Friday, July 5, 2013

Unity in Diversity, Part 3 of 33

TEXT: "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not the person who eats despise the individual who does not eat, and let not the person who does not eat judge the one who eats; for God has received that individual" (Romans 14:1-3).

IDEA: We dare not despise or judge in questionable matters another Christian whom God has accepted.

PURPOSE: How do you relate to men and women with whom you strongly disagree? That reveals whether or not you are thinking with a “renewed mind.”

A woman, talking about her husband whom she felt was not spiritually mature, said, “Whenever we disagree, he goes his way, and I go God’s way.”

It’s easy for us to believe that our convictions are from God, and those who disagree with us are influenced by the devil.
We often contend most strongly with each other over debatable issues of behavior and belief. Unfortunately, those issues don’t seem “debatable” to us. We treat them as settled convictions that have come from God. That’s an enormous problem for anyone who takes the Bible seriously.

Look at one issue that the Christians in the Roman church had to contend with -- “Receive the person who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful matters. For one Christian believes he may eat all things, but another Christian who is weak eats only vegetables” (Romans 14:1).

Paul isn’t discussing nutrition, but religion.

Evidently there were Jewish Christians at Rome. In that pagan culture they were exposed to a menu that nauseated them. All varieties of meat were sold in the open market, but the buyer could not always be sure what that meat was.

The Romans had a peculiar palate. The common meat was pork, but they also ate fox, dog, or horse. They may also have had a morbid taste for human flesh, an appetite somewhat common in the first century. The Jews had a sensitive conscience about eating pork. You can understand how the church at Rome would have had their share of vegetarians.

How would you feel if you discovered that some Korean Christian enjoyed roast leg of dog?

Christians had strong disagreements about the food they ate, but what was sinful was the way they handled them. It seems from the passages that the “strong” Christians were in the majority. Were they right or wrong in their views?

A smaller group had very sensitive consciences about eating meat that they felt God had declared to be unclean. Were they right or wrong in their position?

The “wrong” lay in the way the meat-eaters disdained the timidity of the vegetarians and the vegetarians were wrong in that they set themselves up like judges to condemn the meat eaters as morally wrong. You can imagine the conversations that might have gone on between them.

The meat eaters may have tossed on little gibes like, “When we get together for our love feast next Sunday, we can count on you folks to bring the salad. You only eat grass. Well; I much prefer a good leg of lamb to rabbit food.”

The vegetarian might reply, “how do you know it’s lamb you’re eating? I’ve heard rumors about that Appian Way Meat Market and its management. I know for certain that they often sell dog meat.”

The meat-eater would reply, “dog meat? Well, what in the world do you see wrong with dog meat? Don’t call ‘unclean’ what God has called clean!”

The vegetarian would simply shudder and walk away. He could not comprehend how a devoted Christian could patronize the Appian Way Meat Market or eat what was sold there.

Some questions grow out of this exchange:

Think of some issue you feel strongly about.

In regard to that issue are you “weak in faith” or “strong in faith”?

In the light of Paul’s definitions of “weak” and “strong,” how do you feel about yourself?

If you are a strong Christian, how do you tend to regard those who do not share your freedom? Do you say, “Why don’t they grow up? Their whole religion is a set of negatives. No wonder Christianity has a bad name!”

If you are a weak Christian, how do you tend to regard those who are strong? “What a terrible testimony that person is! No wonder Christianity has a bad name!”

God has accepted both weak and strong Christians. The Christians in the first century were not far from us. Christians are not to think about each other that way. I am not to despise or judge someone whom God has accepted.