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Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Could But I Won't

Today I'm reading Romans 13:6-14.

6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.
10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:
“As I live and breathe,” God says,
    “every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
    that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.
13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

This passage needs context. A problem in the 1st century church rose up out of the fact that people were coming to Christ who had been in a culture where idols were worshipped everywhere. Literally, in some cities there were temples to their pagan idols on every street corner. These new Christians took their loyalty to Jesus very seriously and wanted a clean break from their idol worship. They also took the 10 Commandments #2 concerning idol worship (see Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5). 

But here's the problem. When people worshipped these pagan idols they brought animals to be sacrificed to the false gods. The temples made money selling this butchered meat in the local market place. If you wanted to eat meat you had to buy meat that had been used in worship services devoted to false gods. Or go vegan. Some Christians were deeply offended by this and others weren't. For some to eat meat sacrificed to false gods was tantamount to denying Christ. Others had no problem at all buying and eating meat - but their freedom was offensive to the more rigid believers. 

Paul says he agrees with the meat - eaters, except that they shouldn't use their freedom in a way that is going to damage the faith of those who are meat abstainers. He's not advocating some legalistic approach to faith, but he's saying there are situations where more 'mature' believers need to lay aside their sense of freedom and give up something for the sake of others who aren't that free yet - all for the greater good of the unity of the Body of Christ. 

There is always this fine line in matters of culture...what is permissible, what is helpful, what will bring glory to God. Going to movies, dances, you name it - Christians have split on how much freedom we have and what to do with those who are more restrictive. If something isn't clearly condemned as sin in the Bible, then how do you decide if it is right for you? You could live in real tyranny if you're always giving in to those who are more legalistic and that wouldn't be the right thing to do, either. 

There is no hard and fast rule to follow and apply to every questionable situation, except can you honestly do 'X' to the glory of God? Can you do it with a clear conscience? Do you think Christ will be pleased with your behavior? Will it honor him? If not, then don't. And maybe God is calling you to voluntarily limit your freedoms for the sake of someone else who needs your support. Like not drinking in front of an alcoholic, or maybe voluntarily giving up alcohol as a show of support for a friend who is trying to get sober. YOu might shave your head in support of a chemotherapy patient, why not do something in support of a 'weaker' brother or sister?

What do you think? Have you ever faced any situations like this?


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