead of us some children walking dangerously close to the road. Do we continue driving at the maximum speed allowed just because we have the legal right to do so? No, we slow down to avoid possible danger to the children. At times, a simi-lar willingness to slow down, or yield, is called for in our relationship with our fel-low believers or others. We may be doing something that we have a perfect right to do. No Bible principles are being violated. Nevertheless, if we could offend others or harm those with a weaker conscience, Chris-tian love will move us to act with cau-tion. (Romans 14:13, 15) Maintaining unity and promoting Kingdom interests are more important than exercising our person-al rights.
18 When we act in this way, we follow the very finest example. Paul says: "Even the Christ did not please himself; but just as it is written: 'The reproaches of those who were reproaching you have fallen upon me.''' Je-sus was willing to sacrifice his life for us. Surely we are willing to sacrifice some of our rights if that will enable "those not strong" to glorify God in unity with us. Tru-ly, displaying an accommodating and gener-ous disposition toward Christians having a weaker conscience-or voluntarily restrict-ing our choices and not insisting upon our rights-demonstrates "the same mental atti-tude that Christ Jesus had." -Romans 15:1-5.
19 Although our views on matters where Scriptural principles are not involved may vary somewhat, in matters of worship, we act in complete unison. (1 Corinthians 1:10) Such unity is evident, for instance, in our reaction to those who oppose true worship. God's Word calls such opposers strangers and warns us to beware of "the voice of strangers." (John 10:5) How can we identify such strangers? How should we react to them? These questions will be considered in the following article.
*Underage children are guided by their parents' de-sires in the matter of clothing.
How Would You Answer?
. Why would having different views on personal matters be no threat to unity?
. Why should we as Christians show warm consideration for one another?
. What are some ways that we can apply Paul's counsel on unity today, and what will motivate us to do so?
1. What lesson about handling differing view-points did Paul share with fellow believers?
2. How did Paul stress the need for unity?
3, 4. (a) What differing backgrounds did the Christians in Rome have? (b) How would Chris-tians in Rome be able to serve Jehovah "with one mouth"?
5, 6. Why were there differences in viewpoint in the Rome congregation?
7. What different viewpoints existed on the matter of observing a special day each week?
8. While they could show consideration for the conscience of others, what were the Christians in Rome notto do?
9, 10. What should Christians refrain from doing?! Explain.
11. What unique situation existed in Paul's day?
12, 13. What are some situations in which Chris-tians today can show consideration for the conscience of their brothers?
14. In what situations can Christians apply the spir-it of Paul's counsel to the Romans?
15. When might a Christian, for the benefit of his brothers, refrain from exercising his rights?
16. How could we show consideration for those in our territory?
17. Why is it reasonable to consider others in the choices we make?
18, 19. (a) In showing consideration for others, how do we follow Jesus' example? (b) In what do we all act in complete unison, and what will be dis-cussed in the following article?