Perhaps it’s too bad the church no longer has this problem. (Or maybe it does and I’m just not aware.) The problem is caused by those “weak in faith”. In other words, they believe that certain conduct—about which Scripture is silent—condemns them before God. I say it’s too bad we don’t have this problem, because we’re not so concerned about holiness as believers once were. Granted, the “weak in faith” are immature in their convictions. But they have a genuine desire for holiness we seem to have lost.
In any case, the difference between Christian freedom (our Jonathan is free to have a beer occasionally) and abstinence (our Mark considers it a sin) is creating disunity in the Roman church—and potentially harming the abstaining brother.
“Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (14:13).
This statement ties the previous paragraph to today’s text. Neither the veggies-onlys nor the meat-eaters should judge the other. Judgment is “a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another”. It’s like putting a barrier in a runner’s way to keep him from reaching the finish line. It may block one’s brother from following Christ as he believes he should.
“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. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died” (14:14,15).
Paul is emphatic: “nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean”. Hear that Mark? Jonathan’s beer-drinking isn’t unclean. He’s free to drink (moderately). Hear that Jonathan? “if your brother is being injured by what you eat (or drink), you are no longer walking in love.” Your freedom may entice Mark to violate his conscience and drink. It may cause Mark to doubt what he believes. It may drive Mark from the church, presuming that all Christians aren’t really devoted to Christ. Jonathan, Christ died for Mark. Don’t let your freedom destroy him! Mark is “weak in faith”. Jonathan, you’re “strong”. You’re responsible: limit your freedom if it injures your brother.
“So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval” (14:16-18).
By “your good” I take Paul to mean your liberty. If others are speaking of it as “evil”, there’s contention among the church. They’re arguing. But over secondary issues. God’s reign in Christ is about primary things, like “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. What’s beer by comparison, Jonathan?
“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (14:19-21).
Paul’s conclusion can’t be more plain. “Strong” men, like Jonathan, who know their standing with God isn’t affected by what they drink or eat, must not pursue their liberty, but run after “what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding”. Everything’s “clean”; but it’s better not to make your brother stumble.
“The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (14:22,23).
The first two sentences are Paul’s way of saying, “Mind your own business”. Or, “Don’t parade your liberty before others. Maybe you should have your occasional beer in the privacy of your own home, Jonathan.”
The “weak in faith” Christian must abstain if he has doubts about eating or drinking. If he can’t eat or drink believing he is free to do so, he must not. In his belief system, it’s a sin.
* * *
Yes, Jonathan is free to grab a beer. But not if it causes Mark to stumble in his faith. The kingdom of God isn’t beer; it’s righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Those are primary issues. Beer is secondary. Love must win out over liberty.
It did with Jesus . . .
“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed,
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.
Yet not as I will, but as you will.'”