Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Eating Together While Not Eating Alike (Romans 14:2-3)

“One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.” (Romans 14:2–3, NASB95)

In our culture there is a phrase which has been taken to great extremes, and that is, “It’s my body and I’ll do with it as I please.” This has led to great license and extremes in a number of varying behaviors. It has also led to the government legalizing some things which are very questionable at best and trying to restrict other things which seem quite invasive. We can now take an unborn life because women have this kind of control over their bodies, but in New York they don’t want businesses to sell soft drinks over a certain size. With all of it there is a rub over just how invasive and directive the government or anyone should be over what we do. And simple principles dealing with liberty in some areas have been broadened to cover areas which clearly cross the lines of biblical morality.

In addition to these governmental issues there is a growing movement among individuals and groups to police the producers of these foods and to challenge their practices. Some in this movement have become quite forceful and critical while others outside the movement live as if it is largely a non-issue. While we can be thankful that there are watchdogs over our food, we also need to guard that as watchdogs people are not belittled for not having that passion or for being thankful for the food which they do have. And for those who may not be as concerned, there needs to be a respectful awareness of those who are. Their conscientious efforts have brought about some significant change in the foods made available to us which have served us well.

My doctor and my wife both have something to say about what I eat, but in the end I am ultimately the one who makes the decisions about what passes into my mouth. This is true for a good diet and for a poor one. It is true for things done in moderation or in excess. And if I want to I can really get belligerent about it. On the other hand, my wife can choose not to prepare things she doesn’t want me to eat and she can shop in such a way that these things don’t enter the house. And my doctor can refuse to be my doctor if I don’t follow his encouragement. What I have to deal with is my conscience (and even the consequences for good and bad) in this matter and also how I treat those around me who might feel differently. These last two determinants are huge, and they should have a big impact on how I eat.

Being in a close relationship with others who feel differently about food necessitates that we walk sensitively with others, and sometimes it means backing down to a more agreeable standard for the sake of those involved and maybe even a healthier one for ourselves. This is especially true when that standard impacts the welfare of another such as in the case of food allergies which can even be life threatening. We have a responsibility before God to walk with others in love with a clear conscience, and both of these will impact what and how we eat around others.

In some countries people eat bugs, but not me. I like nuts, but I know people whose allergies are life threatening and around them I am very careful. I like pork, but I’ve had some Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ and other Jewish friends who don’t eat it for conscience sake. Some believers are free to drink alcohol, while others are either convicted not to drink alcohol or they may have a bad history surrounding it and they can’t go there any more. These are issues when license and love are laid together with love being the stronger determinant. At the time that the New Testament was being written there were those who maintained Jewish dietary laws and there were Gentiles who were not accustomed to these laws and who were free not to abide by them. There were also those who were once engaged in idol worship and the offering of sacrifices to those idols from which the leftover meat was sold in the markets. For these new believers there was a great struggle eating this meat. And for them it was much safer just to stay away from eating the meat at all.

When believers got together to share in meals this could become quite confusing and maybe even frustrating trying to combine all of their food choices. It could be quite easy to pressure conformity to one standard or another. It could be easy to try to normalize their dietary decisions, and in so doing violate the consciences of some. But Scripture makes it clear, on this matter at least, that God has given them freedom to walk through this area and to make responsible decisions based upon where they are in their understanding before their God who accepted them as His beloved children.

Now this also does not give us a blank slate in regards to our diet. Clearly the Bible does have something to say about taking care of these bodies which God has entrusted to us.

“Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with rags.” (Proverbs 23:19–21, NASB95)

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NASB95)

We do need to make wise choices for ourselves and we need to be sensitive to others. In our house I get a crab for my birthday from my wife, and she enjoys watching me eat it knowing that she herself would much rather have salmon. And I am learning about her special dietary needs and adjusting for them in our eating at home and in considering her best in choosing where we might eat when we go out. This is what love does.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3–4, NASB95) 

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