To be fair, there have been several passages I’ve neglected to apply to myself, but, given the time of year we are in, this is certainly one. Paul writes,
“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:5-10).
When we encounter a passage in Scripture, we are well-served to consider its practical application for daily life.
According to this passage, an individual is permitted to regard one day above another and another may choose not to do so. How might that apply to us today? What if one personally regarded December 25th over, say, August 17th (which, while it’s National Custard Day and National Thrift Shop Day, was an attempt to pick an ordinary day on the calendar)? Is that wrong?
According to this passage, one may elect to observe a day (or not) and eat certain foods (or not) “for the Lord.” If they observe and eat, they aren’t wrong and should not be judged. Remember what Paul says elsewhere: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Is application restricted just to customs under the Old Law, or could someone today act as our judge regarding some or all of these things? Even in Colossians, Paul was dealing with more than Judaisers.
According to this passage, we must consider our actions in light of how they impact each other. As a local church and even an entire brotherhood, we don’t act in isolation because we are part of one big spiritual family. It also means each member, every weak and strong Christian, should first apply this passage to himself/herself and not just project it onto others. It is a two-way street. If one wants to personally show homage to Christ on a specific day, should he or she be respected and left alone to do that? That seems a fair application of this text.
According to this passage, we must watch judging our brother in matters like these. Further, we must avoid seeing him with contempt. That’s a strong word, meaning “to show by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit or worth, disdain” (BDAG 352). Jesus reserved a scathing parable of two men praying in the temple for some because “they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Every weak and strong Christian, along with the rest of humanity, “will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” That should temper my spirit and speech, especially in matters which upon fair investigation turn out to be matters of judgment.
When I was younger, I sadly admit that I passed judgment on Christians who sent me religiously-themed Christmas cards or put up a nativity scene in their yard. Any sign that they attached religious significance to this season I attributed to their being spiritually weak and inferior. In light of Romans 14, I believe I was wrong to do this. This was a personal liberty granted to them by God through Paul in that text. If, as I presumptuously assumed, I was their “stronger brother,” then I should not act as their judge in the matter. I should set an example of patience, compassion, and acceptance.
This passage does not authorize the church to observe Christmas or to conclude, as one wise brother put it, “If I can do it, we can do it.” Scripture is filled with condemnation for the church, in its worship and teaching, setting up what God set down and setting down what He set up. Paul, in Romans 14, is talking about an individual Christian engaging in a personal observance. In a mountain of doctrinal and moral crises, let’s be sure to put this in proper perspective. More than that, let’s be careful to avoid being in either the camp which looses where God has bound or which binds where God has given liberty. And let it begin with me.