As I noted in Monday’s reflection, the church in Rome was threatened by differences of opinion over what Christians should eat or not. The Apostle Paul, who wrote this letter to the Romans, explained that all foods were acceptable for Christians. All believers in Jesus were free, therefore, to eat whatever foods they preferred. If one who was mature in faith chose to eat meat, even though it could be associated with pagan worship, that person was free to enjoy a nice steak.
However, just because we are free in Christ to do something, that does not mean we are always right to choose to do it. Something else must be factored in to the equation: the impact of our behavior on other believers, especially on those who are spiritually immature. If our choice to do something in Christian freedom would pose a stumbling block for them, then we should choose not to do that particular thing. We do this, not out of compulsion, but out of freedom, in order to love others and to build up the body of Christ.
Let me provide an illustration from my own life. I happen to believe that, in certain settings and in moderation, it is okay for a Christian to drink alcohol. Sometimes I like to have a glass of wine with a special supper, for example. (If you disagree with me about this, that’s okay. Just be sure you don’t condemn me for my view!) But there have been many times when I have chosen not to drink alcohol because I was concerned about those around me. For example, when I was senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I performed many weddings and often went to the receptions afterwards. At some of these, wine was offered to guests. But most of the time I chose not to drink. I was concerned about some of the younger people who were present, those who might not have the maturity to drink in moderation (or to obey the law). I was also aware of certain brothers and sisters who struggled with alcoholism. By drinking a Diet Coke instead of a glass of wine, I was choosing to do that which I thought would be best for others. I was free to say “No” to something I would have enjoyed and that would have been okay for me in some contexts.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever said “no” to something you would have liked for the sake of a brother or sister in Christ? When? How might the basic reasoning of Romans 14:20 slip into un-Christian legalism?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, how grateful I am for the freedom I have in you. In particular, I’m thankful for the freedom to enjoy the goodness of your creation. It would be hard, I must admit, if I had to say “no” to some of the joys of food and drink.
Nevertheless, there are times when I should say “no.” Help me to be rightly discerning of those times. May I never exploit my freedom in you in such a way that I hurt a brother or sister. May I never injure your church because of my exercise of Christian freedom. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
During the last few weeks of the summer, I take a break from writing new reflections. We’ll be sending out reflections I wrote a couple of years ago on Paul’s letter to the Romans. I pray that God uses these to deepen your relationship with him and to strengthen your faithfulness as his disciple. We’ll be sending out new reflections beginning on Tuesday, September 4.