In verses 1-12 of this chapter, Paul has given several commands to encourage believers to stop judging other Christians over non-essential or non-moral issues. In verses 13-23, he now gives the application of these commands by encouraging obedience and explaining practical examples of what to do. Paul is extremely passionate in these verses about the responsibility of believers to stop judging one another. He would rather have us judging ourselves. Why? Because this is the simplest way to stop judgmentalism in the church. If you would simply focus on dealing with your faults, then you would have no time to nit-pick someone else’s faults. If you pursue this course of action, you will also be kept from stumbling others by your liberty.
Are you a judgmental person? Do you look at other people and seem to see all their faults? If you say, “Well, I don’t know if I am a judgmental person.” The simplest way to find out is to ask your spouse if you are judgmental. Or, ask your best friend, or a Christian coworker. Simply ask them, “Do you think I am judgmental?” If they answer, “Yes,” or you already know that you are judgmental, then this Bible study is for you. Please consider the issues I will address in this study with an open heart. Paul gives you some great ways to resolve judgmentalism in your life. Hopefully this study will cause you to think about how your attitudes and behaviors influence and affect other people. To think in this way is a must for a believer, because this is what Christian love is all about. If you love your brothers and sisters in Christ, then you won’t judge them or stumble them. This is why Paul wrote, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:13-23).
Three basic biblical categories of behavior.
Before we look at Paul’s instruction, let me first explain an important biblical truth. There are three basic biblical categories of behavior. The Bible describes righteous and moral behavior, immoral behavior, and non-moral behavior (Ps. 1:6; 2 Chron. 28:19; 1 Cor 5:11; 1 Cor. 6:9). Usually, it is quite easy to identify moral and immoral behavior and how these actions can affect other people. It is obvious how loving and moral behavior affects others, because people will usually respond back to you in love. Similarly, it is obvious how a person’s immoral and unloving behavior affects others. People are stumbled by angry, selfish and ungodly behavior, and many times react with a similar response. I have seen church leaders commit adultery and stumble their entire church. I’ve seen parents turn from following Christ and stumble their own children’s faith. It is heart-breaking, because the hypocrisy they see stumbles their faith in God. Stumbling others should be a major concern, because we all have incredible influence on the lives of those around us. Jesus also revealed that He thought it was important not to stumble others when He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). Jesus makes it very clear that you don’t want to stumble someone who believes in Him! The word stumble or the word offend are both the same Greek word. Remember, people are watching you and how you behave once you have confessed your faith in Christ.
Your behavior relating to non-moral issues can also greatly affect others. A powerful example of this truth that people are watching you, is found in Don Richardson’s book “Peace Child,” which I highly recommend. Don spent several years in New Guinea as a missionary to the headhunters living there. He was trying to share the gospel with this people group for years. But, a break-through occurred in his ministry when the tribe watched Don deal with the near drowning of his own wife and two little children. He saved them from drowning which was a great blessing for them. Sometime after this traumatic experience, Don asked one of the tribesmen what had prompted him to actually come to faith in Christ. The tribesmen responded, “Because I watched you and how you handled the crisis of the near drowning of your family.” This revealed how closely these people were watching his everyday behavior. Remember, people are watching you all the time. They will be influenced for good by your behavior, or they will be stumbled by the way you live. You affect people in a powerful way whether you realize it or not. You can encourage people, or you can stumble them; which do you want to do?
What will keep you from stumbling others with your behavior?
Let’s look at several principles that Paul addresses in this section of Scripture. As I go through these principles, ask yourself if you live in this manner.
1. Stop condemning others and start examining your own behavior. Vs. 13
Paul begins with a very direct command when he declares, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way” (Romans 14:13). Paul first addresses one of the greatest stumbling behaviors that a believer can exhibit, which is judgmentalism. Being condemning toward others is the opposite of the love of Christ, and it always drives Christians apart. This is why whether someone’s behavior is immoral or non-moral, you must make sure you don’t speak or behave in a judgmental or condemning way. Why? Because people can sense your judgmental attitude before you finish the first sentence in your conversation with them. They can also sense if you are coming to them with humility. Jesus referred to Himself as One who was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). This is what drew people to Him. This attitude of humility is why people would listen to Him when He taught them and reproved them for their sin. Each of us must be so careful to remember that we all have faults and blind spots. Knowing this fact will keep us with that essential attitude of humility.
