Brothers and Sisters in Christ, these past months overshadowed by COVID have been difficult for all of us. But the stresses surrounding this pandemic have been particularly tough on pastors. Their calling is to feed and shepherd those in their care and most pastors do this selflessly.
But an issue arose during this ordeal that mirrors an issue that the apostle Paul dealt with in his letters to the church in Rome and in Corinth. The issue back then was meat offered to idols and whether as Christians they could in good conscience partake of such meat.
The churches were divided over this issue. Some felt that since there’s no such thing as a god other than God Almighty, they had the liberty to eat meat whether it had been offered to idols or not. Other followers of Jesus were incensed by this practice, having themselves come out of idol worship and refused to eat such meat.
As Paul lays out these arguments, he shows that ultimately, it’s not about the issue and who is right. Instead, it’s about loving each other and accepting each other graciously regardless of one’s position on eating meat that had been dedicated to an idol.
Today, pastors across our nation are dealing with a similar rift in their churches. But this caustic division is not about eating meat offered to idols. This division is about the wearing of masks. In anger—even hostility—church goers have told their pastors, “If you don’t require the wearing of masks in services, then we will leave the church!” And conversely others have demanded angrily, “If you do require the wearing of masks in services, then we will leave the church!”
While I have my own opinion about the wearing of masks, that is not the issue here. The chief issue is a total lack of love, forbearance, and acceptance of each other and we should be ashamed of ourselves!
Please indulge me as I’ve taken the liberty to paraphrase Romans 14 replacing the meat issue with the mask issue.
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to refrain from wearing a mask, but another insists on wearing a mask. The one who does not wear a mask must not treat with contempt the one who does, and the one who does insist on wearing a mask must not judge the one who does not, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers mask wearing ineffective and even harmful; another considers mask wearing effective and even a gesture of love. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards mask wearing unnecessary does so to the Lord. Whoever insists on mask wearing does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that I have the freedom not to wear a mask. But if anyone regards wearing a mask as their civic duty, then for that person it is their duty.
If your brother or sister is distressed because you don’t wear a mask, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your liberty destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of wearing or not wearing a mask, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of mask wearing. We all enjoy freedom in Christ, but it is wrong for a person to do anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to do anything that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned, because their actions are not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. – Romans 14:1-23
Even after reading that, some may argue, “But I’m right about the mask issue!” Countering this Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:1 and 8 (paraphrased), “Now about mask wearing. We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Wearing or not wearing a mask does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we don’t wear a mask, and no better if we do.”
Now more than ever we must seek to live and worship the Lord in harmony and unity and represent Christ well to the world through our words and actions.