Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Romans 14:13-19

Do Not Cause Another to Stumble

13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

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Last week’s reading from Romans 13 was about the responsibility we bear as Christians to our God-given authorities in government, good or bad.

That message can be hard to swallow, depending on who is governing us.

Today’s message from Paul is an equally difficult one. Paul advocates our cutting back on some things — e.g. food or drink — when in the company of others who do not share our preferences. This is to preserve the unity of the Church.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Paul talks about Christian liberty here, not in the sense of how it affects me, but in the sense of how it affects my brother and sister. And this is a very important dimension of understanding Christian liberty because it affects the church. So, Paul’s concern from verse 13 to 23 is for other Christians, how we are to build up other Christians without offending. And that calls for limiting our exercise of liberty. Don’t let anybody take your liberty. Don’t let anybody threaten your liberty. Don’t let anybody bind your conscience to things that are not in themselves evil. But at the same time, you don’t have to flaunt that liberty to prove you’re strong, right? You don’t want to do that because it may turn out to be bondage for your own sake and it may turn out to be unloving and divisive for the fellowship of believers

What you want to do is be sure that your conduct in the exercise of your liberty is not unloving, is not insensitive to other believers. If we can just make a positive out of that statement, we would say that the objective of Christian living in the church, the goal of a strong believer is to conduct himself in love toward a weaker brother. That’s the essence so that there’s no offense.

I find it odd that some Christians do not eat pork. For whatever reason, they consider pork to be unclean.

Yet, as Christians, we have the liberty to eat anything and everything that God created. Jesus came to fulfil the law and, as such, we enter into a New Covenant with God. Acts 10:9-16 tells us of Peter’s vision, where he was told that no food in and of itself is unclean. Understandably, he found that concept difficult initially.

Moving on to today’s reading, with the Romans, there was still a lot of meat sold that had been consecrated to pagan gods. There were also Jewish converts who found it difficult to begin eating foods that had been, for them, unclean according to Mosaic law.

Therefore, Paul wanted to make it clear that we should not allow our food preferences as ‘stronger brothers’ to upset the ‘weaker brothers’ who could not bring themselves to consume certain things. It is more important for the ‘stronger brothers’ to accommodate the ‘weaker’ ones by offering them foods they can enjoy eating without a pang of conscience.

As such, we should refrain from passing judgement on those who refuse to eat certain things (verse 13).

Paul was of the belief by faith in Jesus that all food was ‘clean’, yet, he recognised that other people were not of that persuasion (verse 14).

Paul said it would be an offence against our Lord to cause our guests to be upset with our food choices; we must build each other up in the love of Christ rather than divide them (verse 15).

MacArthur says:

Here he strongly emphasizes again that what he’s talking about are non-moral things that of themselves are not unclean and of themselves are not evil. And he says that in verse 14, “I know and I am persuaded by the Lord Jesus.” I love that statement, “I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus.” It’s like saying I didn’t get this by hearsay, I got this directly from the source. “In my own personal intimate communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, He revealed this to me.” That is a unique privilege for a Scripture writer. “So I know and I’m persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself.” And you can stop there.

So, he says I’m not asking you to give up your liberty. I want you to enjoy your liberty and understand your liberty. I want you to know that this is not my opinion; I know this because I’ve been convinced by the Lord Jesus Himself. Even as he said in Galatians that his gospel did not come to him through human instrumentation but rather the Lord Himself had given it to him. He says, in effect, this is right from the Lord. You strong are right. Did you get that? The strong are right. That’s right, they’re right, they’re right. Sin does not reside in things like food, I don’t care what kind of food it is. It does not reside in what’s in a glass. It does not reside in film, or electronics or games or recreation or activities. It doesn’t reside in plants. It doesn’t reside in anything.

First Timothy 4:4 says that all things are to be received with thanksgiving, right? And don’t let anyone bring any of those devilish doctrines that tell you that we are to abstain from foods. Titus 1:15 says to the pure all things are what? Are pure. To the people who are defiled, everything is defiled because their conscience is defiled. Jesus Himself, back in Mark 7, I believe it’s verse 15, “There is nothing from outside of a man that enters into him that can defile him.” Isn’t that interesting? There is nothing outside of a man that entering into him can defile him. It’s the things that come out of him that defile him.

Coincidentally, the Gospel reading from Matthew 15 about what defiles a man is for today, August 16, 2020. Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

Paul goes on to advise that weaker Christians should not disparage our stronger habits when they are perfectly lawful in Scripture (verse 16). Our weaker friends have not yet come around to that realisation, so it is better to avoid offending them in order to promote our mutual harmony guided by the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

Paul means that we might be dissuading our weaker friends from pursuing Christianity more deeply because of our own actions in this regard.

MacArthur explains:

When a stronger brother comes along and somehow tempts by his liberty a weaker brother to violate his conscience, when that weaker brother violates that conscience, that weaker brother will have a painful, bitter sorrow in his own heart. He’ll feel guilty and instead of helping him grow in his spiritual life, it will push him back, because then he’ll be even more afraid of liberty, right? More afraid of it. It will be a greater threat to him.

Now a weak Christian is grieved in verse 15. He says if your brother is grieved with your food, you’re not walking in love. Now how would a weak brother be grieved? Well, a weak brother would be grieved by just simply seeing a strong Christian do what he felt was wrong. Is that so? Sure. If you are strongly convinced that something is wrong, and I’m not talking about something sinful, but something that they do and you see these people do it, it’s going to grieve you. You’re going to be grieved over their liberty which you see as an offense.

