One person’s faith allows them to eat everything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
This issue arises out of the background of the early church in which there was a real moral question about eating meat. Not only were there the Jewish restrictions against certain forms of meat — Jews did not eat pork, and even beef and lamb had to be kosher — but it had to be slain in a certain way. So a Jew, or even one raised as a Jew, after he became a Christian, always had great emotional difficulty in eating meat. There was also the problem in Rome and in other pagan cities about the matter of eating meat that had been offered to idols. Some Christians said that if you did that it was tantamount to worshipping that idol. Other Christians said, “Oh, no. How can that be? Meat is meat. The fact that someone else thinks of it as offered to idols does not mean that I have to.” So there was a real problem in the church.
As in every area of this type, there were two viewpoints. There was a liberal, broad viewpoint that said it was perfectly alright to do this, and a stricter, narrower viewpoint that said it was wrong to do this. You can put many of the modern problems that we have into this category. Should you drink wine and beer; should you go to the movies; should you dance; what about work on Sunday? Let us be very clear that there are areas that Scripture speaks about that are not debatable at all. It is always wrong to be drunk. It is always wrong to commit adultery or immorality. These things are clearly wrong. In both the Old and New Testaments, God has spoken, he has judged, in these areas. Christians are exhorted to rebuke and exhort and reprove one another, and, if necessary, even discipline one another according to patterns set out in the Scriptures. This is not judging each other in those areas.
But there are all those other areas that are left open, and the amazing thing to me is that Scripture always leaves those open. Paul will not give a “yes” or “no” answer about some of these things because God does not do so. There is an area, in other words, where God wants to leave it up to the individual as to what he or she does. He expects it to be based upon a deep conviction of that individual. But it is up to them.
It is also clear that he calls the “liberal party” strong in the faith, while the “narrow party” is weak in the faith. Therefore, the mark of understanding truth is freedom. That is why Paul calls the person who understands truth clearly one who is strong in the faith, while those who do not understand it clearly are weak in the faith. They are weak in the faith because they have not yet discovered the meaning of Christian freedom; they see Christianity as a thing of rules and regulations. Also, they have not yet liberated himself from a belief in the efficacy of works. In their heart they believe that they can gain God’s favor by doing certain things and abstaining from doing others. Basically, they are still trying to earn a right relationship with God, and have not yet accepted the way of grace.
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That is the problem here. It is the problem of a Christian who is not yet understanding fully the freedom that Christ has brought him, who struggles with these kinds of things, and who feels limited in his ability to indulge or to use some of these things — while others feel free to do so. One is strong in the faith; the other is called weak in the faith. Every church has these groups. Paul puts his finger precisely on the natural attitudes which each group would have toward each other that must be avoided if we are going to accept one another as he says.
Father, teach me to accept and love my brothers and sisters in Christ and refrain from judging in debatable matters.
Are we honoring the privilege of choosing to our fellow believers when their opinions differ from ours? How does God use our choices to teach and train us?