“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. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” (Reference: Romans 14:15-21 )
Before we start, two things; first, let us set aside the consideration of food shortages, because that is not at all what the writer of Romans was talking about. Second, the historic Anabaptist quoted for today is not at all on point for what the writer of Romans is saying.
People approach food in different ways. There are vegans of all sorts of types strictness. There are the glutton-free, paleo-dieters, low fat, low carb, and many varieties in-between. There are those who indulge in rich and decadent food; and those who eat a sparse and spartan diet. And aside from eating significantly more food – of any sort – than is needed for the body, there is no truly wrong approach to food.
What the writer of Romans was talking about, for those who are not familiar with the broader context of the passage, was dietary laws. The Greeks in the crowd did not have the same strict eating habits that the Jews had. And if the array of food that the Greeks ate upset the Jews, it was a kindness not to eat such food in front of them. But I have to wonder if the reverse was true – that if the Jews had eating preferences that disturbed the Greeks, should they avoid such menus?
These days people take eating pretty seriously – that is, if someone is attached to a certain type of diet, they sometimes make it difficult for others to express and enjoy choices. I am not centering on any particular menu or diet choice, just simply saying that each person needs to decide for themselves what foods are good and right for them. In some circumstances, “food fights” are not the flinging of food around but the flinging of judgmental and inciting comments.
One other thing you need to know about this passage. For Jews, their food choices were an expression of their faith, and for the Jewish converts honoring dietary restrictions may have been the last religious identification they had with the faith system that they grew up in. So it was “a big deal” and the writer of Romans is right in appealing for sensitivity and understanding. You would think that some people in today’s society approach food as a religious experience judging by the way they push their preferences on others. I see it less in society now than I did some 5 or 10 years ago. But in some quarters it is still a hotly debated topic.
In closing let me echo the writer of Romans reminder that the Kingdom of Heaven is not based on eating or drinking daily food, but is based on how we treat one another here on earth. Do not let food come between brothers and sister, and let breaking bread together be a celebration of our unity and fellowship. Selah!