Do Not Cause Another to Stumble
Paul opens Romans 14 by talking about those who don’t believe what you believe and, therefore, can’t eat what you eat. In some translations, Paul is said to call this a weaker faith. In other translations, like the Message, it tells you, “don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with.” These disagreements happen frequently, and have, in my opinion, everything to do with tradition and lousy teaching.
The subject continues to the point where Paul feels he has to admonish the reader:
Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful. The servant will be successful because the Lord makes him successful. (Romans 14:4 GW)
The servant, in this sentence, belongs to the Lord; and, as far as I can tell, means everybody, whether they are living up to a Christian standard, or not. Need proof?
If we live, we honor the Lord, and if we die, we honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:8 GW)
If we are having disagreements over what we believe, let’s get on the same page.
The basis of our belief is Christ crucified and risen from the dead. You can’t make a statement like that without an understanding of the effect of Christ’s actions. Perhaps this is oversimplified, but here goes.
By our acceptance of Christ’s death and resurrection, we have, in the spiritual realm, followed in Christ’s footsteps; we call that being buried with Him into baptism. God, because of Christ’s actions, caused us to be raised together with Him. When Christ rose to new life, so did we. Christ is our redemption, which means that by His blood, we have been purchased back from the enemy and made righteous in the Father’s eyes. That same blood covered ALL of our sins, and we are forgiven. This forgiveness was offered to the entirety of humanity, from the beginning of time, and includes this very moment. The requirement is little more than faith in Jesus Christ. (To those who must complicate things, I offer you the thief on the cross. If we are looking for actions that go well beyond some simple faith, what did this man do? When you figure it out, you will see nothing more than simple faith.)
As we proceed into Romans 14, Paul refers to our status, when he calls the believers servants.
Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master, he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4 NASB)
Does that seem right that believers would be judging believers?
We know Paul is writing to believers because he addresses this letter to the church in Rome. The word “church” is not meant to describe a building but the biological entity formed through our relationship with Christ.
With that in mind, doesn’t this statement, “to his own master,” strike you as odd?
It almost gives the sense that there are other masters out there, but you know that is not the case, as Paul is merely painting a word picture to get your attention. You wouldn’t dare walk into another person’s house and try to correct what the servants are doing, especially when what they are doing may be precisely what the master has asked them to do. Since we all belong to the Lord, then we are all servants. Setting aside the negative ramifications of that term, let’s come to grips with the idea that we belong to Him; there is no way around this, that is unless you purposefully choose to follow another master, Satan.
Assuming that we are judging each other over doctrinal differences, we need to stop, and that is why Paul carries that discussion a little farther, as he begins to look at this judging from another angle.
Romans 14:13 NASB Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
- “but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”
Judging, or being judged because you see things differently, should not be a stumbling block, so there is more to this statement than meets the eye, and we need to find out what that is. Many of the commentaries indicate that Romans 14:13 is referring to a weaker brother in Christ. If they were young in the Lord, then what, they would not have the knowledge base with which to stand their ground or retaliate. In my own experience, a brother in Christ tried to show off his prowess in the Old Testament stories, by asking, how big was David when he slew Goliath? Since no one chose to answer him (typically, when a person asks a question like this, they already have an answer in mind, and are typically prepared to humiliate whoever responds,) I did. His response back to me was what I expected, angry, with the obligatory attempt at humiliating me. It did not work as I stood my ground as I responded with scriptures that backed my argument. How many stumbling blocks did this brother create in his attempt to destroy me? Hopefully, we may never know, but one thing is for sure, he did not care how I would receive such an attack, nor was he concerned about how others might perceive what he was doing.
Who was it that was shown the blanket being let down, filled with ceremoniously unclean animals?
Where then did Paul come to this understanding?
Is it possible that Paul had heard Peter’s words related to him in his journeys, or perhaps he had heard Jesus’ words?
“Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. (Matthew 15:17-18 NASB)
We honestly don’t know the answer to my question above, but there was that day on the road to Damascus.
