Buckle your seatbelts, this might get long. BUT, stick with me, I think it might just make sense by the time you get through it……
I like meat. Maybe “like” is the wrong word. I know, I know, “love” should be reserved for serious things but, let me tell you, there’s little better (food-wise) than when you grill a steak just right or get a perfectly prepared piece of prime rib (apparently there used to be places that were called restaurants that could prepare these things for you). We know God gave us meat to eat (sorry vegans). After Noah left the Ark, God spoke to him and told him that he was giving mankind every animal as food for them. Therefore one might say that eating meat is a God-given right (and a delicious right at that)!
So imagine my surprise when the apostle Paul comes along and ruins everything. Romans 14:2 says “One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats meat must not look down on him who does not, and the man who eats only vegetables must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.”
What the heck, Paul?
Notice he doesn’t say, “Make sure to tell the man who eats only vegetables that his faith is weak,” or even, “make sure to encourage him to grow stronger in his faith and prove it by eating meat.”
He takes it WAY up a notch or twelve further on in the chapter when he says in verse 15, “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not, by your eating (i.e. your God-given freedom) destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”
So wait. All of a sudden my freedom, my God-given freedom, should be surrendered because of a weaker brother? And that’s not all. That God-given freedom is there because of your maturity! Yes! Because of your faith you were given that right. And now I’m just supposed to surrender it while I’m around this other brother?
(stick with me, there’s a point to all this)
For you meat lovers out there it gets WAY worse. Check out 1 Corinthians 8:13 where Paul goes off the deep end, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will NEVER EAT MEAT AGAIN, so that I will not cause him to fall.”
That is amazing, incredible, outrageous love. Paul loved his fellow brother and sister in Christ so much that not only would he go the extra mile when he was around them, but he would honestly be willing to forgo something good for the rest of his life just to make sure that he wouldn’t cause them to sin. I’ve read that hundreds of times and it still shocks me to the core. Is it possible for me to love others that much? How about you?
Word on the street is that when we open up the church again for Sunday services, we’ll be asked to wear masks. Does that immediately strike you as a violation of your rights? Maybe it strikes you as an act that shows a lack of faith. I know I’ve struggled with that one. I know with all my heart that Jesus Christ is the name above every name, including the name Covid, Cancer, Science, etc. I believe that God heals, answers prayer, intercedes and interdicts the harm that the enemy would throw at us.
But what about my brother or sister? What if they haven’t seen God move in their life like I’ve seen Him move in mine? What if they’re new to the faith? What if they are right smack-dab in the target age for Covid to affect them?
Do I declare my faith and prove it by refusing to wear a mask? Forget for a minute about passing sickness to someone else if you’re not wearing one. Think instead about their heart and what they might be thinking about you, about me. Would we not be causing them to stumble? Remember what verse 15 above said? “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not, by your eating (i.e. your God-given freedom) destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”
In our case, Paul might say, If your brother is distressed because you won’t wear a mask, you are no longer acting in love. Do not, by your freedom and faith to not wear a mask destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”
It’s not our job to tell someone they need more faith. It’s not our job to show them how much faith we have and the freedom it grants us. It’s our job to love. To lay down our life, our rights, our freedom even, for the sake of others.
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I. Am. Nothing.” I Cor. 13:2
All that said and I still don’t want to wear a mask. But maybe that’s my flesh wanting its own way. Maybe that’s my pride whispering into my ear, “Your faith is so much stronger than others, show them what real faith looks like.” Maybe it’s the American in me demanding that my rights be honored. Maybe I just need to die to myself and put others first. It burns deep down inside to do that, but I think it’s right.