The practical outworking of grace now comes into focus – how a church can hold together when everyone is so different.
Paul shows us two issues: eating meat and holy days. He then shows us how to stay together when we have come to different conclusions on them. The issue of eating meat or not would not have been about whether one should be a vegetarian for animal rights or nutritional reasons, it would have been a conscience issue over meat that may have been sacrificed. Paul is not necessarily saying vegetarians for animal rights reasons have weak faith – unless you think it is a sin to eat meat! It’s whether we can eat a doner kebab that is halal or not? Should we celebrate Christmas or not?
Paul’s thesis is that we are weak or strong in faith in how we are convinced of these things.
So the weak in faith won’t eat meat that may have been sacrificed. The strong in faith are free to eat anything. And, by implication in v.6, holding some days special is also done by the weak in faith. This is surprising because Paul is defining the weak in faith differently to how we may. The weak in faith are honouring the Lord by not eating the meat, v.6. They are not sinning, as God welcomes them, v.3, and are not legalists in the sense of looking to be justified by their eating/days behaviour!
Paul is saying that either way the Lord is honoured by their convictions and faith. So these are secondary matters. They are things people differ on and differ with Paul. So I’d happily eat a doner kebab with Paul and am not bothered by special days particularly (although I do love the evangelistic opportunities of Christmas and Easter!) You may be different and you are welcome, loved and not judged by me!
On these open hand issues (as opposed to closed hand ones like the Trinity, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement) Paul wants us to be open with each other. The weakness in faith can lead to making secondary things of primary importance, causing quarrelling, relationship breakdown and church splits, to the derision of the world.
So Paul urges us to
- Welcome each other without quarrel, v.1 – I have a code phrase, “Do you know what, I think you might be right”, that I learned from Barney Coombes. It means I’m not going to argue with you!
- Don’t judge each other on secondary issues – we’ll both get to stand before God, v.10, which means both parties are saved and are being judged for reward on what they did with their faith.
- Be convinced of what you believe on secondary points, but don’t quarrel with people who have different views.
Having told us to not pass judgement, Paul exhorts us not to put stumbling blocks in the way of a brother. So those strong in the faith who are free to eat anything, need to not cause those who are weak to stumble in their conscience, by buying them a doner kebab for instance. A weak person won’t cause a strong person to stumble by offering them a feta cheese kebab – because the strong in faith are free to eat it anyway (whether you’d want to eat a feta cheese kebab is another question! I mention feta cheese kebab because that is what I had one lunch as a teen, when everyone else was tucking into doner kebabs – illustrating the foolishness of youth and becoming a veggie temporarily, largely to impress a girl!)
The kingdom of God is not about secondary issues, so don’t make them big things. The kingdom is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, which is much more fun!
Bottom line: pursue what makes for peace and mutual up-building.