Accepting One Another

Dr. Brian Allison

It is good to feel accepted – freely and unconditionally. Unfortunately, that was not my experience some twenty years ago. At that time, I found myself in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pursuing further education in a white suburb of that city. I attended a Church in the area; and I think that I was the only non-white individual in the congregation. I initially felt at home. I went there primarily for the preaching. After a few weeks of consistent attendance, as I sat in the congregation, the pastor told a racial joke (I have my own reasons why). After he told this apparently innocuous joke, the whole congregation roared with laughter (perhaps a bit overdone). I did not laugh. I do not think that I have ever felt more like I did not belong than on that occasion. I do not think that I have ever felt more out of place than I did then. It seemed like every nerve ending in my red-hot body was fiercely tingling. I felt that the best thing that could have happened to me at that time was for the floor to open up and swallow me whole. It was a painful experience. I do not think that I have ever felt more unaccepted than I did on that occasion...in a Christian fellowship.

Weaker and stronger brothers

Unfortunately, there are Christians who do not accept other Christians; and that is a tragedy. Differences and disagreements may lead to disharmony, which may result in disunity, with the final outcome being division. Romans 15:7 reads, "Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." The 'Wherefore' in this verse is a concluding term. It refers to the previous remarks in the passage. Generally speaking, Paul here talks about the weaker and stronger brothers. The weaker brother is the scrupulous person. He lives his life according to a rigid set of rules and regulations. He has a very sensitive conscience, and wants earnestly to do the right thing. He tends to be a legalist in his Christian life. Whereas, the stronger brother is one who has come to realize his liberty in Christ; not that he has a license to sin, but he recognizes that Christ has set him free from human tradition and man-made rules.

When these two brothers come together, there may be a problem. There is potential for conflict, arguments, and strife, simply because differences exist. When we have differences, we may have disagreements; and the result may be separation and rejection. The weaker brother may look scornfully upon the stronger one and judge him, concluding that the stronger brother is not really committed, or that he is less spiritual than he ought to be, because he is not crossing his religious T's and dotting his religious I's. Hence, the weaker brother, in judging, may condemn the stronger one, and write him off as being worldly. Whereas, the stronger brother, from his position of freedom, may look disfavourably upon the weaker one and despise him, as a result of feeling superior to him.

So, the meeting of weaker and stronger brothers may result in conflict and division. This is the situation Paul addresses in Romans 14. But it is possible to have differences, and even disagreements, and still live together. There should be no reason why differences or disagreements need result in separation, division, or rejection. We are all different. We have different backgrounds, different personalities, different customs and behaviours; we may emphasize different truths in our Christian walk; we may even believe slightly different things, having come from different traditions; but differences per se do not mean that the inevitable outcome must be division. As Paul comes to the end of Romans 14, he makes a plea for unity. He concludes this chapter with a wish-prayer. He says, "Now may God grant that you be of one mind and in one accord, that you with one voice might glorify God." And having stated thus, he moves into chapter 15, buttressing what he has just said. And coming to verse 7, he says, "Wherefore [because God wants us to be of one mind, in one accord, so that we, with one voice, may glorify God], accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God."

Warmly embracing other Christians

It is interesting that Paul had to give such an exhortation to believers. He knew that the Church is imperfect because it is made up of fallible human beings; and thus there is always the potential for division because of differences. So, Paul gives a stern exhortation – "Accept one another." The term 'accept' literally means, 'take to oneself.' We are not to push other believers away, but rather we are to take them to ourselves. The term implies intimacy and warmth. We could translate the phrase this way, 'embrace warmly one another.' To be sure, we may exclude one another because we have our own standards and criteria. We may look down on one another, expecting them to meet our self-imposed grade. But Paul says, "Do not do that; but rather, embrace others warmly." Do you accept your brothers and sisters?

