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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Romans 14:13–23           

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (NRSV)

Society increasingly valorizes being “right” and winning arguments, and consequently the loudest voices in the room often get the most validation. But what might it look like to be more truly considerate and understanding of those around us?

In the early Roman church, this was a major issue. In a new faith community including both Jews and Gentiles, many Jewish Christians continued to abstain from things considered “unclean” in their culture of origin. While these abstentions weren’t necessary under Jesus’ teachings, they behaved how they felt most spiritually faithful. Meanwhile, Gentile Christians chastised them for it and blatantly flaunted their eating and living habits as condemnation of the others’ actions. Tensions intensified as the non-Jews wanted their Jewish faith family to “get over it.”

Paul calls this community to do better. This passage reflects Jesus’ vivid picture recorded in Matthew, asking, “How can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4). Those Roman Christians who didn’t feel the need to keep kosher may have been “correct” in their theological interpretations, but were they following the greater call to “love your neighbor” if they used it as justification to antagonize their spiritual siblings?

Every person of faith interprets their personal walk differently, and one’s heart and motivation matter more than the legality of specific doctrines. Paul emphasizes that we should not judge one another for these differences or engineer roadblocks as a result of them. As we interpret things differently, we are called to live in real community, even when we disagree on specific issues. Indeed, we particularly show God’s love when we do so.

God of all, thank you for such a diversity of ways to follow you. Help me to do so in the way that genuinely enlivens my heart towards you and others, and may I honor others’ unique expressions. Make us one. Amen.

Written by Sarah van der Ploeg, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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