Divisions about food or holy days

Posted Feb 25, 2019

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Daily Scripture

Romans 14:1-8

1 Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion. 2 One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don’t, and the ones who don’t eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand). 5 One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. 6 Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. 7 We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God.

Reflection Questions

Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome disagreed vigorously about, e.g. keeping holy days or eating “unclean” meat. Scholar Leslie C. Allen summed up Paul’s message to them: “It is nothing less than usurping Christ’s sovereign authority over a fellow-Christian to criticize him over a difference of opinion: for the less scrupulous to look down on the more scrupulous, or for the more scrupulous to judge the less scrupulous. Christian fellowship does not imply a right to run other people’s lives for them: only Christ can—and will—discharge such a right.”*

  • We usually don’t argue hotly about holy days, so it may seem easy to agree with Romans 14:17: “God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” But we DO differ, often strongly, about politics, sexual orientation, immigration, what we mean by “the Bible is inspired,” even church music! How can you apply verse 17’s principle as you relate to Christians who disagree with you?
  • John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, asked in one of his best-known sermons, "Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?”** What principles can guide you in deciding when preserving Christian connections is more valuable than winning your specific point? Is there someone who has lovingly helped you in your personal spiritual journey without trying to make your journey into a clone of their own?

Prayer

Compassionate God, help me to major in majors and minor in minors—and leave the judging to you. Fill me with your “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Amen.


* Leslie C. Allen, “Romans” in F. F. Bruce, gen. ed., New International Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979, p. 1342.

** To read Wesley’s entire sermon on unity, click here.

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Chris Abel

Chris Abel

Chris Abel is the Pastor of Students and Young Adults at Resurrection, and he describes himself as a "Pastor/Creative-type/Adventurer." A former atheist turned passionate follower of Christ, he completed his seminary education in Washington, DC. Before coming to Resurrection, Chris was a campus pastor near St. Louis, MO.

If you were in church this weekend, Pastor Adam addressed the UMC General Conference  happening in St. Louis that’s deciding the global policy on LGBTQ people in the church. There are people who are very much against this and there are people who are very much for this. It was a great sermon and Adam’s a smart guy so I don’t have anything to add with that particular topic. 

But I do have some thoughts on the underside of this debate:  

Conflict. 

While this particular debate might not be in the Bible, conflict is jam-packed in our scripture. It’s in the first few chapters between brothers and it’s in the very end of the Bible between armies—and everywhere in-between. And almost always, conflict between people happens when two groups both think they’re right. 

——

My friend Adam once asked me “how does it feel when you’re wrong?”

Misunderstanding his questions, I responded, “badly?”

His answer was one I’ll never forget. 

“It feels like you’re right.”

It took me a minute, but his point was spot on. When you’re wrong, you don’t feel like you’re wrong. You might have thought you did the dishes, but when your spouse points out the sink full of them, you realize your mistake. You thought you did your math correctly, but when your co-worker types it out, you realize your error. You thought you were going the speed limit, but the cop has proof you weren’t. 

We’re wrong all the time and yet there’s no internal alert when we are. 

How does it feel when you’re wrong? It feels like you’re right. They feel the same way. When you’re wrong about something, there’s no fact-check built into your heart or mind. There’s no warning bell that alerts you that your perceived rightness isn’t actually right. 

It’s true with the small things, and it’s true with the big things. 

So when we have a giant debate about the future of the United Methodist Church, there are bound to be a lot of people who think they’re right—even if they’re not. The interesting part, though—is that they’re debating… 

…what God wants. 

They’re trying to create policy reflecting the mind and intent of our Creator. 

No small matter. And it amazes me that I see people who are approaching something so beyond us with such audacity. As if the mind of God was their’s to safeguard. 

Now in my own life, what I like to see in my friendships, in my relationship, and in my community is a sense of humility when it comes to “rightness.” Conviction is a beautiful thing when it’s paired with the confidence to say “I could be wrong but this feels right.” 

Not is right. 

But leaving room for the reality that…

it feels right when you’re right 

and

it feels right when you’re wrong.

I like this kind of humility when I see it in myself, in those closest to me, and in my church leaders. 

As Paul wrote to some too-confident Christians 2000 years ago, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord.”

The only one who knows ultimately what is right is the One we all answer to. 

Conflict happens. But Christian conflict should ultimately be conflict that leads with humility. That’s true in St Louis this week—and that’s true for us. 

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