Love is thin when faults are thick -Thursday, 31st week in ordinary time – Romans 14:7-12
I have often advocated a text to be read in its context. Today is a classic example. Read by itself, todays text sounds like a pledge of fidelity to God when in fact it is a call to place our beliefs and lives in the larger context of the God we serve rather than our narrow domestic views and agendas.
The pericope of today falls in a larger section of Romans chapters 12-15. These chapters sketch the implications for how the church lives its faith in light of the teaching taught in the prior chapters of Romans. This section of Romans makes it clear that divisions in the church go back to the earliest churches; divisions and discord are a human reality. There was clearly a domestic problem in the Church in Rome which seems to have increased by the time chapter 12-15 were written. To get a complete picture of what that is I suggest you read the whole of chapter 14
In the first half of the letter to the Romans, Paul focuses on God’s love for believers: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Now, in the second half of the letter Paul emphasizes the love that believers must show towards each other because of the love they have received. The exhortations of chapter 14, however, suggest that in this community in Rome, love is thin because faults are thick.
At its core, the issue was that each group was setting itself over and above the other group, claiming the high moral ground for its particular practices and opinions about ceremonial practices that were peripheral to the gospel. On one side are the vegetarians; on the other are people who will eat anything, with each side sneering judgmentally at the other about their behaviour. Some, whom Paul calls the “weak” believe that, according to Jewish tradition, certain foods are to be avoided Similarly, some people celebrate festival days because they judge one day to be better than another, while others do not.
It is tough to praise God if you are busy passing judgment on other people. At least that is what the apostle Paul seems to be saying today. He exhorts the community of house-churches in Rome to avoid fighting over non-essential matters. He sees the choice about practice as of a matter of conscience and an expression of faith (Romans 14:5-6). Paul largely directs his words to the “strong” because the issue with which he is concerned is the absence of love and unity in the body of Christ.
While the practices regarding food and days are peripheral to the gospel, the way believers in the community treat one another is central to it. Thus, Paul repeatedly warns these believers not to judge others in the community of faith. He does this in Romans 14:3, 4, 5 (twice), 10. He reminds them that when they pass judgment on others, they assume a role that belongs to God. It is not for us to judge other people. If they can perform their activities in good conscience for the Lord, then we can let them continue. Differences in how we follow our consciences always have the potential to threaten our fellowship as believers in Christ.
From the first century until now, it seems, people manage to develop self-righteous attitudes toward those with whom they disagree, ignoring the injunction not to “think more highly of yourself than you ought to think” (Romans 12:3). An English proverb says, “Faults are thick where love is thin”; but God demonstrates the opposite and to a greater extent: “faults are thin where love is thick.” The church has a unique role to play in a world rife with disunity, criticism, and blame. We may reflect the love of God in Christ by living among our brothers and sisters as those who are thick with love and thin with faults.