May 2 (Reading for May 2-8: Romans 14). Part 2 of devotional taken from my second book. The full text of our reciprocal principle states: “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” (Rom. 14:13). What did Paul mean by a stumbling block? The stronger brother believed that since the questionable activity, or practice, had no spiritual significance, he was free to do it. But when he ate, he created a situation that caused his weaker brother to fall; thus, a stumbling block. We will stay with Paul’s example of food, but we can also substitute other examples that are more relevant to our day and time. When the stronger brother ate the food, the weaker brother saw him and also ate, thinking that it would be alright since his brother had eaten it. Then his conscience kicked in and he was convicted of sin because he still believed the food to be forbidden. In this case, the stronger brother had contributed to the sin of the weaker one. Paul said that the stronger brother was not “walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15). The lesson is that Christians are not always free to do whatever they want. They abstain from some things, not always because they think those things are bad, but because they do not want to cause their brother to stumble.
We do not want to miss Paul’s main point. It is NOT how to deal with disputed matters in the church. The truth that we learn here is that we must NOT allow such matters to lead us to judge one another! I have seen legalism in the church that caused the people to be more concerned over non-biblical, disputable issues than they were over living according to the “one another” principles. Loving and forgiving one another and not judging one another took a back seat to making sure that people observed the unwritten rules that had been established in the local church culture. It is dangerous for the church when legalism creates a rationale for judging and criticizing one another.
Paul gave practical advice about the disputed matters: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Rom. 14:22, NIV). His conclusion on this matter is convincing: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Paul was not as concerned about who was right or wrong, as much as he was concerned about the relationships that exist in the church, and the gospel that will be proclaimed when we love one another. It was in this context of being nonjudgmental over opinions that Paul wrote the principle: “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). Pursue is also rendered “let us therefore make every effort” (NIV). We make every effort to build one another up and not have a judgmental spirit that will tear down the work of God in us and through us!
– Al Gary