Thursday, September 15, 2011

Romans Series pt. 7- notes and questions

We're down to the next to last week in our eight part series on Romans, "Grace is for Everybody". This week we're reading Romans 14:1-8.

Chapter 14 is the “beginning of the end”, not in the apocalyptic sense, but Paul is wrapping up his theological commentary, and spends the last half of chapter 15 and all of chapter 16 with final greetings and whatnot.

Last week we saw Paul talking about communal ethics, both for those in the church and how to deal with outsiders, particularly those who weren’t friendly. This week we see more ethical discussion, with Paul focusing in on the fact that people in the church come from extremely different backgrounds. Although the words “Jew” and “Gentile” aren’t used, the context of Paul’s comments suggests that’s what he’s talking about, particularly when he talks about what one chooses what they eat. Paul uses the phrases “the strong” and “the weak”, but they aren’t necessarily stand-ins for Jews and Gentiles, respectively.

The context of meat and vegetables has to due with Christians who chose to keep the Jewish food laws, specifically that it was often difficult to know if the meat one purchased in a market had been used in a pagan sacrifice, so some people in the Roman church evidently felt that eating such meat, even if they weren’t aware of whether it was sacrificed or not, was participating in idolatry, and therefore a sin. For others, that wasn’t an issue, so Paul is exhorting the people not to pass judgment on one another because of these differences, and appreciate that people can be very faithful in very different ways.

The same idea applies to the days one considers holy described in verse 5. Jewish Christians usually observed the different Jewish festivals, whereas Gentile Christians often did not, and were often giving up other festivals they used to observe before they became part of the church. A Gentile Christian might well get upset with a Jewish Christian because he had to give up his festivals, whereas the other did not. Paul is telling them to get over it. We’re all on the same team here, and eating meat and observing certain holy days is not a deal breaker.

One does not have to belong to one particular cultural form to faithfully follow Jesus- something that many Western missionaries in recent centuries have forgotten, often to the detriment of native cultures. 

Later in chapter 14, after the passage we’re reading Sunday, Paul encourages his readers/hearers to not “put a stumbling block in your brother/sister’s way”, knowingly doing something that would make another’s faith journey harder.

The most immediate example that comes to mind is alcohol use. When I was in college, the Campus Crusade group said that ever having a drink anywhere could possibly be a stumbling block to someone else, so you should never do it. While I can appreciate the care that demonstrates for others, I think the obsession with alcohol is more indicative of the hangover (pun intended) that our culture has from the prohibition era than in alcohol being a major issue in God’s eyes.

Here are some questions:

Paul clearly believes there are areas where people of faith can disagree and neither be wrong or right. Do you share this view? Why or why not?

What areas are ones where people of faith can have differing views. Are there issues you think we all have to agree on? If so, what?

What are some “stumbling blocks” that could be difficult for people today? Are there some instances where we should yield our own preferences or desires for the good of someone else?

Anything else of interest that I haven’t brought up here? Discuss...

No comments: