We Can Both Be Right

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Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.

That memorable 1992 commercial slogan – which promoted “beef as a part of a healthy diet” – is still recognized by more than 80% of Americans.

If you think that controversies concerning the eating of red meat are only a few decades old, check out the New Testament book of Romans.  The apostle Paul’s letter to the fledging group of Christ-followers in the city of Rome had to tackle an incredibly divisive issue.

The dispute concerned meat that was purchased at the city market. 

When cows were driven into town, some were taken directly to the butcher.  Others were routed up the steps of one of Rome’s dozens of temples, where they were slaughtered as sacrifices to idols. 

The meat of both kinds of cows ended up for sale on the same counter, and there wasn’t any plastic wrap that warned the spiritually sensitive shopper which rump roast had been part of a pagan ritual earlier that day.

Therefore some of Paul’s readers had concluded that they would never eat meat again as long as they lived – they would be vegetarians of conscience – because they could never be sure whether a particular cut of meat had been in one of those temples. 

Other believers were saying, “Are you nuts?  We’re not going to give up barbecue just because some priest mumbled a few words over the brisket.  God provides everything for us to enjoy.” 

Both sides believed they were right.  Both sides believed that the other side was outrageously wrong.

Look how Paul referees this issue in Romans 14:3: “The person who eats everything must not look down on the person who does not, and the person who does not eat everything must not condemn the person who does.”  Why?  “For God has accepted him.”

Paul is saying that whatever is on your dinner table isn’t going to make or break your relationship with God.  Two verses later, he adds this: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another person considers every day alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” 

One of the Bible’s best-kept secrets is its teaching that there are a number of issues – issues that are not central to Christian theology or ethics – where I can think one thing, and you can think just the opposite, and we can both be right and blessed by God. 

We can both be right about whether drums and guitars should be “in” or “out” at worship.  We can take genuinely different approaches to “good parenting,” and both end up raising healthy kids.  We can come to different conclusions about the age of the earth, whether gambling is spiritually corrosive, and whether or not someone who loves God should feel free to relax with a cold beer. 

So what do we do when we when have such disagreements?  We choose to do what God does:  We accept each other.

The word “accept” comes from the Latin words ad capere, which means, “to take to oneself.”  Strange as it may seem, offering acceptance to another human being is actually a form of receiving. 

If I accept you, it doesn’t mean that I agree with all of your opinions about every subject.  It does mean that I welcome you into my circle of care and concern.  I take you and your interests – even though you think differently – to myself. 

All too often that spirit is nowhere to be found. 

Christian circles can be tainted by a winner-takes-all mentality.  God wants me to come out on top because God has assured me that I am right.  And that means it’s time for you to get in line with the truth – which means coming around to my way of seeing things.

Paul, to his everlasting credit, is having none of it. 

He wraps things up in Romans 14:13: “Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another.  Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother or sister’s way.”

It’s time to ditch the I’m-right-and-I-know-it attitude when it comes to non-essential matters. 

Like the Christians in Rome, we can learn that beef may indeed be for dinner – or not – and it can still end up being a great party.