To Eat Or Not To Eat

August 26, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Romans 14:1-12

1. "Those who eat should not despise those who don't eat, and those who don't eat should not judge those who do eat," (Romans 14:3). Paul had sent a letter to the church in Rome with those words. In spite of [his communication to them] it seems that troubles arose in whether "To Eat Or Not To Eat."

2. Some people will do things one way. On the other hand, other people who won't do things that way. Some people have already quit that activity. Others have not yet quit. In situations like these, what will happen is that one party will despise and condemn the other party. Divisions and quarrels keep developing and the community will slip into a crisis. This kind of thing, even for us, sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it?

Persons With Weak [Or] Strong Faith

3. First, let's try to turn our attention onto the specific situation that had arisen in the church at Rome. "There are some who believe that one should eat anything, but the weak are eating only vegetables," (verse two), says the scripture. There are people there who eat meat as well as those who don't. Please look at verse five. "If there is one person who values one day more than another day, there will also be a person who considers each day as the same," (verse five). To eat or not to eat meat?; to observe or not to observe a particular day? We can see how that this will lead to scorn and strife.

4. "Persons who eat only vegetables;" "persons who value certain days." -- We don't know for sure who these persons might be. Even in the epistle Paul addressed to the believers in Corinth, we can find statements about those who avoided the eating of meat, (First Corinthians eight). In general, the meat used for food that appeared in the markets, in most cases, was once offered to foreign pagan gods. Therefore, they thought that if one unknowingly ate such meat, one would have some kind of connection with the pagan deity. For that reason then, they were afraid to eat meat. Even in the church at Rome there were probably some people with [such views]. Or perhaps even, it was a stoicism or an asceticism that derived from some of the many different ideas back then or some other religious reason.

5. Whatever the case, people like that were called "the weak in faith." It even seems like Paul for the time being was in agreement with using such a title for them. It may sound kind of strange that the ascetic people who ate only vegetables and respected specific days are called "the weak in faith." But the reason Paul considers it okay to use that title is their asceticism came from a source that has essentially nothing to do with the faith.

6. Their past experiences greatly effected them in "how they thought" and "how they felt" about certain matters. It may have been the education they had received since childhood. Or it may have been the influence from the home environment where they had been raised. It may even be superstitious fear that was implanted by those around them. It may be some intense experience from the past and some wound in their hearts received from it. The ways people feel about things are different based on how a person was pulled in one direction or the other regarding something. To some one thing is trivial, but to another it seems to be the most important thing in life. What one person finds permissible is impossible for another person to put up with.

7. Those things which influenced us strongly from our past will be brought into our faith life as well. It will happen at times that these kinds of things will have more influence on a person than even the Bible, than the word of God. As a result, there are [times] when something that really is of no importance to the practice of one's daily faith life will end up being treated as though it was of major importance. For some the eating or not eating of meat is no big deal. But for another, it is majorly important. Out of that arises the act of being judgmental of one another. Those who eat scorn those who don't. Those who don't eat condemn those who do. So, Paul says, "Those who eat must not despise those who don't eat, and those who don't eat must not condemn those who do eat."

8. Of course, Paul does not mean with the words "You must not condemn" that "We should do whatever we have a hankering for." There are certainly matters that pertain to the core of our faith life. There are things that do matter on an essential level to human salvation. There are things that do matter in a decisive way to [one's] relationship to God. We must not be careless in these areas. With regard to such matters Paul himself says, "[Let] yea [be] yea, [let] nay [be] nay."

9. For example, about the teachers who beguile people with heretical doctrines, he even says, "Beware of those dogs. Be alert about wicked workers," (Philippians 3:2). In another epistle, he even goes so far as to say, "If there is someone who announces to you a gospel that is contrary to the one you have received, he should be cursed," (Galatians 1:9). About those who refuse to repent of sexual immorality, I am not saying "It is permissible to have such a way of living, too. You must not judge them." He says, "Even though I am a long way off from you bodily, in spirit I am there, and like a person actually present with you, I have already judged the one who has done such a thing," (First Corinthians 5:3); because lewd acts are the committing of sin against the body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

10. We are to be strict in making judgments when it comes to essentially important matters in our relationship with God. However, please think this over. The judging of one another that goes on between us often times does not revolve around such matters. While we are careless about the really important things, yet, there is an overwhelming number of us being judgmental of each other based on the feelings and the understandings we drag up from the past. In most cases, they are arguments on the dimension of whether to eat meat or not to.

