September 11, 2011
Romans 14:1-12

As a student at a small non-denominational Bible college, I recall a rather animated debate between two classmates on the issue of a Christian shopping at a grocery store that sold beer. One colleague argued that to frequent such an establishment was an implicit endorsement of the sale and consumption of beer. Indeed, it might be an occasion to cause a weaker brother to stumble. The other argued that it was impossible to find a store that didn’t sell something objectionable. Besides, even good things can be used for evil purposes.

Recent political campaigns have exposed a divide among people of faith. On the one hand, social conservatives assumed an anti-abortion stance, support for school prayer, government support for faith-based initiatives and sanctity of marriage issues were enough to sway Christian conscience toward those politicians who shared their concerns. Liberal social activists, on the other hand, indicated that opposition to the war and capital punishment were also pro-life issues. The need for a social safety net was seen as essential to a just society. These issues warranted Christian conscience supporting those candidates who shared their concerns.

Paul dealt with the problem of the weaker believer and meat offered to idols—hardly a significant issue in the culture wars of our day—but the principles he articulated are timeless and have their foundation in our focal passage today.

There are some basic assumptions, which are developed in the larger context of Romans 14. Paul suggests we learn to distinguish between matters of command and matters of freedom (Romans 14:14-20) No Christian would think it permissible for a believer to disobey a direct command or prohibition of Scripture such as “do not commit murder,” but the biblical witness is more ambivalent regarding a Christian’s duty in a time of war.

Paul encourages believers to “let all be convicted in their own mind” (Romans 14:5). In other words, each should develop his or her own convictions on debatable issues. What may be right for one Christian in a given context may be the occasion for stumbling by another believer facing a different set of circumstances.

The primary point of the discussion of meat offered to idols (meat that was used in pagan worship and then sold on the open market) seems to be that one is to allow fellow believers the right to determine their own convictions even when their convictions differ from one’s own. In the end, Paul reminds us “each of us will be accountable to God” (Romans 14:12).

There are several principles outlined in Romans 14 that are instructive for caring for the weaker brother, a Christian who is of uncertain conviction on a given issue who might use the liberty of another as an occasion for sin in his own life.

Paul reminds those who are strong—those who have definite convictions in areas of freedom of conscience—that they must be willing when necessary to limit their liberty according to the principle of love (Romans 14:12-23Romans 15:1-2). The stronger believer should not put a stumbling block in the way of the weaker one (v. 14:13). Paul warns against destroying with food, which would allow one’s good to become evil, and thereby tear down the work of God (vv. 14:15-16, 20). If the stronger brother or sister gives offense, he or she has contributed to causing a weaker brother or sister to stumble (v. 14:21).

The more mature believer is to model the kind of love that is willing to lay aside one’s own rights for the greater good of the body of Christ. The goal is to serve Christ, pursue peace and build up one another (vv. 14:18-19). Believers always should seek to reflect the spirit of Christ by being servants to one another (Romans 15:3-13).

Gary Friesen suggests in his book, Decision Making & the Will of God, that there is a difference between a weaker believer and a Pharisee. A weaker believer is sincere, but immature and has not yet had opportunity to fully develop personal convictions in areas of legitimate differences of opinion. A Pharisee is proud in his conviction that he is right and will take offense if anyone disagrees with his position. While Paul encouraged sensitivity to the weaker believer, Jesus grew increasing impatient and openly rebuked the legalism of the Pharisees.

Can a Christian dance, drink, go to movies, read novels or __________? (Fill in the blank with whatever is a doubtful thing in your fellowship.) Paul discussed the same issues in 1 Corinthians 10. While it may be permissible, is it beneficial and constructive (v. 10:23)? Will our exercise of freedom (or limitation of freedom) glorify God (v. 10:31)?

In a self-centered culture where it is popular to demand one’s rights, those who would be followers of Christ are called to live by a higher standard. We are to be peacemakers, and as in the title of a recent book to display a “generous orthodoxy.”

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