Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 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. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
What do you hear in this text? What pops out at you? What questions do you have? Are there any words or phrases or ideas that spark your thoughts or imagination?
Paul is writing for a group of new Christians, some of whom think it’s extremely important to follow all the rules of the Torah in addition to following Christ…and others who think we ought to follow Christ first and let at least some of the rules go, particularly if following the rules would mean a breach of hospitality. So, for instance, the Torah forbids eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. In Rome, sometimes meat was sold/served without the buyer/eater knowing from whence it came–it may have come from one of many pagan temples, it may have been sacrificed to a family’s household gods, or it may have been slaughtered just for eating…there was no way to know. So some people, in order to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols, decided not to eat any meat at all. Others simply accepted hospitality without worrying about that rule.
The key problem seems to have been that the church was divided over these things–over who could do what and when, who was in and who was out, who was wrong and who was right, etc. Paul asks them to consider instead the essentials–to have unity in diversity does not mean to abandon essentials (which, for Paul, means Christ who is Lord of the living and the dead, who fulfilled all laws and calls us to be the body of Christ together), but instead to come together as the body while leaving the non-essentials to be decided by those who are figuring out how to live their faith.
So–is accepting hospitality regardless of the provenance of the meat VS eating no meat at all for fear of transgressing a Torah rule an essential? Paul says no. Is one day of the week more holy than other days, the only day on which one should worship, etc? Paul again says no. Is honoring the Lord, giving thanks in all we do an essential? Paul says yes.
The PCUSA has sometimes struggled over similar language–we ask our leaders (elders, deacons, and ministers) to “affirm the essential tenets of the Reformed faith”–but there is no list of essential tenets of the Reformed faith. Some have tried to create such a list, while others have insisted that kind of list is unnecessarily divisive.
What do you think? What is an essential? What non-essentials can we accept in the midst of the diversity of the Body of Christ?