Pastor Steve Ellison
The church at Rome in the first century and your church in 2017 both have a problem. Both have people who are confused about what is really important. Both have people who have no idea how much damage they are doing to their church. Both have people who make terrible choices for very self-centered reasons. Both have people who have taken their eyes off Christ and have become unloving toward others.
It is clear that Romans 14 is laying down ground rules for dealing with actions that are not biblically wrong. This passage has no bearing on those things which violate biblical standards. Romans 14 deals with matters of opinion, personal preference, and tradition. Verse 13 could not be clearer. We are told that our judging of our fellow church members puts an obstacle or a stumbling block in their way. Several times in Romans 14 we are told that we will be held accountable for our judging. Verse 14 echoes Genesis 1 which tells us several times that everything God created is good. Verse 15 tells us that if our actions or our judgment of others actions hurts our brothers, we are not walking in love. More than simply hurting our brother, verse 15 tells us that we can destroy him. Verses 16 and 17 remind us that our freedom, our liberty in Christ, as real as it is, ought not to be our priority. Rather our priority ought to be to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord. If you are a person who needs a formula to make sure that you are on the right path, if you need for God to spell out in detail what He expects from you, well you have it in verse 18. Your refusal to give in to your own opinions and your refusal to judge your brothers and sisters unjustly is actually serving Christ. This service is clearly declared to be acceptable to God.
Verse 19 gives some clear commands which let us know that our priorities have already been set for us. Our priorities must not be our opinions, preferences, or traditions. Instead, our priorities must be “to pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another”. Verse 17 maintains that the “kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. While we have the freedom in Christ to engage in activities that do not violate clear Biblical commands, this does not mean that we ought to. Rather we are told in verse 21, that we ought not to “do anything by which your brother stumbles”. Verse 21 gives two specific examples: eating meat that may have been offered to idols prior to being sold and the drinking of wine. I am sure you can think of many other examples from your own life.
The gist of this passage then is that we ought to very carefully consider all of our words, demands, and actions to see if they might cause others to stumble. The most oft used example is drinking wine with a meal which causes another to become an alcoholic, but that is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Suppose it causes another to gossip about me. Has that created an obstacle? Suppose it causes another to judge me. Has that created an obstacle? If I complain about a new style of worship and it influences another to have negative feelings toward the pastor or the song leader, is that creating a stumbling block by making it hard for that person to worship or receive the sermon? I imagine that you can think of many, many more examples. I recommend it. I think that it would be a good spiritual exercise for each of us.