Monday I began a series of blogs about how we should handle it when other people exercise their liberty differently than we do. There are five Biblical principles from Romans 14 on how to deal with differences in the way we exercise our liberty.
The first principle we saw as that there will be differences. We are not all going to exercise our liberty in the same way. Understanding that is the starting point.
Tuesday we saw that we needed to be confident in our own convictions.
Wednesday we learned that we are only accountable for our selves, or we are not the Holy Spirit
Yesterday we learned that we shouldn’t confuse differences in the way we exercise our liberty with liberalism or legalism.
This brings us to our final principle.
Refuse To Argue or Condemn Others Over These Differences.
It is one thing to discuss why we have the convictions we have, but it is quite another to fuss and fight about them. Unfortunately many times simple discussion doesn’t take place. Instead it becomes an all out war.
“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.: Romans 14:1-3 (NKJV)
We see that Paul wants both groups within the church to accept the other and their particular views. It is important for us to understand what is meant by “weak in faith.” In this context faith does not refer to a person’s faith in Christ. Instead it refers to what a person feels their faith allows them to do.
Those whose faith is “weak” are not lesser Christians than those whose faith is “strong.” They are simply those who do not think their faith allows them to do certain things that the strong feel free to do. What Paul wants is not for the different groups to just tolerate one another. He wants them to welcome and accept each other. They should not allow areas of liberty to become a divisive issue in the church.
Paul identifies one of the areas of liberty that is being disputed. It is a matter of what you can or cannot eat. Often what we do is we read the cultural context of 1 Corinthians into this and decide that the questionable food is meat that has been sacrificed to idols. But that is not the case in Rome. In Rome the problem is whether or not to follow Jewish dietary laws.
If you’ve ever read the book of Leviticus you know that the Jewish dietary laws were pretty strict. To the Jews this dietary law was a huge deal, especially the issue of pork. There are accounts of Jews dying for refusing to eat pork. This just happened to be a meat that the Greeks thought was delicious.
Paul basically told both groups that this was a non issue. Since it was a non issue they shouldn’t argue about it and they shouldn’t condemn each other about it. What they were doing was they were looking down on each other about this. Those that ate pork refused to associate with those that didn’t. Those that didn’t eat pork questioned the salvation of those that did.
When I first realized that this was an issue of Jewish dietary law and not an issue over meat sacrificed to idols I was blown away. I can see how easy it would be for Paul to tell people not to get worked up over meat sacrificed to an idol. But the dietary laws were a huge deal to the Jews. What hit me that day was that there are probably no convictions we hold as dear as the Jews held the dietary laws. Yet, Paul told them not to fight about it or condemn each other over it.
All of us have preferences and convictions that we are pretty serious about. There are also others that do not have these same preferences and convictions. Both groups love Jesus, believe in Jesus and are surrendered to Jesus as Lord. They just choose to exercise their liberty in different ways. No matter how serious we are about our personal preferences and convictions, we do not have the right to fight and condemn each other about them.