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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Romans 14 and Meats

In Romans 14 we see another controversial area between those who advocate eating unclean foods and those who do not. Here again we must look at what Paul is talking about. What is the context of Romans 14?

(ROM. 14: 1) Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

Paul begins where Romans 13 left off, by warning about strife and envy, and following the law of love.

[GENEVA] Him that is weake in the faith, receiue vnto you, but not for controuersies of disputations.
[CEV]Welcome all the Lord's followers, even those whose faith is weak. Don't criticize them for having beliefs that are different from yours.
[LITV] And receive the one who is weak in the faith, not to judgments of your thoughts.

The context is first about strife and envy, manifested in passing judgment on people who might not agree with you on a certain disputable subject. There are certain areas that people should grow to understand that aren’t so immediately important that we need to make demands about them only to end up breaking the law of love by judging our brother over them. When a church demands all people speak, think, and believe the exact same thing, they pass judgment without recognizing that even Paul admitted some areas are disputable. Sometimes that comes from the weak in faith, sometimes from the experienced. But it should always be avoided.

Some people say the following verse is about vegetarianism, but it’s really not. It’s about what background you came out of. It’s about much more than that even. First off, you have to understand that Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. He often dealt with this subject we’re reading about here, it was dealt with in I Corinthians and again in Colossians. The Gentiles were given to Greek philosophy and superstitious idol worship. At the same time, the Jewish converts were coming from a very strict legal background. Both had issues to grow out of.

(ROM. 14: 2) One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
The two judged each other, one in fear, and the other in confidence.

(ROM. 14: 3-4) 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Knowingly eating foods sacrificed to idols is inappropriate. Jesus deals with this subject twice in Revelation 2, in verses 14 and 20. Foods offered to idols were one of the items required to be avoided by the Gentiles as we see in Acts 15 & 21. Not for the food’s sake, of course, but for the conscience of others who are weak in faith. Clearly God hates idolatry, and it has been a problem for ages. Unknowingly eating foods offered to idols was neither here nor there, for an idol is nothing and the food is nothing (I COR. 8: 4). Clean/unclean meats laws is not the focus here; meats offered to idols were not the focus here. Love is the focus here. As Paul makes abundantly clear in I Corinthians 8, there are Gentile converts to whom idolatry is very much something. We can discern that Paul was not telling people who were strong in the faith to eat foods offered to idols, but that there are people who are not so strong in their Christian faith as to have left behind all of their old superstitions, and they fear all meats offered in the marketplace and refuse to take the chance with any of them.

The early church had a set of issues to deal with. A person’s background beliefs are incredibly difficult to grow out of. (Anyone trying to exit Armstrongism fully understands this.) Paul says, all should be patient and gentle with each other.

(ROM. 14: 5-8) 5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Worldwide taught that, “The Romans were abstaining from eating on certain days.” But this would be what you and I commonly call “fasting”, and it is highly recommended that all people do such. So this very idea, though it sounds quite learned and scholarly, is silly. We all abstain from meats on certain days.
If anyone taught “Paul was basically telling them that until they had a more perfect understanding, they should attribute their understanding not to a pagan god but to Jesus,” then that is akin to saying, “Until you know better, regard your drunken orgy festival,” for such were pagan celebrations, “to Christ rather than Zeus”. I find this reasoning nonsensical. And of course it is! The reason for the wrangling is to try and claim the Old Covenant Holy Days are still binding on New Covenant Christians. This is simply not so. Worldwide had layers upon layers of such convoluted reasonings to explain away Christ's grace and lock us all back into legalistic bondage.
If the context were only idolatry, then Paul condones idolatry in verses 5-8 - which is contrary to multiple verses where God Himself clearly says to do no such thing. How does one keep idolatry to the Lord after all?
We cannot conclude that we are to regard pagan holidays as special to the Lord, therefore we cannot conclude Paul is referring only to idolatry. It makes more sense that Paul is dealing mainly with people’s backgrounds. The days are like the meats, some were eating and some were not, some were regarding as special, some were not, some were weak in the faith and abstained for conscience’ sake, and some were confident in faith. Each had their own background that separated them, and were not quite used to the Christian methods of worship. 

