Romans 14 – Doubtful Disputations
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him (Romans 14:1-3)
Paul faced constant pressure to admonish the Saints of the early Christian Church to live by the customs and traditions of the Jews. Keeping certain Sabbath day traditions, abstaining from certain foods, and following other customs that were important to the Jewish converts but not to the Gentiles. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul also spoke of saints in his day being offended that certain Christians ate meat that was sacrificed to the pagan gods of his time (1 Corinthians 8:8-13).
But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols… Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend (1 Corinthians 8:8-13)
The Christians of the early church would often separate themselves into certain groups. This came naturally as the Jewish converts to Christianity had a common background and language. At times one group would judge the other according to its preferences and cultural traditions. Paul wanted everyone get along and to know that customs are unimportant compared to having faith in Jesus Christ and following his perfect example. Even today we experience similar challenges as a the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expands globally. On a local level, teenagers understand that not everyone has the same preferences and cultural traditions, thereby causing them to notice these differences.
The New International Version states Romans 14 thus:
If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:15-17).
Not everyone applies gospel principles the same way in their life. We all live the best we can according to the light we have received. Paul is telling the Saints in Corinth (in the verses from 1 Corinthians 8) that if they eat meat sacrificed to idols and their eating causes another to stumble in the faith, that they ought not to eat the meat, so that they don’t offend their brother. I might add that if Paul were writing today, he would also tell the offended party to choose to not be so easily offended. We can choose not to be so sensitive to the actions of others, especially when it comes to where they purchase their steak!
Some examples today of doubtful disputations run along the lines of how we choose to apply gospel principles in our lives. Cola drinks, eating certain types of foods, playing cards, specific activities on the Sabbath day are all examples of how individuals may differ in their behavior and application of gospel principles.
Another example how individuals apply gospel principles relates to gambling. For many years Latter-day Saints have been counseled not to be involved in gambling. The principle behind this instruction lies in the idea that we should earn what we receive, that we should not seek something for nothing while in this world. We need to earn our bread by the “sweat of (our) brow” (Genesis 3:19). Some have applied this principle in unique ways. I know of one friend who has made the personal choice to apply this principle by not applying for things that are free – for example, she will not fill out applications for “free drawings” that businesses offer in advertising. This is her personal application of this principle. While she may apply this principle this way in her life, arguing with someone else because they do not make the same application is futile.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks put it this way:
Teachers who are commanded to teach “the principles of [the] gospel” and “the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77) should generally forgo teaching specific rules or applications. For example, they would not teach any rules for determining what is a full tithing, and they would not provide a list of dos and don’ts for keeping the Sabbath day holy. Once a teacher has taught the doctrine and the associated principles from the scriptures and the living prophets, such specific applications or rules are generally the responsibility of individuals and families. Well-taught doctrines and principles have a more powerful influence on behavior than rules. When we teach gospel doctrine and principles, we can qualify for the witness and guidance of the Spirit to reinforce our teaching, and we enlist the faith of our students in seeking the guidance of that same Spirit in applying those teachings in their personal lives (Dallin H. Oaks, “Gospel Teaching,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 78-80).
Applying gospel principles in our lives requires effort. Seeing through the mists of the world today takes faith and patience. Paul urged the saints to be patient with each other. He counsels us to work not to offend each other, but to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19 NIV).
The following remarks have been beneficial when considering doubtful disputations and contention. Their application is wide when considered personally:
Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” ― C.S. Lewis
“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which He revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom.” ― Joseph Smith, 1843