Do you know how we may practically accept one another? First, we must abandon our expectations. We have a tendency to impose our personal expectations on others, as though our views and opinions constitute law or truth. Who do we think we are? If that is not the height of arrogance, I do not know what is. As the Word of God says, "Who made you a judge?" Before Christ, Who is the Master, that believer will stand or fall. Second, if we want to practically accept one another, we must cultivate a spirit of compassion and graciousness. Even some believers are hard, harsh, critical, intolerant, and impatient. That is not the Spirit of Christ. We need to be willing to reach out, regardless of who that Christian brother or sister is, and regardless of what that Christian brother or sister has done. Third, we must have the grace to esteem each other better than ourselves. Some believers will be challenged at this point because they think that they are very special people. No, God calls us to humility; He calls us to lowliness of mind. He calls us to recognize that we, in and of ourselves, are nothing; and that the proper disposition that we are to evidence, in reference to our brothers and sisters, is one of servanthood. Christ came to serve, not to be served, and to give His life as a ransom for many. Accordingly, we are to live in that same spirit. We are servants of the Most High – nothing more, and nothing less. Servants have no necessary rights; though, by grace, they may have privileges. They should not make any demands, but should simply accept the fact that they have received grace and mercy, knowing that they do not even deserve that. Fourth, we may practically accept one another by learning the holy art of self-examination, confession, and repentance. We are so quick to point out the mistakes, errors, problems, and sins of others. But Jesus gives us an apt warning with respect to the whole matter of judging and condemning. He says to us, "Before you judge and point out the errors, mistakes, and sins of others, remember that there is a beam in your own eye" (cf. Mt. 7:1ff.). Often that beam in our own eye blinds us to our own sin, and all we can see are the sins of others; and we falsely say, "We are okay; the problem is with the other guy." And Jesus, in His Spirit, comes to us, and says, "No, in making that judgement, the problem is with you." Indeed, this is the attitude that we are to have: We must first point the finger at ourselves; we must believe that we have the problem, that we have the sin which must be addressed. We need to confess our own sin, and repent of our own sin, and leave other believers to God. Do not worry about the sanctification of others. Let God be concerned about that. Worry about your own sanctification, for you have enough to handle with that.

Christ: our model and motivation

Christ is both the model and the motivation for us accepting one another – "Wherefore, accept one another, just as [equal to] Christ also accepted us." First, Christ is our model; we are to look at Him, as our guide and standard, for determining how we are to accept one another. Do not water down the standard; it is a high standard. How did Christ accept us? How does He continue to accept us? He accepted us unconditionally and irrevocably. Christ does not change. He accepts us completely, warts and all. We need to understand and remember afresh whence we have come, and what our true spiritual condition was when we were in a state of rebellion against God. We were ugly, a stench in the nostrils of God. There was nothing attractive about us. We were the epitome of unloveliness. We lived in a state of defiance; we thumbed up our noses at God. We rejected His Word, His law, His commandments; and we despised Him. But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. When we were nothing, and while we were unlovely, the love of God was extended towards us; and that love searched for us, hunted us down, and drew us to the Father.

With the love and acceptance of Christ as the standard and backdrop (which provides force for his exhortation), Paul says, "Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us." Nothing less than conforming to this standard is good enough, nothing less than that is acceptable enough. But Christ's acceptance of us is also our motivation to accept other believers. Because Christ has accepted us, because we have been the recipients of His love, we are to respond and reach out to others in like fashion. We are duty bound to do this. In fact, if you really have been the recipient of Christ's love, then you will do this; you will have received the grace to do this. To really experience His love is to express that love. If the love of God has captured you, that love will capture others through you, necessarily.

Accepting one another brings glory to God

God is glorified in our acceptance of one another – "Wherefore, accept one another...to the glory of God." Christ's acceptance of us, and our acceptance of one another, has in view God's glory; and that is another motivation to accept one another. In our accepting of one another, God is praised, He is exalted, He is extolled, He is magnified. But how is God glorified in our acceptance of one another? First, when we accept one another, we clearly demonstrate our obedience to the Word of God. As we obey His Word, which demonstrates our love for God, He is glorified. God is always glorified through the obedience of His people because therein they show their willingness to keep His Word, and thus honour His name. Obedience to God's Word underscores the fact that God is the Creator and we are the creatures; that He is the Redeemer and we are the redeemed.

