Paul wrote quite a bit from prison. His letter to Ephesus was one of those examples. While he sat in prison, he regularly received word of the issues arising in the churches throughout the regions he had traveled. With a heavy heart, he responded to these churches to address their troubles. It was quite common for Paul to find the need to address unity or false teaching. The fact is that these two themes often go together.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith,one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.'” (Eph 4:1-8)
One of the greatest threats to this unity Paul is calling for is our over-emphasis on the wrong truths. You see, there are two types of truths in the Bible. That may sound strange but let me explain.
There are certain undeniable and unbendable truths. These truths are around salvation. These are truths that every single believe in Christ must accept or they are not a Christian. That may sound bold but there is simply no negotiation around these truths.
- “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)
- “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6)
- “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9)
There are plenty other verses around these themes, but you get the point. When it comes to your salvation, there is only ONE way (through Christ), it cannot be earned (only through Grace), and you must confess and believe.
There is a very long list of other potential truths that are more open to interpretation and are more personal about your walk with Christ.
- What style of worship
- Is dancing right or wrong
- Should we be able to drink alcohol
- Are there certain foods we should abstain from
- Are some gifts more of a sign of the Spirit than others
- Who in the body is to do the work of the ministry
- Is there a difference between someone who sins and someone who is a sinner
These are just a few of the things that people get heated about. This list could go on and on. And in this category, there can often be several ways to potentially interpret a biblical response. However, NONE of these are part of the salvation experience. They each can have an impact on your influence in the world. They each can have an impact on your testimony to others, or even potentially your own walk with Christ. And sometimes, when someone feels so passionately about some of these issues, they can allow these issues to become an idol in their life and that distraction can impact their own walk. But they still won’t impact salvation.
Paul tells us in Romans “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Rom 14:13)
Talk alcohol as an example. Jesus himself drank wine and told us not to get drunk. Then He said he would not taste of it again until the end times. Some interpret this to say we can drink as long as we don’t get drunk. Others interpret that we are to follow His example and not drink at all. Still others look more physiologically and say that alcohol has too much of an addition or temptation factor so why let it tempt you in the first place.
That fact is that all three of these are true. So if we are to follow the guidance of Roman 14, this means that while we are free to drink, we should not observe our freedom if it would cause another to stumble.
Getting back to the unity issue. There are far too many Christians that look at the second category of truths and are willing to fall on their sword for them. They elevate the ‘lower truths’ to the same level as salvation issues. They end up judging others who don’t live up to their level of expectations for these ‘lower truths’. This is the exact issue that Paul was referring to in Romans 14. When we allow those non salvation issues to rise to the level of the salvation issues, we have allowed those things to become idols in our heart.
Reject this. Recognize that if it is not a salvation issue, there is room to discuss and negotiate. Never negotiate the salvation issues, for to do so is to follow false teaching. But don’t allow the lesser truths to become such idols in your heart that you damage the unity of the body of Christ.