Be Right. Be Winsome.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Rom. 14:14 (Holman) I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.
Remember our context. Paul is dealing with issues not definitely dealt with in the Bible, including food and religious days. He is saying vegetables are not better than meat, and no day is holier than any other.
Our text presents an important principle for Christians. People should never violate their own consciences. To do so is sin. Always respect your conscience. We may need at times to do more than conscience demands, but never less.
Rom. 14:15a For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love.
Just because we determine a particular course of action is not sin in and of itself, this does not mean we can proceed automatically with the activity. Before we do the deed, it must pass at least one more test.
Will it injure a brother or sister in Christ? Might it entice fellow believers to do something their conscience condemns? In making moral decisions, ask yourself at least three vital questions, “Will this displease God? Will it hurt others? Will it hurt me?”
“Hurt” here refers to being wounded in conscience. Do not cause fellow believers any pain. We must be extremely tender with the conscience of others.
To hurt a brother or sister in Christ is to sin against the law of love. Do not grieve a fellow family member.
Many of our moral decisions have to be made on the basis of what others think. Our duty must often be determined by our brothers and sisters’ weakness. It is possible that there may be times when God will speak to us through someone else’s conscience.
Martin Luther said a Christian is the freest person of all, subject to none. Then, in the next sentence, he said a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to all. Here is tremendous insight. In matters not spelled out in Scripture, believers are free to make moral decisions on their own. However, the highest standard for Christian living is not freedom but love. If expressing our freedom may hurt another, freedom is to be voluntarily restricted as an act of love.
Does this mean if someone disagrees with a deed in our life, we must automatically quit what we are doing? Yes and no. Yes, if the person may be tempted to follow our example and thereby be hurt. No, if the person is trying to lord over us or be pharisaical. No one has the right to tyrannize another.
Paul, to keep from offending sensitive Jews, circumcised Timothy. But when pharisaical Judaizers were trying to force every believer to be circumcised, Paul adamantly refused to circumcise Titus.
We take orders from Christ only, but in a loving community, people will accept limitations on their conduct in order to protect others. A man once said to a lighthouse keeper, “Are you not afraid to live here? This is a dreadful place to be constantly in.”
“No,” replied the keeper, “I am not afraid. We never think of ourselves here.”
“Never think of yourselves! How is that?”
“We know that we are perfectly safe, and only think of having our lamps burning brightly, and keeping the reflectors clear, so that those in danger may be saved.”
This should also be the attitude of Christians. We are safe in a house built on the Rock. The wildest storm cannot sway us. In gratitude we should live in a spirit of holy unselfishness. Worry not about ourselves. Instead, think of our weaker brothers and sisters in Christ.
Rom. 14:15b Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat.
Devastating the faith of a believer is too high a price to pay for indulging in a questionable luxury. It is wrong to hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ by gratifying the lust of our stomach.
We each have awesome influence. God can bless others through us, or the devil can devastate others through us. We must decide which way our influence will point others.
Will we prove so selfish that we will refuse to yield up even a small thing to protect fellow believers from something that might be harmful to them? I pray not.
The Lord expects better of us. Maybe the greatest smile we will ever receive from God is when we refrain from something that in and of itself may be totally innocent for us to do, but which is offensive to someone else.
If Christ died for our brothers and sisters, we should be willing to sacrifice a momentary pleasure for them. For them, Jesus did not shrink from yielding up life.
If we say Christ is our pattern, if He is truly the One whom we wish to imitate, sacrificing a questionable pleasure is an obvious duty. If Jesus valued people enough to give up His life for them, we should certainly be willing to give up some activity for them.
Where is the evidence of such love in our life? When was the last time we could honestly say, “I am abstaining from a particular deed because I am trying to help my fellow believers not be offended”?
Rom. 14:16 Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, . . .
Christian liberty, the freedom of conscience in nonessentials, is a good thing. We must not let it become the cause of slanderous talk. This good becomes bad if it is exercised in a loveless way.
In matters not specifically dealt with in Scripture, we must show tolerance and forbearance. In nonessentials, let not the abstainers condemn the indulgers, nor the indulgers disdain the abstainers. It is ugly when we argue over peripheral matters.
What God has done in our hearts is a beautiful thing. We all have grace and love within, but when we get together, our corporate life sometimes becomes disgraceful and unloving. We are often downright cruel to one another.
I read of a book that is interestingly entitled “Roses: How to Grow and How to Show Them”–not only grow them, but also show them. The natural beauty of individual flowers is greatly enhanced when they are brought together and displayed properly.
We Christians need to show the same care in our corporate existence. We have inner beauty, and when we come together, our attitude toward one another should result in actions that cause us to appear in the eyes of the world as a lovely bouquet. Not only are we to be right, we must also be attractive and winsome.