Romans 14, Steak or Veggies

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 person 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 or sister to fall.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Romans 14:19-23

When I read this I started with the end of the chapter, which are the verses above, specifically “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves“. This line in isolation is really confusing and just highlights why it is not good to take a verse out of context. How can someone condemn himself by not keeping something just between them and God and by approving it? Why should we keep a conviction between just us and God? Doesn’t God want us to share what He is teaching us with others? What is Paul talking about?

After reading the whole chapter (context!) I now understand what Paul is saying. Paul spends a lot of time talking about eating meat vs just veggies because that was a big issue religiously speaking during his time. Still today this could be a factor in some relationships. He does mention wine at the end of the chapter and today I think that is a much more relevant topic overall. However, you can plug a myriad of disputable things into the chapter (tattoos, getting dressed up on Sunday morning, what day you go to church, etc.). I’m going to focus on alcohol just because Paul does specifically mention wine and it is still very relevant.

Today you’ll find Christians who proclaim it to be a sin to drink any sort of alcohol and pass judgement on those who do, and then you find Christians who do not feel guilty about enjoying a margarita or a fresh brewski and who openly flaunt their freedom to do so (as long as they aren’t getting drunk), putting down Christians who feel guilty drinking as “old fashioned prudes”. Paul addresses both ends of the spectrum pointing out the sinfulness of both judgement and of approving a behavior that can cause someone else to stumble in their faith.

One of the most well-known Bible verses, and probably most misused is “do not judge lest ye be judged” from the sermon on the mount. What I mean by misused and misquoted is that it is often taken out of context and used to “justify” blatant sinful behavior. The Bible does say that drunkenness is sinful, and commands us not to be controlled by anything but the Holy Spirit, or in other words not to be controlled by a drug of some sort. For some, who struggle with addiction or who are living in (or grew up around drunkenness), starting to drink alcohol can be a very slippery slope that causes them to fall away in their journey of faith by allowing something else other than God to control them, or to become their “go to” for relaxation and “happiness” after work and on the weekends. For someone in this situation they may choose to abstain from alcohol. Either for the protection of their own faith, or to be an example to people in their family that true satisfaction comes from the Lord. This is right for them to do, since Romans 14 states that anyone who does partake in a disputable activity with doubt about whether it is ok for them to do so is sinning. However, when someone in this situation begins to take it upon themselves to force their own policy upon others, or judging others who do partake in alcohol (again not drunkenness), then their judgment becomes sin. They are right to abstain because of their own convictions, but wrong to judge about a disputable matter, and therefore sin in that way.

On the flip-side from judgement for behavior, there is sinning by approval of a behavior through word or action. The Bible verse quoted above “blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves” is exponentially less popular than the judgement verse. How come? Cause it is hard to “justify” sinful behavior with this one. But again, what does it mean in context of the chapter? Paul explains that if you are strong enough in your faith to enjoy “a cold one”, but then you openly put someone down who finds it wrong for themselves to drink, then you are in fact condemning yourself by what you approve with your words and your behavior. The act of putting down the person who feels convicted to abstain is unloving. Flaunting your freedom to drink a glass of wine can very easily tempt someone who struggles with addiction to fall back into their vice, or who is trying to be an example to family to cave in their convictions. This is unloving. Why? Because when you put the other down, or when you flaunt your behavior or even just your approval of it in word, you are caring more about “being right” or about “doing what makes you feel good”, just like the person who judges you for drinking does.

When we care more about being right or about doing what we want, then we care more about us and the disputable matter than we do about the salvation of others. We therefore condemn ourselves by our approval (whichever way you approve) because you are guilty of loving yourself more than your neighbor. Christ Himself said that the greatest law is to love the Lord God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as your yourself. What is the one thing God cares about most? The redemption and salvation of people for His glory. It is His will that none should perish. So if we are truly going about our Father’s business then we will care more about the redemption and salvation of people than “being right” or about flaunting our freedom in Christ by partaking in something that could cause someone else to stumble in their faith.

That is why Paul says to keep your conviction to yourself, and to work your salvation out with trembling before a Holy God (Philippians 2). He reminds us in Romans 14 that we will each stand before God on judgement day–alone. We are each accountable to God, not based on technicalities of obedience, but as to whether or not Jesus Christ was our Lord on earth. If we are living in submission to God through Christ by the power of the Spirit then we will love Him and therefore love others.

In other words, care more about the salvation of others. Even if that means paying closer attention to what you are wearing, what you are drinking, or paying attention to what you are saying about disputable matters, or even if it means keeping quiet about your convictions, then do it. Be aware of and concerned about their walk with God. Their walk with God is more important. That is the loving and peaceful thing to do.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31


Notice how Paul opens up the chapter with the keywords “disputable matters.” There are black and white matters that are not disputable laid out in scripture that clearly tells us what right or wrong  is, in many areas. There are also scriptural instruction for how to judge and address sinful behavior. (i.e. Galatians 6, 1 Corinthians 5, Titus 1, Matthew 18).

A Journey with the Ark of the Covenant

Growing up without a TV had a definite impact on my life. One of them being that I get to watch many of the classic movies everyone talks about for the very first time as an adult. Last summer this happened to be the Indiana Jones series. So the movie adventure began, I was excited to watch these classic movies! At the end of the second one, the one with the ark of the covenant, I was asked, “so what is the ark of the covenant anyway”? Well I may not have watched TV much but I had definitely gone to Sunday School and have read the Bible so an easy question you would think right? All I could come up with however was a physical description, that it held the tablets with the ten commandments written on them and a jar of manna, oh and that it was carried by the priests and set up in the tabernacle’s holy of holies. I was kind of troubled that all I could think about was the basic facts and history about it because I couldn’t stop thinking about II Timothy 3:16, that all scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching. I couldn’t help wonder though, how can we learn from the ark of the covenant? How can studying the scriptures about it draw me closer to God?

The Indiana Jones movie adventure led me to an exploratory journey of my own. One through the ancient yet living and relevant scriptures. The first step, breaking out the good ol’ handy concordance and looking up every scripture reference to the ark of the covenant. Then each scripture became my daily Bible reading for the next few weeks. God did open my eyes to see His truth through these scripture accounts which led to His spirit teaching me, correcting me, rebuking me and training me in the way of righteousness as II Timothy 3:16 states! It was awesome! I’ve since moved to other studies but would like to revisit these scriptures and delve further into the observation, study, interpretation and application of God’s word through a study of the scriptures about the ark of the covenant. Will you join me on this quest? We may not be searching for the artifacts and treasures buried in the earth but searching the scriptures for THE treasure – for God – is so much better. As Amos 5:8 commands us so gloriously:

“Seek Him Who made the Pleiades and Orion, Who turns the shadow of death or deep darkness into morning and darkens the day into night, Who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the face of the earth-the Lord is His name-“

No musty artifact or “treasure” can compare to the Creator of all time and space, of galaxies and constellations, of the ecosystems and life itself – Who stills the raging waters with a single command. As the hymn goes,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”