Romans 14, Steak or Veggies

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 person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Romans 14:19-23

When I read this I started with the end of the chapter, which are the verses above, specifically “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves“. This line in isolation is really confusing and just highlights why it is not good to take a verse out of context. How can someone condemn himself by not keeping something just between them and God and by approving it? Why should we keep a conviction between just us and God? Doesn’t God want us to share what He is teaching us with others? What is Paul talking about?

After reading the whole chapter (context!) I now understand what Paul is saying. Paul spends a lot of time talking about eating meat vs just veggies because that was a big issue religiously speaking during his time. Still today this could be a factor in some relationships. He does mention wine at the end of the chapter and today I think that is a much more relevant topic overall. However, you can plug a myriad of disputable things into the chapter (tattoos, getting dressed up on Sunday morning, what day you go to church, etc.). I’m going to focus on alcohol just because Paul does specifically mention wine and it is still very relevant.

Today you’ll find Christians who proclaim it to be a sin to drink any sort of alcohol and pass judgement on those who do, and then you find Christians who do not feel guilty about enjoying a margarita or a fresh brewski and who openly flaunt their freedom to do so (as long as they aren’t getting drunk), putting down Christians who feel guilty drinking as “old fashioned prudes”. Paul addresses both ends of the spectrum pointing out the sinfulness of both judgement and of approving a behavior that can cause someone else to stumble in their faith.

One of the most well-known Bible verses, and probably most misused is “do not judge lest ye be judged” from the sermon on the mount. What I mean by misused and misquoted is that it is often taken out of context and used to “justify” blatant sinful behavior. The Bible does say that drunkenness is sinful, and commands us not to be controlled by anything but the Holy Spirit, or in other words not to be controlled by a drug of some sort. For some, who struggle with addiction or who are living in (or grew up around drunkenness), starting to drink alcohol can be a very slippery slope that causes them to fall away in their journey of faith by allowing something else other than God to control them, or to become their “go to” for relaxation and “happiness” after work and on the weekends. For someone in this situation they may choose to abstain from alcohol. Either for the protection of their own faith, or to be an example to people in their family that true satisfaction comes from the Lord. This is right for them to do, since Romans 14 states that anyone who does partake in a disputable activity with doubt about whether it is ok for them to do so is sinning. However, when someone in this situation begins to take it upon themselves to force their own policy upon others, or judging others who do partake in alcohol (again not drunkenness), then their judgment becomes sin. They are right to abstain because of their own convictions, but wrong to judge about a disputable matter, and therefore sin in that way.

On the flip-side from judgement for behavior, there is sinning by approval of a behavior through word or action. The Bible verse quoted above “blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves” is exponentially less popular than the judgement verse. How come? Cause it is hard to “justify” sinful behavior with this one. But again, what does it mean in context of the chapter? Paul explains that if you are strong enough in your faith to enjoy “a cold one”, but then you openly put someone down who finds it wrong for themselves to drink, then you are in fact condemning yourself by what you approve with your words and your behavior. The act of putting down the person who feels convicted to abstain is unloving. Flaunting your freedom to drink a glass of wine can very easily tempt someone who struggles with addiction to fall back into their vice, or who is trying to be an example to family to cave in their convictions. This is unloving. Why? Because when you put the other down, or when you flaunt your behavior or even just your approval of it in word, you are caring more about “being right” or about “doing what makes you feel good”, just like the person who judges you for drinking does.

When we care more about being right or about doing what we want, then we care more about us and the disputable matter than we do about the salvation of others. We therefore condemn ourselves by our approval (whichever way you approve) because you are guilty of loving yourself more than your neighbor. Christ Himself said that the greatest law is to love the Lord God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as your yourself. What is the one thing God cares about most? The redemption and salvation of people for His glory. It is His will that none should perish. So if we are truly going about our Father’s business then we will care more about the redemption and salvation of people than “being right” or about flaunting our freedom in Christ by partaking in something that could cause someone else to stumble in their faith.

That is why Paul says to keep your conviction to yourself, and to work your salvation out with trembling before a Holy God (Philippians 2). He reminds us in Romans 14 that we will each stand before God on judgement day–alone. We are each accountable to God, not based on technicalities of obedience, but as to whether or not Jesus Christ was our Lord on earth. If we are living in submission to God through Christ by the power of the Spirit then we will love Him and therefore love others.