In addition, Paul explains in this verse a simple solution to judgmentalism. Instead of focusing our search light on other people’s faults, he wanted us to focus on our own behavior. Each of us must be absolutely sure we are not stumbling others or causing our brother to fall. What a simple solution for judgmentalism! Jesus taught this same truth in the Sermon on the Mount when He commanded, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:1-5). Jesus draws such a powerful word picture in these verses. He is using hyperbole to make His point. Can you just imagine a big wooden 4 x 4 stuck in someone’s eye, and then that same person trying to pick a little tiny speck out of another person’s eye? It would be ridiculous for anyone to attempt such a thing. Why? Because you could not see anything with a plank stuck in your own eye. But that is Christ’s point. Each of us should be focusing on how our own behavior is affecting others, and dealing with our own faults before we ever start judging others about theirs.
However, let me give a little balance here, Jesus is not against us taking the speck out of someone’s else’s eye. Jesus only wants us to first take care of our own issues before we ever start looking at other people. Doing so keeps us humble and gentle with others, and protects us from ever becoming a critical and condemning people. Keep this balance and you will be just fine.
2. Is love or liberty your greatest concern? Vs. 14-15
Paul goes on to say, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:14-15). The context makes it clear when Paul says, “That there is nothing unclean of itself.” H was referring to the topic of foods that are eaten by believers. There is no inherit spiritual benefit or harm in any food. This statement takes us back to Paul’s discussion in verses 1-12. Paul’s concern was that if a believer felt that he had the liberty to eat pork in front of a new Jewish believer, that the new believer might be stumbled by this action. This is why Paul taught that, “If your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.” Paul’s intent was to warn Christians about not walking in love towards others. Could you imagine how uncaring it would be if a new believer would be stumbled and turned away from the faith because of a non-essential issue such as food? This would be incredibly foolish to cause harm to another person’s faith over a non-issue such as food!
The most important thing to remember is that your primary responsibility as a believer is to love God and to love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). In reality, you can’t say you love God and not love your brother. The Apostle John addressed this issue when he wrote, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21). Note the word must in this last sentence. Loving others is a must for all believers. It is our highest calling! Therefore, if you are not concerned about how your behavior affects other people, then you are not walking in love. Each of us must always be concerned about how our behavior affects other people. If you consider your behavior in this way, it will keep you from ever stumbling others.
3. Do others speak evil of your liberty? Vs. 16-18
Many times, the first sign that your behavior is stumbling others occurs when there is conflict with another person. A person will be very direct and tell you that what you are doing stumbles them, or others will tell you that someone is speaking badly about what you are doing. This is why Paul said, Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Rom. 14:16-18).
Often, when I have counseled individuals about this kind of a problem, their response is, “If someone is stumbled by what I’m doing, that is their problem. They need to just get over it.” Or, people say, “I don't care what other people think. I’m doing what I think is right.” If you think this way, you are the one that has the biggest problem. Yes, the other person has a problem, but you have the bigger problem, because you are stumbling another believer by your behavior. You are not walking in love toward this weaker brother or sister in the family of God.
How should you handle situations like this? If you are going to partake in some particular liberty in public or with people at your home or when you are in another’s home, this is where you need to be concerned about your behavior stumbling others. If you are by yourself in your own home, this is not an issue. As I have already covered in our previous study, this is why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians chapters eight and ten. Remember, Paul said, “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor. 8:9-13 – underline added). Paul also taught, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience' sake; for ‘the earth is the LORD'S, and all its fullness.’ If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience' sake; for ‘the earth is the LORD'S, and all its fullness.’ ‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:24-31 – underline added). For Paul to write about this issue so many times means that this problem must have been a serious issue. Just make sure this is not your issue! Purpose in your heart to always be concerned about the conscience of others, because this is what love is all about.
However, many think that stumbling and offending others was not a priority for Jesus. When people say this to me, I remind them of the words of Jesus when Peter was asked about the paying of taxes. Matthew records, “When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?’ Peter said to Him, ‘From strangers.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you’” (Matt. 17:24-27). Notice that Jesus was very concerned about whether or not He offended those who received the taxes, and those who knew or would ask about whether the Master paid taxes. Jesus knew that He was free from paying taxes, but He did so, as not to offend. If Jesus loved others in this way, why would you ever want to offend anyone over a non-essential issue? This is also what Paul meant when he wrote earlier in this epistle, “Have regard for good things in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17). Do you have regard for good things in the sight of all men? Are you even concerned about how others see you? I hope that you are!
