20Do 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. 21It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. ~ Romans 14:20-21
Don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t think about… There are many things that people turn into rules because they think they’re wrong. There are even things people devoted to following Jesus will debate. Some have no problem seeing a movie with an R rating, while others refuse to go. Some will listen to a wide variety of music, while others will only listen to what is played on Christian radio. Some will celebrate holidays like Christmas, while others chose to forgo.
In Romans 14, Paul wrote on the topic of liberty and doing. In Christ and free from the Old Testament Law, we are free to do many different things. Unless it is something that God explicitly condemns, we are free to partake. Yet for different reasons, often related to upbringing or a cultural religious background, people see certain things as wrong even if the Bible does not condemn such things.
Paul told us to expect this and to understand that it has to do with faith and conscious. Even if we can’t find a command against it, if it bothers our conscious then we must avoid it because we won’t be doing it out of faith and whatever we do without faith is sin.
Yet Paul also taught that greater maturity in Christ results in greater freedom.
Paul had been raised as a Jew with a religious background that prevented the eating of many different foods including pork and shellfish. Yet Paul also understood that through Jesus and his fulfillment of the Law, there are no longer any unclean foods. As a follower of Jesus, his conscious was clear to enjoy a wide variety of food including the previously condemned pork.
Paul also knew that not every brother or sister of his in Christ would see it the same as him immediately, if ever. Though he knew he could freely enjoy anything he wanted, he decided that if it would harm the conscious of another Christian then he would forgo eating these foods.
Romans 14 teaches us a two-fold truth about spiritual maturity as a follower of Jesus: (1) greater maturity leads to greater freedom; but (2) greater maturity also leads to greater concern for our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Maturity leads us to defer our wills and desires out of love for those around us.
Paul spoke of the same thing in 1 Corinthians 9:22 in regard to our witness. He wanted to become all things to all people in order to win to Christ as many as he could. This was not a violation of his convictions or conscious in order to fit in, this was rather a laying aside of his own ambitions to reach others.
So it is to be with us. The test of our maturity in Jesus is not how much we know but how much we love. Are you willing to set others above your own desires?
This devotion is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church…