Romans 14:20–23 (ESV)
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Even though Paul clearly says it’s OK to eat meat, he’s giving two cases where you shouldn’t. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. … But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith.
In other words, you mustn’t eat meat in front of someone who would be offended by it. Also, unless you’re absolutely sure about the doctrine you should abstain.
Once again, eating meat is just the example; we need to generalize this to apply it to our lives. And what Paul’s saying here is pretty strong stuff. If you’re doing something you know is OK, but it offends someone, you should stop—even if you think the offended one shouldn’t be offended.
Can’t that give control to someone who’s obviously in the wrong? Yes, and teaching them the correct doctrine can be a priority, but not necessarily the first time it comes up. Remember, the goal is always the glory of God and the sanctification of believers. If you have to cave once or twice to honor someone’s sensitivity, that’s often the right thing to do. Yes, that can be grating, but at least then they’ll listen to you when you get around to explaining things.
Of course, there are exceptions. Don’t conform if that means doing something wrong. Also, people can be manipulative. If they aren’t serious, don’t take them seriously.
But in general, we should make a rather curious sacrifice. Sometimes we need to honor people even when they’re wrong. That seems silly, but it’s not the biggest sacrifice we’re called to make. Just do it.
The other command sounds simple but actually has complex roots. There’s great liberty in Christ, but you can take it too far. Whoever has doubts is condemned if he ignores those doubts.
That’s because our conscience and the Holy Spirit are sometimes what stops us from doing something stupid. Forging ahead in the face of doubts is ignoring voices we should never ignore.
Learning to listen to the Holy Spirit is one of the keys to growing in Christ.
Discerning the leading of the Holy Spirit can be difficult. This passage teaches one of the easier aspects of that.
If you’re about to make use of some Christian liberty and you start having second thoughts, that means, “Think twice. Resist the urge to just keep going with what you had planned.” Respect your doubts.
That’s good exercise for building up your conscience. Think of it as, “Christian strength training.”
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