Why Understanding Your Freedom in Christ is Never Enough to Regulate Your Conduct in Disputable Matters
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Sunday, November 8, 2009 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1320
Pastor Don Horban

There is a sense in which the governing principle for today’s text is found, not in today’s text, but back in the last phrase of verse 5 - “....Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Here Paul makes it clear that, in disputable matters (not matters clearly defined Biblically as sin) the important issue is a pure undivided mind and quiet conscience before God. And just to make his meaning perfectly clear, Paul expands and illustrates this principle in the words immediately following - Romans 14:6-7 - “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. [7] For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.”

1) UNITY IN CHRIST JESUS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN DISPLAYING MY FREEDOM IN CHRIST JESUS - Romans 14:13 - “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.”

There are only two options held out by Paul in this verse. This sentence sets the tone for everything else Paul will stress in the remaining verses of this chapter. The first option Paul lists is a restless, strained, mutually judgmental community where people are more naturally tuned into assessing and measuring and criticizing each other than helping each other grow in holiness - “passing judgment” is the way Paul describes it.

In the second option Paul lays particular responsibility on the strong. That he makes abundantly clear in verses 14-17. And, in the opening verse of our text, Paul finishes his sentence very deliberately on the word he wants to emphasize - “brother.” “Never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” Act like those watching you are brothers and sisters. Remember that they’re all family. And family members aren’t all on the same level. They don’t all possess the same maturity.

2) IN DISPUTABLE MATTERS IT IS SHORT-SIGHTED AND INCOMPLETE TO REGULATE MY ACTIONS MERELY BY MY FREEDOM IN CHRIST JESUS - Romans 14:14-18 - “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. [15] 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. [16] So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. [17] For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [18] Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”

The really fascinating revelation of this passage centers around some of the most famous words in the New Testament. There’s something almost melodious about the way Paul’s words in verse 17 roll off the tongue - “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”Because the words are so beautiful they are usually quoted alone, so as not to burden us with their context. But that misses the most important point of the text. The words usually aren’t quoted today with the same intent with which they were originally penned by Paul. Paul isn’t using these words to fight small-minded legalism - though other portions of the New Testament certainly do that. He’s not actually directing these words at those weaker brothers and sisters who are offended by those expressing their freedom in Christ. No, the context is very clear. These words are directed at those who flaunt their freedom at the expense of those who will be offended by their actions. That’s Paul’s message in these verses. But why is Paul so adamant about this point? What is really at stake? That’s the case Paul closes this passage with:


Romans 14:19-23 - “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. [20] Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. [21] It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. [22] The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. [23] But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

It’s at this point that Paul lays his heart bare. We finally see the big principle behind all of his previous cautions and instructions. In fact, he hinted at where he was going earlier in this passage - Romans 14:15b - “....By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” That’s quite a verse. It begs the question: “Is it really possible to destroy the one for whom Christ died? Surely Paul exaggerates. Surely he means we might destroy his peace of mind until he sees we were right all along. But Paul can’t mean we can destroy the weaker brother in the sense of costing him his soul. Surely my actions can’t destroy him in that sense.

Or consider the same painful thought expressed in verse 23 - “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Again, this doesn’t seem quite right. I thought we were dealing with disputable matters in these verses. I thought we already laid it down that Paul wasn’t dealing with Scripturally defined obedience or disobedience. I thought we were dealing with issues not covered in Scripture - areas where people formed their own opinions and practices.

And we were. Up until now. Now Paul is laying down a Scriptural command. And the command is this - in any activity - any activity whatsoever - I must not violate my own conscience or encourage anyone else to violate his. That’s a command from the Spirit of God. And when that command is broken, lives are destroyed. Real, genuine sin is committed.

I hope we can digest the magnitude of this truth. Even in small incidental matters - matters left to personal preference - we can still commit massive sins. We can violate our faith and we can cause others to violate theirs. There is more at stake than the action considered by itself. And only weak-minded Christians don’t ponder this.

Here’s why it all matters so much. There are other issues that will come along to every Christian’s life. There are bigger issues than cultic regulations about sabbaths, seasons, and food and drink laws. These, taken by themselves, are small potatoes. But here’s what can happen, even in the practice of these small disputable actions. I can, by my carelessness, train others to act against their conscience. I can offer clever arguments. I can outwit the weaker brother. I can proof-text him into doing something of which he doesn’t fully approve.

“Well, is that such a big deal, Pastor Don?” Yes. It’s a huge deal. It’s a huge deal for which I’m held eternally accountable. It’s a huge deal because there will be some other issue that will tempt him down the road. And that issue may be one that is genuinely dangerous to his eternal well-being. And he may face that issue with far less strength because, on a much smaller issue, I had already trained him to ignore his conscience. And, if I hadn’t done that, he may have been much stronger when he needed inward strength the most.

No wonder Paul addresses so many of his cautions to the strong, rather then the weak. No wonder he tells the strong brother in verse 22 - “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.”You have nothing to prove with your freedom. God already knows about it. Don’t let it hinder others from holiness and heaven. Hide it under a bushel more often than not.