When Two People Disagree
If we believe in objective truth, then conventional wisdom says that when two people disagree one of them must be wrong. By objective truth we mean, truth that is measured by a standard outside of ourselves and that is the same for every person in every situation. Of course, the notion of objective truth has been challenged by a generation of people who consider themselves to be postmodernists. But I submit to you that, whether we’re talking about religion, politics, literature, or sports, most people still believe that there is some sense of objective truth. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t argue so zealously for the various positions that we try to defend. I also believe that, in most cases, when two people disagree, one of them is wrong. The problem is that pride can make it easy for us to assume that our position is right.
The Bible teaches us that there is absolute truth: “Sanctify them by Your truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17); and, “...let God be true but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). However, truth isn’t always as simple as just being on the right side of the facts. Romans 14 shows us that when two people disagree, there can be more than one reason for their disagreement and more than one way to handle it.
When two people disagree, one of them is wrong. One whom Paul describes as weak in Romans 14:2 could eat only vegetables. We can easily imagine some reasons why a Jewish convert or a Gentile convert might come to this conclusion while living in a city like Rome in the first century. Yet, the one who believed that it was wrong for him to eat certain meats was, technically, wrong. Paul said: “I am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14). Paul would attribute the weak man’s convictions about not eating meats to his weak conscience. He had not yet come to understand that such foods could be eaten with thanksgiving, therefore, he could not partake of them in faith (Romans 14:14, 23).
When two people disagree, both of them can be wrong. We have already established that those who believed that certain foods were unclean of themselves were incorrect in their understanding of the truth. However, much of what Paul says in Romans 14 is about our attitude toward those with whom we disagree. If we despise the one with whom we disagree, we are also wrong (Romans 14:3); if we judge the one with whom we disagree (I take this to mean that if we assume that one is condemned because of their disagreement with us), we are also wrong (Romans 14:10-12); if we flaunt our “liberty” before the one with whom we disagree and discourage them, we are also wrong (Romans 14:15-21). Yet, in addition to this aspect of disagreements, sometimes two people disagree because they are both on the wrong side of objective truth.
When two people disagree, both of them can be right. Technically, no food is unclean of itself - this is the objective truth of Scripture. However, both the one who eats and the one who does not eat could be pleasing to God, according to Paul (Romans 14:3). We could argue endlessly about the objective truth of this question, but at the end of the day there was another objective truth that needed to be considered - no one is required to eat meat to go to Heaven!
What is my point - that Romans 14 gives us the authority to set aside objective truth in the hopes of “just getting along”? No. Every question cannot be answered the way that the question of eating meats can be answered. My point is that just beginning with the premise that there is absolute truth is not enough. We can be on the right side of the facts and still be displeasing to God because of our attitude toward those with whom we disagree. Or, the fact that two people disagree may only mean that both of them are wrong.
Additionally, reconciling some issues can be incredibly nuanced. Two people who are disagreeing may both be correct to a certain degree. Many religious and political debates swing on this hinge, so to speak. But instead of trying to understand the nuances of a difficult and challenging topic, we often pick a side and keep looking for the arguments that we believe prove our position without seriously considering the other side’s arguments or without seeing how both sides may actually harmonize. This is one reason why people are often forced to backpedal on certain positions that they have taken in the past. I know that many times people just give in to societal pressures to renounce an unpopular position, but sometimes honest people just have to admit that they failed to take every aspect of a question into consideration.
Let’s think about this the next time that we find ourselves in a heated disagreement with a brother or a sister in Christ. Could I be wrong? Could we both be wrong? Is there any sense in which the person that I am disagreeing with might be right? Let’s approach our disagreements with the attitude that God’s word is truth and the purpose of that truth is to unite believers in Christ. How Christians behave toward one another and the world can potentially hinder our effectiveness for Christ (John 17:20, 21) or destroy souls for whom Christ died (Romans 14:15).