Richards: Differences of Opinion

Paul begins [Romans 14] by calling on the Christians in Rome to welcome the one who is weak but to not quarrel with him over opinions. I chuckle whenever I hear a person accused of being opinionated—as if this is somehow unusual. The truth is some are more willing to articulate or argue for their opinions. It isn’t that a person has more opinions, but that he or she will express them.

Opinions carry different weight. In my opinion Nike basketball shoes are very overrated; Reebok makes far better basketball shoes. It is also my opinion that we should live all of life for the glory of God in Christ. These opinions do not carry the same weight. I would die for the latter but if you put a gun to my head I’d sing the praises of Nike.

Paul tells us the substance of the opinion in question in verse 2. One person believes that he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The issue is whether to eat meat or to not eat meat, but why is that controversial? In first-century Rome most meat markets were connected to temples. A bull would be sacrificed to a god and then the animal would be butchered and its meat sold in a meat market. The overwhelming majority of meat sold in the city would have been offered in worship to a false god.

There were those,whether they were Jewish believers in Jesus or were Gentile believers in Jesus, who believed the right way to honor God with one’s life was to avoid eating meat that had been offered in this way. They would eat only vegetables so as to never have to worry about the source of any meat they ate. Just avoid meat altogether and the issue became a non-issue. There were also those who believed they could eat meat regardless of its source, and even if it had been offered to an idol, eating it in faith would honor the Lord. What did it matter what the butcher did before butchering? As long as the meat was fresh and good quality, just eat it!

On the one hand you have traditionalists, those who adhered to a traditional Jewish understanding of food ethics and on the other you have non-traditionalists, those who were more progressive in their understanding of food ethics. Paul refers to this issue as a matter of opinion.

Paul tells those who eat meat to not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains should not judge the one who eats. Why? For God has welcomed him. Which one? Which one has God welcomed? Each one, through faith. Most of you know the book of Romans. Paul has repeatedly emphasized in this letter that salvation is through faith. God has welcomed both the meat-eaters and the vegetarians through faith.

Therefore judgment of the other is unacceptable. Paul says “It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” In other words the guy eating his quinoa burger and the guy enjoying his perfectly cooked ribeye will only answer to God. And notice that Paul says each one will stand—“will be upheld”-because the Lord is able to make him stand. He doesn’t say “because he or she ate the right food.”

-J-T Richards,

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