Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
The issue of what food was considered ‘proper’ would have been very controversial in the Early Church. I can imagine the heated arguments in their equivalent of Church Meetings! Whilst this debate over correct ways of eating may not be familiar to us today, the problems differences of opinion can cause is not.
I’ve always valued that the URC Basis of Union specifically mentions respecting personal conviction and have seen this best in practice when my own congregation discussed supporting same sex marriage back in 2016. As important as these major debates are, however, I don’t think Paul was just talking about the ‘big stuff’.
There is much in our church life that we can have an opinion on. Which songs we sing, which version of the Bible is used, all the way down to which biscuits are served with the coffee before or after the service. Whilst it is important to examine the way we do things (and indeed to overhaul them from time to time!), what Paul is cautioning against is something different. He is trying to ensure we don’t use our own standpoint to judge the character of the people who hold a different view. There is the reminder that it is God, not us, who judges what is ‘right’.
Of course, in practice it’s never easy. Our principles are often long-held and anything that pressures us to allow even a little wiggle room can cause us to react in ways that we aren’t proud of.
This passage is a reminder that sometimes, in the midst of it all, we need to take a moment to consider the bigger picture – that what is important, above all else, whether in our churches or elsewhere, is a life in service to and praise of God.
God of debate and discussion. When faced with differences in practice or approach, give us understanding and tolerance in place of judgement. Help us to work together to discern your guidance in how we should worship, serve, and live together in our shared walk of faith as a community of believers and friends. Amen
Katrina Clifford, Elder, Trinity United Reformed Church, Wimbledon