Grace For The Journey
How are Christians to get along with one another when they come from such diverse backgrounds? This is not just an issue for the manner in which churches from different nations or regions relate to each other. For a church such as First Baptist in which there are diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds among its members, this can be a very personal issue. There are many matters that are not directly addressed in the Bible, and conflict can arise over differences in personal standards. How are those conflicts to be resolved when there is not a clear Scriptural solution as to which standard is right and which one is wrong? I think it should be easy for us to consider that both personal standards could be wrong, but could both standards be right? How Christians get along with each other in the midst of these kinds of conflicts will be a reflection of their spiritual maturity and love for Jesus Christ and one another.
We began our study of this topic yesterday. In that study we saw that . . .
The church is not an institution of man
And therefore it is not free to make up
Standards of conduct as it desires.
The church is a spiritual organism
Created by God for His glory
As the Body of Christ,
And therefore it must be defined,
Structured, and allowed to live,
Grow, and function only
According to His instructions.
The Bible alone sets out for
The church what we must believe
And how we must behave.
To go beyond that is to sink into the same error of the Pharisees at the time of Jesus. They believed they were doing God’s will, but in fact, they had exchanged the doctrines of God for the precepts of men. Jesus condemned them for it (Matthew 15:9).
In our study yesterday of the first 12 verses of Romans 14 we saw four reasons why the Christian is not to judge and condemn other believers over personal practices, and instead, both the “strong” and the “weak” are to accept each other. First, God accepts both – verse 3. Second, each is God’s servant and He sustains both – verse 4. Third, each is to live for the Lord – verses 5-9. Fourth, God is judge of both – verses 10-12. Today we will continue our study of Romans 14. Here again we see Paul’s instruction to not judge and condemn, but rather to accept one another even when there are differences in personal practices.
The basis of his argument in verses 13-23
Is that there is in fact differing standards
Of righteous or sinful practice for different people.
In other words, the standards of good and evil
Do vary among different people.
This is not a reflection of any changing
Standard in God’s character or His instructions to us,
But rather a recognition of the variances in
Background, understanding and maturity among believes.
The Command Stated.
Verse 13 says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” The “therefore” at the beginning of the verse takes you back to Paul’s arguments in the first 12 verses, which we have already reviewed. In view of the fact that God accepts both the “weak” and the “strong;” that both are God’s servants and He sustains both; that each is to live for the Lord and that God is judge of both the “weak” and the “strong,” then we are not to judge each other.
The “weak” refers to those who are weak in their understanding of the full freedom that is granted in the gospel message. The “strong” are those who have a greater understanding of the freedom we have in Christ. They have a faith that will allow them to do things that the “weak” believe they cannot do.
The word “judge” here is a word which is used in the sense of condemning one another. The “weak” tend to judge the “strong” as participating in “worldly” things. They considered the “strong” as being less holy and less concerned about holiness than themselves and therefore less useful to God. The strong tend to judge the weak as being legalistic and lacking in mercy and grace and therefore being less useful to the Lord. Neither the “weak” nor the “strong” are to judge one another in such condemning ways.
Instead of judging one another in such a negative manner, Paul brings out the word play on “judge” here, “but judge this rather.” Instead of judging one another in the sense of condemnation, your judgement, in the sense of the resolution and determination of your mind, should be – “do not put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” This is in the command voice.
An “obstacle,” is something that would cause you to trip. A “stumbling block” is the snare of a trap. We are not to put something in our brother’s way that would cause him to trip or to be entrapped. The idea of an obstacle or a snare is used to express the idea of something that would cause a stumbling into or being caught in sin. Jesus warned that such stumbling blocks would come, but woe to the man by which they came (Matthew 18:7; 1 John 2:10). 1 John 2:10 tells us that there is no cause for stumbling by one abiding in the Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul speaks to this same issue making a statement in verse 9 that clarifies what he is talking about here, “But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Those strong in faith must be careful in the practice of their freedoms lest they cause their brother to stumble into doing something that would be sin for him.
Some might object that this unfairly places more responsibility upon the “strong” than the “weak.” It is true that the strong have more responsibility in this than the weak, but that is not unfair. If we use the synonyms “mature” and “immature” for “strong” and “weak” we quickly see that this is only reasonable. The mature in faith do have more responsibility than the immature in faith.
