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Meat or Salad?

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 14:1–4

The Christian life is filled with issues that Scripture does not directly touch on. We must not let these issues impair our unity in Christ or distract us from following Him as our Lord.


There is a portion of a road near my home that slopes down rather steeply between two ridges and creates a valley. At the bottom of the valley and to the left is a large pond. Often, in the early morning, fog covers the road down there. It is like driving into a gray mist.

It reminds me that there are many areas on the road of life that Scripture does not directly touch on—areas where secondary issues are not clear. Yet opinions and preferences on these matters still matter; in fact, they matter a great deal in life. Sometimes the Christian’s journey is like driving through a fog, and it is difficult to see the road in front of you, much less stay within the lines. You have to slow down and stay alert.

I like to call these areas and issues of life “gray areas,” or “doubtful things.” In other words, they are not black or white. For instance, there is not a verse in the Bible about what to wear to church, or what instruments are acceptable in church services, or how you should educate your children in elementary school.

I remember reading about an international missions conference where a woman from the Far East was upset that other believers were wearing their shoes indoors. Believers from Eastern Europe were a little offended at other Christians who were wearing gold wedding rings. Another was upset at the missionary kids who were allowed to play games outdoors on Sunday afternoon.

Now I am not suggesting any of these opinions is right or wrong; what I can say is that the Bible does not specifically address these issues. And here is where it gets us into trouble; because while our opinions on these matters do not determine our future in heaven or hell, they can affect our fellowship with believers on earth.

What do you do when you are confronted with these gray areas in life—when other believers have different opinions than you do?

On our Wisdom Journey through the book of Romans, we have come now to chapter 14, where Paul begins a lengthy section on these questionable areas and, specifically, how to get along with Christians who have different opinions.

He writes in verse 2, “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.” Evidently, some of the Roman Jewish believers were only eating vegetables, not because they thought eating meat was wrong, but because the meat might not be kosher—prepared according to Jewish law in the presence of a rabbi. They had come to the conclusion that meat should not be on the menu at all—no hamburgers and steaks for dedicated Christians, only vegetables. This was dividing the church between the salad side and the steak side.

Now Paul’s inspired guidance is going to surprise them all. He is not going to settle things so that one side wins the argument; in fact, he is going to challenge both sides.

What Paul is going to do is give us several steps that will help us navigate these gray areas of life in such a way that we do not divide the church but unify it.

The first step is to start with acceptance! Paul writes back in verse 1, “As for the one who is weak in [the] faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”

Welcome him! The word (proslambanō) means “to take to oneself, to receive into fellowship or companionship.”

So, the starting point in any disagreement is to remember that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We belong to one another, by our common faith in Christ.

Paul emphasizes that we need to be concerned about “the one who is weak in [the] faith.” There is a definite article before the word “faith” in the original text. This indicates that the person is weak in his understanding of the full truth of the gospel.

So, you could paraphrase Paul here as saying, “Welcome into your fellowship the one who is weak in his understanding of the gospel of grace. Do not bring him in just to straighten him out; first, welcome him as a family member.”

The second step in navigating gray areas is to simply refuse to argue! This is difficult because, frankly, we like to argue. Instead, here in verse 2, Paul simply says, “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.” And in verse 1, he says to welcome that weak person, not argue with him.

If Paul were like many Christians today, he would have said something like, “Those salad people need to start their own church,” or, “Those hamburger-and-steak people need to go to another church.”

Gray areas of differing opinions should never be allowed to divide the church. And that means we are going to have to recognize the difference between doctrine and opinion.

The third step in navigating gray areas of life is to adjust our attitude! Note what Paul writes here in verse 3:

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.

This expression “to despise someone” means to look down on someone. You might not argue in public with those you disagree with, but you are going to criticize them in private. And did you notice that Paul says that this works both ways? Both sides are critical and arrogant toward one another. Both sides need an adjustment of their attitude.

Now keep in mind, Paul is going to bring up in this chapter that both sides have valid points and concerns. Winning the argument is not as important as adjusting our attitudes with humility and grace. It might even mean that we keep our opinion to ourselves.

There is one last step Paul presents in these opening verses: remember who is ultimately in charge! He writes this in verse 4:

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.

Paul is literally saying, “Stop and think about your judgmental attitude. What right do any of us have to judge the personal opinions of other believers?” Now remember, beloved, Paul is not talking about doctrine; he is not talking about sinful behavior. The Bible tells us to judge one another and discipline one another for unrepentant sin and wrong doctrine. Paul is talking here about questionable areas, gray areas, matters of conscience—what is on the menu for you to eat.

Let us not pass judgement on one another in these areas of life, especially since, as Paul writes here, the other person is also the servant of the living Lord. And his opinion is just as valid as yours.

The truth is, we do not answer to one another in matters of opinion and personal preference. We answer to God.

I recently read about Charles Spurgeon, the famous London pastor of the 1800s, traveling to a pastors’ conference. Another preacher saw him board the train and find his seat in the comfortable first-class section of the train. This other preacher was back in third class with other pastors. Well, they started criticizing Spurgeon’s use of money, and one of the pastors finally decided to give Spurgeon a little lecture. He made his way up to Spurgeon and demanded, “Mr. Spurgeon, what are you doing riding up here in first class? We are riding back there in the third-class seats taking care of the Lord’s money.” Spurgeon replied, “Well, I am here in first class taking care of the Lord’s servant.”

After I read that, I told the elders at my church that I ought to fly first class from now on. Well, they did not agree with my opinion at all! And that is okay.

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