13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.
15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.
21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. (NIV)
We begin today with a story. I was traveling a few weeks back, and stopped for dinner at a seafood restaurant on Mobile Bay (Alabama). I was sitting at a table alone. After a few minutes two men came in with a young boy and were seated at the table next to me. The boy must have been around 8 or 9. They look like they had all spent the day fishing out on the bay. The two men ordered beer, which was served in brown glass bottles. And the young boy ordered an IBC Root Beer, which, as you may know, is also served in a brown glass bottle. Now I might be making a bad assumption, and I might be too judgmental, but I thought to myself: “That boy doesn’t want a root beer, he wants a brown glass bottle so he can be just like the two men he’s sitting with.” What are the future implications for this young boy who is growing up with men who drink beer and encourage him to walk as close to the edge as is legal? Will he be one of the 16,000 people in the United States each year who is either killed or kills someone else driving drunk? The moral of this story: You might not realize the number of eyes who are watching you. And some of those eyes might be holding you up as an example for their own lives.
I not only have a responsibility for my own personal holiness, but I also have a responsibility to have a positive impact on the holiness of other people around me. In Romans 14:13, Paul advises the Christian who is strong in their faith that they should not put a stumbling block or an obstacle in their brother’s way. “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (NIV) This is not talking about something done with a malicious intent. This is talking about the liberty that a Christian has who is strong in the faith. Your liberty can be a problem for an immature Christian. In verse 13, Paul mentions two different ways that the liberty of a mature Christian can be a problem to the weaker Christian.
First, the liberty of the mature Christian could become a stumbling block for the weaker Christian. The word “stumbling-block” is the Greek word “proskomma.” It means something that you might stub your toe on in the night. Something that might hurt for a minute but does no significant or long-term damage. For instance, the freedom of a mature Christian to drink a glass of wine with dinner might cause another Christian who is convinced that all alcohol is wrong to also drink a glass of wine. Romans 14:14 tells us that this would be a sin. “But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.” (NIV) But it might not make them into a drunkard. They may stumble once because of your influence, but then pick up and move on.
Second, the liberty of the mature Christian could become an obstacle for the weaker Christian. The word “obstacle” is the Greek word “skandalon,” which means a “trap” or a “snare.” We get our word “scandalize” from this word. While I still do not believe that intention of the stronger Christian is malicious, there are actions which a stronger Christian might take which could ensnare a weaker Christian. That is, the action might well have a significant and long-lasting impact. Take for example the glass of wine again. A mature Christian’s freedom to have a glass of wine with dinner could influence another weaker Christian to become drunk or even a lifetime alcoholic.
As a mature Christian, it is our job to consider the implications of whatever we do on how we might affect others around us. I am constantly reminded of this as a parent. Truthfully, I do not eat my vegetables very well. And I will frequently say that I don’t like this, or I don’t like that. My children will immediately pick up on this and echo my sentiments, even though I know full well that they like broccoli. My negative influence causes them to stumble.
At this point, someone might be thinking to themselves something like this: “Great, now I can’t do anything I want to do because it might have a negative influence on someone else. Why should I even be concerned about another Christian? Can’t they take care of themselves? How could my actions have any real impact on the holiness of others around me?” When you ask these types of questions, you have put yourself into the same category as another famous (or perhaps I should say “infamous”) person in the Bible, who asked this question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9 NIV) Do you remember who asked this question? It was Cain. And do you remember when he asked this question? He had just killed his brother Able. So, do you also intend to feign ignorance before God as you are in the process of destroying your brother or sister in Christ?
As we consider verses 15-21, we can find several reasons why we need to be responsible in our actions so that we can have a positive impact on the holiness on others around us.
First, if you distress your brother or sister in Christ by the exercise of your freedom, you are not acting in love toward them. This is seen in the first half of verse 15. “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.” (NIV) The word “love” here is the familiar Greek word “agape.” So my interpretation of this is that if our liberty distresses our brother or sister in Christ, then we are not practicing self-sacrifice, or to use a different term, we are being selfish.
Second, the exercise of your freedom in Christ may destroy your brother or sister in Christ. We read at the end of verse 15 “Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” (NIV) Jesus Christ died on the cross for the person who is weak in the faith just as much as he died for the person who is strong in the faith. The death of Jesus Christ brings life to those who were in bondage to sin. Will you act in such a way to bring your own brand of bondage to the weaker Christian?
Third, there are things which you may do which are completely righteous, but these things may become unrighteous because they may cause a weaker Christian to stumble or fall. This idea is found in verse 16. “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.” (NIV) It is your responsibility to make sure that this does not happen. The verse is in the form of a command.
Fourth, verses 17 and 19 give us several words to describe what the kingdom of God entails: righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit, and mutual edification. We are to strive for these things which satisfy our spiritual appetites. Not for food and drink, or any other worldly pleasure, which satisfies only our fleshly appetites. In the first part of verse 17, Paul writes “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking” (NIV). Compare this statement to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-21.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)
And again, read on to Matthew 6:33. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (NIV) All what things? The worldly things which you have need of: food, drink, and clothing.
Fifth, verse 18 tells us that when we forego the exercise of liberty if we risk offending our brother or sister in Christ, we are doing something that is pleasing to God and approved by men. “because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (NIV) The idea of being pleasing to God is a familiar theme to anyone who has read the previous principles on holiness. Our purity is a pleasing fragrance which ascends up to the throne of God (Ephesians 5:1-2). But what does it mean to be approved by men? The idea behind the word “approved” is a metal tried and refined by fire. When a person sees you act in such a way as to avoid offending a weaker Christian, it is the same as if they had seen you face a trial in your life and come though with flying colors.
Sixth, while there is nothing wrong with eating and drinking, there are more important considerations which are the responsibility of the Christian to take into account. One of these considerations is how my actions affect my brother or sister in Jesus Christ. Read Romans14: 20-21. “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” (NIV) Notice the word “better” in verse 21. We often think we are to strive for the “good”. Let me challenge you to instead strive for the “better.”
In conclusion, you may need to limit the expression of your freedom in Jesus Christ because your brother or sister in Christ can’t handle it. Here is an example of this principle. A church that I have been associated with in the past had a youth minister who saw no problem with seeing certain types of movies. Maybe he had the freedom to do so. That is between him and God. But his freedom encouraged the young students he worked with to also go see these movies. His freedom became a stumbling block to young Christians who were not old enough to understand, let alone view, the subject matter of some of these movies. During a Sunday evening sermon, he even said regarding one of these movies that it was fine for a 14 year old to see, but don’t let your nine or ten year old go see it because it is “too deep.” The movie happened to be “Rated PG-13 for drug content, thematic elements, crude sexual references and some violence.” (according to the MPAA). He’s absolutely right that it is not appropriate for a nine or ten year old to see. Nor is it appropriate for a 14 year old. It is probably not appropriate for a 21 year old or a 35 year old. His freedom is destroying other Christians.
By Berean Husband