Romans 14:14 NASB I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Paul, writing to Timothy says,
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5 NASB)
And to Titus, Paul writes:
To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. (Titus 1:15 NASB)
Here, in the NASB translation, we see Paul talking about something that has the potential to be unclean. Now, we have evidence to prove that Paul is talking to a mixed congregation and that the majority of this congregation is Jewish. With that in mind, most of us understand the Jews have dietary restrictions that prevent them from eating a pulled-pork sandwich. But to most Gentiles, this is not an issue, and many would say, bring it on.
What does Romans 14:14 say,
“I, (Paul) am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.” However, to those who think that thing you are eating is unclean, it is unclean.
Why does this thought process, about the Jewish side of the household, have any impact on the Gentile believers, who have come to the potluck lunch that the church is having?
I can’t see it having any impact at all, but apparently, it should, because, as Paul tells us, “but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”
His statement then, doesn’t just apply to the Gentiles, (as some would try to convince you,) who may be joining in with a Jewish oriented congregation; it applies to the Jews as well, but why? You might think that we Gentiles don’t have rituals we practice, but having come out of the world with its numerous gods and behaviors, I can say, we have plenty.
An example: About a year ago, I went to a men’s retreat. The speaker was from a Vineyard church in Colorado, that goes by the name, “The Sanctuary.” The speaker had an earned Doctorate in sexual therapy and spoke very candidly about the damage we men have sustained in our lives. In his introduction, he talked about policies of the “Sanctuary” church, and He said, we allow anyone to come to our church, and he spoke of allowing some who were openly gay to be involved in leadership. (Now, to be fair, he did not define what he meant by leadership, and because of that, I chose to give the man some grace. You should also give some consideration to things like recovery and how people who go through the program can still say, “Hi, my name is, and I am a recovering ___.” If God has moved in their life, then it is not unusual to have such a person in leadership. Mike Waddel, CEO of My Pillow fame just recently addressed the nation, at the President’s request, and said this is a nation that needs to turn back to God. He is a person who went through recovery.) Someone in the audience, there at camp, attempted to refute the speaker, he responded by saying, yes, we do allow them, but they cannot be practicing sin and serve in our church. Later that day, a brother from my church sat with me at lunch and asked me what I thought of what the speaker had said. Having learned to hesitate for a moment before answering such questions, I stopped and listened to the Holy Spirit, who told me, this brother is looking for a fight. As the speaker had also talked about how people, even those who are trapped in sin, need a hug, I answered in this manner; I think hugging people is a good idea (of course there was no Covid 19 at this point.)
The brother who asked the question then showed his true colors as he did precisely what Paul was talking about, judging another master’s servant; he started getting loud and angry, saying that sin is sin, and we need to be preaching about sin and how it will send you to hell. I could not agree with his attitude, nor his doctrine, as I tend to see glutenous over-eaters as sinners, and we would not think of sending them to hell.
How would you know someone is practicing sin while serving in your church?
There are only a few ways; evidence or their big mouths. If it is their big mouths, then they are bragging about their sins. Paul speaks of such a person in 1Corinthians.
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1 NASB)
Although, someone being openly gay seems like an unforgivable sin to many, how is it any different from the pastor that secretly pursues pornography at home; at least the openly gay person is being honest about their sin? It is still sinning, and, if we hold to a standard for one, then don’t we have to maintain the same standard for all, and we don’t do that.
So, here we are back at Romans 14:13 again.
So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. (Romans 14:13 NLT)
We are not talking about the world; this is directed at believers within the church. Having been excoriated, in a “bible study” setting, on several occasions, I can tell you that it is not comfortable; and, I found myself having to choose not to get into an embroiled battle with these Christian brothers. They, on the other hand, apparently ripped this page out of their bibles because it obviously intruded into their beliefs, and they did not want anything to impeded their ability to peddle their false doctrines and unbelief.
Most people see words, like those that Paul delivers, as law, and maybe they are, but since God has seen fit to write those laws upon every heart within the believer, then you should consider the reality that God’s law continues to be our guide.
Continue to think like a Jew might as we progress.
