The diversity of the Church reveals the power of the Holy Spirit to bring dissimilar people into unity to build up the Kingdom of God. But all those different opinions and ideals also present unique challenges. The history of the church is filled with examples of conflict when those called of God, allowed self-interest to take precedence over God's purpose. Previously we examined the how our liberty in Christ presents opportunities for an even greater influence, if we use that liberty like Paul with an "all for the gospel" attitude.
But what about those who have already responded to the gospel? Too many times church members become internally focused; welcoming new believers with man-made rules that sound like this: "Glad you were saved, now get in line, do what you are told, and don't rock the boat". Not surprisingly scripture tells us God had something more edifying in mind when He called us to join the assembly of the elect.
Verse 13 "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way."
Note the possible ways we can affect each other:
We can cause others to stumble, we can grieve others or even destroy them Paul is addressing both the weak-in-the-faith whose excessive caution might make them fearful and legalistic; and the strong whose love of liberty might make them callous and careless. He tells both sides to avoid judging the other.
Verse 14 "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean."
Nothing is unclean by itself. Inanimate objects can be neither good nor evil because they do not have a mind or a will. They lack a capacity to do anything on their own. No foods are unclean, no days are unclean, no people are unclean.
The issue here is not only how does it affect me but if I do this, how will it affect my brother? Will what I do become a challenge to a virtuous faith filled life (make him stumble)? Will it grieve or even destroy him by encouraging him to sin? Every Christian has values, some are more mature than others. We should always think about the things we do and how it affects our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Is it really worth it to harm a brother or sister just so I can enjoy something?
Verse 15 "Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died."
When a mature believer is in the company of someone who may not be as strong in the faith and they recoil from some perceived danger, the mature believer has a choice . . . love for their own pleasure or love for the other person.
"Destroy him" can refer both to the body, and to the useful ministry of a believer. Our neighborhoods are filled with people who had some connection to the church until they faced a stumbling block and were offended.
The general context of this passage is unity in the Body of Christ. Our failure to honor another believer's conscience can, at times, compromise our relationship with him. The origin of the church is our relationship with Christ, and the harmony of the church depends on our relationships with each other.
Verse 16 "Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;
Verse 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Verse 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men."
Christians must have priorities, but at times, we have a way of majoring on the minor things. Churches have been divided over insignificant things when compared with the vital things of our faith. . . things like the location of the piano, the color of the carpet, the serving of snacks in Sunday School, the songs we sing, and when and how the offering should be taken.
It's not the externals but the eternals that should be first in our lives. If each of us would yield to the Holy Spirit, and major in living a godly life and really loving others, we would not see dissension, disrespect or disputes in the church.
Verse 19 "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another."
To edify is to build up, meaning God expects every one of us to make the church a better place for more people. Both the strong believer and the weak believer need to grow. The strong needs to grow in love, and the weak needs to grow in knowledge. The essence in Christianity is not found in external matters. It is what proceeds from our hearts that make us who we are. What is our focus . . . is it people's preferences or are we adding value to them through real Christian growth, righteousness, peace and joy.
Verse 20 "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.
Verse 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
Verse 22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves."
Young Christians or those who Paul calls the-weak-in-the-faith, need the kind of fellowship that will protect and cause them to grow. As they mature in the faith, they can help other believers grow also.
There may be times that a mature believer, in his heart and conscience, knows it's okay to do something, BUT if he is in the presence of a less mature believer, and it would cause that person to stumble in their walk with the Lord, the mature believer, out of love for the Lord and that person, should choose NOT to do it.
There are certain truths that all Christians must accept because they are the foundations of the faith. But areas of honest disagreement should not be made a test of fellowship. Do not try to force YOUR convictions on everybody else. No Christian can borrow another Christian's convictions, because unless he can hold and practice them by faith – he is sinning. Our liberty in the Lord should never hinder the work of God in the lives of others.
Verse 23 "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin."
We should remember that some Christians are stronger in their faith than others. Also remember, there is always someone stronger than YOU.
While we, out of compassion, limit our freedom for the sake of someone else's weakness, another Christian is doing the same for us. Or do you think you are the most mature person in your church? I hope not. That's a SURE sign of spiritual weakness. Everyone has room to grow. We should learn to maintain balance in our lives. The key here is there are moral principles that are universal, then personally were have convictions that are just as important in our own conscience but not as universal as our morality. It takes a mature person to put our own preference BEHIND the good of others. It takes supernatural grace for us to give others the freedom to be different without suffering our condemnation. It takes love to let others simply be who they are. If we find ourselves thinking less of another believer because he or she enjoys something that may be distasteful to us, we are most likely the weaker-faith person in that relationship.
- Why is it important not to judge each other in matters of personal conviction?
- Why don't we all have the same convictions?
- If convictions can be different, why are they still important for our own conscience?
- If convictions can be personal, how can morals be universal.
- Which of your preferences could cause another to stumble?