To eat or not to eat…

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Romans 14:1 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.

The apostle Paul is writing to the church in Rome where it appears there were people who disagreed on issues of piety – what a good Christian should and should not do in terms of lifestyle. In this case Paul is speaking to the question of dietary restrictions. What should the people eat?

This was a common issue in the early church because the Jewish faith had strict rules around diet. Certain things were appropriate to eat, some not. More relevant to Christians in ancient Rome was the practice of sacrificing animals to a pagan god then selling the meat on the open market. What if a Christian unknowingly ate meat from such an animal? Not good. What to do?

One approach would be to skip eating meat altogether as was apparently the practice of some in the Roman church. Other Christians didn’t see it as a problem, trusting that the grace obtained through Jesus Christ was sufficient to cover questions of food. Either approach seems reasonable to me. That said, it’s common for people who disagree to be overly critical of those with an opposing view,

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.

That word “despise” is a strong word. Then as now, people who disagreed often did so with a lack of basic respect for the other. Paul is saying we should avoid passing judgment on the other, “for God has welcomed them”. If you read the rest of Paul’s letters in the New Testament you’ll see that Paul is NOT suggesting anything goes in the church. He has some very strong opinions in other situations, but regarding food and diet – not so much. This isn’t an issue worthy of division in the church, which has been united in the love and grace of God through Christ.

If you’ve been around the church for any length of time you know these sorts of arguments are very much still with us. Christians disagree on issues of diet (particularly consumption of alcohol), the role of women in the church, the inclusion of LGBTQ persons, the practice of infant/believer baptism, the nature of holy communion and who is allowed to partake… I could go on.

The truth is that faithful, intelligent, thoughtful Christians can have different opinions on any number of issues. What binds us together, the message of salvation in Jesus Christ by faith, is so much more powerful than the small stuff. We would do well to remember that. Myself included. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

 

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