Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it. If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning! Romans 14:13-16 (The Message)
I went to a business lunch today. I can’t understand why people chose to mix business with pleasure. To me, lunch hour is my mid day opportunity to take a breath. To unwind from four hours of work before diving into the afternoon. So, I resent any efforts to turn my lunch break into more work time. But, these people offered up a chance to eat at a new restaurant in our community that lots of people have been talking about. It is one of those nouveau eateries where different flavors and foods are mixed in interesting ways and presentation is as important as taste. So, I succumbed to temptation and went. I thought I was ordering a blackened crab cake when I distractedly pointed at the menu during a heated debate over language in an outdated set of by-laws. When my plate arrived, a long rectangular sushi plate, it didn’t at all look like what I expected. What I thought would be a flattened patty was all broken up into hunks with greasy fried batter crumbled amongst the white meat. I was hungry and working so proceeded to eat what was placed in front of me drowning most of it in a spicy sauce because I didn’t particularly care for my meal. When we were done and my check came, I was charged for fried oysters. One of my companions said, “I thought that looked like oysters, but didn’t want to say anything.” Here’s the rub. My WHOLE life, I have managed to get by without eating oysters. When I was a girl, my parents often entertained and my dad would steam oysters on the grill. I watched as people slipped those slimy muscles down their throats washed down with crackers and hot sauce and vowed never to try them for myself. Now, after fifty decades on this planet, I had unwittingly digested some. Ick. Not thirty minutes after returning to my job, I began to feel sick and couldn’t help but blame it on the oysters. Does May end in an “r” ? I always heard you aren’t supposed to eat oysters in months ending in “r.” While my discomfort most likely was a result of the fried food which I have learned I must avoid or immediately take a Tagamet, I doubt I will be eating oysters anytime soon. I could eat oysters, but chose not to. In other ways, I limit what I eat or drink, say or do, not because it is harmful to me, but because my indulgence could bring harm to others. That is what Paul is saying in these verses. The old rules of Jewish law outlined in the Old Testament were designed to lead us to Christ. When He came to die in our place, they were no longer needed. But, I can chose to limit my freedom in order to help a friend avoid temptation and sin. Not that I will ever be tempted to eat oysters again.