As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. – Romans 14:1-9 ESV
Opinions. Everybody has one. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with having an opinion, when it comes to our faith, they can be dangerous and destructive. So it makes sense that Paul would take on this delicate and sensitive matter as he deals with the practical nature of the gospel in the life of the believer. Paul has already said that believers are to “owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8 ESV). They are to “walk (conduct their lives) properly as in the daylight…not in quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13:13 ESV). Now he warns, “not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1 ESV). Paul knew that the church in Rome was just like any other church. It was made up of people from all walks of life, differing religious backgrounds, conflicting cultural heritages and diverse personality types. There were those who were more mature in their faith and others who were still spiritual babies. And he knew that the health of the church was ultimately dependent upon the degree of unity the believers maintained with one another. Unity was on the mind of Jesus when He prayed His High Priestly Prayer in the garden just hours before His death.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:20-21 ESV
An individual’s personal opinion can be one of the greatest threats to the unity of any local body of Christ. When Paul talks about opinions, he has something very specific in mind. The Greek word he uses is “diakrisis” and it refers to “passing judgment on opinions, as to which one is to be preferred as the more correct” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). What Paul is addressing here is the tendency of one believer judging the opinion of another based on their own preconceived notion of right and wrong. The writer of Hebrews warns us that the ability to discern right and wrong comes from time spent in the Word of God. “Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong” (Hebrews 5:14 NLT). Opinions that are not based on God’s Word will ultimately be divisive and destructive. Paul goes on to give examples of just what he is talking about. “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables” (Romans 14:2 ESV). In other words, one member of the local body has strong convictions about abstaining from meat, while another member sees no problem with it. Paul doesn’t deal with the why behind either decision. He simply says don’t despise and don’t judge. God did not welcome either member into the body of Christ based on their eating habits. Each belongs to Him. So, “who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (Romans 14:4 ESV). Let God deal with your brother’s particular opinions regarding food.
Where all of this becomes a problem is when our opinions are based on personal preference and not the clear teaching of God’s Word. We can easily develop strong convictions about a variety of topics that have no basis in Scripture, or they may be based on the poor interpretation and application of God’s Word. Too often, we can take general admonitions found in God’s Word and attempt to make them specific. For example, the Bible is clear that we are to treat God with awe and honor. We are to worship Him reverently and respectfully. But the Bible does not tell us exactly what our worship services should look like. We are not given specific directions regarding music style or order of worship. There are not clear indications or admonitions dealing with how we are to dress when we do gather together for worship. Where it gets dangerous is when we start arguing over specifics that are based on our own personal opinions rather than the clear teachings of Scripture. My personal music tastes should never lead me to judge another whose opinions differ from mine. My preference when it comes to clothing should not tempt me to look down my nose at someone who dresses differently than I do.
When all is said and done, our emphasis needs to be on the heart behind the opinion. Why does someone feel the need to abstain from meat? Why does that person have strong opinions about contemporary music? What is the motivation behind the way in which that person dresses? Paul says that the one who determines to observe a particular day as better than another should do so in honor of the Lord. In other words, make your decision with Him in mind. Whether you decide to eat or abstain, make sure you do so out of honor for God, not out of some self-centered opinion about right or wrong. We are to “live to the Lord.” We belong to Him. Our opinions are to be based on His will, not our own. Our preferences should be highly influenced by His desires for us. Judging and despising have no place in the body of Christ. We are to love one another, accept one another, prefer one another, esteem one another, encourage one another, and submit to one another. Unity is the key to experiencing true community and demonstrating the love of God to a lost and dying world.