If you kept in mind that Paul was dealing with Jew and Gentile converts, trying to juggle the fact that Gentiles were never commanded to keep the Old Covenant laws while the Jews were zealous for it, you should by now understand that most definitely clean and unclean meats are covered within this chapter. Paul was commanded to teach the Gentiles to avoid meats offered to idols, not to eat them to the Lord. But to the Jewish converts, who stirred up trouble for Paul constantly and wanted all Gentiles to be Jews first in order to be Christians, this would appear that Paul was teaching the replacement of the Old Covenant food laws. Paul was teaching the magnification of the spirit of the law. To the Jews, abstain to the Lord with thanks; to the Gentiles, eat to the Lord with thanks. Only regard others' sensibilities in whatever you do. As for the days, it would make more sense in my mind that Paul was including the Jewish traditional days like Hanukah and Purim or perhaps non-idolatrous Gentile celebrations like birthdays or national celebrations.

(ROM. 14: 13) Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.

Unfortunately, this was something most people NEVER learned, all the while condemning people for eating pork or whatever else. I wouldn’t be writing this study now, disputing over disputable matters, if we’d learned this lesson back then.

Now, here we see something new. This is the clincher that shows Paul was most definitely talking about the clean/unclean meats laws.
(ROM 14: 14-21) 14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing [“no thing” includes “no food”; the context is what you eat] unclean, [Strong's 2839: shared in common; or ceremonially profane, defiled] of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean [2839], to him it is unclean [2839]. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food [1033: food (literally or figuratively), especially (ceremonial) articles allowed or forbidden by the Jewish law: - meat, victuals], you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food [1033] the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. 
19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food [1033]. All things [“all things” includes “food”; the context is what you eat] indeed are clean [2513: clean, clear, pure], but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. 

What a statement “I am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself”. “Unclean” here is the same word “common” from Acts 10: 14, 28; 11: 8-9. Just as Jesus told Peter to call nothing “common” that He had cleansed, Paul says he was also convinced by Jesus that nothing was “defiled”; same word. This is the exact same thing God said to Peter! But in that case people say “God only meant the Gentiles”, and here they say “God only means idolatry”. (The same people who keep a tradition because the English text says "forever" will in this case work to undo what God clearly says when it doesn't fit their theology.) Incredible!! Indeed this deals with meats! If we are to demand the context of the section be closely guarded, then the context here is undeniably about food. We cannot just wrangle this away!

I have prayed and pondered about this for some time. I have come to the conclusion that I agree with Paul. Nothing is inherently defiled except to those who feel it is defiled. For Worldwide, as it was with the Jewish converts, what is defiled includes what God has cleansed... and that is their prerogative. If you don't think you should eat, then by all meant do not! So long as they condemn no one else for eating what has been cleansed. But what does that mean? Nothing defiled is made to be defiled in and of and by its self - but if someone regards something to be defiled then to him it is defiled. Since the law is summed up as “Love your neighbor as yourself”, causing someone else to do something they consider a sin, even where there is no law against a certain thing, in this case eating, it is then made a sin to do such a thing. The defilement came not from the outside via the meat, as Jesus shows nothing from the outside defiles us, but from the inside, by loving one’s brother less than one’s appetite.

The idea that Paul considers absolutely nothing to be unclean is misleading. Remember, Paul is referring to food here, not all things in existence. Paul does indeed consider some things to be impure, unclean, or common. Search Paul's works for the word 'unclean' once; you'll see.

We know that in the New Covenant, those things that defile are spiritual; the things that come from within.
To that end, Paul rightly concludes, if eating something bothers you that much, by all means don’t eat it! Law or no law. However, don’t judge someone else for eating, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (ROM. 14: 17). And if you do eat, please be considerate to those who do not eat, and refrain from eating in front of them.

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