The Principle of Love in Action
We may feel free to do something, but at times we’re called to refrain out of love for others. That in and of itself becomes a conviction. In Romans 14 Paul says, “I know and am convinced by the Lord—” (Romans 14:14)NKJV That’s how conviction is to come. I know and am convinced by the preacher? By this book I read? No. “By the Lord.” We need to have the testimony, “The Lord has shown me.” And so Paul says, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself.” That’s a big thing that Paul learned, because he was a Jew. He had to go through some real stretching to come to that conclusion. It wasn’t just overnight that Paul said, “Oh, yeah, everything’s fine.” His whole upbringing had ingrained in him the conviction that some things were clean and other things were unclean. That had been his whole understanding, but as he walked with God there was a shifting going on as the Lord taught him, “There is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” (Romans 14:14)NKJV So this is where our conscience is very important. We never want to defile our conscience, and we never want to encourage someone else to go against their conscience. Paul knew that “to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” So he wouldn’t tell someone, “Oh, go ahead and eat. Don’t worry about it,” when they were uncertain about whether or not it was acceptable to God. It’s very important that we never override our conscience, even when we’re learning more liberty. Maybe the Lord is leading someone into greater liberty in something, but we don’t want to tell them, “Well, it’s probably all right. Just do it.” No, just wait, because at the end of this same chapter we’re warned that “whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)NKJV It’s very important to keep a clear conscience. Let the Lord convince you, and then you can step forward in confidence and faith.
Let’s continue from verse fifteen: “Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:15-17)NKJV Paul’s saying we need to walk in love. In everything that we do we need to be thinking about others. Verse nineteen says, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19)NKJV Our goal should be to edify other people. We want to please God, and He’s pleased when we love each other and edify one another. So that’s going to mean I need to take into account the people that are around me. If they are sensitive to certain things, I need to be sensitive to those things. In love for them, I need to avoid stumbling them. Even if I have a liberty, a freedom to do something, I need to consider where other people are at, and out of love maybe refrain from certain things. Because if you grieve your brother by what you do, “you are no longer walking in love.”
“Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)NKJV
So, wow, when we sin against the brethren, we’re sinning against Christ. That’s because the church is the body of Jesus, and what we do to His people is really what we do to Him. If we’re acting in a way that causes them to stumble, we’re sinning against Christ. That’s a very important, very grave, very sobering thought for us. So we don’t want to embolden someone else to do something that would go against their conscience. We need to consider that in everything we do.
But we need to understand what is really being taught here so we don’t become imbalanced with a burden we weren’t meant to carry. If we have liberty to do something that another person has a conviction against, Paul is not exactly saying that we should only do it when they’re not around. He’s saying that we don’t want to cause someone to stumble—that we should value the spiritual life of others above our own desires. We can still fellowship with each other while having different convictions, for he says, “Let not him who eats [all things] despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats.” (Romans 14:3)NKJV Each one stands before God as one who is individually accountable to his own master. But I should be sensitive lest what I am doing encourages you to do something against your conscience. If you’re unsure about whether it’s all right to eat pork, while I feel totally free to eat it, you may think, “Well, Tyler’s doing it. I respect him, so I think I can do it too.” But if that causes you to override your conscience, and you’re not doing it from faith in God’s acceptance, I should stop. “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” (Romans 14:21)NKJV And to emphasis how much higher we should value another person’s conscience, Paul also said, “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13)NKJV
Remember also that Jesus came “eating and drinking.” (Matthew 11:19) He was falsely accused of being “a glutton and a winebibber,” (Matthew 11:19)NKJV but the accusation arose because Jesus did drink at least some wine, whereas “John came neither eating nor drinking.” (Matthew 11:18) I’m sure if Jesus knew that His drinking would cause someone to stumble, He would have refrained. And no doubt He did in some situations. But in any case it was publicly known that Jesus did partake of wine.
Having this principle of love for a brother or sister doesn’t mean that we only do what everyone else does when we’re with others, and then secretively do otherwise when we’re not. That gets weird in a different way. We must walk in the light of God. But as we’re walking in love, I think it’s good to have those kind of conversations and discuss our differences. And if you’re offended by something I do, just to be honest and say, “It bothers me when you do that. Would you consider being more sensitive in that area?” On the receiving end we should should be ready and willing to adjust our ways in love. “Oh, sure, I’m sorry.” We should love our brother and the Lord so much more than the liberties we have in what we eat or wear, or how we spend our time and money, or anything else. We should love God beyond all those things, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)NKJV That’s what we should be focusing on, because we want righteousness, peace, and joy to flourish in the congregation among God’s people.
Perhaps someone is troubled about your occupation. Let’s suppose you’re a truck driver, and they’re bothered about it because of what they know of the whole atmosphere of the industry. If they’re simply concerned about your own walk, that is certainly something to ask God about, and yet by His grace you may be able to walk in purity and integrity as a light in the darkness. But suppose your freedom causes a weaker brother to boldly work in that field as well—and then he gets snared into sin by the temptations along the way. It’s possible you may come to the place where the Lord leads to say, “Hey, let’s just get out of trucking altogether and go farming instead.” But the fact is that there are temptations in every field, and we need the Lord to show us the path of blessing for each of us individually.
Another are we should be sensitive is in the general convictions of the culture we’re among. While in Papua New Guinea, I found that there are certain things I learned to be sensitive about, to reach them for Christ. Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) NKJV) There are things in which he was not constrained by his own conscience, but if others would take offence, he was willing to give up those freedoms so that he could preach the gospel to them. And he had liberty to change some things when he was working among a different group. But that is different from hypocrisy, because he was doing it out of love for them and for the sake of reaching them with gospel. There are certain things in Papua New Guinea that we’ve changed from how we would normally do, just so we don’t offend them, and so that it won’t become a distraction from hearing the gospel.