Meat Or Not
Passage: Romans 14:1–12
Pastor Ray Lorthioir
Trinity Lutheran Church
W. Hempstead, NY
Based on the Second Lesson for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Romans 14:1-12
Meat Or Not
Ten years ago the annual pastor’s retreat of The American Association of Lutheran Churches met in the Asilomar Conference Grounds on the Monterrey Peninsula in California. Unfortunately, Pacific coastal fog was with us most of the time. Nevertheless, it was quite a setting for a retreat.
The dining hall of the conference center was open to the general public. So, one evening as most of us were gathered for dinner, a young woman joined us. This being California, it turned out that she was either a vegetarian or a vegan involved in some kind of mystical religion. She began to criticize us all for the meat on our plates, proclaiming the virtues of the vegan way of life. From Scripture we proclaimed to her that our Creator God has given us all foods, including meat. So, the conversation became an impasse. The time came when we had to leave the dining hall for the next event of the pastor’s conference, and the encounter ended. But that argument over meat is precisely the kind of thing today’s second lesson from Romans chapter 14 deals with. And since we’re having the annual church picnic today, this lesson fits right in.
Three Sundays ago, we turned a corner in the book of Romans, namely Romans 12:1-2, “1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The first eleven chapters of Romans are all about the mercy Yahweh has had on us sinners through Messiah Jesus. But, from Romans 12:1 onward, the final chapters of the letter are about the ways in which Yahweh’s mercy is meant to affect life in Christ’s Church. Romans 12 contains several lists of virtues to be practiced by Christians. It also has a short list of spiritual gifts to be employed by the church. We didn’t deal with those gifts. Last week, we discovered that Christian virtue even carries over into the Christian attitude toward government and participation in government.
Now, chapter 13 ends this way. Romans 13:11-14, “11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
That’s a pretty wild admonition. But it gives us considerable information of what first century pagan religious culture was all about. It also gives us insight into the power of Law and Gospel. For, those appointed for eternal life were literally wrenched out of their incredibly debauched culture by the preaching of the Word of God. By the power of God they let go of that former life because news of Jesus’ resurrection opened up a future for them of incredible righteousness and goodness in Christ through their own resurrection from the dead.
And because gentiles were now responding to the call of Yahweh and leaving their idolatry, Paul could say that the dark night of devotion to demon gods was almost over. Jesus is coming. Therefore, Paul’s admonition was to put on the righteousness of Jesus Christ and get ready here for the glory that is coming.
After all, this life is not the main event in life. It only determines our destiny for the main event. Will we be present with Yahweh in His glorious righteousness, or will we be shut out of His presence into eternal evil? Our destiny depends entirely on Messiah and God given faith in His righteousness.
But immediately following this admonition Paul returns to ordinary Christian virtue. Here’s the main principle. Romans 14:1, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” This is from NIV translation. What we just read from the English Standard Version is: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” The key to understanding the principle is knowing what is and what isn’t “disputable matters” or “opinions.”
If we were to ask Paul if it is mere opinion or a disputable matter that Jesus is the one who has declared us righteous before God by His sacrifice on the cross, the answer would be “absolutely not.” That we are saved by God’s grace by faith in the righteous work of Messiah on the cross is doctrine, not opinion. That Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead in victory over sin, death and the devil is not a mere opinion. It’s the foundational truth of the Gospel. Without this statement of fact, the whole edifice of Christianity collapses.
Therefore, within the church there is no room for argument about such basics. There’s room outside the church to argue the basics with unbelievers. But not inside the church.
Unfortunately, arguments within the church over some of the basics is responsible for the denominational divisions we currently have. But the arguing parties themselves will all agree that such arguments should not be happening within the church. On each issue there is only one correct position. Who has the correct position is the argument.
As an Apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul got into debates about the basics with some within the church. But these debates were settled by either coming to agreement about the basics or by pushing out of the church those who continued to object to and dissent from pure doctrine.
