2. The Presence of God at the Table Healed the Wounds of Political Privilege
Jewish believers asserted that Gentiles needed to be circumcised after conversion. This practice went back to the Abrahamic Covenant that promised the sons of Abraham a favored future that included becoming a great nation, possessing the Promised Land and inheriting spiritual blessings. The mark of circumcision was the official affiliation with the nation and commonwealth of Israel in the Old Covenant. With much passion and certainty, the NT Jewish believers concluded that all Gentile believers needed to be marked by an official affiliation with Israel, through way of circumcision.
The word “commonwealth,” which was previously cited in Eph 2:12, is the Greek word politeia. The root word of politeia is polis, from which we get our word politics. In other words, affiliation with the commonwealth of Israel was becoming a political wedge between Jew and Gentile. This issue of inheritance and association with Israel, through circumcision, was very contentious. This is why the Apostle Paul reiterated the reality of the cross for overcoming offense in Galatians 3:26-29 (NKJV):
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Coming to the table together, like Peter in the House of Cornelius, creates the opportunity for the Lord to heal political division:
So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. –Acts 13:8-9, NKJV
The Presence of the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the mark of affiliation for believers, not a political affiliation.
One of the goals in coming to the table together is to be marked together by God’s Spirit. What could take hours, days, weeks or months to mend, can be reconciled supernaturally in a few moments gathered around His Presence. “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18, NKJV).
3. Walking in Love at the Table Eliminated Quarrels
To really unpack the value of this point, I would encourage you to read the entire chapter of Romans 14. Jewish believers were maintaining strict dietary laws from the Old Testament. Gentiles were not only oblivious to such restrictions, they were also partaking of food sacrificed to idols.
While Paul was convinced that all foods were now clean under the New Covenant, he was also willing to respect others’ dietary convictions by not debating about it…
So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. – Romans 14:12-16, NKJV
The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:19-21) encouraged liberal Gentiles to be a little bit more conservative morally. The Apostle Paul (Romans 14) encouraged conservative Jews to be a little bit more open to liberal interpretation. The key was to walk in love with each other at the table.
Civility was more important than being right…
But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. – 2 Tim 2:23, NKJV
When we have a difference of convictions with believers and those issues are not black and white in scripture, we need to come to the table with each other and walk in love. Obviously, sexual immorality was a black and white issue, and the church gave clear directions (Acts 15:20) to the Gentiles about that. Other issues such as special days and food were given more flexibility.
The question is this: Can we come to the table with Bible-believing Christians, who have convictional differences, and walk in love according to Romans 14? Can we eliminate foolish arguments and ignorant disputes that generate strife?
THE TABLE OF OVERCOMING OFFENSE
In conclusion, I want to contend that in many cases we are trying to bring healing to offenses without ever coming to the table. The New Testament was already oriented to overcoming offense by being at the table together. This not only exposed the offenses, but provided the healthy setting for them to be reconciled. I hope we can come to the table with the cross as our common ground, seeking the Presence of God and walking in love. If we can do that, I believe we, too, can be those overcoming offense.
This article on overcoming offense originally appeared here.