Exploring the Scripture
Today’s text continues Paul’s teachings on living ethical, Christ-centered lives. Paul began by encouraging the Roman Christians to “welcome those who are weak in the faith, but not to quarrel over opinions.” The broad statement could easily be applied to a wide variety of issues that might challenge a follower of Jesus. Such could include a new convert’s ignorance or a lapse in a seasoned spiritual leader’s behavior. Paul quickly focused on a topic critical to the early Christian community’s faith and unity: food.
Various cultural taboos affected the eating behaviors of early Christians. Jews had strict dietary laws banning pork, shellfish, and combinations of foods, such as milk and meat. Besides, Jews were forbidden to eat meat that was sacrificed to a god other than YHWH but later was sold at the market. Certain sects of Roman and Jewish culture practiced diets that included more limits. Social standing dictated which foods a family could or could not afford. All these factors arose among Christian communities as they gathered to eat common meals. Judgments were pronounced or implied as people witnessed their neighbors’ eating habits.
Paul’s use of the term “the weak” can be problematic. Is someone who eats only vegetables “weak” because they pass judgment on meat-eaters? Or are they “weak” physically because of a lack of protein in their diet, or financially because they cannot afford meat? The intent is not clear. Possibly Paul referred to the “weak” as those who were governed by strict scruples, which took precedence in their lives over love and compassion for those who are different. Such division of opinion is not essential in a community that genuinely cares for one another.
More radical is Paul’s application of this principle to the Sabbath. Jewish Christians continued to hold the seventh day as more holy than the rest of the week. But Gentile Christians considered each day equal. It was a point of conflict. As Paul pointed out, all days are days to give thanks, and all eating should be done with gratitude. Those who abstain from eating should also honor God and give thanks.
Self-centeredness must be replaced with God-centeredness. “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (v. 8). This is a guarantee secured by Christ’s death and resurrection. He conquered both life and death and gave them willingly to God. As Christ’s followers, whatever we do, we belong to God. Community of Christ upholds this principle in our understanding of the sacrament of laying on of hands. Whatever the results of our petitions to God, we belong to God and can be assured of God’s love and grace.
In conclusion, Paul urged Christ’s followers to avoid judging one another. Each of us is accountable for our actions. Only God has the power and authority to judge. Finally, all will kneel before the Divine, all will praise God, and all will make their accountability to a God of love and grace as well as receive judgment.
Project Zion Podcast
Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.
- Diverse opinions or scruples are unimportant in a community that genuinely cares for one another if Christ’s love is the foundation.
- Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to God. All our living and dying should be with gratitude and honor to God.
- Christians are to avoid judging one another. Judgment is the privilege of God, who alone has the power and authority to judge humans.
Questions to Consider
- What scruples in your life might cause you to judge unconsciously or consciously someone else? How can you manage that human tendency?
- When have you been fully aware that your life belonged to God? How did it feel? How did you respond in gratitude?
- How do you currently find ways to honor God with your life? How can a person honor God with her or his death?