Read Romans 14:1-12
There are always things within the pastoral letters that make us think, ‘Sorry? What was that you said?’ and this is a typical passage. So, let’s put one matter straight. If there’s any meat eaters out there who look at a vegetarian and think their faith is weak, be assured that you’re wrong. It is OK to be vegetarian, or even vegan (I’m sure Paul would agree)!
OK, so that’s got the important point out of the way first!
But there is a serious thing here, in that we often get niggled and irritated by the things people do and say, their habits, hobbies and high horses. For me, it’s the wrong use of apostrophes in Facebook posts, emails, shop posters and noticeboards. I’m serious, there should be suitable punishments for transgressors!
For others it can be someone’s obsessive tidiness (or untidiness), political views, maybe a literal interpretation of every word of the Bible that we disagree with, an untidy garden or whatever. They can be small or large issues, but the more we know that person the more we want to take issue with them, even though it might damage our relationship.
So, avoid irritation, says Paul because it gets us nowhere. However we might disagree with what they do or say, we must try and see and understand where they’re coming from, look at life from their viewpoint and understand that God accepts them as they are, as he accepts you and I and all our own little foibles!
Avoid ridicule! Don’t laugh at other people behind their back or make snide comments about what they say or believe, that’s not helping anyone and it may just make them withdraw and stick more rigidly to what they hold to. Who is to say that you are always right?!
More importantly, avoid contempt! We all have our own views on all mater of subjects and just because I think differently than someone else, doesn’t give me the high ground if I simply dismiss their own opinion. We need to respect others, try to understand and get to know the person inside, the person that God loves as much as us.
Paul’s talking to Christians in and around Rome, and they would be a mix of Gentiles and Jews. It may well be that more Jews had started joining together with the believers and were finding it hard to accept a somewhat more liberal approach to faith matters than they had been used to – less dependent upon rituals and the old laws that said what you could and couldn’t eat, and which days were holy days and what you should or shouldn’t do on them.
The Jews were quite strict with food laws, it was all written down in Leviticus 11 if you want to read about it. The laws were very precise. They couldn’t eat pork as I guess you know, but were you aware that grasshoppers could be on the menu? There you go!
One of the strictest sects of the Jews were the Essenes. They had communal meals, and before each of them they bathed and then wore special clothes. Oh, and meals had to be cooked by priests or would not be eaten. There was another sect who ate no flesh because they believed a person’s soul after death might be reincarnated and live within an animal. Fancy trying to put all these folk together in one room with a group of Gentiles with a simple faith based upon the sacrificial love of Jesus and their acceptance, through baptism, into God’s family. It would make for interesting discussions as to the best way to conduct worship.
That might not be an issue for us now, but it has been over the centuries, it’s one of the reasons why we have so many denominations, why God’s Church is so fragmented, because we all think worship should be done in a particular way, or the emphasis placed on one element is more important than another. There have been arguments, even wars, fought over such matters. Our monarchy has often been at the heart of that - if you think back to the story of Henry VIII and his various wives, and how he literally played with the faith of the country so he could have his own way.
So, I wonder if we are actually any different to those people that Paul was writing to. The context might have changed, but we still do things ‘our way’ and possibly frown a little when Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary, Anglicans bow to the altar or swing the incense, and Charismatic Christians start speaking in tongues and prophesying.
Paul has a lovely way of answering all this. He says, don’t worry, don’t get irritated or uptight about what someone thinks, says or does. God loves them, he can work it out with them, and presumably with us!
Rather than worrying about or criticising others who are doing things differently than you, why not just show a bit of love, and think more about your own relationship with God and your fellow humans. That old triangle I mentioned earlier. It matters, it really does. Christianity is not just a one way relationship between us and God, it’s about sharing the love of God with others, not all of whom necessarily hold the same views as we do even when they identify as Christians. And that’s OK, because God loves them, as he does us, and he can take the raw material of who anyone is, and work with it. The potter with his clay, transforming us into the people he always knew we could be, and bringing glory to his name. Amen