But I think it’s even stronger than that in this context. I think what he’s saying again is back to the idea that this brother is not just grieved because you do it, he’s grieved because you’ve led him to do it, too, and it’s violated his conscience. By following your instruction or your example, he does what he believes is wrong and then has to live with the remorse and the guilt of his conscience. And he forfeits the peace and joy of his Christian walk. What is the point of that? What is the point of that?

So, you set your life in a path so as not to grieve people and cause them sorrow because they have followed you into something their conscience didn’t allow them to do. Now you know what this is telling us, folks. This says we’ve got to get close enough to each other to know where we are, right? We’ve got to know the hearts of the people around us so that we can be sure that we walk in love toward those people, in selfless self-denying agape. We never want to lead a believer to fall into sin. We never want to grieve a believer by having him violate his own conscience.

And the third of the six — … in verse 15, “Destroy not him with thy food for whom Christ died.” Don’t make him stumble, don’t grieve him, and certainly don’t destroy him. Now all I can tell you about the word “destroy,” apollumi, means to ruin, is that it’s a very strong word, very serious word. When you cause a believer to stumble or to be grieved, to violate his conscience, it can bring about a certain effect that is here discussed with a very strong word. Let me tell you a little about this word, this word apollumi. It is translated very frequently in the Scripture with the word “perish.” It can mean eternal damnation, unquestionably it can mean that.

Paul says that, as followers of Christ, we are brothers and sisters in faith, ‘acceptable to God and approved by men’ (verse 18). We mustn’t do anything to upset those who do not view liberty in food or drink the way we do. If we cause them offence or force them to violate their conscience, we could well be destroying their faith.

MacArthur says that, in acquiescing to our weaker friends, we hope by our good example to build them up to become stronger Christians:

What we want the watching world to see is people who are righteous, people who are at peace and people whose lives are filled with joy. And that kind of environment is created by self-sacrificing love that does not necessarily exercise its liberty no matter how it offends somebody else. And what I’m saying to you is a message to the strong believers because most of you would fit into that category, to say this, we must move down to the weak brother and sister and honor and respect that weakness until we can by love nurture it to strength.

Therefore, let us affirm each other’s faith, increasing our mutual peace, harmony and love (verse 19). Forget the small stuff — food and drink — and concentrate on the bigger picture: Christian love and the Church.

MacArthur says this requires humility on the part of stronger believers:

I’ll tell you what makes for peace. Humility, you know why humility produces peace? Because humility says I don’t care about my rights. Humility says I’m more concerned about yours than mine. Humility says the issue with me is you not me. Meekness, unselfishness and love, those are the things that make for peace. And those are the things that we should give attention to. We pursue those things

And secondly, not only are we to pursue the things that make for peace like humility and meekness and unselfishness and love, but also the things with which we can build each other up. The things that are going to bring about a spiritual strengthening, that are going to build edification into people. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 14:12 he says, “You’re all zealous of spiritual gifts, then seek the ones that excel to the edifying of the church.” Seek the things that are going to build them up, not cause them to stumble and grieve and be devastated and lose their testimony

When you cause a brother to be offended, you’re pulling down the work of God. Look at verse 20, “For food, don’t destroy the work of God.” And food is symbolic of any discretionary thing that you might have a right to do. Here he has the idea of the offending the Jew with food that wasn’t kosher or offending a Gentile with food that had been offered to idols. But it’s only symbolic of anything. Don’t with your food destroy the work of God.

Now do you realize that’s a marvelous statement? You know what that says about every believer, even a weak believer? That a weak believer is a what? A work of God. Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His (What?) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” I mean, God is at work in every Christian, even the weaker brother is a work of God, a work of God. Don’t pull down what God’s building up. And there’s some people who are so proud about their liberation, they find a weaker person who’s coming out of legalism for whatever reason, if it was pagan or if it was sort of cultural Christianity, and instead of building them up, they tear them down. And it is the work of God you’re tearing down. Present imperative here indicates to stop what you’re doing. So there must have been within that Roman assembly at least some information about the fact that these liberated brethren were tearing down what God was trying to build up. Discontinue that, he says. You’re not merely dealing with a man, you’re dealing with a man, verse 15, for whom Christ died. You’re dealing with a man who is part of the kingdom and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, verse 17. And now he says you’re dealing with one who is a work of God.

That makes me feel better about having to make separate vegetarian dishes for my occasional non-meat eating dinner guests, believers or not. I understand this passage much better after having read MacArthur’s sermons and Matthew Henry’s commentary.

Henry gives us this solemn advice:

Thou pleadest that it is thy own meat, and thou mayest do what thou wilt with it; but remember that, though the meat is thine, the brother offended by it is Christ’s, and a part of his purchase. While thou destroyest thy brother thou art helping forward the devil’s design, for he is the great destroyer; and, as much as in thee lies, thou art crossing the design of Christ, for he is the great Saviour, and dost not only offend thy brother, but offend Christ; for the work of salvation is that which his heart is upon. But are any destroyed for whom Christ died? If we understand it of the sufficiency and general intendment of Christ’s death, which was to save all upon gospel terms, no doubt but multitudes are. If of the particular determination of the efficacy of his death to the elect, then, though none that were given to Christ shall perish (John 6:39), yet thou mayest, as much as is in thy power, destroy such. No thanks to thee if they be not destroyed; by doing that which has a tendency to it, thou dost manifest a great opposition to Christ.

This theme continues next week.

Next time — Romans 14:20-23