Second, God is glorified in our accepting of one another because when we accept one another, we demonstrate our love for one another; and as a result of giving and experiencing love and acceptance, we are moved to give God thanks, which glorifies Him. Surely, one of the things in which we should rejoice is to know that God's grace is working in the hearts of believers; and thus we are amazed at what God is pleased to do in our lives and in the lives of others. God is pleased to work His grace in us. I can often say, "God, I am amazed at how you are working in my life; it astounds me, and I know that I cannot do this naturally." At that point, in the experience of grace, I am humbled, and I am driven to give thanks and to worship God for His sanctifying work in my heart – He is glorified. Particularly speaking, when I accept other believers, through His grace, not only is God glorified in my giving Him thanks because of His grace in me, but those who are the recipients of my acceptance and love have cause to glorify God as well, saying, for instance, "Lord, you moved that brother to respond to me in kindness. Lord, I have been praying about this for some time, and you moved in his heart. Your grace overflows. Lord, I am amazed at what You are able to do by Your Spirit, and I give You thanks."

Further, God is also glorified when unbelievers see how Christians are to really live and behave, beholding true, sincere love; and they recognize that something extraordinary is taking place. Unbelievers are attracted to the Church because of the mutual love of believers. The demonstration of love is more powerful than simply the speaking of love. When we love and accept one another, we present a powerful witness to the community, and people's hearts are turned to the Lord. They are constrained to wonder and take note of this quality that characterizes the people of God. Indeed, people will know that we are Christians by our love.

One thing I hear again and again by critics of the Church is this, "You Christians talk one thing and live another. There are a lot of hypocrites in the Church." These critics are right; there are too many hypocrites in the Church. I have to say to these critics, "Do not look at the people [that is a sad commentary in itself because that is what they should be looking at in order to get an understanding of God and His love], but look at Jesus." But if we all were really looking at Jesus, we would be like Jesus. And we could say to others, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." So, Paul gives this exhortation, "Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." In the original Greek, the verb 'accepted' is a verb that has the sense of a one time act in the past, never to be repeated; it is something done once and for all. Christ accepted us once and for all; it is an acceptance that will never be revoked. God says to us, "Do the same with each other;" because therein we fulfil our calling and destiny, which is to glorify Him.

Accepting one another and holy communion

We must especially remember this exhortation when we come to partake of holy communion. Holy communion is a picture, a symbol, of union and communion with Christ, and of unity and community among believers. When we partake of this spiritual meal, we publish again that we are members one of another. We communicate again that we accept one another. God is not mocked when we come unworthily to the Lord's table while there is division in the body. God takes matters into His own hands; and He judges His people because they have dishonoured His name in partaking of the elements, an act by which they are to publish afresh that they are members one of another. As a result, some are sick and weak, and some even die, because we are to judge ourselves and not our fellow believers. We must get our own lives right, and then we are free to partake. In taking holy communion, we each must ask ourselves the question: Do I accept my brothers and my sisters? all of my brothers and sisters, showing no partiality? If you do not, I invite you, by the grace of God, to confess your sin to the Lord, saying, for instance, "Lord, I have despised that sister (or brother). She is different from me, and I have exalted myself over her. I have judged her. I have been critical. I have even condemned her. I have written her off. I have said that she is not worthy of my company, my attention, or my care. And Lord, You have accepted me, warts and all, You have given to me, the chief of sinners, Your salvation; and You did that out of sheer grace. And You say to my heart, 'Go and do likewise.' Father, I confess my sin. I humble myself before You. I ask You to apply the blood of Christ afresh and to make me whole. And where there is hatred, I ask You to give love; and where there is judgement, I ask You to give compassion; and where there is despising, I ask You to grant acceptance, by Your Spirit, for the glory of Your Son." May God give you grace to unconditionally and irrevocably accept your Christian brothers and sisters.