Why are we Criticizing One Another?
Rom. 14:1 ¶ Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
Rom. 14:2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
Rom. 14:3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.
Rom. 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
A serious issue was arising among believers in Jesus Christ. Some of the members of the community of faith felt that they had Christian liberty. They felt that they were strong enough in their relationship with the Lord that things like food and certain holy days did not affect their ability to worship God. However, those who had come from the Jewish faith, or those who were new in their Christian faith, still struggled over some of these things. They may not have been as well educated in the faith as some of the other brothers and sisters and so they still held to certain traditions that they just knew were right.
For a new believer who had turned from the pagan faith, they often did not want to eat meat that had been offered to idols. That’s why they became vegetarians. They felt that their conscious would not allow them to eat that meat. However, there were others who said that this would not make a difference to the Lord because their relationship to him was not based on works.
The problem was that the people in the church were passing judgement on one another. Those who ate meat thought that the ones who didn’t were being ridiculous. Why couldn’t they understand that this was an okay thing to do? At the same time, those who did not eat meat thought that the ones who did were terribly liberal and were surely going to rot in hell for doing such a thing!
The tent of the early Christian church was broad. It should have included those who ate meat and those who did not. It should have included those new in their faith and those who had been walking with the Lord for a long time. They may not all have practiced their faith in exactly the same way, and yet, they were all to stand before the Lord and give account of their faith!
Paul was frustrated. He did not want them to create division in the church by criticizing one another.
The topics may be different but debates rage on today within the church.
I recently heard of a church member furious with their pastor for eating meals at the only restaurant in town. The pastor had become successful at getting to know a number of people in the community and now some new folks are coming to church. The problem? The restaurant does have alcohol on the menu. No, the pastor does not drink alcohol -- he only eats in the restaurant and has begun a fruitful ministry. The brother in the church is concerned that the pastor must avoid the "very appearance of evil." But if Jesus were here today, where would we find him? Probably in the same restaurant getting to know the needy folks of the community. The pastor has shown grace toward the brother, but the brother refuses to show grace toward the pastor and has threatened to leave the church.
Another recent trend among some younger Christians today is to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, and for some there is a very spiritual reason. Now, it seems that this leaves those on both sides of the argument open for criticism. I can hear some older Christians thinking that this is crazy. At the same time I can hear some younger folks thinking that the older folks ought to be a bit more sensitive to the larger issues this addresses. The result is that there can be division in the church.
Paul is trying to remind those first century Christians that passing judgment on one another is not pleasing to God. God welcomes his children, and so should we!
Why are we being so critical? Maybe being critical comes from our own sense of insecurity. It's easier to judge someone else to make ourselves feel better. May God help to unite us as his followers and not succumb to the temptation to have a critical spirit.
Lord, please help me see my sisters and brothers through your eyes. Amen.