To the Romans, Paul wrote,
“One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man whose faith is weak eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, For God has accepted him (Rom 14:2-3). “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble (Rom. 14:17-21).”
Paul here addresses the schisms that arise when any one believer or group of believers makes demands of the entire congregation based on personal preference or historic tradition. For the Jewish Christian, it was anathema to eat meat sacrificed to foreign gods, meat often sold for public consumption in the city and town markets. To them, this meat was unclean. The Gentile Christians didn’t really care, to them meat was meat, and the origin of the meat they purchased did not concern them. Here we have one group, so obsessed with where the meat comes from (again related to their misguided notions regarding ritual purity) that they resort to eating no meat at all, whereas another faction just digs right in and eats it all.
Under these circumstances, the early Christians eating a meal prior to a meeting for praise, worship, testimony and prayer would find the meal itself so upsetting that they’d literally enter the post-meal fellowship with the gall of their disagreements stuck in their craw. And so we have Paul begging them to try harder to put the food nonsense behind them once and for all. We may scoff at the rigidity of some of the early believers, and the “whatever” attitude of others, but we encounter the same attitudes in church today when, for example, we disdain vegetarianism or the need for a gluten-free Eucharist without trying to understand the issues (to name just two). Paul is clear: we are commanded to put aside our personal preferences for the joy and mutual edification of the entire congregation of believers, and reconcile our differences because breaking bread in peace creates an atmosphere in which we can praise, worship, learn, and be sent in peace.
In Post 37, we tackle another hard topic: the risk of being open to any who would come.
~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.
A reminder: these posts are meant to be read in order, as together they make up an entire book on the shared meal. Send comments using the LEAVE A COMMENT box provided. This topic is an excellent one for adult Sunday School classes or weekend retreats. Please let me know if you’d like me to help you.