Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Eating and Drinking (or not) to the Glory of God

I just listened to a sermon by John Piper on Romans 14:1-6 that is directly applicable to the alcohol debate. This passage gives us a charge to welcome the weaker brother, and it instructs us to welcome him because God has welcomed him!

Piper points out that the weaker brother is not a "carnal Christian" but one who is truly seeking to honor God in his behavior! This person is not being reprimanded by Paul like the circumcision crowd in Galatians. Piper rejects the idea that they are legalists, but points out that they regard the eating of meat and drinking of wine as "unclean" or "common," and thus dishonoring to God.

So, why does Paul call them weak?

What’s weak about this abstinence from meat and wine? Why does Paul call it weak? It’s based on faith. It’s God-exalting. It’s expressing gratitude to God, not self-sufficiency. It’s not legalistic. So how is it weak? . . . I hope you are feeling that Paul is pretty impressed with the weak. He’s thankful for them. He is practicing what he is preaching. Welcome the weak (v. 1). Don’t despise the weak (v. 3).

The weak regard meat and wine as unclean because they believe eating meat and drinking wine will not glorify God as much as abstaining will. There is something about meat and wine that makes eating it and drinking it less honoring to God than abstaining.

What’s crucial to know is that Paul surely thought they were wrong in this conviction. The conviction that there is something about meat and wine that makes abstinence more honoring to God than eating and drinking was a mistake. They lacked the knowledge that would undergird and liberate their faith.

What knowledge did they lack? Paul makes the explicit connection between lack of knowledge and weakness in 1 Corinthians 8:6-7. He’s dealing with a situation similar, though not the same, to the one in Rome. He says, “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” So there is the explicit connection between lack of knowledge and weakness.

Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:25, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’” In other words, the fullness of faith to eat what you will to the glory of God is based on the fullness of knowledge that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” The weak believer lacks this knowledge—and perhaps other knowledge as well—and therefore their faith is limited in its exercise. They are weak in faith.

The strong, on the other hand, have a more full understanding of God and his relation to the world, and are freed by this truth to embrace more of God’s creation in a God-glorifying way.

Piper goes on to warn us against "freedom" that is not honoring to God, and he addresses the question, "How should we treat each other when we have these differences?"

Now, I don't want to just lump together all those who are opposed to the drinking of alcohol in the weaker group, because I know that many reject alcohol because it is a stumbling block for others. But this passage does give us the ultimate rule regarding this subject:

"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. 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." -- Romans 14:3-4

If we divide over the drinking of alcohol, we are sinning! We all embrace Ephesians 5:18, " And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit," but we cannot cut off fellowship because of this issue. It is directly addressed in Scripture! How can anyone pass judgment on another if both are seeking God's face and are humbly convinced by Scripture?!?

Forgive us Father, and mend our fellowships!



Terry Delaney said...


Brian Shaver said...

Thank you for this excellent article. I love so much of what John Piper has to share and this was no exception. I believe that we need to be careful to not offend our brethren. So many believers have come out of such sinful pasts. Sometimes that past sinful lifestyle may have included a lot of alcohol. It would be too easy for a brother who spent a lot of his pre-conversion life in the bar scene to stumble if we're not sensitive to him. I do drink myself but I'm always careful about who I offer it to. Even if it's just a glass of wine with supper.

I was curious to see what some of the other prominent Christian ministries have to say about Christians and alcohol consumption. R.C. Sproul is another teacher I look up to. I almost wish I hadn't now, but I Googled "R.C. Sproul alcohol". I discovered that his son, R.C. Jr. (allegedly) has some serious problems with liquor based upon a distorted understanding of what "moderation" means. This should be a warning to us all. How easily we can stumble. Our liberty in Christ is not a license to sin.

S. Todd Young said...

Brian, thanks for your comment! We must value one another more highly than we value our own wants and wishes. When we do this, the "weaker" brother does not judge, and the "stronger" brother does not despise. And God gets all the glory!