Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 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. 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. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 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, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God. (Romans 14:1-12)
At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he sets out his two main points:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17, NRSV)
Here, towards the end of the letter, Paul is setting out the application of the truths he has established for the congregation. Here he addresses a situation that is on the one hand foreign to us, but also, in a way, familiar. It seems that at least some of the Jewish Christians in Rome were continuing to practice certain elements of the Jewish Law. They were observing holy days like the Sabbath and abstaining from certain foods and drink. Earlier in the letter, Paul had established that such things were not necessary because the work of Christ had completed the requirements of the Law.
In their new situation, Christians were not set apart by what they did and did not consume or by what days they observed as holy. One would think, then, that Paul might have words of condemnation for those who were not yet confident enough to shed the old rituals. But that is not the case at all!
Instead, Paul encourages Christians to “be fully convinced in their own minds” about such matters, but not to pass judgment on one another about them. For Paul, such things are insignificant one way or the other. The unity of the church, in other words, take precedence over what we eat, drink, or observe as holy to God.
Like the Jewish Christians in Rome, many of us were raised with certain ideas about how Christians should talk, dress, and what they should not consume. Paul here offers a gentle reminder of the words of Jesus that “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Mattew 15:11, NRSV)