I was listening to Romans the other day (okay, over two weeks ago, now) and I’ve read this before but it particularly popped out at me again like I’d never heard it before:
Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. -Romans 14:3-6
Paul’s talking to the Romans about people who eat meat versus people who eat only vegetables, and people who observe special holy days versus those who do not. The Mosaic law included pages and pages of rules about what could and could not be eaten, and what days should be observed (and what you could and could not do on those days, etc.) Many people (particular new gentile believers who didn’t know the Mosaic law by heart as did the Jews) were living a much more free Christianity apart from the old ritual rules which many of the Jews continued to observe. So Paul is coming at these two camps saying “Hey – we’re all doing what we do for God, and he honors all of it.”
The thing is, I’ve been in the ‘free’ camp for a while now. Namely, I don’t particularly observe Sabbath, and I eat what I eat, among many other points. But when I heard this I realized something; I’ve been looking down on people–or living down, if you will. While I’ve considered other people ‘weaker’ or ‘misguided’ or ‘deceived’, etc.., the truth is, God is much less petty. Much. The beauty of the new covenant is that it isn’t all wrapped up in what we do, or don’t do. It means that we’re free on an individual basis to decided how we will honor God. By esteeming a day, by doing Church a certain way, whatever. But what God honors God honors.
This has been stored away somewhere in the back of my mind for the last couple weeks, but I got a fresh first-hand glimpse not too long ago of someone (I won’t go in depth on this one) zealously calling out another person for something they ate. Now here’s the thing: I thought it was pretty silly. I mean, come on. But that’s exactly what Paul was talking about. If I could go back now and say something to those two people it would be this:
“Look, you only eat certain things because you believe it honors God and your body–and it does. It’s not about following rules or keeping yourself out of hell, it’s about honoring God and God is honored in so many more ways than you or I can imagine–like giving your life, not just your diet. If you want to honor God by not eating certain things, then by all means do so. But don’t look down on someone else because they choose to honor God in another way, or because your way of honoring God doesn’t mean anything to them.”
Jesus… show me how to honor you, and teach me how to honor others in whatever way they choose to honor you. I want to build bridges between your people, not burn them down. Thank-you for your new covenant that brings all of us together no matter where we come from, or what we believe.