“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves,” Romans 14:22.
Paul is a wiser man than I am. Of that, we can all be sure. In chapters 14 and 15 of his letter to the Church in Rome (of course there wouldn’t have been chapters in his letter) Paul writes about the weak and the strong. He goes on and on about eating meat and most readers understand Paul here. There was a debate going on in Rome. Animals were offered as sacrifices to many gods. After the sacrifice the meat was taken an sold. Some Christians in Rome would purchase this meat and eat it. Other Christians objected because this was meat that had been offered up to idols. As you can see, problematic. The faith of some allows them to eat meat while the faith of others does not allow for this. In the meantime, however, they are all of one body so they must remain united as opposed to allowing division to come into their midst. From 14:1-15:13 Paul address this issue. Here are a couple of thoughts pulled from this portion of the letter:
1) The faith of those who eat only vegetables is described as “weak” (14:1, 2).
2) This issue, of eating meat offered to idols, is not as clear cut as some people may think. Paul says that these are “disputable matters” (14:1).
3) There ought not be any condemnation placed on others from either party (those who eat meat or those who do not) because each are accepted by God (14:3).
4) Both the eating of meat and the abstinence of eating meat can be done unto the Lord (14:6).
5) In “disputable matters” we ought not look down upon or judge others for, “we will all stand before God’s judgement seat” (14:10).
6) Clearly, meat is not unclean in and of itself (14:14). However, if you regard it as unclean, then for you, it is unclean (relativism!..only kidding!).
7) The issue here is not about whether it is ok to eat meat or not. The issue is about not putting a “stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (14:13).
8.) “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love” (14:15).
9) Not all that is spoken of as evil is evil, for good things can be spoken of as evil (14:16).
10) God’s kingdom is about “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (14:17). Therefore, any action that brings division and unrest could be seen as unwise.
11) Abstaining from good things that can be spoken of as evil for the sake of your brother is pleasing to God (14:18).
12) We ought to make every effort possible to do what leads towards peace and mutual edification (14:19).
13) Eating food that is “clean” is foolish if it hurts someone else and doing so can hurt (read: “destroy”) the work of God (14:20). It would be better to not partake than to cause someone else to stumble (14:21).
14) If you think it’s ok to eat meat offered to idols then do so, but keep this to yourself (14:22).
My reason for writing this is because there are a number of activities that I participate in that are “clean” and good but could be “spoken of as evil.” There are others who may look at a particular thing I do and pass judgment upon me because they think of that given activity as evil. The reality here is that this activity is not evil and that this persons faith is weak.
For a long time I’ve looked at a situation like this and said, “well so what? Who cares what they think? There is nothing wrong with this action so I’ll continue doing it regardless of what they think, since their faith is weaker, and in time they will grow in their faith and see that there really is no issue here.”
However, I’m starting to wonder if that is a very compassionate response.
The issue here is not about right or wrong. It’s not about whether or not something is clean or unclean, good or evil. The issue here is love. Am I loving the other? Am I loving them more than myself? The issue here is unity. Am I making every effort to keep peace and edify the other?
The faith of others can be weak. When this is the case, I am called simply to “bear with the failings of the weak and not to please [myself]” (15:1). I am called to please my neighbour and to build him up (15:2).
There have been times, especially recently when I’ve been condemned because of certain choices I make. These are good, clean choices but to some they do not appear to be good and clean. Do I care about these people? Do I love them enough to bear with their failings instead of pleasing myself? Because that’s what this is all about. It’s not about being right or wrong when it comes to disputable matters. It’s about loving others enough to deny yourself, even of good clean things.
This doesn’t mean that I think these issues are wrong. I still think they are good and clean but I will keep these between myself and God (and those who also enjoy to partake!) because “blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (14:22).
Paul sums it up nicely: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please outselves. Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself…” Romans 15:1-3a.
Just remember, “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love” (14:15).
So, if you enjoy eating meat, fire up the BBQ! Just keep the party in your backyard with those who also like meat!