Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” – Romans 14:1
Strong differences of opinion sparked tension in the early church. These areas included: (1) eating of meat (vs. 2); (2) observing special days (vs. 5); and (3) drinking wine (vs. 21).
Paul’s objective in writing this section was to bring unity in an atmosphere of difference. He wrote of two groups of believers whom he identifies as “weak” and “strong”. He described the “weak” Christian in a figurative way: by his lingering legalism and tendency to criticize other believers with differing opinions—perhaps viewing them as morally lax. They were uncertain how this new faith in Christ affected the Old Testament rules. The “strong” were those who recognized their boundaries within Christ’s freedom. Paul warned them to not put down believers who felt compelled to follow parts of the Mosaic Law, or have a condemning attitude.
Jewish food laws forbid the Jews to eat the flesh of certain animals, or drink their blood (Leviticus 11). Jewish observances not only set the Jews apart from other people, but also made them feel clean before God.
Although Jesus declared all foods “clean” in Mark 7:17-19, it’s no wonder many of the Jews still struggled with sharing a meal with Gentiles. (Acts 10:9-29 also shows God removing the cultural restrictions with food.)
Paul offered three guidelines to address these divisive issues. His letter is more pastoral than abstract theology. My next three posts will explore each principle.
Paul didn’t say to stop making judgments on sin. Rather, he urged us to stop launching hurtful and prideful judgments against one another. Loving other believers who differ from our opinions challenges the boundaries of our faith. But God gives us freedom to decide many nonessential issues that are not clear in His Word. He also convicts committed believers differently. As believers, it’s important to know when correct doctrine is at stake and when to be tolerant of others’ strong convictions.