Judging & Tripping
We humans have some funny contradictions in our lives. We want to be free to do whatever we want, but we want to judge people who do things differently than us. We are passionately individualistic, yet we love to label people and personally identify with labels. We admire those with strong conviction and will, yet we secretly long to see them stumble.
In Romans 14, Paul addresses some of these issues that were rising up in the early days of the church. Some people, seeking to honor God, were following some patterns and habits they felt would honor God. Others were learning the freedom they had in Christ and following other, less traditional perhaps, patterns. It seems in the church at Rome, some people were judging others for how they ate and drank, and what religious holiday’s they celebrated.
Paul says, “Stop judging your brother!” It is important to see here, he is not talking about sin/not-sin issues in this passage. So if your Christian brother is stealing, it is right for you to “judge” and say, “Stealing is wrong, you should stop doing that.” But if your Christian brother chooses to abstain from certain foods or beverages, that’s between him and God. If your sister in Christ chooses to celebrate a religious holiday or not, that’s between her and God. Paul says, “Who are you to judge your masters servant?”
So here’s the question. I’m a Christian, and I also love to eat meat. There are other Christians who might feel that this is technically OK because God allows it in the Bible, but it wasn’t going on in Eden, so when possible, we should avoid it. Now what do I do when it’s time to have dinner with that brother? Romans 14 gives us two helpful rules. Don’t judge the person with different convictions than you, and don’t trip your brother and make him stumble. Meat-eater, don’t try to pressure your brother to eat with you. Vegetarian, don’t make your brother feel judged. Let the law of love apply.
We want to serve each other in the way of Christ. This means sacrificial love. If avoiding eating a certain food is a way I can serve a brother, I can skip the meat when I enjoy a meal with that brother or sister. I’ve used a less controversial example like meat, but there are many things that fall into this category of Christian conscience. Things like piercings, tattoos, alcohol, secular music and movies, how we spend money, denominational affiliations, etc. There are many, many issues on which the Bible gives freedom within boundaries. Paul’s encouragement is for each person to live by conviction before God.
Towards the end of the chapter, Paul says, “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.” This is the wonderful truth of the gospel. God is at work in all who believe. We want to seek to live together in a way that encourages the work God is doing in each of our hearts.
Take some time to read Romans 14. What are some places you might be judging a brother who has less strict convictions than you? What are some places you might be acting carelessly around a brother who needs you to abstain to help him obey his convictions? Romans 14 will help you navigate these kinds of issues.