Our beloved brother Paul is no longer with us; but being assured that his writings are understandable (Eph. 3:4), I will do all I can, as an uninspired secretary, to answer your letter. Paul would surely appreciate the spirit of your comments and the desire to know truth.
Romans 14:1 tells us to receive “one who is weak in the faith,” and we must identify such an one by information found in the context and confirmed by the teaching of Scriptures as a whole. God has received him (v. 3), and he is a servant of God (v. 4), but he believes he must eat (only) herbs (v. 2), and he esteems meats to be unclean (v. 14). While so believing (subjective “faith”) if he should eat meat, he would violate his conscience and this would “destroy” him (v. 15).
But was it wrong, per se to eat meat? No! Paul says meat was not unclean “of itself ” (v. 14). He called meat eating “good” (v. 16) and the meat eater was the “strong” one, while the herb eater was “weak”(v. 2; 15:1). The strong should bear the infirmities of the weak, leading to his “edification” (15:2) so that eventually they could “with one mind and one mouth glorify God” (15:6). Paul contributed to that “edification” by his teaching on meats here and elsewhere.
The herb eater lacked a clear understanding of what God said about meats, but he was “fully convinced” (assured) in his own mind (14:5) that he was doing what God wanted done. The illustrations of “days” and “meats” make this point (v. 6). “He who eats, eats to the Lord .. . and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat.” In his determination to eat only what he thought the Lord wanted him to eat, the herb eater showed strong subjective faith toward God. So, with reference to your “First” comment, it seems both the meat eater and the herb eater were “fully assured” in their subjective faith. The herb eater was commended and deserved patient consideration for this, not for his misunderstanding concerning meats.
Regarding your “Second” comment, both the meat eater and the herb eater acted, as you say, “conscientiously.” But Paul is our best example to show this does not guarantee right conclusions (cf. Acts 23:1; 26:9). Paul was concerned that both know the truth about meat (see above), but it is apparent “receiving each other” took precedence over meats and days. You correctly observe (paragraph 4) that Paul and other inspired men teach us to “mark . . . and avoid” those who teach false doctrine, such as instrumental music or polygamy (your illustrations). It is therefore apparent “meats” and “days” of Romans 14 are in a different category than these and were not regarded by Paul to be of such consequences as to war-rant “mark . . . and avoid” (16:17). They may be called matters of indifference but with caution.
Paul said, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything” (Gal. 5:6); yet he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3), but strongly resisted efforts to have Titus circumcised (Gal. 2:3-5). Conceivably, the herb eater could press his convictions upon the congregation, or the meat eater could stress his “rights” to the disruption of peace and fellowship. One’s regard for a day” could promote a totally unacceptable situation (Gal. 4:10-11). Paul wanted the truth taught regarding meats and days, but such “issues” could be overshadowed by strike if handled in an ungodly manner (2 Tim. 2:23f).
In your “Third” comment, by considering “faith” exclusively in a subjective sense, you overlook the fact that the set of conscience is determined by the level of one’s knowledge. “There is not in everyone that knowledge; for some with conscience of the idol. . .” (1 Cor. 8:7-11). Paul could persecute Christians in good conscience only because he did not know better. When he was convinced that Jesus was the Christ the setting of his conscience changed and that is exactly what would happen when the herb eater accepted the truth regarding meats. Paul urges those with knowledge to be patient with those who lack understanding in certain matters of indifference, but who do what they do because they sincerely believe God wants it so.
“The faith” is used forty-two times in the New Testament with “faith” often in the noun form and eleven times in the exact form of Romans 14:1, referring to what is believed rather than to the act of believing. Check Jude 3, Galatians 3:23, and Acts 13:7-10. In Romans 14:1 the herb eater was strong in subjective faith (or conscience) but was weak in his understanding regarding meats.
You acknowledge “each has been received by the Lord when each obeyed the gospel.” Note it was not when they obeyed error “in good conscience.” Their continued reception by the Lord hinges upon their continuing desire for truth (1 Pet. 2:1-2), even in these matters of indifference. We are to encourage and assist one another to better know truth all truth and never adopt the concept that a good conscience relieves one of the need to “prove all things.”
Your problem with “May-pole dancing” seems like a typical illustration of the “meats and days” principle, but one could promote creedalism by listing modem conducts for this category. Unity is not achieved by creeds. If we will cultivate the love and concern for our brethren that Paul advocates in Romans 14, we can be of “one mind and one accord” in our “press toward the mark . . .” and herein lies the only “perfection” we can attain in this life (Phil. 3:13-15).
Yours in quest for truth,
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 21, p. 11-12
November 7, 1996