Romans 14:1-10, 14, 15: Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
There exists in the African American community a push on a social/religious focus in the political sphere. Simply put, there exist those who consider the issues of abortion and same sex marriage to be the pillars of what makes us a nation ‘formed on Christian principles’. Anything or anyone that doesn’t meet the Biblical standard, in their opinion, is not only a denial of the faith, but a great disruption to national stability and security. The following words in this space aren’t a theological treatise on the validity of a particular stance concerning these two issues. A vast amount of the church today still has little desire for abortions or same sex marriage. This even holds true when you consider Christians who are pro choice and see the public, not religious use of civil and same sex unions. How can this be? Let me show you, as the Bible says, ‘a more excellent way’.
The apostle Paul in both Romans 14:1-15 and 1 Corinthians 8 broaches the subject of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Remember that in the context of much of the ancient world, a stand connected to the back of the pagan temple was the place where many people in cities got their meat. Some converts to the faith couldn’t shake the origin of the meat, and became willful vegetarians. Others, who understood that idols had no power, bought the meat and ate it. This created a challenge for those with a sensitive conscience.
In both Romans and 1 Corinthians, the encouragement is made to the ‘enlightened ones’ to not eat meat in front of those for whom this would be a challenge. When you read this and attempt to make application with the subject matter, it appears that the rest of us should change for the sake of those who want a society solely based on Christian principles. One must keep in mind that the primary application of these texts was for Christians in fellowship with each other. It does, however, have some application here, for they recognize the existence of a pluralistic society, and raises the question of how someone should cope in circumstances where people don’t share your views. Notice that in our texts the Christians never tried to stop the idol temples from selling meat. Why? Their job was to tell the world about Jesus while living their witness.
We cannot legislate people to live as Christians, just as we can’t zip off our skin and change ethnicities. We can share and live the Gospel, realizing that people have to make the choice to follow Jesus. We must also realize that our witness must become broader that hot button issues that often get raised to take our eyes off of a larger agenda. There exist issues in this country from continued racism, poverty, economic disparity, sexism, and food deserts, among others. These seemingly get little to no focus from those who emphasize personal piety, but if you read the Word, it gives focus to much of this as well.
In the spirit of our text, it is time for the Christian who has concern about these issues to consider these words…therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
Rev. Dr. Noel Hutchinson is the pastor of the historic First Baptist Church, Lauderdale in Memphis, Tennessee.