However, here in Romans 14:1 Paul says that there are some things that can be considered debatable within the church when they are not fundamental. In particular he lists food in Romans 14, and even more particular: meat. Meat is on the list because in the pagan society of his day much of the meat available in markets came from sacrifices to idols. Should a Christian eat meat from an animal that had been sacrificed to idols? Paul’s answer is rather complicated.
Here’s what He says in 1 Corinthians 8:4, “. . . We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.” Then he says in 1 Corinthians 8:7, “But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.” He then comes to this conclusion in 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, “9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”
It seems that believers who knew that an idol is nothing in the world may have felt free in their conscience to enjoy a meal in the restaurant section of an idol temple, knowing that it was a nothing burger — so to speak. But if a Christian who was not convinced that an idol is nothing at all in the world were to join in such a meal, they might get the idea that Jesus can be worshiped along with the idol. And thus, their faith would be compromised and defiled. To prevent such a thing, Paul says don’t exercise such freedom of conscience for the sake of others who may not have the same freedom of conscience. To prevent such a person’s faith from being compromised, Paul even says he would refrain from eating meat altogether.
In the same letter, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20, “19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.” Again, Paul wants Christians to separate themselves from anything to do with idolatry. The idol may be nothing. But there’s a demon behind the idol and that’s the real problem because a demon is a power. Therefore, Paul wants Christians to make sure they have separated themselves from any religious rites that have to do with demons.
So, Paul concludes this way in 1 Corinthians 10:25-29, “25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, ‘The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.’ 27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake — 29 the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours.”
In other words, show the unbeliever that he also needs to separate himself from demons and come to the one and only Creator God. Do this by refusing to give the demon any legitimacy in the world. After all, at the Last Judgment, the demons will be thrown into the Lake of Fire along with Satan and all other rebels.
In a section of Romans 14 beyond today’s reading Paul says, Romans 14:14-18, “14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.”
Note that this rule applies specifically to the fellowship of the church. Note also, that it applies to regions where meat sacrificed to idols is available. Here in the U.S. and the West this is no problem for Christians. But it’s still a problem for Christians in other areas of the world to this day. Separation from demons is important to believers anywhere, but especially in those areas of the world where demons are worshipped as gods.
However, let’s go back to the event with which I started the sermon. The lady who joined us at table was not in our fellowship. She was not Christian. She was accusing us of wickedness for having meat on our plates. Should we have caved to her scruples?
First, the Word of God was on our side. Here’s what Yahweh said to Noah and his family right after the great flood. Genesis 9:3-4, “3 ‘Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. 4 But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.’” Therefore, eating meat is no sin in our Creator’s eyes.
Second, we were not eating meat sacrificed to idols and this woman was a new age person, not a believer in Jesus. In fact, if we had caved to her demand and had stopped eating our meat, we would have been proclaiming righteous her new-age, Hindu-style beliefs and disavowing Christianity. There was no way we were going to do that.
Now, in this congregation we’ve had Christians who were vegetarian by choice. That’s a freedom we have in Christ. In Christ we also have freedom to eat meat. Therefore, there’s no reason to break fellowship over meat and vegetables. There’s no reason to look down on anyone for their meat or vegetables. And this is one point of today’s second lesson. Romans 14:2-4, “2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 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. 4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant?”
But there’s a second point. In passing, Paul mentions this in Romans 14:5-6, “5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. . . .” This is most interesting coming from the pharisee, Rabbi Saul of Tarsus. In the Law of Moses, Jews are commanded to regard a number of days as holy above all others. In fact, today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, a sacred holy festival. But Paul knows Messiah Jesus is the fulfillment of all the holy days proclaimed in Torah. All penalty for not observing holy days is removed. Therefore, Christians, especially gentile Christians, are free to keep such days, or not.
