Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but rightouesness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:16-17 NASB
Good thing – What is the emphasis of Paul’s statement? Is it on the “good thing”? When it comes to interpreting this verse, many exegetes act as if the most important element of the statement is the freedom found in the “good thing.” In other words, they would claim that Paul wants us to experience this “good thing” and not get caught up in what we eat and what we drink. Therefore, this verse is used to support an anti-kashrut theology (no dietary regulations). But is that what Paul is really saying?
Paul argues that righteousness, peace and joy are the goals of the Spirit and the objectives of the community. The kingdom of God doesn’t consist of regulations about eating and drinking. But don’t draw the conclusion that eating and drinking have nothing to do with the Kingdom. First concentrate on the most important matters. Those happen to be submission to God and compassion toward others. Paul’s point, in perfect alignment with Yeshua, is that we who follow the King are not acting as He would act if we seek the freedom to do as we wish. Freedom devoid of concern for others is not a good thing. If we employ what we call a good thing in such a way that it becomes a sign of the lack of righteousness, a cause for dissention and the absence of joy, then we have defeated what the Spirit intends. Our “good thing” becomes the occasion for calling what we do evil.
The point is this: righteousness, peace and joy should be the goal. Then no one can claim that what we consider good for us causes any breach in the community. Paul is not endorsing those who claim their freedom is good and therefore unimpeachable. It is not a good thing to do what those outside the community do. Gentiles who came into the believing community might have thought that their prior practices were perfectly acceptable since they now had a relationship with the one true God, but Paul says otherwise. Coming into the community means adapting to the ways of the community, and in this case, the community expressed its life through Torah observance. Following Yeshua HaMashiach means living in such a way that my behavior is acceptable to God and approved by men – not all men, obviously, but by those men who are also aligned with the Kingdom. This means the standard by which I live is not my so-called freedom or my assessment of my “good thing.” The standard is what promotes righteousness, peace and joy – and that is the exact purpose of Torah.
Righteousness is not defined by me. Righteousness is what God calls righteousness. Peace is what results from living in harmony with others, a harmony that implies common standards of behavior. And joy is the exuberance of being accepted by both God and men. None of this can happen if I use my “freedom” to oppose the ways of the fellowship. In our contemporary culture, where freedom is the sine qua non of human existence, we ignore the context of fellowship in an ancient Semitic culture. In that culture freedom is not the essence of humanity. Responsibility for others is what makes me human. And I can hardly express my humanity if I claim that I am free to live as I choose, unless, of course, I choose to be apart from the Semitic culture.
Topical Index: freedom, good thing, eat, drink, kashrut, diet, Roman 14:16-17