The Problem of Sacred Days and Clean Foods – Romans 14:5-9

In Romans 14 Paul is trying to guide congregations to preserve the unity of the body of Christ despite having a wide variety of views on some practices. He mentions two in particular, considering some days sacred and eating some types of foods.

Esteeming one day over another may refer to when the Roman congregations chose to gather. The natural assumption is Jewish Christian congregations continued to worship on the Sabbath. Primarily Gentile congregations met whenever they could, apparently settling on Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead.

Image result for bacon wrapped cheeseburgerEating and abstaining may refer to Jewish food taboos. Again, when a primarily Jewish congregation shared a meal, the food would have been purchased and prepared with attention to cleanliness (i.e., not meat sacrificed to idols, nothing forbidden in Leviticus), etc. Primarily Gentile congregations may not have adopted Jewish food laws, accepting all foods as clean after one gives things for the Lord for the food. However, it is likely some Gentiles did choose to avoid food sacrificed to idols.

What matters for Paul is living one’s life “for the Lord” and not for ourselves. This means the one who is in Christ (a living sacrifice, one who is living in a way that promotes unity in the body of Christ), ought to voluntarily set aside preferences in deference to others.

Voluntarily setting something aside is the key to understanding the principle Paul wants to establish here. Like Jesus, who set aside certain rights he had as a member of the Godhead in order to become human (Phil 2:5-6), so to the member of the body of Christ in the present age must set aside their privileges the may legitimately be owed in order to preserve the unity of the Body of Christ.

Paul is not discussion sinful practices, but what are often called preferences. He is not talking about Gentiles visiting a prostitute (as he is in 1 Corinthians 6), since that is a practice incompatible with being a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is the nature of the strong/weak in this passage: the person with weak faith considers eating food to be a mark of spirituality and therefore breaking those convictions would be a sin.

Does this only work one direction? A person who does not eat unclean food cannot “give up” their preferences and eat unclean food to make a Gentile feel comfortable? For example, if a person today is a vegetarian, can they “give up their conviction” and share meat with someone who eats meat? If I were to share a meal with a Seventh-Day Adventist, for example, I would have no problem eating any food they served. But they may have a serious problem eating something I serve. If I have a meal in an Israeli hotel, it is far easier for me to eat kosher than to insist on my rights and have the kitchen make me a bacon-wrapped cheeseburger.

It is far easier for the meat-eater to give up their conviction and eat only vegetables. This is certainly true on a physical level. But more importantly, with respect to convictions, the meat-eater is not violating a principle of their faith, but the vegetarian would be “sinning” with respect to their own world view.

There is a clear application of this principle for the modern church. First, I think there are some easy examples: If a member of congregation prefers one style of music for worship, they ought to be able to set that preference aside in order to reach people for Jesus Christ.

But I can imagine other situations which would make some Christians more uncomfortable. Could a pastor drink a beer with someone in order to not make a beer drinking member of their congregation comfortable? What about a pastor trying to reach a person in the south who is offered a wad of chewing tobacco. Could they accept the offer without violating their conscience? It is critically important to observe Paul is talking about practices which are not important for salvation in the present age nor is he talking about sinful practices (even if the weaker brother thinks they might be).

As I said in the previous post, both the weak and the strong are believers, and both are welcome in Christian worship and fellowship. For Paul, these are not matters to divide churches or break fellowship over. What are some problems you have encountered trying to find the right balance between preferences in local congregations?

12 thoughts on “The Problem of Sacred Days and Clean Foods – Romans 14:5-9

  1. I taught about this in a small youth group a few years ago, and the subject of drums in church music came up. It got interesting, because one of the young men was speaking about how ridiculous it was that a congregation he knew about had several believers who were against drums. There is a catch though, and things like this show exactly why there is a need to show Christian love and respect, regarding what people came out of. The believers that took issue with the drum playing said something to the effect that the drumming sounded like the music they used to play to their “gods”. That to me was the perfect example for this passage, especially regarding why not to push our preferences on others, when there might be a much more important reason why they do not want a part of it. If drums in church music brought them back to the darkness of religion that they left behind to serve the living and true God, how could a strong believer insist on drums just to satisfy their own wants?

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  2. I know from personal experience that some churches don’t allow younger students to join the worship band in church because of their age. I understand to a degree, but I think it is foolish to hold such a firm stance against the future of the church. It really does push people away from ministry sometimes when churches are so firm on believing what they believe and cannot bend. It is not sin in these issues and they are simply just stuck in their traditional ways. Of course those of us who are asked to be subject to these rules must do so without complaint. We can certainly ask for clarification and learn to potentially move the church to be more “with the times”, but we need to do so out of respect. The issue of dancing as a Christian is also a huge one within the church. If people come along and desire to dance but the church that you are a part of thinks of it as wrong and a cause for stumbling, then we must restrain from doing so and respect their stance. Regardless of if we dance or not though, we should not judge those who chose to dance or not as is stated in Romans 14:4 because we all know what makes us stumble and that may be different for each person. But for that reason, the “strong” must be respectful of the weak and not participate in certain activities around them out of love and respect for one another as fellow children of God.

