On Conflicting Faith Between Religions
[Rom. 14; 13-23]
In today’s Bible study we will finish Romans chapter 14. In this study we will conclude Paul’s train of thought from the first 12 verses that we studied last week concerning judgment that we may pass on one another, consciously or subconsciously, regarding matters of faith. Paul is talking about passing judgment on “disputable matters” of faith, such as eating certain types of foods. Some folks eat only certain types of foods, such as different kinds of meat, whereas others do not. Still others are vegetarians. Paul is not preaching on what or what not to eat, he is only using this as an example of what he is trying to teach us. Paul states unequivocally that “each one should be convinced in his (or her) own mind”. He then continues in this train of thought as he finishes making his point, beginning in verse 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. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14: verses 13-18 NIV)
“Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way”. Here Paul is exhorting us not to do anything that could compromise or call into question the faith of someone else, whether they are a believer or not. If you are a Protestant then don’t be putting down Catholics. If your are Catholic, then don’t express hate for a Muslim or a Jew just because they believe differently than you do (except, of course, for those who blow themselves up). We can and do disagree, that is true. But that does not give us an excuse to look down on someone who we erroneously regard as being not as good as we are. If you are so far up in the clouds spiritually that your feet are no longer touching the ground, then you have lost touch with the very people to whom you are supposed to be witnessing to and setting a good example. Muslims and Jews do not eat pork. I happen to like pork, I eat it about once a week, sometimes twice if I’m in the mood. Under no circumstances does that allow me to look down upon someone who abstains from pork. And that works both ways. This also brings up the issue of antisemitism, which is a scholarly and sugar-coated terminology for hatred of the Jews. If you are a Christian and worship Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth, then it is impossible to hate Jewish people because Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish man. You cannot simultaneously hate the Jews and claim to love Christ, who died for all our sins. You either love Christ or you don’t. And if you don’t believe in Christ, then the Bible says you will be condemned to hell when your life on earth is over. On the other hand, if you find yourself on the losing side worshiping a bogus god, you can change your mind right now and ask Jesus, “If you’re really real, then come and become the Lord of my life”. If you love Christ, a Jewish man, then you presumably love all Jews as well. Anything less is completely contradictory and doesn’t hold up under serious examination. Furthermore, while I certainly don’t wish to scold or otherwise cause offense with my readers, I think it’s better to tell the truth and be unpopular than to be well liked for merely telling people the things they like to hear. As a minister of the Gospel, it is part of my job to point out these things.
“Do not by your eating (or drinking) destroy your brother for whom Christ died”. Many Christians, especially Evangelicals, abstain from alcoholic beverages for reasons of faith. Although I was raised as a Catholic, I have been a Progressive Christian since 1992 when I first gave my life to the Lord. As such, I occasionally enjoy alcoholic beverages, but I always do so in moderation. By the same token, if I went out to dinner with Evangelicals I would order a soft drink instead of beer or a mixed drink. By the same token, if I went out to dinner with a Muslim or a Jew, I would not order pork and risk offending that person. That would be no better than showing up at an AA meeting with a six pack of beer. I have been fortunate to never have had a problem with alcohol or drugs, but by opening up a six pack of beer at that AA meeting I would be offending all others at that meeting who must by necessity abstain from all forms of alcohol. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil”. Instead, we are to strive to set a good Christian example for all to see, and our every word and action will be watched closely by others, especially non-believers. Since Christ died and was risen from the dead on the third day for us all, we are to treat everyone equally in these matters and not cause someone’s conscience to be bothered or compromised by our actions. Anyone who does would be sinning against that person and against God. Paul then goes on starting at verse 19.
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” (Romans 14: verses 19-21 NIV)
The main point of Christianity is belief in Christ Jesus as the Son of God. All other issues of faith, such as what to eat or drink, or for that matter how we worship as an individual, becomes a side issue and as such are besides the point. Abortion is another example. Although I personally think abortion is wrong, I refuse to pass judgment on those who do not, or who may have actually had an abortion sometime in the past. That is between them and God. Judging other people is God’s job, not mine, and therefore I never presume to do God’s job for Him – as if I were somehow capable of doing that in a righteous manner in the first place! For the Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. And again it is written by the apostle James, “Be careful how you judge one another, for with the same measure that you judge others, it will be measured back to you”. It is far better to follow what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. If I bring a six pack of beer to an AA meeting, and my actions cause one of the people at that meeting to relapse and wind up back in rehab, that sin is not on that person’s soul; it would in that case actually be on mine. Let it be far from me to cause my brother or sister to stumble and fall because of my actions, because God is watching everything I do and He is listening to every word that I say! So it is for all of us. Paul then concludes in verse 22 as follows.
“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14: verses 22-23 NIV)
We are to keep everything we believe, every bit of our faith, between ourselves and God. Paul wrote elsewhere in the Book of Philippians that we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling between ourselves and the Lord”. That is exactly what Paul is talking about here. I may not believe what others do, and I may have a different nature of faith than my brother or my sister. But under no circumstances does that give me any right whatsoever to condemn what someone else believes, or to look down on others believing that my faith is somehow better than theirs, or to judge someone else who is different than myself. God made us all in His image and likeness, so says the Bible. Therefore if we have questions or doubts about what someone else believes, we are actually passing judgment on that which God has made, and no one has any right to question the judgment and intentions of God. That is the ultimate form of blasphemy, a damnable sin if ever there was one.
Let us all start doing this effectively starting today and from this day forward. By doing so we can all become better Christians and have a better walk with Christ. Remember that the closer we walk with Christ the closer we are to God. As we become closer to God, we grow stronger and better through Him by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. And this is a noble and worthy goal for all of us to achieve and to live by. By doing so we become a better Christian and a better person, and that should be the goal of everyone who truly believes. Besides, by doing so, you never know when our actions can influence a non-believer and win them over to Christ. And that is something that is always worthwhile.