Does Paul Advocate Moral Relativism?

Romans 14

1Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won’t. And those who won’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should.

5In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter. 6Those who have a special day for worshiping the Lord are trying to honor him. Those who eat all kinds of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who won’t eat everything also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7For we are not our own masters when we live or when we die. 8While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. 9Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.

10So why do you condemn another Christian ? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. 11For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,‘every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.’”

12Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God. 13So don’t condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian’s path.

14I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15And if another Christian is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16Then you will not be condemned for doing something you know is all right.

17For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too. 19So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

20Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble. 21Don’t eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble. 22You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by doing something they know is all right. 23But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn’t eat it. They would be condemned for not acting in faith before God. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. (Romans 14:1-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Romans 14 is a critical chapter in which Paul dispenses guidelines that are invaluable for helping us to know how we are to interact with other believers who have different views and perspectives on common issues.

Paul makes two statements that almost sound as if he’s advocating moral relativism.

Specifically, in verse 14, Paul says that “I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong.”

Paul further says in verse 23 that “if you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”

Both of these verses seem to communicate that right and wrong is determined by the individual and not God. This would mean Paul is advocating moral relativism.

The basic tenet of moral relativism is that there is no moral standard of truth that is the same for everyone. Instead, morality is determined by the individual, hence, it is relative to each individual person.

Is this what Paul is saying?

The short answer is no, Paul is not a moral relativist and he’s not communicating that truth is determined by the individual instead of an external standard, such as God.

What Paul is communicating in this passage is that some issues, such as the day of worship, may have a diversity of opinions and views. Sometimes, our personal preferences determine our different opinions. For example, I like McDonalds but you prefer Burger King. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just a difference of opinion based on our preferences, just as there is no right or wrong day to set aside for worshiping the Lord.

Still other times, our different positions are determined by our relative maturity and understanding of an issue.

In this chapter, Paul talks about the issue of eating meat or not eating meat. An issue that came up in the early church was whether or not it was acceptable to eat meat if you knew that it had been sacrificed to an idol.

Paul’s position is that all food has been made acceptable by God and therefore, it’s definitely ok to eat. However, some who were newer to the faith had not come to that understanding yet. Though they may have come to an accurate understanding of salvation and trusted Jesus as their savior, they may not have come to a completely biblical understanding regarding other issues. Therefore, their conscience and moral understanding was still linked to their old belief system and their old understanding of right and wrong.

Instead of correcting them and potentially embarrassing them, Paul’s advice is to refrain from practices that others might find offensive, even if you know that what you’re engaging in is not sinful.

So when Paul says that if a person believes something is wrong, then it is wrong for that person, he’s saying that if a person goes against their conscience, they are sinning, even if the actual act isn’t sinful. Paul is not saying that the individual can determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong; he’s saying that we should not purposefully go against what we think is wrong, because that would be willful rebellion, which is sin.

Over time, by reading the Scriptures and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, younger believers will come to a more complete understanding of right and wrong and thus their thinking on these matters will be adjusted. This is all part of the process of spiritual transformation.

In the mean-time, it is not the job of older believers to constantly correct younger believers regarding every false theological position or skewed moral belief.

Instead of pushing my moral views on them, even though I’m convinced my positions are biblically correct, the loving thing to do, according to Paul, is to give up my freedom for the sake of the “weaker brother.”

Reflection

What are some doctrinal positions or moral issues on which you’ve disagreed with other believers? How did you handle those disagreements?

What are some common issues today that you see as potential stumbling blocks to other believers?

Why do you think it is so difficult for Christians to give up their freedoms for the sake of others?

What guidelines or principles can you glean from this passage that will allow you to more effectively love and serve your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?

 

Photo by Emerson Vieira on Unsplash

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