I am blessed to be married to a woman who loves God with all her heart. Like me, she was raised in church. To know Christ was practically inevitable. In so many ways our lives were similar in spiritual aspects. We both came to God’s saving knowledge at a young age. We attended church like we attended school. In our youth groups, we were as active as the youth pastors. It was as if we were living the same life in different locations. It was even at church that we met and were married.
Our similarities were indeed fortunate. However, some would say that our differences are not so. Although we were both raised in church, our church denominations were as contrast as could be. I was raised Southern Baptist while she was raised United Pentecostal. We differed in some sensitive areas. While she could not watch television, I was glued to prime time. Our church worship experience was quite different as was our biblical teaching. So when we decided to go steady, we were faced with some difficult things to overcome.
In our lives, we were both considered to be weak believers. We had no understanding of Christian Liberty. But our differences were not unfortunate as some think. They became some great spring boards that pushed us to grow in Christ. We had to learn how to accept each other’s nonessential persuasions and commit to laying our freedom down for each other. We were able to unite in Christ and lovingly disagree in grey areas. Now our families call our children “Bapticostals” meaning that they will have the best of both worlds.
Together, we have become strong in those areas that we were initially weak. While one might be persuaded one way and one the other, to the outsider we are persuaded together in Christ’s way.
If we closely examine ourselves, we will likely find that we are holding onto some things that are gray areas. To some, it may be certain drinks or activities that are sometimes seen as sinful. To others, it may be something more church related like spiritual gifts, baptisms, or tithing.
These things are gray because Christians have a difference of conviction. And until we are resurrected in glory, this reality will exist. Since the church continues to grow in numbers, she will experience differing convictions.
For this lesson, we will be focusing on Paul’s teaching about encroaching on other’s convictions. Our text will be Romans 14. Paul writes:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 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.
The diversity of the church displays Christ’s power to bring together dissimilar people in genuine unity. It was evident to Paul, that Satan often works on man’s unredeemed flesh to create division and threaten that unity. It is for this reason that Paul writes this portion of Scripture.
Paul realized that the threat to unity would arise when strong (mature) believers conflict with weaker (immature) believers. The strong Jewish believers understood their freedom in Christ and realized the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic Law were no longer binding (v14:5). The mature Gentiles understood that idols are not gods and, therefore, that they could eat meat that had been offered to them (v14:2). But in both cases the weaker brothers’ consciences were troubled, and they were even tempted to violate their consciences, become more legalistic under the feelings of guilt, or even to sin.
Paul directs most of his attention to the mature believers knowing that they would understand. He writes, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.” The word “receive” in Greek refers to personal and willing acceptance of another. Paul calls those who are weak as believers who are unable to let go of the religious ceremonies and rituals of their past. The weak Jewish believer had difficulty abandoning the Old Covenant. He felt compelled to adhere to dietary laws, observe the Sabbath, and offer sacrifices in the temple. The weak Gentile believer had been steeped in pagan idolatry and its rituals. He felt that any contact with anything remotely related to his past, including eating meat that had been offered to a pagan deity and then sold in the marketplace, tainted him with sin. Both of them had very sensitive consciences in these areas, and were not yet mature enough to be free of those convictions.
In verses 14:10-13, Paul sums up his ideas by exalting God’s judgment over these things instead of man’s. He asks, “Why do you judge your brother?” Paul uses the word “condemn” and “judge” synonymously meaning that the strong hold the weak in contempt as legalistic and self-righteous. And the weak judge the strong to be irresponsible at best and perhaps depraved. He continues “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” These matters are not for us to judge, but for God. Each man should be “fully convinced in his own mind” (v14:5).
This is the principle of “encroachment.” It literally means “to intrude upon the rights or possessions of another.” It has to do with one’s conscience. In his command to keep unity, Paul teaches believers to not encroach upon another’s conscience, but rather live in love.
The question then is this: “How does the mature believer live with the immature in love?” Paul continues:
“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. 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. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”
Paul had much to be said about this issue. He begins by sharing his mature beliefs in regards to one area in particular – the eating of “unclean meat.”
To the Jewish believer, there was a distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals. We first see God make this distinction in Genesis when Noah is taking “seven each of every clean animal” and “two each of animals that are unclean” into the Ark (Genesis 7:2). Later in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 we learn that God commanded His remnant to refrain from eating unclean meat in order to illustrate that they were considered a holy people (set apart unto God).
While the command was temporal and served as an illustration, some Jewish believers were still practicing the law. In fact, they were convinced that they should.
In the beginning of the passage, Paul makes it clear that no meat is considered unclean (cf. Mark 7:15; 1 Timothy 4:3-5; Acts 10:15). Yet because a weaker brother is totally convinced in his own heart, Paul would restrict his liberty so that the brother is not offended (v14:15). This is what he describes as the Law of Love. In regards to Christian Liberty and Unity, love is the law (v14:15). And by doing this, we can teach the weaker brethren of Christian Liberties and strengthen them in the faith (v15:1-2).
Let’s highlight some of the phrases Paul uses to understand his meaning more clearly. In verse 15, Paul writes, “Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.” Paul parallels nonessential matters with the essential. Notice that the choice of food (nonessential) can be used to destroy. It is no coincidence that Paul refers to this person as one “for whom Christ died.” He is referring to one’s salvation.
Offended consciences can cause weak believers to fall from the faith. They can be easily broken by the liberties of those who are more mature than them. In Paul’s example, he teaches that the mature Christian who understands that all meat is free to eat could easily offend the immature Christian who is convinced otherwise. Therefore, it is important that the mature believers restrict their liberties for the sake of those who require more edification. It is a call to unity in love and self sacrifice.
In addition to destroying a weaker Christian’s faith by encroaching, you also “condemn yourself,” Paul says. That is to say that you will be judged for such sin. This is why Paul reminds us that God is the Supreme Judge.
Until Christ’s return, the church will consist of mature and immature believers. And God will always require unity and love from both. The Bible teaches us to be aware of other’s consciences as well as our own. We should always be willing to lay aside our liberties for the sake of another’s convictions. And at the same time, we should not violate our own. The way of love is the way of Christ. By loving our brethren we can help them become more aware of the Christian Liberty in Christ.