Others might object that this sounds like the “strong” have to give up their freedoms in order to appease the “weak.” This is not done to appease the “weak,” but out of love for them and a desire not to be a cause of their sinning. As we shall see here in the next verse, the “weak” do not have the freedom to practice what the strong do without sinning. A “strong” believer can do something without sin, but a “weak” brother doing the same thing would sin.
The Principle Stated.
Verse 14 states. “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Paul states two important principles here. First, by divine revelation Paul, who had previously been a Pharisee, knew that nothing is unclean in itself. This is what had been revealed to Peter in Acts 10 when the Lord told him three times in a vision that included animals declared unclean by the Mosaic Law to “kill and eat.” What God had cleansed, was no longer to be considered unholy. This opened the door to the Gentiles for salvation. Paul states the same principle in 1 Timothy 4 stating that it was a doctrine of demons to “forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” Jesus was also plain on the point that it was not what a man ate that would defile him, but what proceeded from his evil heart that defiles (Mark 7:18-23).
There is freedom in Christ. As Paul said in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” This does not mean that we are free to do anything we want, for we are still bound by the commands of Christ and the principles and precepts that flow out of them. There is still the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2) and we are to teach each other to observe all of our Lord’s commands (Matthew 28:20). However, we are no longer bound by all the Old Testament ceremonial laws. We already saw in our study of Romans 14:6-7 that we are free to regard or not regard one day as more important in worshiping the Lord than another. We are free of the many different dietary restrictions. We can either eat and give thanks to the Lord or not to eat and give thanks to the Lord.
The second important principle here is that what one person is free to do, another person would sin in doing the same thing. There are differing standards of sinful conduct for different people. Even though an object may actually be clean, if a person considers it to be unclean, then for them, it is unclean and would therefore be sin for them to partake of it until such point their conscience is changed. Again, that change of mind and conscience can only properly be done through the Word of God (Romans 12:2). If you do not feel comfortable doing something, then do not do it or you will violate your own conscience. But you must also remember that if your conscience is restricted from participating in a practice not specifically prohibited by a New Testament command or principle, then you do have the right to condemn those who do not share your personal convictions. You might still challenge other people about why they do what they do, but in doing so, you must also be open to learning from them the freedom that Jesus has given them.
Living by the Principle.
In verse 15 Paul specifically addresses the “stronger” brother and the manner in which they are to put into practice this principle of not putting an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother’s way, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” The “stronger” brother is to love the weaker brother and visa versa. It is out of this love that the “stronger” brother does not want to hurt the “weaker” brother. The word “hurt” here is means to “grieve,” or “make sorrowful.” It would not be loving to purposely cause such emotional turmoil. Even more so, a loving Christian does not want to use his liberty to destroy another believer. “Destroy” here carries the idea of “ruin,” and “loss of well-being.” Destroying someone is a very unloving action.
What is this hurt, this destruction Paul is speaking of? Again 1 Corinthians 8:8-12 clarifies, “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” In the pagan practices of worship, an animal would be brought to be sacrificed, and then a portion of that meat would be eaten as part of the worship of that pagan god. The pagan priests could not themselves always eat all the meat that was left over from these sacrifices, so they would sell it. Sometimes such meat would be sold inexpensively. The mature Christian knows, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 8:4,19-20, that the idol is nothing and neither is the thing offered to the idol. But, he adds in verse 7, “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.”
Some of those coming out of paganism would view such meat as participating in the worship of those pagan gods. Their conscience would be defiled because they would believe they were sharing in the worship of the demons those pagan gods represented.
The hurt and destruction here would come from encouraging the “weak” to do something that they believe is unclean. Because of that belief, their participation in it would be sin. Christians do not want to be the cause of another Christian sinning because they love each other. The specific example here is of eating meat offered to idols, but the principle extends to all of what we often refer to as “gray” areas. It could be a food issue, but it could also be something else. Paul goes on in verse 16 and 17 to further explain to the “stronger” brother the necessity for them to love their “weaker” brother and at times voluntarily limit their freedom.
Keeping the Priorities.