In other words, care more about the salvation of others. Even if that means paying closer attention to what you are wearing, what you are drinking, or paying attention to what you are saying about disputable matters, or even if it means keeping quiet about your convictions, then do it. Be aware of and concerned about their walk with God. Their walk with God is more important. That is the loving and peaceful thing to do.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31

Notice how Paul opens up the chapter with the keywords “disputable matters.” There are black and white matters that are not disputable laid out in scripture that clearly tells us what right or wrong  is, in many areas. There are also scriptural instruction for how to judge and address sinful behavior. (i.e. Galatians 6, 1 Corinthians 5, Titus 1, Matthew 18).

Luke 21:1-4, Sacrificial Giving

Looking up, [Jesus] saw the rich people putting their gifts into the treasury.

And He saw also a poor widow putting in two mites (copper coins).

And He said, Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them;

For they all gave out of their abundance (their surplus); but she has contributed out of her lack and her want, putting in all that she had on which to live.

Luke 21:1-4

Four small verses, huge impact. You know how when you are reading the Bible and all of a sudden a certain phrase really just sticks out to you. Like the Holy Spirit is saying, “Hey! Stop! Wait! Check this out…” Well that happened to me yesterday as I was reading the Bible. In particular, the line where Jesus explains to His listeners “that [the rich] all gave out of their abundance (their surplus); but [the widow] contributed out of her lack and her want”. What was really striking to me, as if it were being waived in front of my face with flashing lights, was that they gave out of their abundance, their surplus. I love the Amplified translation because it pulls from the Hebrew and Greek and inserts words in parentheses that the original listeners would have understood. Here that word surplus helped me understand that they weren’t just giving a lot cause they were rich or abundant in their wealth, they were instead giving out of the excess, the leftover money, the money that wasn’t required to pay all the bills and cover expenses for everything else. They were giving their extra money….This really makes me think of Malachi chapter one where the priests were giving God animals in sacrifice that were of no good to them. The animals they were sacrificing wasn’t much of a sacrifice because they were giving God the blind and lame. The ones they didn’t need and could not sale or even give as tax payments since they were of no value. How dare they insult God in this way? God also was pointing out to me, through the nudging of His Spirit, the words that the widow was “contribut[ing] out of her lack and her want”. So really this picture, again wasn’t about how much the original person had financially – it was their heart condition before God. How did they perceive God and then treat Him with their sacrificial worship?

Then God decided it was time to drive the point home to me – specifically in regards to time….If you notice I haven’t posted a blog post since April. Now I’m not saying God is superly overly concerned with me writing on the blog. What I am saying is this is an indicator of how I have been giving or withholding “my” time from God. During this season in my life I am going to school full time, working a part-time job ( I know could be way worse) while also making efforts to be productive around the house and as a wife and dog owner and as a friend etc. etc. Often times I feel the pressure and weight of the cares of this world to the point that I feel that I don’t have time to study the word in-depth and so I limp along spiritually praying most days, skipping some and only reading the Bible, I must confess a bit less than I pray, and not really delving in to study it in-depth. The quality of the time I provide to God is not really sacrificial by any means, and it is pretty lame. Although it is true that my time is lacking, that I am in want of more time in general, I am being like the rich people at the temple, reserving my quality Bible study for breaks between school, when I have an abundance, a surplus of time. God is really convicting me about giving time to Him out of a lack or out of want of time. My actions in this area reflect my faith and trust or lack thereof, as well as my respect in a sense for God as my Father and for God as my Master. As Malachi 1:6 points out, a son is to honor his father and a servant to revere and fear his master.

The faith of the widow is evident, giving her money out of a lack or out of a want, especially when you consider that she gave to God “all that she had on which to live”. But really we should all surrender everything of ourselves to God. If we are truly to be a bond servant of God than the money and time and all resources that we possess should really be at God’s complete and utter disposal….that is the cry of my heart.

Lord I want to be at your disposal. I want to be in-tune with the Holy Spirit. Led by and controlled by You. A vessel poured out in sacrifice for the glory of God. Lord You are my Father. You are my Master. I can trust you. Give me the strength to be steadfast in serving You, the sensitivity and discernment to hear and the faith to be quick to obey.

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship.

Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].