[We're] All The Lord's

11. Therefore, we must listen carefully here to what has been written. "Those who eat should not despise those who don't eat, and those who don't eat should not judge those who do eat." Why is that? The reason is clear. "Because God has received these persons."

12. When we want to judge someone, when we want to scorn someone, we will need to repeat these words in our hearts. "Because God has received these persons." When it says God has received [someone] it means the person belongs to God. That is, God is his or her master. Thus, Paul says the following. "When you judge another person's servants, who in the world are you!?," (verse four). When somebody judges someone else's servants, the master of those servants might say, "What you are doing is none of your business by far!" When we judge others on the dimension of eating or not eating, in most cases, we've left our own business and gone off into theirs. Usually, what we are doing is interfering in someone else's affairs while the whole time we are careless about the truly important matters that pertain to eternal life.

13. Furthermore, if we think about it carefully, when we are condemning someone, most of the time, after all, we do not honestly even have any business with them. In most cases, we are not even truly concerned whether they stand or fall. Who is the one who truly is involved with them? It is the Lord himself. And as a matter of fact, whenever they will fall it is the Lord God who makes them stand. Therefore, Paul says, "However, the servants will stand; because the Lord is able to make them stand," (verse four). What causes a person to truly stand are not the false words of condemnation from someone who doesn't even honestly care. It is the Lord himself.

14. And it is not only important that the other person belongs to the Lord, but that, we too are "the Lord's." Our actions are effected by how we see other people, but more than that, it is effected even greater by how we see ourselves.

15. Every one of us "belongs to the Lord." Since we "belong to the Lord," it ought to be more important to speak about "for whom" we do things rather than speak about "what" we are doing. Since we're the Lord's, whatever we may do will begin to have meaning because of the fact that it is done "for the Lord." The Lord is not merely interested in [a person's] actions that appear on the outside and their effects. He looks on the motives within [the person].

16. Therefore, Paul goes on to say, "The person who respects a specific day respects it for the Lord. The one who eats eats for the Lord. For, he gives God thanks. Furthermore, even the one who does not eat does not eat because of the Lord. And he gives God thanks," (verse six). That means that "Whether one eats or not, if it is on account of the Lord, isn't that good?"

17. We are too caught up in what is right before our eyes and what appears within our vision. I do it, but he doesn't. I quit it but he keeps at it undisturbed. We're always and ever comparing our actions to other people, and we live caught up just in those comparisons. But, the really important thing is not [our] comparisons with others. It is whether or not one continuous backbone runs through our lives. It is whether or not the backbone of "we belong to the Lord" goes through [our lives].

18. To say "we belong to the Lord" doesn't mean we do or don't do something, or we abstain or don't abstain from something. It is not on the dimension of "we eat or don't eat." That's not it, rather we can put it, along with Paul, like this, "Among us, there is no one who lives for oneself, and neither is there anyone who dies for oneself. If we live, we live for the Lord and if we die we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we are alive or whether we are dead, we are the Lord's," (verses seven and eight).

19. In truth, it was so we could make that claim that Christ was crucified, suffered, shed his blood, and died, and then rose again from the dead by defeating death. Paul says it like this, "The reason Christ died and lived was so that he would be Lord to both the dead and the living," (verse nine). We must repeat the following before the crucified on the cross and the risen Lord, "If we live, we live for the Lord and if we die we die for the Lord." We ought to repeat this statement over and over again. If we do, then we must surely be too ashamed to argue over things at the dimension of to eat or not to.

20. And one of these days soon, when it does become something we should be ashamed of and it is foolish to us, then the time will come when we will know in a real sense; because finally we will stand before the throne of God's judgment as the Lord's. At that time we will be questioned but not for situations of eating or not eating. [We will be asked] whether we belong to the Lord or not. And [we will be asked] about how we lived as the Lord's.

21. At that point it is not about somebody else that we will be able to speak. Now we may still be able to speak of someone else and avert our eyes from our own [condition]. But, the time is coming when we will not be able to speak regarding someone else in that [evasive manner]. Yes, indeed, that time will surely be here. The scripture says, "Each one of us will speak to God about our own [situations]," (verse twelve).

22. At that time we will discover that we ourselves are standing before the one who truly gives righteous judgments. At that time we will discover that it is not somebody else, but ourselves in need, in a true sense, of forgiveness and mercy. At that time with thanksgiving from the bottom of our hearts we will look up at Jesus on the judgment throne and see him as the incomparable savior who died and rose again from the dead for us. At that time, -- yes, indeed, even if we have been judgmental with each other now, at that time, -- we will be there together bending our knees before the Lord and praising God with our tongues.