In the New Testament no holy days are commanded as necessary for our observance — not Christmas, not Easter, not even Sunday, the Lord’s Day. And there are no divine penalties if we do not observe. Having a Christian worship service on Sunday, the day of our Lord’s resurrection, is customary. But it’s not commanded anywhere in Scripture. Therefore, there is to be no argument among Christians for keeping or not keeping saint’s days. There is to be no argument for keeping remembrance or not of Fridays because of Good Friday. We are not saved by keeping or by not keeping holy days.
On the other hand, it’s sin among Jehovah’s Witnesses to observe Christmas, Easter or even your birthday. But they’ve got it upside down. The sin is actually proclaiming that observing such rules somehow makes us holy. For, such rules deny that the only righteousness able to save us at the judgment seat of God is found in Christ alone.
Lutherans have been in historic situations where they’ve had to determine if they had to stand on conscience concerning things normally unimportant to our salvation, like the observance of holy days. Luther died in 1546 and immediately upon his death, Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, made war upon the sections of Germany that had gone Lutheran. He defeated almost all the forces the Lutherans could put up against him. So, for a period of time called the Interim, Charles forced Romanism upon the churches that had gone Evangelical Catholic — namely Lutheran. Pastors were imprisoned and exiled. Even Lutheran princes were imprisoned and threatened with death. But Charles soon discovered that the Lutherans had done a good job instructing their lay people. “He may have defeated the armies of the Lutheran princes on the battlefield, but he could not force the people or the princes to renounce their faith. He realized he could not simply kill entire populations.”
There were those who thought it wise to attempt compromise with the forces of Rome. Unfortunately, Luther’s right hand man, Melanchthon, was one of these. On the other hand, a prince, Elector John Frederick of Saxony, wrote this to Emperor Charles: “ If I should acknowledge and adopt the Interim [the compromise] as Christian and godly, I would have to condemn and deny against my own conscience, knowingly and maliciously, the Augsburg Confession [the primary Lutheran statement of faith], and whatever I have heretofore held and believed concerning the Gospel of Christ, and approve with my mouth what I regard in my heart and conscience as altogether contrary to the holy and divine Scriptures. This, O my God in heaven, would indeed be misusing and cruelly blaspheming Thy holy name, . . . .” John Frederick wrote this while in prison and under threat of death.
The compromise included returning to the Roman idea that observing certain holy days was absolutely necessary for a soul to be judged righteous before the Lord. So, while holy days in and of themselves are not worth arguing over in the church, when — contrary to Scripture — they are forced upon the church and eternal penalties for not keeping them are attached, then, because of Scripture, it is right to oppose them. For they can produce no righteousness before God. This has been the past experience of the Lutheran Church.
At present many U.S. Lutherans again are being faced with issues of conscience, but this time from within. There is a method of bible interpretation called “higher critical method” that has taken over many seminaries since it was introduced in the 1850’s. This method has made optional faith in fundamentals like the Virgin Birth of Jesus and His bodily Resurrection from the dead. It’s also made optional fundamental tenants of God’s Law, such as homosexuality and the murder of unborn children by their mothers. At present this method has permitted the Marxist woke agenda of CRT and other things into the church.
In 1987 and 1988, this congregation took a stand against the higher critical method and everything that proceeds from it. Such a method is not optional in the church of Christ. It’s not a matter of conscience whether we use it or not. It’s a matter of fundamentals. Recognizing that, we at Trinity departed from the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and joined The American Association of Lutheran Churches. It’s a good thing we did. For there is now demonstrable apostasy within the ELCA and no one is doing anything about it.
Here’s the long and the short. There are many things not worth arguing over within the church, especially traditions, food, holy days and such. However, if traditions, foods, holy days and more are proclaimed necessary for salvation and penalties are attached for not keeping them, then these unessential things become essential and they must be opposed. In the same way if essential things are seen as unessential and penalties for not keeping them are removed, then that also must be opposed. We thank the generations before us for pointing this out. We thank Lord Holy Spirit who gave the Apostle Paul great discernment in these matters. Let us keep true to the faith. Amen.
All Bible quotes are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.