Romans 14:14 NASB I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Peter may be our grandest example in this conversation about something unclean. The Holy Spirit showed Peter, in a vision or dream, the blanket coming down, filled with unclean animals. The voice associated with that blanket told Peter to eat. Peter’s response was this:
But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” (Acts 10:14 NASB)
There is such an air of audacity on the part of Peter. What if the response back to Peter went like this, I am not asking your opinion, I am telling you to eat! Fortunately, for all of us, God is long-suffering and patient.
Did Peter think that it was unclean? He certainly did, and yet God was able to open Peter’s eyes to understand that He was talking about Cornelius, and taking the message to the Gentiles.
So, a brother in Christ, is having a meltdown about something you are eating; are you serious?
Romans 14:15 CEV If you are hurting others by the foods you eat, you are not guided by love. Don’t let your appetite destroy someone Christ died for.
- “If you are hurting others by the foods you eat,” I can be offended by the manner in which you eat, especially if you are making slurping noises with every spoonful.
We all know that slurping noise is not what Paul is talking about; he is talking about things that may border on ritual. Look, we have all come from somewhere. Most people that found the church body they are currently attending came there because of some hurt or disagreement. I know I did. In our coming from some other assembly, there may have been incense and smoke; some dip bread pieces that the church members have ripped from a loaf and have dipped in grape juice, while others pass communion trays. Some believe that the cracker and juice become Jesus’ body, in our bodies, while others see it as symbolic. Do we have the potential for clashes in these procedures? Without a doubt.
The Greek word for hurt is lupeō and means distressed. Earlier in this post, I talked about a brother in Christ who got distressed, because he refused to hear what the speaker was saying.
When Paul speaks of foods, he uses the Greek word brōma. This word takes on a whole new meaning when you look up the Strong’s concordance definition. It speaks primarily to (ceremonial) articles allowed or forbidden by the Jewish law – meat. So now we can understand that Paul is talking to the person that brings their own sandwich, and it’s pulled pork.
If that is what you are doing, bringing a pulled-pork sandwich, simply to prove some twisted point, then you fall under the second half of this verse.
- “If you are hurting others by the foods you eat, you are not guided by love.”
A lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is? His answer,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ (Matthew 22:36-39 NASB)
I can understand this in one of several ways. Since I do not want to be hurt, then I should not hurt, nor cause hurt, and the person, in our scenario of Romans 14:15 is doing just that, when shoves things in his mouth with the intention of causing angst in the onlookers.
But what if I don’t love myself?
Then there is definitely something in me that needs to be fixed, and that can only be done through a relationship with Jesus Christ. (That, of course, means that you can be painfully honest about yourself and submit to sound people speaking into your life.) Lacking a loving example to teach you how to love others, then follow some good examples and be willing to take advice. Submit to others in a recovery situation. This submission thing may be more comfortable to swallow along as you understand that you are a slave to Christ.
The last part of this verse in the ESV reads like this:
- “Don’t destroy anyone’s faith by eating something they think is wrong. Christ died for them.”
Didn’t we recently study something comparable? Absolutely.
Welcome all the Lord’s followers, even those whose faith is weak. Don’t criticize them for having beliefs that are different from yours. Some think it is all right to eat anything, while those whose faith is weak will eat only vegetables. But you should not criticize others for eating or for not eating. After all, God welcomes everyone. What right do you have to criticize someone else’s servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right, and the Lord will make sure that they do right. (Romans 14:1-4 CEV)
I will repeat something I recently stated; there are those who will say, I am not under the law! We say things like this because of improper teaching, for the law, that you are trying to avoid; the one that seems to constrain you when you want to drink wildly, is written upon your hearts, all ten of them – including, love your neighbor, as yourself. So, sorry, you don’t get to use that as an excuse for your bad behavior.
And that takes us to the next verse.
Romans 14:16 NASB Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
A couple of things stand out for me. Initially, I used a different translation, which I want you to see.
