In Matters of Taste, There is No Point in Arguing

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“Welcome anyone who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions” (Romans 14:1) Thus begins Paul’s teaching on the problem of humanity’s perverted tendencies toward judgement. His argument is that the mind of Christians should no longer judge indiscriminately, or out of emotional excess, for those ways are the product of human thinking, not the ways of God.

Paul is challenging his Roman readers tendencies to judge others, which are remarkably like our own ways of judging others today. He uses the example of “those who eat anything” judging “those who only eat vegetables” negatively. Paul exhorts them, and us, saying, “The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats” (verse 3). How many times are we guilty of judging others on such simple things? Too often, if we are honest with ourselves.

There is an old Latin proverb that goes like this: “De gustibus, non disputatum est.” This phrase means: “In matters of taste, there is no point in arguing.” This is what Paul is trying to propose to his Roman readers and to us. If someone is coming to the Lord, we should not judge them in light of our own scruples. But, if we are honest with ourselves, most of our negative judgements about others are based on matters of taste. We judge people on the clothes they wear, on where they live, whether they speak our language, and so much more. This is not what Jesus calls us to. Paul says, we are not to judge others who are “weak in faith” on such minor details, for “God has welcomed them.” There is a corresponding phrase in Latin to the one above. It goes like this: “De veritate disputatum est.” It suggests that in matters concerning truth, argument is fruitful. Paul, inspired by the Holy spirit, is dealing with a truth here. He tells us not to focus on such things as the kinds of foods others eat, or whether they observe some days more importantly than others, or whether they see all days as equally important. Rather, we are to live for the Lord in all things. Paul reminds us that, as Christians, none of us is to live or to die for ourselves, but for the Lord. If we live only for the Lord, if we keep a day holy for the Lord, if we give thanks to God for what we eat, no matter what we eat, then we eat for the Lord. If we have this attitude, God will welcome us.

What matters, then, is that we, ourselves, choose to live every day in and for the Lord. “For if we live, we live for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (verse 8). The message is that we are not to judge, or look down on our brothers and sisters for foolish things, for we are all going to one day, “stand before the judgement seat of God, for it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God’” (verses 10-11). Does this not bring our minds to that phrase in the prayer that Jesus gave us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Or, “Judge not, and you will not be judged, condemn not and you will not be condemned: forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). If we no longer did these things, as Jesus has called us to do, we would be living for the Lord. This is what Paul is reminding us about. We are called by Christ to love one another as he loved us. We are not to live our lives solely for the law, or in unquestioning obedience to any human prejudices. We are to live for the Lord alone. We are to live for him in accord with his Gospel.

Lord, help me to see any prejudices I might have in me for what they are and how they hinder me from living my life fully for you. Increase my faith and my hope, and turn my heart, my mind, and my soul to love alone. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.