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  3. As stated both strong and the weak in this passage are Christians. The issues they were conflicting on were some what petty. Yes, they may have been traditional values for their culture and that is a possibility for why they hard time changing to being able to eat whatever they wanted. In my opinion they seemed to have missed the message, that they are set free in Christ. Obviously not free to sin, but old Jewish laws had no meaning anymore. The Jewish Christians were judging those who did not keep the Sabbath or food laws, but that is not their place to judge. Moo says, God and God alone is the rightful judge, and he will decide whether or not our conduct meets his standards (Moo 182). Issues today are seen in worship styles. Which in my opinion, is petty. The church is not a place where people go to see what they can get out of it. The church should be a place where you go to give to others. What I mean by that, is thinking of yourself less, and looking for the needs of others and coming along side them, encouraging them

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  4. In this post, I love the idea of voluntarily setting something aside to keep the unity within the body of Christ. You hear this argument a lot regarding some of the “gray areas” of Christianity. A large debate in churches today is the topic of alcohol. This is where the concept of setting something aside is the key to keeping the unity of the body. In regards to alcohol, just like with the foods discussed in Romans 14, do not do it in front of people who it makes uncomfortable. What you believe regarding either of those issues is between yourself and God, and by not voicing your opinion to everyone, it helps keep the unity of the church as opposed to beginning petty debates that will end in arguments. The body of believers should be based on love and acceptance, and to love someone, you may have to see life through their eyes and be respectful of their beliefs. Doug Moo states, “Christians should recognize the weaknesses of fellow Christians and do what they can to keep them from succumbing to those weaknesses” (Moo, 197).

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  5. It is interesting who is being assumed as the “weak”and who is being assumed as the “strong”in this passage. As we discussed in class, Paul never calls out who is who. I think the Idea that both sides see themselves as the “strong”and the other side as the “weak”is probably accurate knowing that we as prideful humans do not usually want to see ourselves as having the struggle, or being the “weak.” The argument about setting aside, I agree only really goes one way. For the reason that you stated, even if it does not feel fair, it is easier to set aside your own preferences rather than making your brother sin. It really does boil down to keeping the unity of the body of believers for the purpose of peace and also our testimony. How would it look to non-believers if we as Christians were to go out together and quarrel in public about eating, making others think we are no different and we would not be setting a good example of unity or peace. We as believers are called to set the needs of others before ourselves. Moo says that Paul’s prayer for “unity and peace” quotes Paul in Romans 14:17 “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”(Moo 200) We should also be mindful of the many different ways we as Christians live out our faith.

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  6. When you mentioned this earlier, “more importantly, with respect to convictions, the meat-eater is not violating a principle of their faith, but the vegetarian would be “sinning” with respect to their own world view,” I believe you were on the mark about how one needs to live. Not that one should be a vegetarian, or meat-eater, in particular but rather that it is about the personal conviction one feels when the do or do not do certain things. If it is against one’s worldview, and they feel eating something or drinking something would be causing someone to stumble, then they should abstain from such consumption in front of others. If one feels that eating something a person made, although they thought it was unclean, they should still do it if turning down the food would form a stumbling block for the server. As April mentioned in her post above, the Kingdom of God is about righteousness and living in harmony with one another, not about one’s mannerisms when it comes to consuming food or drink (Moo, 200). Paul said in Rom. 14:3, ” whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” The meaning here, being that if one truly believes something food-related is a problem when it comes to living out a life of integrity, and goes against giving glory to God then they should abstain at that point. If one lives out their lifestyle with certain beliefs about ethical dilemmas, then they need to be consistent in how they live for God. The most important aim of Paul’s with this chapter, was to try and keep the unity that the Church should be striving for.

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  7. I find this topic extremely thought provoking. I agree that we need to be careful with our testimonies outside of the church. Even the different denominations and their interaction with each other hurts our witness. Whether it’s the GGF and Baptist churches on the topic of baptism, or with a charismatic Pentecostal church and a more reserved United Methodist congregation. The fact is that our lives should look like that of Christ’s in that we can lay aside our preferences to respect others in theirs.

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  8. About two years ago, at my church, there was a falling out between members of the sound team and worship team. The argument was over what constituted excellence in music. Several people were hurt and left the church. I was away at camp during this time, and it was frustrating to come back into a more broken environment. I get that churches split at times, but I believe this was a poor reason to leave the church

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  9. Food is something that is going to get a reaction out of just about everyone. With food being something that we as humans need to survive everyone is going to have different tastes and opinions on the food we have to eat. I believe that everyone is entitled to their certain beliefs about food, however when these certain individuals begin to push their food beliefs onto others that is where I would draw the line. I believe God has given all of this food to us in order for us to become strong individuals willing and ready to serve in his kingdom. If we did not have food, we would not have energy, and without having energy we would not be able to serve the way God has intended us to do so. Along with food I believe people need to have at least one day that is carved out of their week to reflect and spend time with God. All the people in this earth all become consumed with themselves, and their lives, jobs and families that they have created, without giving the recognition of all their success to the one who truly made it happen; God. This is why I believe every Christian needs to set out at least one day to help pay respect and just spend time with God. We make time during our week to spend time with members in our family, and friends we have, why don’t we do the same for God?

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  10. I think problems that we are facing currently in preferences of local congregations has a lot to do with denominations and what they believe. I think that different doctrines are tearing churches apart which in turn tears the body of Christ apart as well. I think that also as I look at a recurring theme throughout churches its the lack of support for others in the community. Churches are extremely good at serving people they want to within their church and building church things up but they have lost the art of going out there and being Jesus. The church itself has become an environment that is focused more on finding the perfect ideal people they would want in their church and pretending they themselves are perfect instead of just accepting the different types of people that could walk through those doors. Churches and local congregations need to remember that many of their own were on the outside once too and that we are called and meant to share the gospel and in order to do that they have to be more accepting and stop being weak Christians.

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