Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In Search Of Truth, Romans 14:13-23

Paul just established in previous verses that all of us will be accountable to God for what we do. For this reason, we shouldn’t spend our time evaluating each other, but helping each other succeed and avoid sin in life. (v.13)

From Paul’s mature perspective, he clearly sees, as we should, that nothing is unclean in and of itself. This little nugget of scripture sheds light on the nature of sin itself, although developing a doctrine of sin is not Paul’s focus here. Sin, or evil is not really a “thing”, but a twisting or a removal of something that is good. The actual meat sacrificed to idols in Paul’s day was not unclean in and of itself. It was the twisted purpose the meat became associated with that was wrong.

This is why Paul says that thinking of something as unclean makes it unclean. He’s not saying that evil is subjective and whatever we decide it is. But if we believe something is evil (even if it’s not) and choose to participate in it anyway, we’ve shown that we are willing to do something that it outside the will of God. That is the true sin. (v.14)

Paul is calling his readers to sensitivity toward other believers and their sensitivities. Eating idol meat in front of a believer who thought of it as evil would have upset them significantly. It also may have led them into the sin of judging the one eating the meat, or believing that doing a little evil now and then is okay. Either of these results would be damaging to a person's service to God. Christians should not be damaging each others’ faith over issues like diet. (v.15)

So what is the solution? Paul offers part of it in verse 16. We should not remain silent when an activity we believe is good is called evil by another believer. Instead, an accusation should be our cue to begin a conversation based in scripture. This is a win-win situation, either revealing real sin to us, or revealing freedom to another believer.

At the very least, our aim should be to come to common ground and find unity. We are not meant to be divided from other believers over minor issues. We’re meant to be on track with God’s purpose for our lives (righteousness), experience good relationships with God and each other (peace) and have the sense of fulfillment that comes from living our lives for God (joy in the Holy Spirit). (v.17)

If we serve Christ with these things in mind, we’ll find that God approves of our lives and so do other people, even if they don’t always see eye to eye with us on everything. (v.18) Looking forward to those kinds of blessings, we should aim to have good relationships that result in building each others confidence in God. (v.19)

Paul echoes again verses 14 and 15 in verse 20, and then adds that another solution to handling our differences is to abstain from behavior that other Christians condemn, and to do so when it would otherwise cause them to sin in some way (either in their wrongful judgment of you or their wrongful conclusions about permitting evil in their own lives). (v.21)

Paul isn’t saying to avoid these kinds of activities altogether, but to keep them between you and God, instead of doing what you know will push someone's buttons or in some way harm them.

True freedom and a sense of fulfillment in these areas of life is experienced when we do the things we enjoy with full, well-reasoned confidence that they are not in violation of scripture and not harmful to us or anyone else. (v.22)

But in a final word of caution on this subject, Paul warns that if there is any lingering doubt about eating idol meat, we should avoid it, since it will otherwise demonstrate our willingness to go outside the bounds of what God wants us to do. (v.23)

In summary, and as you may have noticed in my comments so far, I think we can apply the principles of these verses, not just to dietary custom, but to other areas Christians might disagree on, but which have no clear representation in the teaching of scripture.

As we navigate these waters of disagreement, we should prevent others from calling wrong what we think is good (v.16) and avoid giving off harmful impressions about sin or pushing each others' buttons. (v.21-22)

For application of these and other verses to entertainment choices, check out

Next- Unity Among Believers

Coffee House Question- What are some “Idol Meat” areas you’ve found yourself dealing with or talking about with other Christians?

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