October 17, 2017
3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. … 21It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Romans 14:3, 21
Certain activities that do not violate the Word of God some Christians are free in their conscience to do, while the conscience of others does not allow them to do the same activity. Paul’s letter to the Romans reveals that this has been an issue requiring wisdom and love from the very beginning of the Church. How can God’s people conduct themselves in the freedom they have while not providing a stumbling block for others? For those whose consciences are more restrictive, what should be their attitude toward those for whom “all things are lawful”? It is apparent that love and respect are mutual obligations among us all. Paul cautions us to neither despise nor judge the other.
Yet, while not yielding his freedom to do what does not violate the Word of God, Paul calls for a quality even greater than freedom: love. Love obligates us not to exercise our freedom when it would knowingly do harm to the faith of another, that is, when it might encourage someone to act against conscience. The matter at hand in Rome referred to food and drink first offered to idols then sold in the marketplace. Since idols represented gods that did not exist, it was of no importance to Paul whether one ate and drank of that offering. It was important, however, not to let his freedom be a stumbling block for another Christian.
Those whose consciences allow for less liberty in matters of food and drink may be encouraged by these words of Jesus: “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, …. (Thus, he declared all foods clean.) … What comes out of a person is what defiles him…evil thoughts, etc… All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mk. 7:18-23.) At the same time, those whose consciences allow more liberty within the boundaries of God’s Word do well to heed Paul’s words: “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 1 Cor. 10:23. Freedom well-played is tempered by love that is willing to give it up for the sake of another.