Last, what did Paul mean when he wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men?” The priorities of God’s kingdom have nothing to do with what people eat or drink, or any other non-moral issue. God’s priority will always be focused on righteousness, which is doing what is right in His sight. He wants you to be filled with His Holy Spirit, so you can experience His joy and peace in your life. But you can’t experience this peace and joy if your conscience is convicting you, or if people are angry with you for stumbling them. You would be missing what being a Christian is all about, which is experiencing the power of the living God. Paul’s point is this; don’t be distracted from what is really important. Seek first His righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit!
4. Pursue peace with others and try to build them up by your actions.
The fourth principle Paul addresses on this topic is found in verses 19-21. Paul wrote, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak” (Rom. 14:18-21). Paul now gets even more practical with his encouragements. He wants all believers to pursue the things that make for peace with other Christians, and to work hard at edifying and building up others. The word pursue is a very aggressive word in the Greek language. It is the same word used of fighting, striving, or persecuting others. This word is also in the present tense, which means that Paul wanted to convey that this striving and fighting for peace must be done continuously. In other words, don’t ever stop working with all your might to seek peace with others, and look for ways that you can build up others. Taking this action is what will keep you from ever stumbling another believer and destroying the work of God in their lives. Is this your focus as a Christian? Are you striving and fighting to bring peace to your relationship with others? Are you the peacemaker when conflict arises with others (Matt. 5:9)? This is what walking in love looks like practically, because love constantly seeks ways to build up and edify others. Remember that this is how Paul started his teaching in 1 Corinthians on this topic of not stumbling others. He said, “Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Cor. 8:1). If you truly love others, you will seek to edify and encourage them.
Paul also encouraged the Philippian church to do the same. He wrote, “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:2-4). Love is also unselfish, and it is concerned about the interests of others (1 Cor. 13:5). When a believer is not willing to live above their own standard for the sake of others, they have not yet learned what it means to love another person. Does unselfish love govern your heart and life as you consider the interests of others? This is the proof of true spiritual growth in Christ; anything less reveals an empty profession.
Notice the character qualities that bring peace to relationships with others. Paul declared, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). What brings a bond of peace with others? It is lowliness, gentleness, longsuffering, and love. This is how you endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit. The word endeavoring is also a very aggressive action word. It means to be diligent, to be eager to act, and to do so with all haste. The word endeavoring is also in the present tense which means this must be your continuous action. Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit is not always easy to do. It requires humility and longsuffering with others that can only be supplied by the Spirit of God controlling you. May the Spirit fill your heart to walk in His love toward others in this manner!
It is also important to note that in verse 21, Paul adds drinking wine into this particular topic of not stumbling others. This subject is a hot topic today in the church, especially with more liberal churches. Why? Because these professed believers think they have the liberty to drink anywhere and, in any setting, but according to Paul’s teaching here in Romans, that is not acceptable. If someone believes they can drink they should keep this belief to themselves in their own homes so as not to stumble others. Paul said it this way in our text; “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God” (Rom. 14:22). If a believer disagrees with this view, Paul would say, you are not walking in love toward other believers who are weak in this area. Paul was emphatic about this issue. This is why he said, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak” (Rom. 14:21). The words do anything make it clear that this command is something you should be concerned about dealing with anything which might stumble or offend your brother.
Let me give you some examples of what I have seen over the years which demonstrate this lack of love that Christians have toward others. Many years ago, I had two very good friends of mine who moved into a house with some other single men. One of my friends was a recovering alcoholic and could not be around others who drank. He was a new Christian and a weak brother. The other friend decided that one weekend he would bring a twelve pack of beer home after work. He began to have one of the beers and all was fine, but then my recovering alcoholic friend saw this beer in the refrigerator and became tempted by it. The other man who had no knowledge of his alcoholic background, encouraged him to have a beer with him. He did, but he didn’t stop with just one beer. Later that night this man drove to my house and screeched his tires almost hitting my car in the driveway. I went outside and found my friend laying on the ground beside his car completely drunk. He had vomited on the ground and was completely out of his mind with guilt and shame for what he had done. The next day I went over to the home of the man who brought the beer home and told him what had happened. I said, “Do you realize that this guy used to be an alcoholic? I would suggest not drinking in front of him or having any alcohol in your house.” His response was, “That is his problem; it’s not my problem. I’m not going to restrict my liberty.” I said, “No brother, it is your problem because you are not walking in love toward a weaker brother and your actions are what stumbled him.” From that moment on I realized that I was talking to someone who could care less about his friend. There was never a resolution of this conflict, and it was the end of my friendship with him.
