Sometimes You Gotta Eat a Plain Bagel Plain

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Saturday, November 21, 2015 0 comments

by Nathan Buck

When I first started following Jesus, I learned a profound lesson about the difference between things everyone should do to honor God, and things we may personally choose (or need) to do to keep our lives pure.

My best friend Chad would occasionally come out with a witty phrase whenever people would ask him why he was doing something. On one occasion when we had gone out to get something to eat, he ordered a plain bagel. The server asked if he wanted butter or cream cheese. He said, "Neither. Just plain is fine."

I looked at him with what I am sure was a VERY puzzled look, because I had never observed someone actually choosing to try and hork down a dry, saliva sucking bagel plain. I said, "Are you gonna at least put jelly on it?" And he replied, "Brotha, sometimes you just gotta eat a plain bagel plain." And he did.

I realized later the significance of Chad's choice. I didn't know him in high school. I didn't see the transformation he went through physically, and the discipline he had put himself under in order to get healthy. But I knew the story. And I knew that his choice to eat this bagel plain had something to do with a season of personal discipline he was following in order to honor Jesus.

Read Romans 14:1-9. Take particular notice of how Paul tries to help us separate core matters of obedience to God, and those things we may do as a matter of conscience or personal discipline. He also tries to help us make room for how others honor God, without judging one another based on what we feel free to do. These are not moral absolutes, but rather habits and behaviors we may do that help us obey God - matters of conscience.

And it is as simple as Chad's example. If we both ate bagels at the same time, and I chose to put cream cheese and jelly on mine, I was not sinning. Neither was Chad, in eating his plain. If I saw the value of his personal choice and chose to join him in his personal discipline, again I would not be sinning.

But if I accused him of being silly and judged him by what I knew I was free to do, then I would be sinning. Why? Because I would not just be judging his choice for restraint, I would be condemning his choice to offer that self-discipline as an act of worship to God. Likewise, if Chad judged my choice for cream cheese and jelly, he would be judging my freedom and the thanks I gave to God for being able to eat the bagel for enjoyment.

In the early church and still today, there are many ways in which people choose to worship, to pray, and to help them focus their lives on obeying God. These things should never be spiritualized to the point where we judge one another for doing them a certain way. Because even though our position may be correct and our perspective clear, so may it be for the people we are confronting. And by accusing them of doing wrong or not having enough faith, we judge their intentions and ridicule their obedience to God.

The experience I had with Chad over bagels was one that impacted me. In certain seasons where I need more personal discipline, I recognize the value of adding a physical restraint of action or pleasure, in order to expose my motives and focus my desires on God instead of self.

I invite you to consider your walk with God and whether you need some personal disciplines. I also invite you to consider whether you are living under religious rules and need God to show you freedom. But most of all, I ask you to consider your attitude and perspectives toward other believers.

Are you judging others based on your sense of freedom? Are there other believers you are frustrated over that seem to get in the way of what you think needs to happen? Have you (and have they) elevated these 'preferences' to a level where you are assuming the motives and accusing others of disobedience?

You should be clear on what is sin. Know the things God commanded us never to do and never to participate in. And also know where there is freedom, even for choosing personal restraint.

Whether it is to clear our conscience or to keep ourselves from being tempted to indulge in things that will cloud our mind or health, sometimes we do need to eat a plain bagel plain. And other times we can celebrate our freedom to enjoy a bagel the way we like it. Wisdom comes in knowing when we should do each. Freedom comes when everything we do is with a passion to obey and draw near to God.

Our relationships will display the unity of God's Spirit among us when we keep matters of conscience in perspective for ourselves and for those around us. How are doing with this in your local community? Are you arguing over preferences and spiritualizing your position?

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