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Acting In Love (14:13-23)

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Jesus said that the world would be able to recognize who His followers are by their love. “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

As followers of Christ we have to admit, with shame, that we have not always displayed the kind of love for one another that we should. Often times this lack of love for one another becomes apparent over matters of opinion. There are many things about which the Scriptures do not give specific instructions. The faith of some followers of Christ allows them to do certain things. Others, whose faith is not as strong, have a conviction against it. As humans, we have a tendency to condemn those who do what we do not approve. Similarly we tend to look down on those who have a scruple against doing things which we approve.

In chapter 14 of his inspired letter to the followers of Christ at Rome the Apostle Paul points out that our fellow believers are servants of Christ. It is not our place to judge someone else’s servant. All of us will stand before God’s judgment seat. Each of us will have to give an account for our own actions to God.

In chapter 14, verses 13 through 23 he goes on to say, “Therefore let’s not judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion for falling. I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself; except that to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love. Don’t destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Then don’t let your good be slandered, for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up. Don’t overthrow God’s work for food’s sake. All things indeed are clean, however it is evil for that man who creates a stumbling block by eating. It is good to not eat meat, drink wine, nor do anything by which your brother stumbles, is offended, or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who doesn’t judge himself in that which he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because it isn't of faith; and whatever is not of faith is sin.”

In this passage Paul gives us several principles which will help us to live in harmony with fellow believers who have different opinions than we do. He writes that we should decide not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in their way. In other words, we must determine not do anything which will tempt or cause a fellow believer to sin. This means that we will not pressure someone to violate their conscience. If they have a conviction against something, we will respect their scruple – even if we are convinced that their scruple is misplaced.

Secondly, we will be careful not to cause distress or set a wrong example by what we do. “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love...” (Romans 14:15 NIV) It’s worth noting that the word for ‘love’ in this verse is the kind of unconditional love which God has for us. We may think that we are acting on principle, but we are violating a greater principle if we are causing distress to a brother in Christ by what we do.

In another place Paul writes, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:9-13 NIV)

Another principle is to do what leads to peace and mutual edification (Romans 14:16-19). Though we may have different opinions or convictions about certain activities or practices, we are never to let those differences cause division. We are to get along with each other in peace. If a practice or a freedom is in danger of upsetting the harmony and peace with our fellow believers, then we need to restrict our freedom so that it no longer is a source of contention.

Notice that Paul mentions mutual edification. Regardless of our convictions about disputable matters, we can learn from each other. We have a tendency to dismiss those with whom we don’t agree. But it shouldn’t be that way. If nothing else, giving a respectful hearing to the other point of view can help us re-examine and refine our own convictions. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find out that our understanding of a particular issue isn’t as solid as we thought. We might even come to the conclusion that we’ve been wrong. When each person involved in a difference of opinion keeps the interests of the other person in mind instead of his own rights or preferences, both will benefit and grow in the Lord.

Why is doing what leads to peace and mutual edification so important? In verse 16 Paul says to not let what we consider good be spoken of as evil. If we argue about our differences of opinion and allow them to divide us, we miss the whole point. We start to put a higher priority on incidental issues instead of the things which are really important, that is, righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, which Paul mentions in verse 17. Instead of bringing people closer to Christ, our bickering will give people the opportunity to bad-mouth Christianity.

Just as it is possible to be overly scrupulous, that is having a conscience against doing things which are permissible, it is also possible to be too lax in what we approve. Even though something is allowed, it might not be beneficial. We need to always consider what would be best, not just for us, but for the other person. In another place Paul writes, ““Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 NIV)