Friday, July 27, 2007

Essentials, Non-Essentials, and Christian Fellowship: Causing Somone To Stumble (Part One)

As Paul continues to discuss how we are to love each other in the body of Christ, what interaction between those strong in faith and weak in faith really looks like, we learn that though we may have different freedoms in Christ, we are not to use those freedoms in a way that causes others to stumble. The question, however, is this: What exactly does it mean to cause others to stumble and how can we avoid being a stumbling block? How does this stumbling principle apply in everyday life? For example, if some people who claim faith in Christ think it is sinful for women to wear pants. Does this mean she shouldn’t wear pants?

The dilemma, as Paul sees it, is quite simple, yet complicated. It comes in the form of true truths that exist in contradiction. Look at what I mean.

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean” (14:13-14).

Paul has come to understand that no food is unclean. At the same time, he recognizes that there are some, who are “weak in faith”, who do regard certain foods as unclean. Therefore, for them, these foods are unclean (again, likely Jewish Christians holding to the dietary laws of their ancestors). So a paradox exists. Once again, Paul is talking about ceremonial and cultural issues, not moral ones. Moral issues are never non-essentials.

The struggle is this: food can be both clean and unclean at the same time. The question is: how should the strong behave when the two consciences are in collision?

Notice Paul’s response: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (14:15).

Paul is saying that if the weaker brother is distressed (feels grief or even pain) by your freedom concerning a non-essential, not only because he/she sees you doing something that they disapprove of, but is also induced to follow your example against his/her conscience (this does not mean against his/her will. It simply means that they follow your example without being fully convinced that this freedom is not sinful), you are no longer walking in love. Love is thoughtful and considerate to the needs of the weaker brother. Love will limit its own liberty out of respect for them.

How do we induce weaker brothers to follow our lead? When we eat or drink with an attitude of superiority or scorn towards those who do not have the freedom to eat or drink, it serves as a kind of “pressure” to the weak to conform to our conscience when they do not have the freedom to do so. For example, let’s say that you have the freedom to drink alcohol. You have been fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus that consuming alcohol in moderation is not sinful for you. But your best friend has been raised in an environment where alcohol is viewed as sinful, and they are not settled in their conscience on the issue. When spending time together, you consistently do so in an environment of alcohol, even encouraging your friend to drink, though they are not yet convinced, for whatever reason, it is not sin for them to drink. In such a scenario, you are not walking in love. Failing to walk in love is dangerous. Paul says that failing to consider the influence of our actions on the weak in faith could “destroy the one for whom Christ died.”

This matter of being the culprit who may "destroy" the faith of another is weighty and worthy of our consideration. We'll talk more about this in the next post.


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