In part one,1 we looked at two key principles (Rom. 14:1-12) for dealing with inconsequential things,2 recognizing that believers may hold differing opinions on these non-essentials.
A third principle exhorts mature Christians to recognize their responsibility for weaker believers (Rom. 14:13-17). The strong should clear the immature’s path, not stumble them (v. 13), they should love them not grieve them (v. 15).
Here Paul speaks of food but we can also apply these principles to other gray areas. He numbered himself with the strong (15:1) and authoritatively said by the Lord Jesus that all foods were clean and good to eat (v. 14). However, he also recognized that others could not eat particular foods without violating their consciences (v. 14), and could be grieved by those who do (v. 15). Therefore, he exhorts those like himself to relinquish partaking of these things, both out of love for the weaker believer (v. 15, 15:1) and also to keep their testimony (v. 16). As citizens of God’s kingdom our primary concern is spiritual fruit (righteousness, peace and joy), not earthly food, days, and activities (v. 17).
We are to be builders not demolition experts (vv. 15, 18-20). God is doing a work in every believer (v. 20) and we can either promote that work or hinder it. Though a certain food, drink, or activity is harmless to us, we should abstain if we know it will offend another believer, possibly impeding their spiritual growth (v. 20). Though the activity itself is pure, the partaking of it is evil if it knowingly offends (v. 20). Sacrificing our rights for the sake of others is an act of service to Christ and follows His example which is well-pleasing to God (v. 18).
Fourth, all believers have a responsibility to pursue things that promote peace and edifies others (v. 19). The word “pursue” (NKJV) means to “press hard after, to pursue with earnestness and diligence in order to obtain.”3 We are to have an action producing desire to preserve unity and promote the spiritual growth of other believers. This means that those whose conscience prevents them from partaking in something should not try to control others by insisting everyone else follow suit. By the same token the mature believer is not to flaunt their liberty before others but instead be willing at times to restrict their participation for the sake of unity.
Paul sums it all up in the final three verses. The mature believer who has the faith to partake of certain foods, drinks, or activities is free to do so in good conscience before God (v. 22). However, if it will cause another believer to stumble it is a noble or commendable thing to prioritize that believer over the exercise of that freedom (v. 21). One does not lose their liberty by choosing not to exercise it at a particular time or place. Still, there is nothing wrong for a believer to enjoy their spiritual freedom privately before God, out of the view of the one who may be offended (v. 22).
On the other hand, the weak believer, hesitant and unsure of a particular activity, should stick to their convictions (v. 23). Perhaps envying another’s liberty, they might be tempted to go against their conscience. However, to participate is sin because it is not from faith, resulting in both the condemnation of their conscience, and of God.
While God’s Word does not specifically address every gray area today, it does contain the necessary guidance for the Spirit-led believer to wisely apply its truth to any given situation. For God has given us all the resources we need to live a godly life (2 Pet. 1:3). •
1 See Cornerstone Magazine March/April 2019
2 Disputable things that are not sinful but of which believers hold varying opinions
3 Complete Word Study Dictionary (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2013)