One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
–Romans 14:2

In Romans 14, Paul was addressing a problem in the church in Rome regarding the issue of diet: what we eat and drink. In Romans 14:1-2, Paul said, “Accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.” There was a controversy in the early church raging over whether Christians ought to eat meat or not. Paul did not get into the specifics of it, but that controversy may have come from several sources.

First, the controversy may have come from Judaism. The Jews said there were certain meats that you could not eat because they were unclean. Possibly some of these Jews had converted to Christianity and were bringing those dietary restrictions into the church.

Second, the problem may have come from asceticism. The Greek and Roman cultures were so decadent that even non-Christians said, “We are going to try to purify ourselves.” So they voluntarily refrained from eating meat, drinking wine, wearing makeup, and indulging in any pleasurable activities in order to make themselves more holy, they thought. Once they became Christians, these people brought that asceticism into their Christian lives.

Third, the problem may have been what I call Corinthianism. In 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, Paul described a problem that was going on at the church at Corinth: eating meat that had been offered to an idol. The Roman and Greek cultures had many pagan temples to various gods. The way people would gain the god’s favor was by offering a meat sacrifice, but only a third of the meat would be burned up. The leftover meat would be divided: they would give a third to the priest, and the other third would be sold in the meat market or served in the temple restaurant. The meat that remained from the burn sacrifice was highly desirable because it had been used to gain the god’s favor, and it had supposedly been cleansed of demons, because the culture believed the way demons entered people was through food. Christians who came out of that pagan worship into Christianity said, “No Christian should eat meat that has been offered to an idol. That is pagan.” Other Christians said, “There is no such thing as an idol, so there is nothing wrong with the meat. If you want to eat it, go ahead. If you don’t, go ahead. Your diet has nothing to do with your standing before God.”

You may have difficulty relating to that issue, so let me give you a more current illustration. A new Christian has come out of an immoral lifestyle fueled by alcohol. He walks into the store and sees a church member walking out with a six-pack of beer. He says, “How could you drink that?” The church member says, “I am free in Christ. Nothing in the Bible says I can’t have a drink.” Who is right in that situation? That is the kind of gray area Paul addressed in Romans 14.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Drinking, Dancing, And Doubtful Things” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2014.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.