Verses 16-17 declare, “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 righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Notice that Paul does not condemn the practice of the “strong” here or anywhere else. He specifically calls their practice something that is a “good thing” for them. Our freedom in Christ is a wonderful blessing, but it should not be used in any manner that would cause harm to other believers or be a cause of others to accuse us of evil.
The admonition here is the same as in 1 Corinthians 8:13. I am to love my brother more than any particular practice because the kingdom of God is not about dietary laws and such. Just because I am free in Christ to do something does not mean that it is the best thing to do or even a good thing to do. It could be a bad thing to do in the context of particular circumstances. The kingdom of God is about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, not about whether you are “strong” or “weak” in the use of your freedoms in Christ.
Living for and worshiping God does not consist
Of your personal rules of conduct which
May or may not match God’s commands.
It consists of living daily in righteousness
Reflective of God Himself.
It is living in Godly wisdom
Under the control of the Holy Spirit
Who produces the fruit of
Righteousness in your life.
This in turn produces the peace and joy that only the Holy Spirit can bring, for they are part of His fruit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Because I love other believers, I am to gladly limit my freedoms for the sake of a “weaker” brother. I will not entice or encourage a “weaker” brother to practice something against their conscience and so have what is a good thing for me become an evil thing for him.
Because I love God, I am to gladly limit my freedoms for the sake of His Kingdom. I refrain from practicing what the community in general would consider bad, and by doing so I prevent them from speaking of what is good as something evil. This is part of what Paul was speaking about in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. He would become all things to all men that he might by all means save some. If he disregarded their cultural standards, he would never get a hearing for the gospel. He sought to avoid unnecessarily offending the non-believer by his practices (1 Corinthians 10:32).
He would adapt to their customs and practices
As much as possible without ever
Compromising his own convictions.
The only offense should be the Gospel itself.
What is the reward for those who are “strong” in faith but limit their freedom? Verse 18 states, “For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” First, understand that in living this way it is serving Christ. I have consistently found that those who insist on living according to their own standards of freedom usually have little concern for their weaker brother, and they will sacrifice very little in their supposed service for Christ. They generally only will do what is convenient and of personal interest to them. They are rarely willing to make any real sacrifice for Christ or others. When a “stronger” brother voluntarily limits his freedoms for the sake of others, they build up those in the Body who are weaker, and this strengthens the witness of the church. Such a believer has been tested and found acceptable to God and approved by men.
The “stronger” brother then is to do what Paul says in verse 19., “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” These two motives should determine our actions toward other believers. Peace is much more than an absence of conflict. It is rather the presence of harmony. That harmony comes about as believers are united in spirit and share the same mind, love, and purpose (Philippians 2:2), but none of this can occur without the resolution of the conflicts that occur because of differing ideas and purposes. The resolutions of those conflicts are based on mutual love for the truth and one another. Speech is restrained to say only what is good for edification according to the need of the moment in giving grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).
Our freedoms in Christ, like our spiritual gifts,
Are given to us for the purpose of using them
To help one another become more like Jesus.
Paul admonishes again in verse 20, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.” Your freedoms become evil to the extent that your unrestrained exercise of them tears down the work of God in others. Again, Paul specifically points out that all things are indeed clean, so he is not talking about those things that are contrary to Christ’s commands. But even those things that are not sinful themselves and which Christians do have liberty to practice can be a cause of evil when they cause a “weaker” believer to do something contrary to his conscience and therefore sin.
In verse 21 Paul explains that, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or [to do anything] by which your brother stumbles.” Voluntary restraint in those areas in which your “weaker” Christian brother might stumble is a good thing. In 1 Corinthians 8:13 Paul even went so far as to say, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.” The self-restraint the “stronger” believer shows is not to be a demonstration of how much power the “weak” has over him, but rather a demonstration of how much love he has for the weaker believer.
Let me quickly add here that a “weaker” brother who demands that you restrict your freedoms when he is not tempted to participate with you is not actually weaker, he is pharisaical. For example, a pastor friend had deacons in his church that demanded that everyone who became a part of their church take an oath that they would never partake of an alcoholic beverage even though there was no way in which you could have enticed, bribed, or forced them to ever drink themselves. They claimed to be “weaker” brothers on the issue, but they were pharisaical, not weaker. It is good when Christians love each other enough to consider the actual weaknesses of the other believers around them and then to restrain their own freedom in the effort to keep from causing one of them to stumble into sin.
