Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in your brother’s way. – Romans 14:13 NIV
Remember what Paul said in the last chapter? "Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God's law" (Romans 13:10 NLT). We are to owe nothing to anyone – except for our obligation to love them. So Paul now makes those statements practical. He puts it into the context of the local body of believers – the church. He uses a very realistic, everyday circumstance that each and every one of use can relate to. Within any local congregation, there will be "stronger" and "weaker" brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, there will be those who are mature in their faith and others who are relatively young and spiritually inexperienced in their Christian walk. Because of human nature, it is quite easy for the more mature believers to become frustrated or impatient with those who are young in the faith. They may even judge their immaturity and demand that they "grow up." But oftentimes, our insistence that someone grow is simply a desire that they see things the way we see things. It would appear that Paul is not dealing with doctrinal or theological issues in this passage. He is not dealing with situations that involve false teaching or potential heresy. These appear to be amoral issues that are neither right or wrong, but matters of conscience. "For instance, one person believes it's all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don't. And those who don't eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them" (Romans 14:2-3 NLT).
This was an amoral issue involving the eating of certain foods. It had nothing to do with sin per se. It was a matter of one person's opinion versus another. But there are always those who see things as black and white, right or wrong. They tend to view their opinion or viewpoint as on a par with the Scriptures themselves. They have determined that something is either acceptable or unacceptable and turn their opinions into obligations, which they place on others. This was a real problem in the early church. Paul had to constantly deal with many of the Jews who had accepted Christ, but who were still living as if they had to keep all the laws and rituals associated with Judaism. It was their opinion that this was necessary for someone to truly be a Christ-follower of Christian. So they placed their opinions and obligations on the Gentiles within their local fellowship. They demanded that they only eat certain foods and worship on a certain day, and looked down in judgment on those who refused to see things there way.
There were others among the believers in Rome who were "weak" in their faith because they did not understand the concept of Christian liberty. It's enlightening to understand that Paul is probably referring to the Jewish Christians when he uses the term weak. They would have seen themselves as "strong," because of their Jewish heritage and their close association with the Mosaic laws. But they failed to understand that Christ had set them free from the Law. They were still living under the false idea that they were obligated to keep the law in order to be made right with God. In Paul's mind, this was a weakness, not a strength. So he urged others in the church to show them love and grace. He wanted everyone to understand that these matters were inconsequential when compared with the need for love and unity within the body. The real issue was one of selfishness and self-centeredness. So Paul reminds them, "For we don't love for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it's to honor the Lord. And if we die, it's to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord" (Romans 14:7-8 NLT). We are to live in such a way that we honor Christ. And He has called us to love one another, not condemn and judge one another based on our own criteria or opinions. We are to live in such a way that we build one another up, rather than cause one another to fail or fall.
The important thing to remember here is that we are talking about amoral or grey issues. They are not black and white and having nothing to do with the commands or requirements of Scripture. There are times in which we do need to judge our fellow believer and call them out – but only when their actions are in violation of the clear teachings of Scripture. If a fellow believer is living in sin – for instance, committing adultery – we are not to tolerate their actions or take the attitude, "who am I to judge." We are obligated to lovingly, but firmly confront them about their sin and call them to repentance. Paul dealt with this very idea in his letter to the Galatians. "Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important" (Galatians 6:1-3 NLT). When it comes to matters of personal opinion, we are to default to love. When it comes to matters of sin, we are to lovingly confront and convict. But the key in both cases is always love. To allow a brother or sister to continue to live in sin because we don't want to offend or confront them, is unloving. It is selfish. To demand that another believer live according to our personal opinions or set of religious requirements is just as unloving and selfish. Paul calls us to a different way of life within the body. "Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall" (Romans 14:13 NLT).
Father, far too often we allow our own opinions to become the law of the land. We create our own set of religious rules by which we live that have little or nothing to do with You or Your Word. Yet we seem to think we are more spiritual because we have a certain length of quiet time or pray in a certain way at a particular time of day. We listen to only Christian music or refrain from watching particular kinds of movies. Then we place those requirements on others, demanding that they live accordingly, judging them as immature or unspiritual if they don't. Help us to understand that our opinions are not on the same level as Your Word. Show us how to live in love and how to extend grace to our fellow believers, and honor You in the process. Amen.