Last week in Part II of our series, we took a look at the New Testament perspective on the Old Testament dietary laws. Unfortunately, Peter’s vision in Acts 11 didn’t entirely clear up the issue of what a Christian should or shouldn’t eat. The Church remained conflicted about which dietary rules did or didn’t apply and even found some new ways to argue about those rules.
The Apostle Paul spent more than his fair share of time trying to clear up these arguments and we find him addressing them in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-11 (among others). While it was clear that Jewish believers and Gentile believers weren’t likely to come to any agreement on the matter (the Gentiles were even divided among themselves regarding meat sacrificed to idols), there were a few ground rules which could be put in place. Pay attention, because these rules still apply to Christians today! Among them are:
- Don’t judge. (Romans 14:3-8) Not every issue is as clear cut as we like to think. While we may be deeply convicted that we aren’t doing honor to our bodies (God’s temple) or to God’s Name by eating or drinking certain things, other believers may not share our conviction. What may be “obvious” to us isn’t always “obvious” to everyone else. When this is the case, Christians ought to approach each other’s dietary choices with an attitude of grace.
- Don’t ignore your conscience or encourage anyone else to ignore theirs. (Romans 14:14,23) If you think it’s a sin to eat a certain food or to drink a certain beverage, it is… for you. God often convicts individual believers about what they shouldn’t do in their situation. This means that we have an obligation to support each other in these beliefs. We may discuss the relative merits of certain diets or even spend time examining the Biblical text for support, but in the end, we ought never to do something which violates our conscience or encourages our brothers and sisters to violate theirs.
- Don’t destroy members of the Body. (Romans 14:20,21; 1 Corinthians 8:9-12) While we aren’t responsible for the choices of other believers, we do need to be sensitive to the ways that our actions may tempt or influence them. Not everyone has a will of iron and plopping down your box of doughnuts right in front of a diabetic may result in an unrestrained binge which does serious physical damage to their body. This doesn’t mean that you should never eat another doughnut or that you shouldn’t eat doughnuts in public, just that you need to use discretion when determining what, where, and when you eat. (Hint: this means that you need to take the time to get to know other believers and understand their strengths and weaknesses.)
- Don’t make an issue out of food. (1 Corinthians 8:8) In the big scheme of things, what God does or doesn’t want us to eat is not as important as who He wants us to be: people who demonstrate His love. There is a time and place for discussing the Biblical view of food… but it isn’t when tempers are likely to flare. If you don’t see eye-to-eye with another believer concerning what you should eat, don’t debate them. Let it go. God is working in both of your hearts and the Holy Spirit will bring you to the conclusions He needs to bring you to in His time. Don’t separate other believers from the fellowship of the body over the issue of food or drink.
- Glorify God always. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33) Paul was careful about what he said and did when he sat at someone else’s table. He recognized that sometimes, conveying the message of the Gospel meant saying “yes” to what was offered and that other times it meant saying “no”. He also recognized that the food which received a “yes” at one table might receive a “no” at another. What he ate wasn’t about what he ate it was about the people with whom he was eating. Our decisions to eat, moderate, or abstain should follow the same rule.
Next week, we’ll begin to examine two very clear Scriptural commandments regarding what we take into our body and how they apply to what we will or won’t eat. In the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!