The particular example used throughout this passage is eating meat offered to idols. In this particular case, the mature Christian would refrain from serving such meat to a “weaker” brother, for that would that would be a direct temptation for him to do something against his conscience. A more mature Christian might also refrain from eating such meat in the presence of a “weaker” believer, depending on the individual, because he would not want to encourage him by his example to do something he does not have freedom to do.
While eating meat offered to idols is not an issue in our society, there are many other “gray” areas in which this same principle does apply directly including many “hot” topics of contention among Christians.
- Can a Christian drink wine or beer?
- What kind of music is acceptable for entertainment?
- What kind of music is acceptable for worship?
- What about movies, TV, and the theatre?
- What standards should determine what you see?
- How should Christians dress in public?
- How should Christians dress in Church?
- What hair styles are acceptable?
- How much of your income should you spend on what?
- How much should you give to support the church?
- Is dating right?
- If so, how old do your kids have to be before they can date?
- How many children should you have?
- How should you discipline your children and for what?
- What is the proper way to educate them?
- May Christians dance, and if so when, where, and what kind?
- What about Christians who smoke or chew tobacco?
- How much candy and other “junk” food is a Christian allowed to have?
- What day should you worship the Lord?
- What activities are allowed on the Lord’s day?
This list of “gray” areas could get very long. There are Biblical principles that can apply to each to help us figure out the parameters of what is proper before God and develop convictions, but there can be a lot of variation in the convictions that different Christians will have. In addition, it is not always easy to deal with one another when our personal convictions do vary. Yet, we must strive to build each other up in Christ instead of tearing each other down by the practice of our freedoms.
We must keep in mind that the foundational principle for all that Paul has been saying in chapters 12,13, and 14 is that we are to be living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God.
The Christian life is not about having
Your wants and desires satisfied,
But rather about fulfilling God’s will.
There are times when even the legitimate satisfaction of your wants and desires must be sacrificed to fulfill something more important in the will of God. Showing self-restraint so as not to be the cause of a brother stumbling is one of those times.
In verse 22 Paul points out the joy that the Christian with a strong faith can have because of their freedom in Christ, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” Notice first that the faith that you have, to either do or not do some activity, is based in your own convictions before God. You are not to base your practices on the convictions of others, nor are you to restrict the practices of others based on your convictions. Each believer is to behave based on their own convictions before God.
Notice as well that our freedom in Christ is not based in our desires, but in our faith as we develop our convictions before God. Some people think they are free to do anything they want until someone shows them a specific Bible verse that their practice is sinful. That is not true. There is the general truth that as a new Christian reads the Bible and increases in their understanding of God and His will that they will find that many of their practices are sinful and so they will stop them. However, their practice was still sinful even when they were ignorant. In addition, as mentioned earlier, the principles of God’s commands must be applied as well as the specifics. For example, the Bible does not talk specifically about copyright law, but it does prohibit stealing. That principle applies to copyright violations which are in fact theft of someone else’s property.
Paul’s emphasis here though is the opposite. As a person grows in Christ and in their understanding of God’s character and will, they will develop new convictions that allow them greater freedom in their personal practices. They will exchange their personal convictions, often culturally based, for Biblical convictions. Increasing freedom is actually based in developing Biblical convictions to replace cultural ones. As a believer does this, they still must be sensitive to those who are still bound by personal and cultural mores. You do not want to be a cause of a “weaker” Christian doing something they do not yet have freedom to do.
Warning to the Weak.
In verse 23 Paul gives further warning to the “weaker” brother, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because [his eating is] not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.“ This is really the same point Paul made earlier in verse 14. The principle is succinctly stated in the last phrase. Whatever is not from faith is sin. Though the truth may be that a particular practice is acceptable to God, if the individual has doubts about it, it would be sin for him to do that practice even if others are doing it. Never do something just because other people are doing it. If you do not have faith before God that something is the proper thing to do, then you must not do it. Develop your convictions by the Word of God first, for only then can you truly discern what is right and wrong before God, and only after that can you truly exercise your freedom in Christ.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”