OFFENSES & STUMBLING
As we come to the latter part of Romans 14, it is a continuation of the previous section. They both deal with how we are to get along with other believers with whom we differ.
Do not judge one another
Do not cause another to stumble
In the previous section, we saw the command of Paul to stop judging one another. The strong were not supposed to judge the weak and the weak were not supposed to judge the strong.
Now the issue changes. Paul instructs us how we are not to cause another to stumble. This will be explained as we are called to limit our liberty so as not to lead those who are weaker into doing that which they feel is wrong.
THE PROBLEM OF STUMBLING
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. (Romans 14:13).
The translators have changed the wording so at to help clarify the meaning of the text and they have done a good job, but in doing so, there is a slight nuance that is missed. It is in the double use of the Greek word krinw. This word is used twice in this verse as Paul says: Therefore let us not JUDGE one another anymore, but rather DETERMINE this.
Don’t judge this
Not to cause another to stumble
The point is that there are some judgments we are required to make. But the focus of our judgment is not to be upon others. It is to be on ourselves and on our own actions. Jesus said the same thing when He spoke about removing the two-by-four from your own eye before you go trying to take out the splinter from someone else’s eye.
I am to judge my actions with a carefully discerning eye to see whether they cause another believer to stumble. That means my actions are no longer just between me and God. There are others that must also be considered.
STUMBLING AND THE NATURE OF UNCLEANNESS
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. 15 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. (Romans 14:14-15).
The issue that Paul raises now is the issue of the very nature of what makes a thing either clean or unclean. God created everything at creation and He was able to look at all of it at the end of the creation and say that it was all very good.
1. The Truth of Intrinsic Uncleanness: I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself (Romans 14:14).
Things are not intrinsically unclean. That isn’t a denial of physical dirtiness and it doesn’t mean that children no longer have to wash their hands for basic sanitation. What it means is that God created all things and that He did a very good job of it. Things are not intrinsically bad. It is only what we do with them and the meaning we assign to them that is bad.
A marijuana leaf by itself is not sinful. A cocoa plant is not an evil thing. The metal alloys that are used in a gun or a knife are not in themselves bad. It is how these things are used that leads to sin.
Sexuality is not a bad thing. God made us as sexual beings. But the way we utilize our sexuality can be bad if we do not use it in the way in which it was designed by our Creator.
Paul is not saying here that everything is allowed. Rather he is saying that things in and of themselves are not unclean. It is what you do with those things that involves either a way of sin or a way of righteousness.
Neither is Paul denying the inherent sinfulness of some actions. There are some actions that are clearly forbidden in the Scriptures. But that is not the subject with which he is dealing here. Instead, he is speaking of our use of Christian liberty and the problem that some people have with guilt even when no wrongdoing is involved.
2. The Problem of Perceived Uncleanness: But to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (Romans 14:14).
The problem with which Paul deals is not an intrinsic uncleanness, but a perceived uncleanness. It is the problem of the weak believer who does not realize that all things are clean and who looks at something that, in reality, is harmless, but who sees other Christians partaking of it and who partakes himself, even though he still thinks it to be morally wrong.
When you partake of that which you believe to be wrong, that partaking has become an act of sin, not necessarily because the action itself was wrong, but because your attitude was a sinful attitude in that you wanted to partake more than you desired the righteousness of God.
3. The Real Issue: 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. (Romans 14:15).
Food doesn’t matter a lot in the big scheme of things. I am not saying that you are supposed to be on a starvation diet, but eating meat or eating vegetables or eating kosher or eating ham sandwiches is not all that important. It is, as we like to say, “small potatoes.” There are more important things about which to worry. One of those more important things is that you walk in love and that you build up people instead of destroying them.
STUMBLING AND THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM
16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:16‑17).
I consider myself to be a fairly good driver. I worked for a lot of years with the fire department and for more than a few of those years I drove an emergency vehicle equipped with lights and sirens. I was never in an accident while going at a high rate of speed. I have to admit that I was in a couple of accidents while driving very, very slowly.
Nevertheless, my wife sometimes takes issue with my driving, especially when it is in a scenic area that calls for attention. I suppose that it is for good reason that she wants me to keep my eyes upon the road. Paul calls for the same thing, not regarding a physical highway, but the highway of the kingdom. He wants your attention to be on the kingdom and not on these side issues of eating and drinking, even though they might be good and acceptable.
Notice what is important in the big scheme of things. The kingdom is about righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Do those three qualities characterize your life? If they do not, then it is likely that you are also missing your connection to the Holy Spirit because they DO characterize the Holy Spirit. When you are filled with the Spirit, the fruit of that spiritual union will be made manifest.
DOING GOD’S WORK GOD’S WAY
The following verses give a list of principles that we are to follow as we serve the Lord. We are called to be His faithful workers and a part of that faithfulness involves doing that work as He commands.
