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Query for the Month

of June 2000

 

Next up-date: July 1st (God willing).

Previous "Queries" are available. Click here to access.

 

Some perpetual questions ....

Is there really an immortal soul?

What does it mean to "be led by the Spirit"?

Do you know the difference between the "love" that is of Christianity
and the "love" that is of the world?
Click here to find out!

 


Query:

Romans 14:1-2

Is a Christian vegetarian therefore "weak in the faith"?

 

Response:

This is where we need the Spirit of God to lead us as we study our Bibles. What appears to be the obvious meaning of the words has nothing whatsoever to do with that subject!!

In these verses there is no contrast between meat-eating and vegetarianism. There is only a lesson on Christian courtesy.

One way to get a true understanding of what God is saying to us in His word, is to read before and after the text that is a problem. Preferably a whole chapter before and a whole chapter after. Only that way can we get the context. Then we need the Spirit to tell us the background of the words so that we can fit in with the culture of the times in which the word was written.

So, now that you have done that (read the chapters), let's carry on.

You will have found out that Romans 13 sets out for Christians our duty towards the rulers of this world, and to each other. The rulers are set up by God and should be obeyed as His servants. It is written, "... he [the ruler] is the minister of God." v4.

Only evil workers are afraid of rulers. Well-doers have no fear. This is not because all rulers are good; for we know that many are not. The broad empire of Rome filled the world, and the one who ruled it when Paul wrote to the Romans was the most vile and cruel of all the monsters who governed it. Nero put men and women to death for the mere pleasure of killing them. Well might he strike terror to the hearts of men; yet the Christians could be calm, because their trust was in God. "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid." Isaiah 12:2.

Then the chapter finishes with the words "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts [strong desires] thereof." It is this thought that carries on into chapter 14. Here we find that some of the Christians of the time were so terrified of the religious power of the state that when meat was offered to an idol for a blessing they still thought that there was an influence given to it. Therefore they hesitated to eat it and thereby became vegetarians. So the real problem was their lack of understanding of how righteousness by faith works.

Moreover meat that had NOT been offered to the idols was hard to come by, but some Christians really wanted to eat flesh and "lusted" after it, so they often ate the consecrated meat, reasoning that if they gave thanks to God for it then they were OK. 1 Corinthians 10:30. Two extremes of thought existed in the church!

This same attitude towards idols was in Corinth when Paul wrote to them.

1 Corinthians 8:4-13

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For though there be [those] that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him.

However there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol to this hour eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. ["Whatsover is not of faith is sin". Romans 14:23.]

But meat commends us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse [spiritually].

But take heed [be careful] lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see you which have [this] knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols [but without your faith and therefore in sin]; and through your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

But when you sin so against the brothers and sisters, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ [that's how important this is]. For this reason, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world stands, lest I make my brother to offend.

So what should Christians do about this? The Spirit's advice was:-

1 Corinthians 10:25-29

Whatever is sold in the shambles [public markets], that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. If any of them that believe not [your pagan friends] bid you to a feast, and you be disposed to go; whatever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

But if any man say to you, "This is offered in sacrifice to idols", eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. Conscience, I say, not your own, but of the other...

And so those of strong faith are being told in Romans chapter 14:3 not to despise those who won't eat food offered to idols, while those who are afraid to eat are told not to judge those who do, "for God has received" both!

For example, it is not for the pupils to say who shall attend any school. In this world there are schools that are exclusive, in which only a certain set of pupils are allowed. If one inferior in wealth and standing in society should seek to enter into one of those, there would be at once an uproar. The students themselves would make so strong a protest against the entrance of the newcomer, that the teachers would feel obliged not to receive him. But such schools are not the school of Christ. "There is no respect of persons with God." Romans 2:11. He invites the poor and needy, and the weak as well as the strong. It is He, and not the pupils, who decides who shall be admitted.

And the chapter continues in this strain. We are not to judge or condemn each other but to change our actions to suit the other person. He/she is more important than we are. Then come the words that some stumble over:

Romans 14:14-15

I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteems any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if your brother be grieved with your meat, now walk you not charitably [or lovingly]. Destroy not him with your meat, for whom Christ died.

Possibly as many errors arise from careless reading of the Bible, and from hasty conclusions from detached statements, as from the wilful perversion of the word. Probably many more are the result of lack of proper thought than of deliberate wilfulness. Let us therefore always take heed how we read.

If we consider well the subject under consideration, we shall not wrest this Scripture from its connection. The thing presented from the beginning of the chapter is the case of a person with so little real knowledge of Christ that he/she thinks righteousness is to be obtained by the eating of certain kinds of food, or by not eating certain things.

