When I was in College, I dreamed of one day having an old beat up red MG. Those old British cars have so much charm. I remember one day in the late 80’s driving around the city with a friend. We had Amy Grant cranked and the windows open. We drove past one of these cars for sale at the side of the road and I mentioned that it was as dream for me to own one and fix it up. The car kept moving but the conversation came to a screeching halt. My friend was horrified by my ambition. He entered into a rant about the utter waste of my time and resources. He laid on the guilt about how many people I could help with my money and my time that I could have volunteered. I just stared gobsmacked at his own hypocrisy. Who was he to judge me and my motives or aspirations? He didn’t know if I was going to fix it up and let homeless people live in it downtown while I wasn’t driving it. He didn’t know if I was going to pick up groceries for old widows and deliver it to their homes. Or if I was going to rent it out to nerdy high schoolers to take their dates to the prom and give the money to Alcoholics Anonymous. He just made assumptions. To be fair, I didn’t intend to do any of those things. Ironically he was spending more money and time on his K car and doing very little noble things in his spare time.
Some times we meet people who have strong convictions and a strong desire to share them. Convictions are often subjective, based on our past experiences and circumstances. My mom had good reason to have convictions about alcohol because of an abusive father who died a drunk. Someone else growing up in a different home might have different convictions about the same thing. Crazy happens often when we put different people in the same room, for the same cause and expect them to all agree on everything.
Paul writes to early Christians who are experiencing a variety of crazy relating to differing convictions regarding their faith. In his letter to the Roman believers chapter 14 he gives some advice regarding eating Roman street meat. The jewish believers take offence to the fact that some of the meat at their common meals might have been purchased on the Street and previously used in a Pagan celebration. The Gentile believers are more enamoured that their amazing brisket cost so little because it was previously on display at a downtown Roman temple….dry aged….mmm mmmm. Paul continues to speak to those quibbling over sacred holidays that they want to impose on other believers. As you read you really get a picture that the early church was full of grace and full of tension. I think his advice in verse 22 is fitting for us today. “What ever you believe, keep it between yourself and God”. Paul calls items like this ‘disputable matters’. Both sides could argue a great case and in the end it might lead to division. Instead of assuming that others have the same convictions as you, assume they don’t. Convictions are a wonderful thing. Those often subjective feelings you have about certain things are not only evidence that the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, but also evidence that you might be listening. There is a danger when we feel the desire to make other people feel the same way. Ironically, I think Paul refers to them as the weaker one. Just because God is convicting me about something does not mean others are being convicted of the same. I have also found there is a distinction between Convictions and Truth, that often gets mixed up. Truth isn’t necessarily subjective, they are more objective ideas that transcend time and culture. In fact I would contend that truth isn’t an abstract idea but a person – Jesus. The farther we get from the simple truths of Jesus and into the world of Dogma, and Doctrine and Rhetoric we find ourselves in less objective waters. I have come to discover that Convictions should never be preached, instead only shared. Truth however needs to be preached and is objective enough to impact any listener at any time. The Gospel message that we were made for more than this is a truth that needs to be shouted. My opinions about child raising, politics, mullets, and Jar Jar Binks are subjective and should be shared only if someone is interested.
Convictions are beautiful things, they guide us through the murky waters of life. The only thing worse than someone with alot of strong convictions is someone with none. I respect someone who has them, even if I don’t agree. The Church shouldn’t be known for complete agreement on disputable matters, instead we like the early Believers should be known for the Grace that is present among diversity. We gather to celebrate the Truth of a risen Christ, and how we do that can be as different and beautiful as our cultures and experiences allow. Perhaps as we live our lives – others might be inspired by our quiet convictions and ask about the reasons for our hope. But then again, these are just my convictions.