1. Work for God is Approved: For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (Romans 14:18).
The “way” that is being described refers back to the previous verses where Paul called Christians to walk in love toward others. Loving others means that you take care not to allow them to stumble.
2. God’s Work is Unifying: So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another (Romans 14:19).
This is not the only time in the Bible that we are told to pursue peace. It is a regular and a reoccurring theme, going all the way back to Psalm 34:14. Peter cites that Psalm and quotes it word for word in 1 Peter 3:11. Likewise, the writer to the Hebrews says that we are to pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
In modern Hebrew, instead of saying, “How are you?” it is customary to say, "Ma Shlomkah" (How is your peace?). And if everything is going well, then a normal reply would be, "Shlomi tov" — My peace is good. That is the nice thing about the peace of Christ. When we have Him, we can truly answer, “My peace is good.”
Two things that do not normally go together in our minds are the qualities of righteousness and peace. But when we come to Christ, we find that "righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psalm 85:10). As a result, we are to extend that same righteousness and peace in our dealings with others.
3. God’s Work is not Destructive: 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. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles (Romans 14:20-21).
Just because there is no longer an issue in ceremonial cleanliness or in things being intrinsically good or evil does not mean that anything goes. There continue to be activities and practices that can be hurtful and divisive to the body of Christ, even though they are themselves permissible.
It is all a question of priorities. What is more important, the spiritual well-being of people, or one’s food and beverage menu? The answer is obvious and our priorities should be obvious, too.
You remember the story of Esau. His was the story of one who placed more
importance upon food than upon the things of the Lord. Genesis 25 tells the story of how he met up
with Jacob as he came in from the fields.
Jacob was there with a hot pot of stew.
We don’t know what was in it, but it was red because Esau said in
Genesis 25:30, “Let me have some of that red
stuff.” It became a byword for Esau’s
descendants because the term “red” is
The point of the story is that
4. God’s Work results in a Clear Conscience: The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves (Romans 14:22).
Paul calls for you to hold your convictions and to live according to them. That does not mean you cannot have your convictions trained by the Scriptures, but it does mean that you should hold to them and walk by them, even as you are undergoing such a training process.
Paul’s words also suggest that, as you have your own conviction before God regarding the various aspects of your liberty in Christ, you are not necessarily to try to force that outlook on others. They are to be your own conviction before God, not your own conviction before someone else. Paul explains the outworking of this principle in his epistle to the Corinthians.
27 If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience ' sake. 28 But if anyone should say to you, "This is meat sacrificed to idols," do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience ' sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience? (1 Corinthians 10:27‑29).
Here the issue was in the eating of meat that had been offered to idols. The case here is a bit different as it involves the interaction between believers and non-believers. Paul’s instructions can be summarized as follows: “Don’t ask; don’t tell.” Since there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the food, Christians were to feel free to eat. However, if the issue was brought up, then they were to refuse to eat it, not because it was intrinsically wrong, but because it might offend the conscience of others.
5. God’s Work operates from right Inner Motives: But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
This verse sets up a contrast. The one who doubts is contrasted with the one who does not condemn himself in the previous verse.
He who does not condemn himself
He who doubts
He is happy
He is condemned if he eats
He is acting in faith
He is acting out of accord with his faith
The person in this verse is one who has been tempted to follow the example of the stronger brother’s liberty with regard to his actions, yet without the same liberty of conscience. He sees his stronger brother doing something and he thinks it to be wrong but, because his stronger brother is doing it, he does it, too. The action that he is taking is not in itself sinful, but because his conscience tells him it is sinful and because he does it in spite of his conscience, it becomes a sinful act.
There are several important lessons that we can take from this.
• It is possible to train the conscience. The Bible makes mention of those who, in their hypocrisy and lies, have been seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron (1 Timothy 4:2). Conversely, Hebrews 9:14 tells us how the blood of Christ is able to cleanse one’s conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
The conscience is able to be redeemed and sanctified and educated. Once you have allowed the law to filter into your heart, your conscience bear witness, and alternately either accusing or else defending you (Romans 2:15).
• Motives matter. What you do matters, but it also matters why you do it. It is possible to do all the right things and still be in the wrong because you are doing those right things for the wrong reasons.
God is concerned with motives. When you come to the Bible, you come to that which is self-described as being able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
• Some issues are bigger than our theological boxes. Theologically speaking, there was nothing wrong in eating meat, no matter what its pedigree. But there was a bigger issue at stake. The issue was how it would affect those who were not theologically astute.
Paul calls, not merely for doctrinal correctness, but for an attitude of love that will put the needs of others before our own. I said that some issues are bigger than our theological boxes, but what this really means is that our theology has to be a lot bigger than we thought because God is a lot bigger than we thought and he is concerned with how people feel and not just what they do.