5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Perhaps we followers of the Lord could learn something from sports fans. I am a Duck and I know a Beaver or two. My Beaver friends don’t try to talk me out of being a Duck fan, nor do I boast about the superiority of green and yellow over orange and black. We are fully convinced in our own minds which team is best, and of course I would never suggest to my friends they are out of their mind. Some things are best left unstated.
Just as we football fans can root for one team while our friends root for a rival team, we Christians should be able to stay in close fellowship with one another while disagreeing on neutral issues. We yield to one another’s consciences on such matters. Indeed, it is vitally important that each person yield to his or her own conscience. As Paul will instruct in the last verse of this chapter, to violate one’s conscience is to bring judgment upon oneself.
Gospel not at stake in Rome
Paul regards these issues about days and eating or not eating meat in the Roman church as irrelevant to the gospel, so he is indifferent to their rightness or wrongness. The believers’ disagreements on these issues did affect their fellowship, however, so that is what Paul addresses. In contrast, believers in the Galatian church were observing “days and months and seasons and years” in a gospel-compromising manner that drew his sharp rebuke (4:10; see also Colossians 2:16 and 1 Corinthians 8).
“To the Lord”
The phrase “in honor of the Lord” in the ESV translation above is simply “to the Lord” in the Greek. Everything we do is to be done with our eyes on him. We eat, drink, serve, work, and play for his pleasure and benefit. Paul tells the conflicting parties in Rome to give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume that your brother who disagrees with you is nevertheless doing what he does sincerely to honor God.
The thanksgiving principle
Consider this principle: If we can sincerely thank God for anything we eat, drink, or do, and it is not specifically prohibited in God’s word, we are free to do that thing. However, for this principle to operate in a godly manner—for it not to spill over into libertinism—our conscience and mind must be instructed and renewed by the word of God.
A couple of additional qualifications come to mind. Our motivation must be to glorify God, not simply to satisfy our own appetites. And we must consider when we ought to curb our freedom to avoid needless injury to others. Thanksgiving can also be the fruit of self-denial.
On balance, we are on solid ground to give priority to Christian freedom. We should not let someone weak in faith bind our conscience. RC Sproul points out that Jesus broke with man-made traditions and “was accused of being a wine-bibber, a glutton, a friend of sinners and a Sabbath breaker.” We are to live as Jesus did and make pleasing God our priority.