ROMANS 1 4
"1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we 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 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will 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 confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."
Historical Context & Message
Today, we are dealing with the gray areas of the Christian faith. God has given us strict commands regarding the big things, like murder, adultery, etc. And, now, we are going to take a look at the lesser areas - eating, drinking, etc. At this time in the Church, there were many quarrels over eating meat or not eating meat. It may sound trivial to our generation and culture, but this was a big deal to the early Christian church. In much of the Old Testament, the Jews were forbidden to eat meat because it wasn't kosher - this was designed to protect them. However, under the new covenant through Jesus Christ, meat was no longer forbidden. There were still a sector of Jewish Christians who thought it a sin to eat meat since it was once forbidden by God, and they were imposing that belief on their fellow Christian meat-eaters. Here, Paul addresses the issue and takes it further to include anything in this gray area. The bottom line of Paul's message is to love our fellow Christians. "Paul isn’t telling these Christians to erase their differences; he tells them to rise above them as Christian brothers and sisters." The issues they were focusing on weren't salvation issues, but fringe issues. God made each of us different and gave each of us a different measure of faith. Our differences were never meant to divide us; but, rather, to unite us into the family of God. It isn't our place to judge or change our fellow Christian; that's God's business.
In verse 10, Paul mentions the judgment seat of Christ. "This is the bema seat, equivalent to the judge’s seat in the Olympic Games. After each game, the winners came before the judge’s seat to receive crowns for first, second, and third places. Likewise, the Christian’s works will be tested by fire, and he’ll be rewarded for those which remain... The judgment seat of Christ is only concerned with a Christian’s rewards and position in the kingdom, not with his salvation.” It isn't a judgment to determine if you are allowed in the race, but rather how you did running the race. When we judge someone, we are essentially placing ourselves in Christ's place as the Judge - this is a dangerous and prideful place to be. Paul then directs his attention to the meat-eaters. They may not judge the non-meat-eaters, but rather, they despise them (vs. 10). This, too, is motivated by pride. Each end of the spectrum thinking themselves better than the other. We shouldn't let trivial issues divide us. The love that binds us together in Christ is infinitely stronger than the hate and pride we allow a foothold.
Beginning in verse 13, Paul goes into, not whether or not something is permitted, but whether or not it is good to partake of. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do it. He says if eating meat causes a fellow Christian to stumble, then you shouldn't partake of it in their presence. "Even if we have the personal liberty, we do not have the liberty to stumble, offend, or weaken a brother." The same applies to us today. This doesn't rob us of our freedom in Christ; it allows us to honor and love those around us. The greatest freedom is found, not exercising our freedom, but in choosing to lay it down to love and serve those to whom God has called us.
Lastly, Paul addresses the marker of if we should or should not partake of actions in one of these gray areas. If you feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit within you, then you shouldn't partake. No matter what those around you are doing - if you believe it is wrong, then it is wrong for you. If you believe there is nothing wrong with whatever it is in question, then partake because it is not sin for you; but, in doing so, don't cause another to stumble into sin. This is not an inconsistency with God and His commands. God doesn't say moralism is subjective - His commands stand across time, situations, and people. God does say that it is a matter of the heart. If you believe something to be sin and you still choose to participate, then your heart posture is one of rebellion against God.
I encourage you to love your fellow Christians - to not see the differences as a negative thing,. We have a great God who created uniquely different individuals; this is something to celebrate, not scorn. When you catch yourself placing judgment on another, repent immediately and sincerely, asking God to allow you to see them as He sees them. When you catch yourself despising another because you feel or believe they are judging you (whether or not they actually are), repent immediately and sincerely, asking God to help you love them as He loves them. God is the only righteous Judge. Let us love - without condition or expectation. God doesn't place any "ifs" on love in the Bible. He simply commands that we love.
1) As Christians, we are all united in Christ. He died for all of us because we are all sinners, which levels the playing field. No one is better or worse than another. Discuss a time when you allowed your differences with another believer to divide you from that person, the Church or even God. What was the result? Have you experienced growth in this area since that time?
2) Serving others always involves sacrifice. Sometimes, that sacrifice looks like giving up your freedom to honor and love others. Even if you are justified in your freedom, you are to put others above yourself, as Christ did for you. Talk about a time you laid down your freedom to love and serve another. Do you struggle in this area? Discuss.
Father God, I thank you for the convicting Word of God that calls me to live a life of holiness. I ask you to forgive me for the times I've been judgmental of others because I feel superior to them in my Christian walk. Convict me of anything in me that is a sin and lead me to the way everlasting (Psalms 51:10). Help me to encourage and uplift my fellow Christian family, rather than tearing them down or causing them to stumble and sin against you. I pray I would value the differences among your children. Lord, let me see others as you see them and love them as you love them. Give me a heart like yours. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen!