Romans 14 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
In this passage from his letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul addresses a common issue among the early Christian churches. One of the hallmarks of these new Christian communities is their inclusion of people from various ethnicities and backgrounds. Some Christians were Jewish, some were not. Some were wealthy, some were slaves and servants. It was a very diverse community – which was great! Except when their cultural differences got in their way, as in their approach to food.
Some of these Christians in Rome had some fairly strict rules about what to eat, how to eat it, and so on. They were most likely Jewish people observing Jewish dietary laws that dated back to the time of Moses. They would not easily change their food practices as they considered these practices part of their faith and worship of God. For the non-Jews in the community, these rules no longer applied, so they felt no need to follow them.
Each group was apparently guilty of judging the other.
This happens all the time in our day. Did you ever see the movie “Footloose”? It’s about a young man who moves into a conservative Christian town in Texas where he encourages his fellow young people to break the rules. One of their main rules was “no dancing”. Dancing was considered too intimate an act for young, single people to participate in.
I lived in a town like this as a young man. Seriously.
The first prom I ever went to was when I was a high school freshman having just moved from Austin to a much smaller Texas town an hour or so north. A junior female asked me to take her to prom, so I did. No dancing. I couldn’t believe it. We basically sat down to dinner with music being played by a DJ – but no dancing. Sigh…
I could understand people keeping a personal practice of “no dancing” as an expression of their own piety, but requiring this of the entire town went too far – in my opinion. I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing this ban on dancing is no longer observed.
So, what’s the point? Some churches have fermented wine for communion, others insist on juice only. Some require a particular dress code for church activities, others are quite casual. Some have worship services on Wednesday nights and twice on Sunday. Others have one worship service per week. The list goes on and on.
The point Paul is making for us this morning is that not all Christians have the same cultural piety – and we should respect these differences, not condemn them.
Leaves me with some key questions for this morning:
1. Where am I judging people who are different from me? Do I look down on others as too strict? Too laid back? Too __________ ?
2. Is the church I lead making space for people with different cultural expectations about what is allowed and what is not?
Lord Jesus, give us grace to embrace people who are different than we are and not condemn them. We ask this in your precious name. Amen.