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Having lived on the East Coast for the past decade, I’ve come to appreciate a good bottle of wine and especially enjoy reading articles in the New York Times about local vineyards. Having grown up in the South and, in particular, at a Southern Baptist Convention (“SBC”) church, however, I was never exposed to wine because alcohol is frowned upon in most SBC churches. This position is often justified with Romans 14 and its emphasis on not engaging in activities, e.g., drinking alcohol, that will cause your brother to stumble (v. 13: ” … make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way …”). As a general matter, I disagree with the SBC’s stance since, after all, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine. But, the larger point that Paul is making far exceeds my little squabbles with an SBC church.
The point of Romans 14 and, I believe, the point that the SBC is trying to make, is that we should not abuse our freedom in such a manner that we are not loving one another. In verse 16, Paul writes, “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” NIV. How does that happen? How does something that you and I may consider to be “good” come to be spoken of as “evil”?
In verse 15, Paul writes, “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.” NIV. Essentially, Paul is telling the Roman church that they should not use their good faith or good freedom or good, clean food, in such a way that causes a brother to be distressed or destroyed. And, why? Because it means that, to the extent that they distress or destroy their brother, they are not acting in love and, therefore, have essentially missed the entire gospel.
Usually, people talk about how we shouldn’t be too committed to laws or rules because God is full of grace and we cannot earn our way to heaven. This is true. Today, however, the message of Romans 14 is that, just as we should not be too committed to the laws, we should not be too committed to our freedom outside of the rigid rules. The paramount consideration in both cases should be whether we are loving our brothers and sisters, which is one of the most fundamental messages of the Bible (Matthew 22:36-40 – “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”).
Do you regularly seek to love your brothers and sisters – even when it means that you may give up some of your freedom?
- Is interfaith dialogue possible for religions that claim exclusivity of truth (John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. NIV)? And, even if we can agree on the high commonalities, is the “devil” really in the details? [BeliefNet] [USA Today]
- Can Christians package up their version of Christianity in a McDonald’s bag and export it for consumption to foreign countries? What does our fulfillment of The Great Commission look like (Matthew 28:19-20 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. NIV). Book review: The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith, by the well-known and excellent writer Mark Noll. [The Examiner]
- Are health tips and caloric intake the most important things to keep in mind when fasting? [The Washington Post] Or, should we not think about loosening the chains of injustice and setting the oppressed free? [Isaiah 58 – worth your time to read].