In Romans 14 & 15, the Apostle Paul discusses what a Christian’s response should be in disputable matters (Romans 14:1). Specifically, he discusses the area of eating meat and the celebration of special days. In 1Corinthians 8 we have a similar discussion regarding the eating of meat.
In both Letters, Paul uses these disputable matters as an opportunity for believers to demonstrate real spiritual maturity. The eating of meat was a real issue in the 1st century since there were so many pagan temples in which animals were sacrificed to the many different idols that people worshiped. The marketplace would get a lot of the meat that they sold from these pagan temples. The Jewish people knew this and so many of them chose not to buy and eat meat from the marketplace since they didn’t know whether the meat was offered to an idol or not. For some Jews it didn’t matter, so they had no problem buying and eating the meat from the marketplace.
This difference of conviction regarding the eating of meat carried over into the Christian community. Some Christians had the conviction that you shouldn’t eat meat while others had no problems buying and eating the meat from the marketplaces.
Paul’s response is that the person who eats everything should not look down on the one who doesn’t eat meat, and the one who is a vegetarian should not condemn the steak lover (Romans 14:3). Whether we eat meat or not, we do it as unto the LORD, and He is our judge in these grey areas where believers differ in conviction.
It is interesting to note that the Christian who has the scruples not to eat meat is described by Paul as the one who is weak in faith (Romans 14:2). It is my observation and experience as a Pastor that it is the Christians who have tighter scruples in grey areas who tend to consider themselves more “faithful” than other Christians who exercise more freedom in areas like food, physical circumcision and celebration of special days like Christmas.
Paul offers some very useful principles in these areas. The first one seems to be that of love. I may have the freedom of conscience to eat meat, but if I’m dining with a new Christian who has just come out of worshiping in pagan temples for years, I’m not going to eat meat in front of him. We don’t want our freedom to be exercised in such a way that it will cause our brother to stumble. The young brother is prone to stumble because he so strongly associates the meat with idol worship (Romans 14:13-16; 1Cor. 8:1-13).
In our culture, the eating of meat is not so problematic as it was in Paul’s day. It is more of an issue than 30 years ago since more and more people are going vegetarian. Even in this regard we are to remember Paul’s instruction from Romans 14 & 15 and 1Corinthians 8. We are also to remember Paul’s words from 1Cor. 8:8 in which he says food doesn’t bring us nearer to God. The only issue would seem whether we are gluttonous or whether we eat so much junk food that we become poor stewards of our bodies which are a gift from God. We need to remember that we honor or dishonor the LORD as we live in a physical body.
Another principle which seems to be very important in exercising our freedom in disputable or grey areas is that we will not let ourselves become enslaved by what we allow (1Cor. 6:12-17). This is especially relevant as we contemplate the quantity and the quality of the T.V. programs, the movies we watch and the video games we play.
Whatever we decide in these grey areas, we need to ensure that our actions spiritually edify others and ourselves and honors the LORD (Romans 15:1-3, 1Cor. 10:24, 31-33). Let us not lose sight that the kingdom of God is not primarily a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1Cor. 10:31). In Christ’s love and service, Pastor John