by Rev Jason Phua
Bible Readings: Romans 14:1-23; Proverbs 14:15-16
READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
Romans 14:1 “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”
Who were the ones considered to be “weak in the faith”? They were the ones who ate only vegetables and esteemed that one day was better than the other (14:5). Apparently, these were Jewish Christians who insisted on observing certain days of the month / year and ate only vegetables in loyalty to the Mosaic Law. For such a matter, the church was divided because the Gentile Christians felt that these laws should no longer be followed under the New Covenant.
While it was understood that under the New Covenant, Christians no longer need to follow such laws; Paul was saying that this should not be an issue which the Christians should be quarrelling about. The observation of these laws, if done on a personal basis, does no harm to the Body of Christ. They were assumed to be done in honour of the Lord. In any case, everyone will have to give an account to the Lord for what we have done; whether in the private or publicly. Therefore, Paul told the Gentile Christians not to despise their Jewish counterparts; but to welcome them as God has welcomed them. On the other hand, the Jewish Christians were also told not to pass judgements against the Gentile Christians’ integrity for the Gospel.
Interestingly, the word “welcome” in verse 1 and 3 is translated from the Greek word “proslambono” which has a stronger meaning that what the English word “welcome” conveys. “Proslambono” means to be accepted or received into one’s home or society. Therefore, when Paul commanded those who were stronger in the faith to “welcome” those weaker in the faith; he was telling them to treat one another as a family in faith. Do not pass judgement, but receive one another as one Body in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s main point was that we should not allow issues that are not essential to the faith to divide us. Instead, we should be watching out for and make the effort to journey with those “weak in the faith” so that they too can be “strong”!
Some years ago, I was serving communion to a Christian elderly lady. She told me that she would not celebrate Christmas or attend to any Christmas services because it began as a pagan festival. Apparently, some of her family members were quite upset with her for that.
Back then, my first instinct was to have a good discussion with her about the historical events leading to Christmas. According to historical data, Christmas did not start off as a pagan festival; but it was some church leaders’ attempt to redeem a popular pagan festival (Saturnalia) for the glory of Christ.
However, as I thought about it, it occurred to me at that point in time, what my fellow sister in Christ needed was not a good theological discussion. What she needed was a good listening ear to hear also; about her struggle with daily inconveniences as she discovered that she was no longer sharp enough to drive a car to anywhere. True enough, as time went, this issue about her physical immobility proved to be much more troubling to her than the issue with Christmas.
This episode taught me an important lesson. Even if I am passionate about certain issues of ministry, life or the church; I need to ask myself some questions before taking action:
- What is my motivation for speaking out?
- Will my speaking out at this moment in time promote peace and mutual upbuilding (ref verse 19) help the person or cause the person to stumble even more?
May the Lord help us indeed, as a family of faith, to learn more and more to truly receive one another even as God had received us in Him.
Help me O Lord, to be discerning and sensitive to the needs of persons whom I am ministering to. This is so I do not cause them to stumble but instead, to build them up from strength to strength in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.