To Eat or Not to Eat, Is That The Question?
1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,
"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall give praise to God."
12 So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this — not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. NASB
To eat vegetables only, or to eat all things was the specific question Paul is addressing here. Does he answer that question? Some would say he does, when he says those who eat vegetables only are weak in faith. Of course, no one wants to be weak in their faith. But Paul does not say that those who refuse to eat meat are wrong. He says that they are also serving God and worshiping God even as those who do have the faith to eat meat are serving God when they thank Him for the food they enjoy.
I love a good, hamburger, or a tender, juicy steak that is well seasoned. The problem the church was facing then was that those who prepared the meat and sold it in the markets, were in many of those cities the servants of idols who had sacrificed the animals whose meat they were selling to idols. We do not have that problem today.
Some of the Christians felt that the idols were nothing. They were not gods and so to eat the meat offered to them was just eating meat. Others, who perhaps had grown up there and even ate those offerings to false gods as an act of worship, felt that eating that meat was to worship the idol to whom it was sacrificed. They felt that eating that meat was being unfaithful to the One True God whom they now served.
I believe Paul stated his purpose for this discussion in the first line. “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” Accepting one another, instead of judging one another is what Paul is getting at. “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food,” from verse 20. This is the point he is trying to make.
He says that whether they ate the meat or abstained from eating it, they were all serving God and giving thanks to God. They were brothers and sisters in the faith they had in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The early Christians had problems sorting out what was right from what was wrong, the same as we do today. The church, God's people, have struggled with worldliness since the beginning of time. We must learn to live in the world while not being of the world.
Those of you who were in the church when I was young struggled with the things that our parents called sinful. No self respecting Christian would go to a movie, or to a dance. Alcoholic beverages were totally forbidden. Women's dresses were to cover the knees. Of course, a generation earlier it would have been indecent for a woman to allow her calves to be seen in public.
How do we teach our children what is good for them and what is not? What principles do we go by to help the upcoming generation to live in the world and not be of the world?
What ideas or principles does Paul give us to work with as we make such decisions? To summarize that statement about not tearing down the work of God for the sake of food, or perhaps to expound on it, we are to love one another. Questions about our conduct in the world need to be based on our concern for one another.
When we encounter believers who do not agree with us, how are we to treat them? We are to respect them. We are to let them know that God loves them and we love them as well. If they are following Jesus Christ as their Lord and are trusting Him for the forgiveness of their sin, they may disagree with us on some things, but in the truths that matter we are on the same side.
Paul's point was that as followers of Christ our goal is not to demand that everyone believe as we believe, but that we offer the truth and allow God to lead them. The gospel message is not to be couched in our personal opinions about what is right and wrong. We call the world to follow Christ, not to follow us. We are to love others and pray for them, and build up their faith in Him. We are not to tear them down and belittle them. We are not to write them off as unbelievers because they see things a little differently than we do. Point them to Christ and trust Him to help them see the truth through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
I am not the judge of anyone else, I am to point people to the One who has the right to judge and who one day will judge all men. We are not to offer one another rules to follow, but fellowship of the Spirit. The Spirit of God will lead each of us to the life style we need to follow. We are not to treat those who disagree with us with contempt, but with love and grace and mercy.
Questions we often use to separate ourselves into sects and denominations are often the least important questions we could ask. The important questions are questions such as: who is Lord of our lives? Who is our judge? To whom will we give account for our conduct and activities?
If, as we teach, Jesus is Lord, then He is the one we should be following. He will guide each of us in how we are to carry out those two great commandments.
I have friends who are Pastors in the movement called the Christian Church. One of those friends, Jim, told me of a split that was over whether to use one cup or many cups for communion. To many of us that seems silly. To those who were in the middle of that controversy, it was no small matter. It was so important to them that they cut themselves off from fellowship with people they had known for years.
There are so many reasons people leave a particular church. Too often, it is because their feelings were hurt when things did not go their way. Many families are divided because pride and ego, also known as self and the flesh, and the old man, keep them from the fellowship with their brothers or sisters. Who was right or who was wrong is not important when you understand that God loved us while we were His enemies and He calls us to love our enemies even as He loves us.
In Paul's day, it was the question of whether or not someone would commit themselves to the rites and traditions of the Hebrew, or Jewish, faith. The Old Testament certainly contained directions for accepting someone into the community of faith. Men would need to be circumcised. They would have to give up anything that looked like they were worshiping the gods of the people around them. This would of course include not eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.
In Paul's day, it is my understanding, that if you bought meat in some of the markets of that day, it would have most likely been meat that had been offered to idols. There is some indication that one way of handling this was not to ask about the meat. Some Jews would not eat meat if there were any chance that it had been offered to an idol. Paul at one point suggested that if you were in a home and were offered meat to take it and not ask questions. If however, the host made of point of indicating that eating the meat was an act of worship for him, then you should refuse to eat it.
It seems Paul was most interested in not giving the host any indication that you would be worshiping any other god except the God who had revealed himself through Jesus Christ. Paul's concern seems to have been more about what the other person was thinking. For him, meat was meat. To be polite, eat what is put before you without question. But on the other hand, do not give mixed signals by acting as if you are joining your host in the worship of idols. Paul's first concern was to win souls to Christ.
This is Paul's point. Do not do anything that offends someone else or causes them to stumble in their faith. Our concern should be for others, not for ourselves. God knows our heart. He will lead us to do what is best for us and for those with whom we come into contact. To love them, to seek for their best, to lead them to the worship of the One True God and to His Son Jesus, the Christ.
Many churches have been stunted in their growth by the disagreements and arguments that people hold out as being of great importance. When we quench the Spirit by insisting that we have the right to judge others, we put a damper on the work of God in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Holding a grudge against someone for any reason is choking many believers in their spiritual walk with
the Lord. We are to love one another. This is the second greatest commandment. Any time we refuse to have fellowship with someone because our feelings have been hurt we need to pray until we can give up the right to judge that other person and begin blessing them instead of cursing them. We need to get to the place where we can pray for them.
In Romans 12:8 Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” NASB
We are called to have peace with God through the forgiveness of our sin through the work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. We are also called to be peacemakers with others.
Jesus said in Matt 5:23-24
"If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” NASB
and He said in Matt 18:15
15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” NASU (Some translations add “against you”.)
We have a responsibility to make peace with our brothers and sisters. Whether the offense is ours against them, or theirs against us, we are commanded to go and be reconciled. We are not to hold grudges with anyone. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven.
We are studying peacemaking on Wednesday evenings. You are welcome to join us.
I quote again from Romans 14:19 “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
The question is to eat or not to eat. The real question is whether or not we will love one another enough to accept them even when we disagree about some things.
Love covers a multitude of sins. None of us are perfect. With God's help, we can all love and forgive as God loves us and forgives us. This is the work we are called to do. When we care more about the reputation of God than about ourselves we will be the light that the world needs to believe that God loves them and wants to live with them and lead them to these truths.