Romans 14 has got to be one of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. It sets the bar high . . . really high. And not with specific “to dos” or “to don’ts,” but with principles for doing life together as God’s people.
Principled living is not lazy living. Tell me what to do and what not to do and I can go on autopilot. But, tell me that what I do, or don’t do, “depends” . . . that’s gonna take a bit of mental engagement. And I’m thinking that’s what Romans 14 is about. And it’s all founded on a simple, yet profound decision . . .
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. 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. (Romans 14:13-15 ESV)
To eat or not to eat . . . that seems to have been the question (14:2). To observe the day or not observe the day . . . that was another question (14:5). Would have been so much easier to just answer the questions. Don’t eat this . . . observe that. Or, eat this . . . don’t observe that. Simple. But not the way of the kingdom.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17 ESV)
What promotes righteousness, peace, and joy? What hinders it? What contributes to “mutual upbuilding” (14:19b)? What destroys the work of God and makes someone stumble (14:20)? It depends. And that’s what makes it so hard. And that’s why, before God, we need to make a decision.
I don’t think we get to decide on what constitutes a valid stumbling block and what doesn’t. Instead, ours is to decide not to put a stumbling bock in the way of a brother. And I don’t think we get to decide how much deference in a matter is enough. But we need to decide NEVER to put a stumbling block in the way of a sister. It’s not left to us to determine if their “weakness” is justified or not. But ours is to, with holy determination empowered by the Holy Spirit, not to do anything that causes our brother or sister in the Lord to stumble (14:21).
And I can hear the concern, “We can’t live our lives after the whim of every supposed “stumbling block” out there!” True . . . but even that takes some discernment, some mental engagement. Despite the danger of a “weaker brother” making everything he doesn’t like a “stumbling block” for him, ours, I think, is still to consider what we might be asked to do to build up such a brother. Perhaps the stumbling block is dealt with by some patient instruction or gentle admonition.
Regardless, if I’m reading Romans 14 right, we need to make a decision. And that decision doesn’t leave much room for thoughtless autopilot when it comes to doing community with blood-bought brothers and sisters.
That’s hard stuff. But that’s walking in love. That’s principled living. That’s kingdom living.
And that’s by the grace of God . . . for the glory of God. Amen?