COLUMN: Eat, don’t eat (it’s not all about you)

Published 4:13 pm Sunday, September 24, 2023

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On a recent trip, we sat down for dinner with a group of couples we were just now meeting. One woman quickly began to regurgitate the opinions from her favorite news channel. Things were turning political in a hurry. 

About the time I was going to ask if we couldn’t just have a nice night and avoid political things that we might not all agree on, a woman just down our table from us spoke up and did the same. From there, it was a perfectly enjoyable evening.

Well, it seems that talking about controversial matters is as old as time itself. People can’t seem to help themselves from assuming that everyone around them sees life and culture the way they do. 

In Romans 14: 1-12, Christians were squabbling amongst themselves and the apostle Paul evidently had to referee. Some believe that maybe the Roman church leaders had written a previous letter to Paul outlining some of the problems this early church was already having. A letter that didn’t survive antiquity. 

Whatever the case, the apostle issued timeless wisdom that they, and we, would do well to heed. Because they apply every bit as much now as they did then. In fact, I could argue that the single biggest cause of church decline over the last few generations is that folks got tired of Christians who weren’t acting all that Christian. 

That’s right. I am convinced that across America, in large part we are emptying out our own houses of worship and damaging the cause with some of the biased stances we are taking. Too many give the church the general appearance of being intolerant. 

Christians of Paul’s time had differences just like we do today. Some of them had converted from Judaisim. They were used to fidelity in keeping the Law equating with nearness to God. 

Today, the issues may have changed but the result can be similar. If someone is legalistic minded enough and differs with you on something, they may call your entire faith into question. If you don’t talk just the right talk or vote just the right vote. If you don’t reach just the right convictions on certain matters, it’s on.

People today are all too willing to just throw away relationships with their family members, their old hometown friends and co-workers. It happens over silly discussions about last night’s or last week’s episode of their favorite talking heads. 

Thanks to that late, wonderful Richmond preacher, Dr. Ray Spence, here’s what Paul said basically to the Romans. A word of instruction that we need so badly to hear today. 

“If you want to eat meat, then eat meat. If you don’t want to eat meat, then fine don’t eat meat. If you want to drink wine, then drink wine. If you don’t want to drink wine, then fine don’t drink wine. But stop arguing about it. And if you can’t stop arguing about it, then get away from each other and act like grown-ups because you’re all making the church look bad.” 

I can’t improve on that. What I can do is to beg every last one of us to heed what we just heard. This isn’t about being liberal. Or not having any convictions. It’s not about everything and everybody just being okay. 

I believe there is right and I believe there is wrong. I believe there is sin just as sure as I’m sitting here. I believe we can break the very heart of God with our misdeeds, our short-cuts, our unethical patterns and our worst moments of moral decision. 

But I also believe a couple of other things. I believe that many Christians in our day have fashioned a god that bears a strong resemblance to themselves. They hold a Bible-less set of moral imperatives and convenient, culturally informed standards that they identify as sin. 

In place of being biblically literate and actually reading the scripture, they just proclaim what they are biased about to “be in there somewhere” and call those things sin. Meanwhile, what the Prophets really spoke on God’s behalf and what Jesus spent time talking about goes almost entirely ignored.

I can’t help but be humbled by how Paul closes this section. I hope you have a similar reaction. In verse 7, he says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.” In other words, it’s not all about you. It’s not about me, either. It’s about Christ’s cause, which decades of mean-spirited judgmentalism has just about broken here.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.