“So you think that Gentiles shouldn’t eat pork.”
The question was asked as I sat down to enjoy a pizza lunch with the others on the team. It was 2008 and myself and a few others from the ministry I served with at the time were in Dearborn, Michigan during the Dearborn Arabic Festival. Dearborn was at the time home to the largest Arab community in the U.S. Henry Ford being extremely anti-Semitic brought in Arabs, predominantly Lebanese people to work his car plants. During this festival, one could turn any which way and get great-tasting shawarma, falafel and baklava.
We had gone down to join in a street evangelism group from all over North America who would spend the next few days sharing the gospel with these folks. We spent a couple of days learning about Islam and how to effectively witness to those who might be open. I met some terrific friends including a former PLO terrorist who got saved in an Israeli jail. Did they have fun introducing me on the streets! When were in front of a mosque on Friday evening, it was absolutely priceless to watch the Imam’s face as I joined the conversation he was having with a couple of our folks and he looked over at me, looked away and then his eyes slowly came back as he saw my tzit-tzit (tassles) and Star of David on my shirt.
We had just finished going door to door and our team came to the pizza parlour late as we had been in a great conversation with one family. The pizza had already been ordered and when I asked the team leader what was on them, she replied pepperoni. I stated that we don’t eat pepperoni because of pork and she quickly apologized and ordered another one without for us. I sat down at the table with about 20 others and my friend across from me heard the conversation and decided to ask his question. Did you ever get asked a question where your first response is “uh oh”? I paused for a moment before answering (I know. You’re all shocked). The individual who asked had already caused quite a few problems while on the trip and was quite antagonistic, even almost causing a riot on the streets with about 10,000 people around us. I seem to recall that he was even sent home early. I realized this was probably not going to end peacefully. However, I answered and said “well, since you asked, no I don’t believe they should eat pork.” It’s amazing how when you stand for righteousness how trouble finds you (2Tim 3:12). I never commented on what he was eating. I was just making sure I was living by my own convictions and those who were with our ministry. He looked at me and replied “Well, I enjoy my freedom in Christ” and proceeded to bite into a piece of his pepperoni pizza. In the immortal words of Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World, it was “game on.” After 10 minutes of me discussing what the Bible actually said about unclean foods and gently persuading him that he was unwittingly mistaken about his interpretation of certain passages, he began to indicate he was no longer interested in our friendly discourse (“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” to which the woman beside him elbowed him and responded “Shut up. I want to hear this.”) However, I was on a roll and decided he needed a little dose of his own medicine. I was finally convinced by a brother at the other end of the table since everyone was a spectator to our spectacle by now to stop before I made the poor man cry.
Now, I confess the flesh probably did enter into my response a little and perhaps just maybe I enjoyed his discomfort a little too much but when one is minding his own business and then gets slapped with the proverbial gauntlet, one needs to stand his ground. I’ve always maintained that I don’t necessarily set the rules of engagement but if you are going to set them, don’t complain when things don’t turn out the way you expected them too. Also, don’t bring a nerf toy to a gun fight.
I share this story because over and over I have come across people who not only insist on living according to their “freedoms” but insist you live by those convictions too and get upset and even hostile when you disagree. I had a gentleman from a denomination that I once served with threaten to have myself and my entire ministry “excommunicated” from the organization because I shared with him that I believed the moedim (feast days) were for all believers, not just Jews. His father was Jewish by the way. Although I emphasized that it’s not up to me to convict anyone, I believe what the Scriptures say when they are eternal, perpetual and everlasting ordinances. Why did he get so upset? Why do so many believers get upset when you disagree with them? It’s a complicated answer which I hope to adequately address.
In my over 20 years of walking with the Lord in a Messianic context, I have found the two issues people get the most riled up about are a) days of worship and b) food. Other theological issues can be discussed at length and disagreed on but when talking about these two in particular, you often get a visceral reaction because now you’re dealing with day to day life. If you and I differ on the timing of the rapture, well, we’re both still here so it’s not a reality yet. If we have different days that we worship though, one of us has to admit that we’re doing it wrong which most people have a hard time doing. Pride prevents people from being teachable. Additionally though, now changes have to be made to lifestyles which admittedly is not easy. If you suddenly realize that Sunday worship to replace the Sabbath is actually not sanctioned by Scripture and you are convicted to start worshipping on the 7th day, what happens if you work on Shabbat or the kids have hockey or dance that day? What if that has always been your shopping day? To change the day of corporate worship means upsetting the schedule which is an inconvenience. No one said following God was going to be easy. He tends to invade your life. “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;” (Gen 12:10)
Same goes for unclean foods. Finding out that God was speaking to Peter about men and not critters in his vision might make one change their mind about that shrimp cocktail or Christmas ham (we’ve dealt with Christmas in another article but the idea of celebrating the birth of the Jewish Messiah by eating something unclean is truly brain rattling). Except people object when they have to change their diets. Why do so many people fail at weight-loss attempts? Because old habits die hard and if you particularly enjoy bacon or clam chowder then having to admit you were wrong and then stop eating that thing you like so much is not easy.