Therefore the idea clearly conveyed by the entire chapter is that it is by faith, and not by eating and drinking, that we are saved.

Romans 14:17-18

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serves Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.

A little consideration of the question of clean and unclean food will also help us much. There is a strange idea prevalent today, to the effect that things that were at one time unfit for food are perfectly wholesome now. Many people seem to think that even unclean beasts are made clean by the gospel. They forget that Christ purifies men, not beasts and reptiles.

There were plants that were poisonous in the days of Moses, and those same plants are poisonous now. The very people who seem to think that the gospel makes everything fit to eat, would be as much disgusted at the thought of eating cats, dogs, caterpillars, spiders, flies, etc., as any Jew would have been in the days of Moses. Instead of finding that a knowledge of Christ reconciles one to such a diet, we find, on the contrary, that it is still only the most degraded of humans who make use of them for food, and such a diet is both a sign and cause of sickness.

Enlightenment brings carefulness in the selection of food.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Now there is no one who can imagine the apostle Paul, or any other person of good sense, would eat every thing that they could possibly find on earth. Although most people think themselves wiser than God in the matter of eating and drinking, there are, as there always have been, certain things universally held to be unfit for food. And there are those which God tells us are not fit. See Leviticus 11. Therefore when the apostle says that nothing is unclean of itself, he evidently confines his remark to those things which God has provided for man's safe eating.

So when the apostle says of the Christians, "One believes that he may eat all things," it is evident that the "all things" does not include filth or "unclean" foods.

The idea in these verses is that one believes that he may eat everything that is fit to be eaten even if offered to an idol. But another, having the thought that some of those things may have been devoted to an idol and received some of its powers, fears to eat of them lest he should thereby become an idolater. The Spirit says they should respect each other's view.

He also mentions that this was not such a far-fetched idea either!

1 Corinthians 10:19-21

What say I then? That the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice [dedicate], they sacrifice to devils [these are real creatures, fallen angels], and not to God: and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils.

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: you cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. [You must be clear in your mind.]

There are religious people even today whose conscience is still so poorly instructed that they fear to eat of things which God has given to be eaten; just as there are some who forbid the eating of "food which God has created to be received with thanksgiving." 1 Timothy 4:3.

Times (and viewpoints) have changed, and today most of us are not concerned with idols or devils in regard to our diets, but the principle of the controversy lingers. How do we treat those who have strongly different beliefs from ours?

The reason why some Christians are vegetarians today (and multitudes who are not Christians) is because they firmly believe that most animals have diseases which are transferred on to those who eat their flesh. The recent outbreak of "mad cow" disease has gone a long way towards emphasising their wisdom in this matter. So they refrain from even the "clean" flesh.

Other Christians believe vervently in the idea that we should not take the life of another creature just to indulge in a "taste". It is certainly possible to live today without eating any flesh and yet maintain a healthy lifestyle, so there is no compulsion in the matter. It can only be a matter of desire.

The Spirit was settling the question between two extremes in the church and showing that love will fulfil the law of courtesy. This applies today as well as then. This is what He says a few verses before our query.

Romans 13:8-10

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law. For this,

"You shall not commit adultery,"

"You shall not kill,"

"You shall not steal,"

"You shall not bear false witness,"

"You shall not covet;" [Exodus 20:13-17].

and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." [Leviticus 19:18].

Love works no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

 

Conclusion:

The thought in the question put to us was that maybe vegetarians are weaker in faith than other Christians. This is not so in the verses supplied. The correct understanding of them is that some Christians were fearful of committing idolatry if they ate food which had been consecrated to an idol, even if they didn't know about it. Therefore they abstained from all public meats, just in case.

Those who understood that this was not necessary were being told they should not argue over a situation like that, but show understanding and compassion by not eating meat in front of them. So the whole thought is Christian courtesy.


Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.

 

Spiritual Dictionary:

Meat eating versus vegetarianism:

Whether we eat flesh or not has nothing to do with religion. Romans 14:17. It is a matter of personal choice, so long as we keep in mind that God wants us to glorify His ways. 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Those who want to stay healthy and aware of what the Spirit is trying to tell them will find that meat eating tends to clog the mind as well as the body, and reason becomes harder to use. And that there are certain types of flesh we should not eat for health reasons.

Eating flesh also requires that a creature of God must die, and if this is done solely to satisfy a taste, that is not a good reason for Christians, for God has no favourites. All His creatures are important to Him.


Next query: To be discussed from July 1st 2000.

Does this mean that the 7th day Sabbath was done away with at the cross? It's a follow on from this month's query and is just as misunderstood.


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