Don’t let your right to eat bring shame to Christ. (Romans 14:16 CEV)
If Christ is God, and He is, then do you seriously think that you can bring shame to God? God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are so far beyond all that. The Muslims tend to think this way, and therefore are willing to kill you for bringing shame to Allah. How pathetically silly. We can, however, by our brash stupidity, cause others to want nothing to do with us, nor the God we serve. (On that note, Franklin Graham, in early March of 2020 was wanting to do large evangelistic meetings in Britain, but was banned by church leaders, because, as they said, he no longer reflects the morals and political correctness of the current day. In other words, they knew he would speak out against sin.)
Because I now look intently at scripture through Jewish eyes, I can almost hear Paul’s voice as he says,
Romans 14:17 CEV God’s kingdom isn’t about eating and drinking. It is about pleasing God, about living in peace, and about true happiness. All this comes from the Holy Spirit.
Frequently, there are words that I want to drape across the roof of my house, like a billboard, and verse 17 is one of them. Note those words, living in peace; wouldn’t that be wonderful?
God’s kingdom isn’t about eating and drinking. It is about pleasing God, about living in peace, and about true happiness.
I read these words, and think if only I/we could attain this peace and true happiness. It can be attained.
Romans 14:18 NLT If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too.
Backing up to verse 17 once again but from the Amplified Bible.
[After all] the kingdom of God is not a matter of [getting the] food and drink [one likes], but instead it is righteousness (that state which makes a person acceptable to God) and [heart] peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
So, the kingdom of God has little to do with our rituals, but with righteousness. Since we have no righteousness of our own, then that righteousness has to come expressly from God. When did that happen? At the cross, as Christ became our righteousness. We, of course, have to accept that righteousness from God by believing in the Son. Can you see the simplicity, for us, in this situation? Christ’s bloody sacrifice brought about our permanent righteousness. I know, many shriek at such a thought, because it wreaks of eternal salvation. For me, I have seen the world, and want no part of it. I long for the day when I get to look into His eyes that emit nothing but love.
How do I attain this righteousness?
Well, we just talked about that, but Paul adds this.
Romans 14:19 NASB So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
What is another way to say this? Love your neighbor as yourself.
Romans 14:20 CEV Don’t let your appetite destroy what God has done. All foods are fit to eat, but it is wrong to cause problems for others by what you eat.
That word appetite, by definition, covers many items. For some, who talk about their appetite for women, it can mean debauchery and lust. For many, it covers your passions and desires. Even here, with a bent toward eating something like barbecued pork, you know that eating a sandwich in innocence, is NOT what is being expressed. We covered this subject earlier, and it has everything to do with shoving your freedoms down someone else’s throat. Simply put, it is wrong to cause problems for others by your objectionable actions.
Romans 14:21 CEV It is best not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that causes problems for other followers of the Lord.
An obvious point here is this, is what I do in the sanctity of my home, offending people?
Certainly not, but if you stand around the crowd at your gathering, and legalistically put people down (judge them), and then they run into you buying a case of beer and a ham. You are nothing more than a hypocrite and an embarrassment to the church as a whole. Your alcoholic acquaintances may now think that they have the freedom, under your definition of grace, to go back to being a drunkard.
Romans 14:22-23 CEV What you believe about these things should be kept between you and God. You are fortunate if your actions don’t make you have doubts. (23) But if you do have doubts about what you eat, you are going against your beliefs. And you know that is wrong because anything you do against your beliefs is sin.
Words to live by:
- What you believe about these things should be kept between you and God.
- You are fortunate if your actions don’t make you have doubts.
- But if you do have doubts about what you eat, you are going against your beliefs. And you know that is wrong because anything you do against your beliefs is sin.
This last line applies to both sides of the fence. Having angrily put people in their place because you feel strongly about SIN and Hell’s fires, only to later be CAUGHT doing the very thing you preached against, demonstrates that you are going against your own beliefs, and therefore sinning. Jeez, if you are an advocate of people going to hell over the simplest of sins, then you should be there as well.
Perhaps we need to calm down and demonstrate grace to people, by giving them a hug (once it is safe to do so again.)