Chapter 14 can be a bit confusing if we are not aware of what is happening in the 1st century. Remember the Christians were living in a pagan culture. Part of that pagan culture was the sacrifice of animals to pagan gods. When this sacrifice took place there was meat abundant, and for some people, this was the only meat that was ever available to them. Many Christians believed that the eating of meat which was sacrificed to idols was a sin. Because there had been sacrifices to false gods, then in some way the meat was also contaminated with the presence of false gods. So the argument went, this was sin. But the reality of the situation was that many Christians did not see the eating of meat offered to idols as sin. It was just meat. There was nothing magical about it and it certainly did not contain any kind of bad spirits that would harm the person eating the meat. Paul takes a very subtle approach. He says you are right, the meat in and of itself is okay. There is nothing wrong with it. If your conscience allows you to eat meat sacrificed to idols, then go for it. That was the context in which these Scriptures were written.
Paul’s point in all of this is that we are not to call those whose conscience will not allow them to eat the meat as weak. Or, conversely, we are not to call those who do eat the meat as sinners. There is not a perfect analogy for this in our day, but I think one that is fairly close. There are some who feel that celebrating Halloween is sinful. It is dabbling with that in which ought not to be dabbled. Here at the church we have seen it as a great opportunity to reach out to families with children as we have our annual Trunk or Treat. When we read vs.5 it is pretty much the same issue where Paul states that some see one day as more important than another. Some see Halloween as being a bit of a different day than another. We don’t see any special meaning to Halloween, but rather an opportunity to reach out to people with an act of kindness and an act of gathering and fellowship.
Ultimately, Paul tells us, it is about each one of us rejoicing and celebrating in the Lord. Whether we eat the meat sacrificed to idols or hold special events on Halloween, it is all about doing it for the Lord. Starting in vs. 13 Paul tells us not to make judgment calls on people based upon these superficial non essential things. Do you remember the quote falsely attributed to St. Augustine? In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, freedom. But in all things, love. This is Paul’s basic gist of what he is saying. We are not to judge those who believe differently by saying they must not be saved because they don’t believe as I do in a certain topic. For the kingdom of God is not food or drink, it is not left or right, it is not gay or straight, it is not black or white, it is not pro-life or pro-choice, the kingdom of God, as Paul tells us in vs.17 is righteousness, and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. If we live our lives in that way it provides us with great freedom.