So, in order to continue on in their rebellious ways and we need to call it for what it is, Christians must resort to [i]finding something in the Bible to justify what they do. And the favourite? Rom 6:14 “for you are not under law but under grace.” 23 bazillion Christians have told me this to explain why they don’t have to keep God’s commandments. Seems simple enough. The law is not over me, I am now under God’s unmerited favour and since Yeshua died on the cross and said “It is finished,” He abolished the commandments to set me free. I have of course thrown in about 4 different Scripture references but this is the leap that is made to enable them to do what the Torah specifically says not to do.
In order to adequately respond to this, we must first look at the whole verse and then the context that it was written in. Starting in verse 12 Paul tells us “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Immediately, those who practice anti-nomianism (against the law) are confronted with a problem. The whole paragraph and indeed all of chapter six of Romans is dealing with not sinning anymore. If the Torah is done away with then we don’t even have anymore sin. To not be under the law would mean freedom to do whatever the “hell” I want and that’s exactly where lawlessness ends up. But Paul is not saying we’re freed from the commands; he’s saying we’ve been freed from sin by dying to it. Death means separation and when you died to self you were separated from the old nature and the sin that bound you up. You’ve been freed not only from something but to something and that is holiness. I really appreciate how Joel Stucki states it “The difference is not that one covenant has a law and the other does not. The difference is the Old Covenant forms people in holiness from the outside in, and the New Covenant forms them from the inside out. This is where it’s important to grasp the purpose of the Law, so we don’t get bogged down in specifics.” If Torah was nailed to the cross and abolished as many claim (in direct contradiction to Mat 5:17 where Yesuha specifically states He did not come to abolish it) then we have nothing to condemn our behaviour anymore as sin has been abolished. Yet so much of the New Covenant speaks of not sinning after you’ve accepted Yeshua and John tells us that sin is lawlessness.
In addition, we have to understand what Paul is actually meaning when he says we’re no longer under the law. 2000 years ago, being under the law meant under the weight of its condemnation. It meant you violated Torah and were convicted by it. When Paul says we’re not under it anymore, he meant that it has lost its ability to condemn us because of the grace of Messiah. Nowhere does he infer that we’re free from obeying Torah. Quite the contrary, the Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) enables us now to keep Torah because He a) wrote it on our hearts and b) forgives us because of our acceptance of Yeshua’s death. A friend once said “Grace is for the observance of the law, not ignoring it altogether.” Paul says in Rom 8:1 that there’s no condemnation for those in Messiah. We’re not “under the law” because we’re not condemned by it. Grace has given us the ability to be free from sin, not fully embrace it because we don’t think it applies anymore. Heb 10:26-28 couldn’t state it more clearly “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” You cannot go on willingly sinning and expect God to keep forgiving you. Put another way, Allistair Begg once said “Disobedience has implications. Don’t try and explain your disobedience in the immediacy either. Don’t think for a moment that your disobedience on a straightforward command of God is something that is an existential encounter. It has ramifications. It will have for you, it will have for those who love you, it will have for those who live under your influence. God is not mocked.”
What about when Paul tells the Corinthians that “all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable?” (1Cor 10:23) He is referring to all things under the law. The context was the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. You can eat meat sacrificed to idols because we know idols are not real and they have no power over us. However, for the sake of witnessing to an unbeliever or a new believer weak in the faith, he says to avoid meat if eating it will cause someone else to stumble. He is not saying that what was prohibited by Torah is now all of a sudden acceptable. He states in Acts 24:14 “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets;” How could he make that claim if he advocated breaking the Torah?
Another way of looking at all things are lawful is that everything that we do is covered under the law. If we obey the commandments, we are blessed. If we break them, there are consequences. Therefore, technically everything is lawful but nor for our good. If we go against what the law says, we are disciplined.
Paul tells us the law is good, holy, righteous and even spiritual. It is God’s standard of love for both Him and one another. Verses used to justify breaking it are taken out of context such as Peter’s vision in Acts 10 (talking about people, not food) or Mark 7:19 where Yeshua declared all foods clean (speaking of hand washing, not what kind of food they ate) and many more. We know we can’t keep the whole law as nobody except Yeshua ever could and we also know that many commands cannot be applied today as they pertained to either the priesthood, the Temple or even the distribution of the land amongst the various tribes. However, the ones that we can keep we must endeavour to do so by the leading of the Ruach who will guide us. Everyone must work out his own salvation in fear and trembling. By dismissing the Torah by saying we’re not under it anymore means we have no fear of God which is a foolhardy position to take for anyone. Our heavenly Father takes a dim view of those who break His rules.
Rabbi Darryl Weinberg