Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
When I read this I started with the end of the chapter, which are the verses above, specifically “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves“. This line in isolation is really confusing and just highlights why it is not good to take a verse out of context. How can someone condemn himself by not keeping something just between them and God and by approving it? Why should we keep a conviction between just us and God? Doesn’t God want us to share what He is teaching us with others? What is Paul talking about?
After reading the whole chapter (context!) I now understand what Paul is saying. Paul spends a lot of time talking about eating meat vs just veggies because that was a big issue religiously speaking during his time. Still today this could be a factor in some relationships. He does mention wine at the end of the chapter and today I think that is a much more relevant topic overall. However, you can plug a myriad of disputable things into the chapter (tattoos, getting dressed up on Sunday morning, what day you go to church, etc.). I’m going to focus on alcohol just because Paul does specifically mention wine and it is still very relevant.
Today you’ll find Christians who proclaim it to be a sin to drink any sort of alcohol and pass judgement on those who do, and then you find Christians who do not feel guilty about enjoying a margarita or a fresh brewski and who openly flaunt their freedom to do so (as long as they aren’t getting drunk), putting down Christians who feel guilty drinking as “old fashioned prudes”. Paul addresses both ends of the spectrum pointing out the sinfulness of both judgement and of approving a behavior that can cause someone else to stumble in their faith.
One of the most well-known Bible verses, and probably most misused is “do not judge lest ye be judged” from the sermon on the mount. What I mean by misused and misquoted is that it is often taken out of context and used to “justify” blatant sinful behavior. The Bible does say that drunkenness is sinful, and commands us not to be controlled by anything but the Holy Spirit, or in other words not to be controlled by a drug of some sort. For some, who struggle with addiction or who are living in (or grew up around drunkenness), starting to drink alcohol can be a very slippery slope that causes them to fall away in their journey of faith by allowing something else other than God to control them, or to become their “go to” for relaxation and “happiness” after work and on the weekends. For someone in this situation they may choose to abstain from alcohol. Either for the protection of their own faith, or to be an example to people in their family that true satisfaction comes from the Lord. This is right for them to do, since Romans 14 states that anyone who does partake in a disputable activity with doubt about whether it is ok for them to do so is sinning. However, when someone in this situation begins to take it upon themselves to force their own policy upon others, or judging others who do partake in alcohol (again not drunkenness), then their judgment becomes sin. They are right to abstain because of their own convictions, but wrong to judge about a disputable matter, and therefore sin in that way.
On the flip-side from judgement for behavior, there is sinning by approval of a behavior through word or action. The Bible verse quoted above “blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves” is exponentially less popular than the judgement verse. How come? Cause it is hard to “justify” sinful behavior with this one. But again, what does it mean in context of the chapter? Paul explains that if you are strong enough in your faith to enjoy “a cold one”, but then you openly put someone down who finds it wrong for themselves to drink, then you are in fact condemning yourself by what you approve with your words and your behavior. The act of putting down the person who feels convicted to abstain is unloving. Flaunting your freedom to drink a glass of wine can very easily tempt someone who struggles with addiction to fall back into their vice, or who is trying to be an example to family to cave in their convictions. This is unloving. Why? Because when you put the other down, or when you flaunt your behavior or even just your approval of it in word, you are caring more about “being right” or about “doing what makes you feel good”, just like the person who judges you for drinking does.
When we care more about being right or about doing what we want, then we care more about us and the disputable matter than we do about the salvation of others. We therefore condemn ourselves by our approval (whichever way you approve) because you are guilty of loving yourself more than your neighbor. Christ Himself said that the greatest law is to love the Lord God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as your yourself. What is the one thing God cares about most? The redemption and salvation of people for His glory. It is His will that none should perish. So if we are truly going about our Father’s business then we will care more about the redemption and salvation of people than “being right” or about flaunting our freedom in Christ by partaking in something that could cause someone else to stumble in their faith.
That is why Paul says to keep your conviction to yourself, and to work your salvation out with trembling before a Holy God (Philippians 2). He reminds us in Romans 14 that we will each stand before God on judgement day–alone. We are each accountable to God, not based on technicalities of obedience, but as to whether or not Jesus Christ was our Lord on earth. If we are living in submission to God through Christ by the power of the Spirit then we will love Him and therefore love others.
In other words, care more about the salvation of others. Even if that means paying closer attention to what you are wearing, what you are drinking, or paying attention to what you are saying about disputable matters, or even if it means keeping quiet about your convictions, then do it. Be aware of and concerned about their walk with God. Their walk with God is more important. That is the loving and peaceful thing to do.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Notice how Paul opens up the chapter with the keywords “disputable matters.” There are black and white matters that are not disputable laid out in scripture that clearly tells us what right or wrong is, in many areas. There are also scriptural instruction for how to judge and address sinful behavior. (i.e. Galatians 6, 1 Corinthians 5, Titus 1, Matthew 18).