When was the last time you offended someone in the Church with something you said or did?
How far are we supposed to go in our efforts not to offend our brothers and sisters in Christ? What exactly is the meaning of terms such as “stumbling block” and “hindrance” as they are found in passages like Romans 14:13 (ESV)? Is there a point at which we should say something like, “Well, they’re just going to have to get over it, because it’s not wrong!!”?
When Paul - by inspiration of the Holy Spirit - penned his letter to the Romans, he dealt with this issue at length in chapter 14. Let’s examine a few key FACTS as we attempt to understand and apply this important issue in our lives:
FACT #1: There were people who were “weak in faith” (vs. 1) – In context, this was referring to Christians who: 1). Weren’t eating meat, and 2). Were observing special days (probably a reference to Jewish feasts, Sabbaths, new moons, etc. that were observed under the Old Law). In their mind, these things were either “right” (in the area of observing special days) or “wrong” (in the area of eating meat). What made these Christians “weak” was the fact that they had not sufficiently investigated God’s Word/will on these matters, and they were relying more on tradition, preference, or the word of men in their decision-making.
FACT #2: There were people who were “stronger in faith” – This is implied throughout this passage, in contrast to those who were weak in faith. These people realized, through careful study and interpretation of God’s Word, that it was perfectly acceptable to eat meat (vs. 3). They also realized that it was not necessary to observe these “special days” anymore. When it comes to the truth about these issues, they were exercising their “Christian liberty” in a way that was perfectly acceptable to God.
FACT #3: There were issues that were “matters of opinion” – It has always been the case (and continues to be the case) that there are issues of “law”, and there are issues of “opinion” in the observance of our faith. In the 1st century, the issues of “meat” and “special days” were some examples of these “matters of opinion”. In other words, it didn’t matter to God whether or not someone ate meat. It was perfectly acceptable to Him. It was also no longer necessary to observe any “special days” under the New Covenant; but if some of the Jewish Christians wanted to do this on their own, it seems to have been acceptable to God, under certain conditions (vs. 5-6). In other words, not everything was an “issue” to God!
FACT #4: These issues were NOT to divide God’s people – God knew that there would be disagreement between strong & weak Christians on these (and other) matters of opinion, and He makes several things very clear: 1). Strong Christians should “welcome” weak Christians, as opposed to rejecting them, or treating them like “second-class Christians” (vs. 1); 2). We should not “quarrel over opinions”, or spend time arguing over things that inherently don’t matter (vs. 1); 3). No one (strong OR weak) is supposed to “pass judgment” on someone else in regard to these issues (vs. 3-4, 10-13); and 4). God has “welcomed” both the strong and the weak Christian in matters of opinion (vs. 3-4). This is the overriding message of Romans 14: DO NOT allow these matters of opinion to cause problems within the Church!!!
Take a few moments and think about these facts from Scripture. Have we properly understood them as they apply in the 21st century Church, or have we conveniently forgotten this powerful teaching?
Next week, we will continue to examine this passage and we will dig deeper into exactly how far God wants all of us to go when it comes to offending our Christian family. Until then, be thinking about what some of the modern-day “matters of opinion” might be.
You might be surprised…