14:2-4 One man has enough faith to believe that he can eat anything; but he who is weak in the faith eats vegetables. Let not him who eats contemptuously despise him who does not eat; and let not him who does not eat pass censorious judgment on him who does eat, for God has received him. Who are you to judge another man's servant? It is in his own master's judgment that he stands or falls--and he will stand, for the Master is able to make him stand.
Here emerges one of the definite points of debate in the Roman Church. There were those who observed no special food laws and tabus at all, and who ate anything; and there were those who conscientiously abstained from meat, and ate only vegetables. There were many sects and religions in the ancient world which observed the strictest food laws. The Jews themselves did. Leviticus 11:1-47 gives its lists of the creatures which may and which may not be eaten. One of the strictest sects of the Jews was the Essenes. They had communal meals for which they bathed and wore special clothes. The meals had to be specially prepared by priests or they would not eat them. The Pythagoreans had their distinctive food laws. Pythagoras taught that the soul of man was a fallen deity confined to the body as to a tomb. He believed in reincarnation through which the soul might dwell in a man, an animal, or a plant in an endless chain of being. Release from this chain of being was found through absolute purity and discipline; and this discipline included silence, study, self-examination and abstention from all flesh. In almost any Christian congregation there would be those who observed special food laws and tabus.
It is the same problem. Within the Church there was a narrower party and there was a more liberal party. Paul unerringly pinpoints the danger that was likely to arise. Almost certainly the more liberal party would despise the scruples of the narrower party; and, still more certainly, the narrower party would pass censorious judgment on what they believed to be the laxity of the more liberal party. That situation is just as real and perilous in the Church today as it was in the time of Paul.
To meet it Paul lays down a great principle. No man has any right to criticize another man's servant. The servant is answerable to his master alone. Now all men are the servants of God. It is not open to us to criticize them, still less to condemn them. That right belongs to God alone. It is not in our judgment that a man stands or falls but in his. And, Paul goes on, if a man is honestly living out his principles as he sees them, God can make him able to stand.
Many a congregation of the Church is torn in two because those who hold broader views are angrily contemptuous of those whom they regard as die-hard conservatives; and because those who are stricter in their outlook are censorious of those who wish the right to do things which they think are wrong. It is not open to us to condemn each other. "I beseech you by the bowels of Christ," said Cromwell to the rigid Scots of his day, "think it possible that you may be mistaken." We must banish both censoriousness and contempt from the fellowship of the Church. We must leave the judgment of others to God, and seek only to sympathize and to understand.