Romans 12:1-2

Daniel 9:17-19, An Intercessor’s Cry

As you may know I’m currently going through the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance to look up verses, read passages and then compile lists based on types of prayer such as private vs public, intercessory, supplication etc. I’m doing this as part of the Tim Tebow and Praying in Public study. A few days ago while working on looking up verses that had to do with fasting I came across Daniel chapter 9. Here the prophet Daniel is pleading with God in prayer, petition and fasting. Have you ever read a chapter or verse of the Bible where it felt like the words were beaming up off the pages straight into your face with mega emphasis added in every way possible? That is the Holy Spirit stirring your heart through God’s word! Well that happened to me especially with the following sentence:

We do not make requests of you because we are righteous
but because of your great mercy.

Let the implication of those words sink in. God has been speaking to me with these simple yet profound words. As I’ve pondered verses 17-19 through meditation and prayer God has really been hitting home to me a sensitivity towards His great mercy….the only reason we can make any sort of prayer or petition to Him is because of His great mercy. In fact the only reason I can type this blog post or for that matter live another day is because of His great mercy! The only reason the nations on earth have not ceased to exist, the only reason we are playing in the snow, making friends or worrying about the next presidential election is because of God’s great, magnificent, incomprehensible…..mercy. Like Jesus tells us in His sermon on the mount:

He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous

And so I pray,

Lord, it is not because of my righteousness that I can cry “Abba Father” but because of your great mercy that you have adopted me as your daughter.

Lord, it is because of your great mercy, that you shed your blood on Calvary. Because of the mercy you chose to have on us, your enemy.

Meditating further on verses 17-19 as a whole:

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant.
For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary.
18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name.
We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.
19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!
For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

A desolate sanctuary. Under the new covenant we know that the sanctuary of God’s spirit is now within each believer. Crying out to God we can pray:

Lord, not because of our righteusness but because of your great mercy, not for our sake but for your glory I pray for the idols that threaten desolation within our temples (our lives) to fall down and break like the idol dagon broke before the ark of the covenant. Lord open our eyes to see, sift our hearts and show us any sin or false god within our hearts or lives. Heavenly Father we pray for all idols to fall down and break before the covenant we have with You as your people. For you alone are God and there is none other. You alone are Savior as you proclaim in Isaiah 45:22

22 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.

We can also pray and petition on behalf of the spiritually desolate cities within the United States, pray for your city, pray for our nation, which bears the name of the Lord. Having lived in Japan for four years I came to realize that when the majority of foreigners think of the United States they think of Christians. In fact when I made Japanese friends they often found it to be no surprise that I was Christian since I was an American. They simply figured that the reason I was a Christian was because of my nationality. They were surprised to find out that no, it was because Christ first loved me and of what he’d done in my life. Their perception is also in part because, at least in Japan, the majority of citizens worship Buddha and/or their ancestors because of their culture so they figure the same applies to Americans. As Americans we may not think of our nation bearing God’s name, especially as it stands today. But to much of the world the God of Christianity is the God of the United States.

As we pray and cry out to the Lord we remember that we cry out not because of any righteousness of our own or of our church or of our nation but because of God’s great mercy, and not for our sake but for God’s glory. We come before him recognizing His authority and dominion, we are his servants, it is all about Him. Join in the prayer Daniel brought before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords during his fast:

19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!

or with emphasis added:

Lord, listen…because of your great mercy!

Lord forgive…because of your great mercy!

Lord hear and act…because of your great mercy!

All for the glory of God the Father, so that the nations may turn and behold You in great awe and wonder, our beautiful Savior. Praise the Lord!

Scripture Meditation: Psalm 147:15-17

I heard a verse at church on Sunday that has been on my heart all week. It has been in the negatives (F) since this past weekend, even during the day! -15 out tonight! I know there are a lot colder places in the world, for example I checked the weather for Fairbanks, Alaska and it is currently -34 degrees Fahrenheit there – no joke!! The residents up there could appreciate the implication of these verses much better…When it is this cold out your body – well mine at least – begins to shiver uncontrollably even after standing still outside just briefly, nose hairs freeze almost instantly (such a weird feeling) and your face hurts when you finally get indoors where it is warm. The frost covers everything, the trees look so beautiful with their icy white branches and the thick layer of snow has transformed the landscape. Even in the frigid cold God is glorified. If you stop and think about the extreme cold weather conditions you can’t help but be awe-struck and humbled before Him. The psalmist captured this in Psalm 147:15-17:

“He sends forth His command to the earth;
His word runs very swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;
He scatters the frost like ashes.
He casts forth His ice as fragments;
Who can stand before His cold?”