Daily Readings: Numbers 6-8, Romans 14
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
This passage today really spoke to me and to my role as a marketplace missionary. It is so natural as a Christian, when contemplating specific issues, to spend the majority of the time debating whether or not God would consider something right or wrong. It is easy to fall into a very “me centered” view on these topics. Does God approve of alcohol? How much? What about R rated movies? What about TV shows that are not exactly God honoring in their content? What about dancing? Is cursing wrong? Which words specifically? What about specific foods? What about…?
Paul tells us today to stop thinking so much about ourselves.
It is clear from this letter that there is a robust debate taking place in the young church in Rome about whether or not Christians were still called to abide by the Jewish laws on what to consume or if the new covenant that Jesus ushered in did away with those restrictions. I imagine this dispute probably got fairly heated between the folks that grew up in the Jewish tradition who believed that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for, and these “new Gentile Christians” that they perceived as running around acting completely against the teachings they grew up with. I imagine these traditionalists were probably even more upset with their fellow Jews who also supported the doing away with their traditional Jewish customs.
In today’s world it might sound silly to think about this early church being at each other’s throats over whether or not it was permissible to eat certain types of meat, but are we all that different? How many churches have ended up completely divided in our modern day with a large chunk ultimately leaving the church because of a small issue that is not central to the overall teaching of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?
Paul tells us today that we have kind of missed the point.
It is not about what we are “allowed to do now” because of our new found faith. As a Christian our chief mission in life is to share the good news and help others come to saving faith in Jesus as well. To this end Paul challenges us to not put stumbling blocks in front of others. He challenges us to stop thinking about ourselves so much when it comes to these issues and rather to ask ourselves whether our actions are going to act as a catalyst to bring someone to faith or potentially push them away.
As an example, let’s say you are sharing the gospel with someone who grew up in a home with an alcoholic and abusive father. Alcohol destroyed their family. This person you are sharing the gospel with also struggled throughout his teenage years and early adulthood with alcoholism but has been sober for a year and half now. He firmly believes that alcohol ruins lives and is no way God honoring. He can’t understand why any Christian would possibly think it is ok to have even a single beer knowing the path it could potentially lead them down if it turns to addiction.
Do we debate this person who is still young in their faith? Is it our duty to set him straight and preach moderation and point out the multitude of examples in the Bible where wine was part of the celebration? Do we cite certain passages that to point to the fact that the only thing we are cautioned against Biblically is drinking to excess and drunkenness?
For this young Christian, just now developing in their faith and figuring out what they believe, Paul would argue our entire focus should be on removing any obstacles that keep this person from diving into a relationship with Jesus.
Many times, as marketplace missionaries, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to “help reshape someone’s perspective on an issue” so that we don’t have to change our habits around them, instead of doing every single possible thing in our power to remove any potential stumbling blocks that might be holding them back from giving their lives over fully to Christ.
The gospel is this: God loved us so much that he sent his only son to pay the ultimate price on our behalf so that we could have a relationship with him. We are all incapable of living a perfect life and earning salvation, so Jesus came down willingly and sacrificed himself paying the price for our sins that we could never fully pay ourselves. God loves us desperately and wants a relationship with us. He wants to dwell in us and help transform our lives if we would just turn our lives over to him and seek to discover his good, pleasing, and perfect will for our lives.
If there is someone you are helping learn about Christianity or someone you are currently discipling in their walk with Christ, helping them understand the full depth of the gospel message should be the primary focus. If you keep your heart and mind focused on them and know that there are actions on your part that could drive a wedge between you, set those actions aside for the time being. Even if you are convinced that, Biblically, your actions are in no way counter to God’s will in your life, remember that it is not about you. It is about them. It is about your ability to influence them for the Kingdom.
There may be a time in their walk with Christ where the conversation surrounding this topic may be appropriate to bring up, but Paul would argue we should always err on the side of not creating a stumbling block for a brother or sister instead of erring on the side of spending our energy justifying our actions, even if we feel strongly that God’s word is on our side of that moral debate.
This is so challenging and not at all where my mind naturally goes. I would much rather have that intellectual, biblically based, conversation about the issue, even if the person may not be at a place in their walk with Christ where they are ready to hear it. I don’t want to change my actions on issues where I feel that the Bible is on my side of the argument. I would prefer to dig my heels in and be stubborn on my position. I would rather think of this person in my sphere of influence in the way Paul wrote about as “having too little faith”.
But it is not about me. It is about having an eternal impact on the lives of others.
Thought to ponder
What are potential stumbling blocks that I may be unintentionally putting in front of people I currently disciple or have the ability to reach for Christ in my sphere of influence?