In Romans 13:8-10, the Apostle Paul tells his readers that if they want to boil everything down; if they want to sum up God’s law and what it means to follow Him, then love people. Then, a few verses later, in Romans 14:1-12, he gives us a practical example of what this might look like in everyday life.
Here, Paul develops the relationship between those who eat meat and those who don’t, calling the vegetarians weaker in faith. Now, before you make a wise crack about how of course God wants us to eat bacon, (which, I mean, of course that’s true!), let’s remember that Paul primarily has in mind meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Paul develops the argument further by comparing those who celebrate some religious holidays against those who do not.
What’s so interesting, is that, despite our tendency to want clear lines and directions, Paul doesn’t come out and say that one group is right while the other is wrong. Instead, Paul argues that as long as each person is convinced in their own mind that they are seeking to honor God. If you do what you do because you love God and love others, then, by all means, do it.
But show some grace to those who disagree. And don’t judge them as somehow less holy than you because they don’t share your convictions.
Of course there’s lots to be said about this. There are, of course, boundaries to Christianity. And there is such a thing as sin. Paul does not mean that, in showing love to one another that we turn a blind eye to everything. Scripture makes it clear that we are to call one another out when in sin (Matthew 18:15-20) and we are called to speak truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Instead, Paul has in mind issues within the big tent of orthodoxy. We all have our own personal preferences. We all read Scripture through those preferences. And we gravitate towards people who share those preferences. This is difficult for some people to grasp. There are genuine Believers who have genuine differences. And both perspectives are within Christianity.
This is the issue Paul faces. Some Believers wouldn’t eat meat while others did. And some Believers celebrated certain religious holidays while others didn’t. And they were judging the ones who believed and practiced differently. There’s nothing new under the sun, is there? We still judge other Christians who practice their faith differently than us. We, as the preachers like to say, major on the minors. We look for areas of distinction (division) instead of coming together under the tent of unity. We’d rather judge each other than admit that our preferences are just that: preferences.
We all have our hangups. Certain things that we believe to be important. Perspectives that we might allow to bring disagreement with other Believers but are not ultimately worth dividing over. Paul says that the proper response is to show grace to one another and stop judging because Jesus is the ultimate judge, not us.
This is something I have often struggled with over the years. I once belonged to a church where there were people who thought that if you weren’t a Calvinist, then you probably weren’t a Christian. I have never personally held this belief, but I have found my fair share of time to argue with people over doctrine. But I answer to Jesus. Other Believers don’t have to answer to me. In fact, we all answer to Jesus and He has given us grace so it seems like the least we can do is get over ourselves and show one another some of the grace we’ve received.