It’s Friday. Let’s talk food, shall we? Well, ever since a tablecloth filled with animals descended from heaven before Peter in a vision, the kitchen doors have been flung wide open to all sorts of delicious dishes we have come to love — including bacon, lobster, coconut shrimp, and Bluefin tuna sushi. But there’s still a lingering question over whether veganism more closely maps on to God’s original dietary design for us, and it’s a question that comes to us from Scott in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Dear Pastor John, several of my friends are either vegans or vegetarians. While they are mostly non-Christians, they occasionally challenge me theologically for eating meat. I see in Scripture that God provided quail for the Israelites in the wilderness. He demanded animal sacrifices. Jesus, after the resurrection, ate broiled fish. Peter was given a vision of animals that were clean to eat. But before the fall, my friends point out, God gave man only seed-yielding plants and the fruit from trees for food. In eternity, instead of killing animals, the lion shall eat straw like the ox and no further blood will be shed. Yet, the more I think about this, I’m unconvinced that eating meat is sinful. But isn’t veganism closer to God’s original, pre-fall and even post-fall dietary design for us?”
Back to the Beginning
What moves me in regard to eating patterns is that neither Jesus nor the apostles (though they had many opportunities to do so) argued from a pre-fall eating pattern forward or a future eschatological eating pattern backward to the way we should eat today. They didn’t argue that way.
“God didn’t intend the pre-fall world or the post-sin world to provide the model of eating in this world.”
Such an argument would have solved some serious problems in the church in Corinth in Rome. Paul did not take that approach. In fact, he emphatically went in another direction.
I suspect that the reason he didn’t argue that way and went in another direction is because he saw that God did not intend for either the pre-fall world or the post-sin world to provide the model of eating in this world. The risen Christ, with his new resurrection body, is the closest glimpse that we get of eating in the age to come. He ate fish — dead fish.
The Earth Is the Lord’s
Now, instead of arguing that way, Paul argued like this: “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’” (1 Corinthians 10:24–26).
That’s a quote from Psalm 24 that Paul uses as a ground clause. The whole question of meat offered to idols would’ve been solved for Paul if he had taken the position that eating meat is sub-Christian in any case. He argued just the opposite.
Animals, which provide meat, do not belong to themselves. They don’t belong to the earth. They belong to the Lord, who provides his people with their needs for food. So eat them. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1) — that was Paul’s argument for eating meat.
Lest we think that Paul was off on his own here, Mark, in his Gospel, said, “Jesus declared all foods clean” (see Mark 7:19). That is, clean, acceptable — not banned, not illegal.
Love One Another
Here’s the most important and urgent biblical teaching regarding the patterns of eating among Christians today. This is a classic and explicit illustration of what ought not to divide Christians or hinder our precious, close, and sweet fellowship with each other. This was Paul’s main concern in dealing with the eating of meat.
“Meat eaters, don’t despise vegetarians. Vegetarians, don’t pass judgment on meat eaters.”
He wrote Romans 14 to deal explicitly with the conflict between vegetarians and meat eaters. It is astonishingly relevant for Scott’s question. There are other issues in Romans 14 (like what days should be honored, and whether we should drink wine), but vegetarianism and meat eating are front and center.
Here’s what he says:
One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:2–4)
There’s the central concern and the central teaching on this issue according to Paul: “Meat eaters, don’t despise vegetarians. Vegetarians, don’t pass judgment on meat eaters.”
Of First Importance
On such issues, each of us stands before the Lord to give his own account. Don’t become lords, judging each other on this issue. That’s the main message. Then he says, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:14–16).
Then he continues, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Romans 14:17–18).
“What we eat here is of almost zero significance compared to righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Finally, he says, “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:20–21).
Don’t cause a brother to stumble into sin and destruction by what you eat. That’s not love. In Paul’s mind, the issue of vegetarian versus meat eater is not an issue of health. It’s not an issue of attaining the ideal of pre-fall or post-sin eschatological conditions. It is an issue of love. In that sense, it’s a great issue, but in only that sense. It’s not a great issue in and of itself.
Hear me on this. This is going to shock some. What we eat here is of almost zero significance compared to righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, which are the manifestations of the saving reign of God among his people. Let’s keep things in perspective. Manifest the reign of God and love one another.