I have also seen this same problem occur in many marital relationships, where one person won’t stop drinking, even though they know their spouse has a drinking problem. If you have the liberty to drink, have it with yourself before God. But, if you have someone living with you that has this weakness, then you are in reality in a public setting, because there is someone else with you. How your actions affect another is the question you must answer. When there is a refusal to stop drinking, these marriages eventually end in divorce.
There are many such examples that I could give you on this topic. I have been to wedding reception dinners, and one person orders a glass of wine, then someone else does the same. Then a person that I know who struggles with alcohol, is emboldened to do the same. The result is a stumbled brother or sister in Christ.
Another example is a person who came to our church who was a recovering alcoholic. This person had attended another church for a while and all was well, but then one day the pastor invited this person over for a BBQ after church and had a keg of beer there for all of those who were invited. By the end of the afternoon most of the people from the church were drunk. This person told me, “I knew from that day forward that this was not a church I wanted to attend.”
Obviously, the Scriptures condemn drunkenness. Paul wrote, “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). According to Paul, what a person is seeking from alcohol can only be found when you are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Bible also says that wine and hard alcohol is not wise to partake in as a believer. Solomon wrote, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). In other words, Solomon is saying that the use of wine will ultimately mock you, because drink makes you a brawler or someone who is loud or obnoxious. I know that this is the case, because I drank when I first became a Christian, and I found that all it takes is one time in which you forget to have dinner, and then a couple of glasses of wine can turn you into a fool in no time. When I counsel couples, who are having family and marital problems, I have found that 75% of the time drugs and alcohol are a major part of their troubles. In addition, I tell these same families that they should not be surprised when their teenagers come to them and say, “Why can’t I drink or use my drug of choice? You do.” I hope that this day never comes for you, but I am sad to say that it has many times come to others. So, this is your choice and your decision. I pray you make the wise choice!
5. Don’t do anything that causes you to condemn yourself.
The last principle Paul addresses is found in verses 22-23 where he taught, “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” This principle is very important, because Paul is not talking about stumbling other people, he is warning you about stumbling yourself. The truth is very simple. If you eat certain foods or drink wine, but afterward you condemn yourself, then you are actually stumbling yourself. This means that you do not have true faith toward God regarding these behaviors. Paul is also talking about even private behavior, because he has already addressed our public behavior. Note that Paul states again that word whatever. He declares that, “whatever is not from faith is sin.” This means that whatever you do in word, thought, or deed, you must have faith that God approves of what you are doing. If you don’t have this confidence, then your conscience will condemn you. This is an untenable situation for a believer. You cannot walk with God and at the same time condemn yourself. So, ask yourself, “Do you want to stumble your own faith?” I hope not! If you don’t want to stumble yourself, then you must have faith that whatever you choose to do in thought, word, or deed, you must believe you are pleasing to God. If you can’t do this it is because your conscience is condemning you.
In Romans 2:15, Paul explained this truth concerning the conscience of men. He taught that if a non-Christian decided to do what was right according to God’s law, even though he did not intellectually know what the law taught, this revealed, “The work of the law written in their hearts, because their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Therefore, your conscience has a very specific work that it accomplishes inside of you. Your conscience either accuses you, or it excuses you. Each of us sense that inner conviction that says, “Don’t do that, this will not be good for you. If you take this action, it will stumble you or someone else.” Or, your conscience can do the exact opposite. Your conscience can give you the green light on your thoughts or behavior and tells you that you are doing the right thing. This is when your conscience makes you feel really good with a thought or behavior. Paul said of himself in Acts 24:16, “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” Is this what you are striving for each day? The Apostle John also taught this truth when he declared, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. If our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:20-21). Whatever you do, you don’t want to have your own heart condemning your thoughts or behavior. You want confidence before God. This confidence will also give you great boldness in the presence of God when you come to pray (1 John 3:22). You see then these two opposing results. Which do you want? Do you want to weaken your faith, or embolden your faith? One of these two results will occur, depending on your decisions.
Consequently, if your conscience bothers you about some attitude or action you are involved in, stop it! Why? Because if you don’t, it will ultimately affect your own walk of faith and your relationship with others. Paul is concerned about your personal growth in faith, and whether or not your behavior toward others is truly pleasing to God. Therefore, obey your conscience, and these issues will not be a problem for you!