Disputable Matters by Joe La Bianca Romans 14:1-4
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Strong faith allows us, weak faith forbids us. We are told here to accept those believers who are over-scrupulous by nature, and who live their Christian lives in a forbidding way. There are really two sides to this problem. The one man whose faith is strong eats everything and the other man with weak faith eats only vegetables. This is not talking about vegetarians. The vegetable eating person here was a meat eater, but he stayed away from the butcher store because all the meat came from idol temples. Back then, people would sell meat that had been used in idol sacrifices and some Christians, though they wanted to eat meat, did not because they thought it was a sin to be involved with idols. This person was actually called a weak believer and the person who went into the idol meat store and ate was called a strong believer. The eater must not look down on the weak believer, and the abstainer must not condemn the strong believer because God has accepted him. We have people judging others because they see Christians doing things that they cannot do because of a weak conscience. You assume a place which does not belong to you when you judge. The people you are judging are not your servants. They will stand or fall to the Lord, and they will stand for the Lord is able to make them stand.
I guess the first question would be: what are disputable matters? The answer is that they are not revealed. They are not revealed because the way one lives up to the person, not a list or anyone else. The way we feel about the things we can or cannot do is between ourselves and God. If God ruled our lives from a list, then the New Covenant is destroyed. God doesn’t rule from the outside; He gently leads from the inside by the Holy Spirit.
There is one way to get further knowledge on what are disputable matters. The things we can argue about such as questionable things aren’t listed, but there is a list of the things we can agree on. We can find what disputable matters are from the negative; i.e. things that are not disputable. In Galatians chapter 5 is a list of sins that those who practice will be condemned for. The key word is practice. Paul used the plural word for practice, not the singular word for single act. He did this deliberately so as to not frustrate and condemn God’s children. This list does not apply for one time sins. One time sins imply repentance, for they are “one time” sins. God even helps us if we struggle with a particular sin. He doesn’t give up on us. Not that we plan to use God’s grace as official permission to sin. But we can be forgiven of anything we do, not matter what. God will help us grow out of things, so don’t be discouraged. In this list of sins are concrete things. Yet there are also sins that are vague by definition. We know what adultery is for instance, but uncleanness leaves room for interpretation, doesn’t it? We must leave that to the Holy Spirit in our individual relationships with God, for it is an imprecise word.
Galatians 5: 19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
The point here is what sort of person are we? This kind of person will not go to Heaven. Are you this kind of person? If not then we can talk about disputable matters. If yes, then why even call yourself a Christian? Christian means of Christ, and Jesus is not this sort of person. So, let’s talk about disputable matters.
Christians should leave each other alone, to their own consciences. If one brother likes celebrating a holiday, the brother who thinks it is wrong to observe such a day should keep that opinion to himself and truly accept the brother who does celebrate. They should never try to change that brother. Likewise, the celebrating brother should mind his own business and not vaunt his liberty before the other brother. The Christian church would be very happy if people would mind their own business. It is more important to co-exist in a peaceful, loving way, than to justify ones’ own peripheral beliefs. We all have different convictions about things that are not germane to salvation. In these irrelevant things, we should just let each other alone. Our noses belong on our faces, not in the personal lives of those around us. I am not talking about things that effect salvation. In that case, we should be very concerned with the spiritual welfare of our brothers and sisters.
This passage of scripture is all about scruples. A scrupulous person is someone who is reluctant, due to ethical considerations. It is the reluctant person, who holds back as from acting that is called “weak” in scripture. It is the pro-active person, who does not question those things not related to salvation, who is called “strong”. There are weak ones, and there are strong ones. We should learn to live with each other, and this is the main point of our text.
But I’d like to point something else out. If you are a weak brother, you need not stay weak. Read here, and understand that God’s word is allowing you to participate with the permission of your own conscience. Not in things clearly condemned by scripture, but in disputable things, which are things that are condoned or condemned in the minds of people, not God. In other words, do not become a Pharisee, adding all sorts of rules to the light and easy salvation of Jesus Christ. Your faith is weak and your scruples are strong. Reverse it! Let your scruples be weakened and by so doing your faith will be strengthened!
If someone has a weak faith, if his faith is weak and his scruples are strong, we should not omit them from our fellowship. We should accept them, but not to dispute with them. Leave the discussion of someone else’s convictions alone, and be glad that even though their faith is feeble, they nevertheless have faith. Our judicial estimations of other Christians are worthless, and should not be given.
One man’s faith allows him to eat everything. He does not worry if the meat before him may have been sacrificed to an idol. This strong one just eats, without raising questions of conscience. The weak brother only eats vegetables because he doesn’t want to ignorantly eat meat that may have been part of a pagan ritual. He is playing it safe when, in fact, the only danger is his own guilty conscience.
The strong believer who does not worry about what may have occurred in another place, and eats the food, must not despise the feeble brother who is afraid to eat. The brother who is afraid to eat must not condemn to hell the one who is actually more assured in his faith than he is. Never decide that someone else is accursed because of your own superstitions, when that someone is received of God through Jesus Christ.
Who are we to judge a child of God? We are not God, and they are not our children. We are not responsible to them in these matters of conscience. God is responsible to them. God is their authority, and it is God who has given them His permission to be strong and scruple free. If a Christian falls, he doesn’t fall away from us, he falls away from God. So why should we condemn him? If a Christian stands, he stands in the Lord, not in us. And God is able to make him stand, even though some judgmental person has condemned him to fall.
We assume the role of God when we judge someone’s freedom in Christ. All too often we hear people judging people, while they are worthy to be judged themselves. This is hypocrisy! This is something that peace-loving Christians should, at all costs, stay away from. Instead of this style of life, let us preach the love of God in Christ. Let us communicate the gospel of grace, not the strife of legalism.
Acceptance is the natural tendency of a Christian. He is likely to move, think, or act in this particular way. And when he does separate himself, it is because of clear cut, scriptural reasons, not because of arguable things as are in our text here. Religious people pass judgments. Do you want to be a religious person, who is caught up in the doctrines of men? I hope not.
Instead, be a strong Christian who can eat everything. If your scruples are too strong for you to be a strong believer, then at least keep them to yourself, without judging others. And if you are a strong believer who does not have all sorts of doubts and misgivings, you must not look down on the weak. We are all in this together, and all that really counts is Christ and Him crucified. For herein is our forgiveness, goodness, acceptance, sanctification and salvation. Be thankful that God saved you through Jesus, and forget about being critical and proud. Everyone is very different. There are no cookie cutter Christians. Leave the disputable matters alone and promote the love and peace of God between believers.