This text speaks to the diversity in spiritual practices. Some choose vegetarianism; others mindfully eat whatever is available. In Paul’s day this led to conflict for Jewish traditions didn’t allow certain meats to be eaten that were commonly sold in the Roman marketplace, and also many felt to eat meat sacrificed to idols meant you were turning your back on the true god.
It is easy in the face of such spiritual conflicts to choose your side, as if you are choosing teams in a sporting event, and to turn conversation into arguing for who is right. I know I have been guilty of that. Yet Paul cuts through such surface concerns by getting to the point: isn’t what counts that we do our spiritual practice, focusing on our own relationship with God, not who is more right than the other?
Paul calls us to put aside judging others for their differences in religious belief or practice, for spiritual discipline, and instead realize each of us have our unique relationship with God, our unique path. What I am called to is to let God teach my unique lessons you may already know and not need to learn, and vice versa. So I cannot know which practices or disciplines are necessary for you. I need to not judge the path you are on, but respect the shared devotion we both have to God.
I think this is a good lesson still.
Churches are arguing, fighting, and dividing over issues of music style and whether certain folks ought to be able to marry or not. Yet all involved, in both sides, are loving God and seeking to follow Christ. What if instead of getting caught up in what others ought to believe or do with their lives they focus instead on the hard work of being the person of God they are called to do in their own lives and loving, accepting, each other? I wonder if we will have the time and energy for name-calling. After all, our own lives have enough ragged edges to keep us busy quite awhile.
This doesn’t mean that the questions of social justice do not matter. They do, an always have. But it does mean the heart of judgment is not the way to engage them, but rather an openness of love and compassion.
I don’t have the secret for how to exude this compassion especially in difficult moments. But I know who does.