I KNOW IT’S ODD, but when I was reading yesterday about how Paul handled a food fight in Rome, I ended up thinking about how churches today handle the fight over abortion and homosexuality.
Some Christians in the church in Rome thought it was wrong to eat certain kinds of food. Some of the Christians were Jewish, so they followed the kosher menu. They didn’t eat pork or shelled fish or rabbit stew. And they didn’t think other followers of the Messiah should, either.
Many Jews and non-Jews as well, thought it was wrong to eat food sold in the local butcher shop. That’s because pagan temples made extra money by selling some of the meat sacrificed to idols. And a lot of that meat ended up in the city markets. Some Christians apparently became vegetarians because of that.
Paul’s solution was remarkable, given his background. The guy had been a Pharisee. Imagine the most intolerant political group you can think of. That might come close to what a Pharisee was. They had their rigid set of rules, and they expected everyone to obey them whether or not everyone was a Pharisee. And not everyone was.
Paul’s solution was tolerance.
Here are a few excerpts from the paraphrase I wrote yesterday, pulling from Romans 14.
“If you know that a fellow Christian believes it’s wrong to eat certain food, you shouldn’t eat it when you’re together. That’s not something you do to someone you love. You don’t damage the faith of a fellow Christian… Come on now, food and drinks are not what’s important in God’s kingdom. What’s important is what you have through the Holy Spirit: spiritual integrity, peace, and joy” (Romans 14:15, 17 Casual English Bible).
I hope to be able to post Romans online within a couple of weeks.
When I wrote the leader’s guide questions for Romans 14 I created a life application question based on Paul’s approach to the food fight. Christians today don’t fight over that particular topic, but they have their fights. Here’s a first draft of the Q&A I created about this.
LIFE APPLICATION. Christians in Rome, apparently, are arguing a lot about what kind of food Christians should be allowed to eat. That’s not a conversation we have today. Most of us eat anything we want and more than we need. If Paul had to write a letter to us and ask us to stop arguing about something, what do you think he would be writing about?
One of the most divisive topics would be abortion. Homosexuality would make the top 10 list. Anything political can decimate relationships.
Many Christians consider abortion and the practice of homosexuality as sinful, just as many Christians in Paul’s day considered eating certain food as sinful. Other Christians vehemently disagree, and argue in favor of homosexuality and the need for abortions in tough situations.
The problem is complicated. So is the solution. Entire denominations have split over the topic of homosexuality. More splits are coming, most church leaders agree.
The solution we’ve chosen, applied to Paul’s day when food was the problem, would have looked like this. You could either go to the Church of the Vegetarians on the north side of town or to the Church of the T-bone Steak in the Southland, where barbecue is popular.
Today, however, we get to choose between the Church of the No Gay Preacher or the Church of the We’re Gay All Day. It’s the rare church that would be tolerant of both beliefs: the Church of the We’re Not All Gay, But Gay’s Okay.
Paul’s solution was not to split the church into different groups. His solution was to tolerate the beliefs of fellow Christians who didn’t agree with us. Whether or not that’s an approach Christians today should apply to hot topics such as abortion and homosexuality will continue to be a matter of intense debate.
From Leader’s Guide & Atlas for Romans, Casual English Bible
Winners of free books
- April Bowlin
- Steve Alexander
I give away free books every week to randomly selected Stateside subscribers to my free blog or my newsletter.
Winners now get to choose from a stack of titles, including my most recent: A Visual Walk Through Genesis .
Note to the winner: send me an email and I’ll give you the full list of books from which you can choose.
The deal’s good for a month, or for as long as I have giveaway books available.