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. 14 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. 19 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.
As we get into today’s text, there is one core principle from the previous couple of weeks that I want to remind us of: agape love. Agape love, as you will hopefully recall, is self-sacrificial love which in one extreme means, “a love that will die for another person.” But, on another extreme, agape love can relate to simply sacrificing one’s preferences or conveniences or comforts for the sake of another person. With Jesus, his sacrifice wasn’t simply the cross; it wasn’t just his death. His sacrifice began when he stepped down out of heaven and was, as Scripture says, made lower than the angels. Just taking on human flesh was a sacrifice for him, and it was a sacrifice that he willingly took on because of love.
So, as we think about loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, recognize that there is a call placed on us to be willing to die for each other. Jesus said in John 15,
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
But, yet, the reality for us in 2020 is that what is really being demanded of us is not that we lay down our lives, but rather that we lay down our preferences. This is especially true when you are a part of a group that is church planting as we are. You perhaps have somewhat fond memories of your church experience growing up. You want similar things for your children, and yet, there are many things we at Covenant Shreveport don’t have right now. But, you are laying down some of those desires because you’ve committed yourself to the mission of building something that, hopefully, allows future generations to experience some of those things. The realization for me is that while my kids may not get to be a part of a bustling youth ministry with 150-200 other students like I did, they are getting to be a part of something I never had, a true family of faith living on mission together.
But, laying down our preferences is far easier said than done, especially if you feel that the thing you prefer is the “right” thing while what other people prefer is the “wrong” thing. Let’s look at our text because Paul throws out a pretty astounding idea to us, and it is verse 14:
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.
Remember our first core principle was agape love. A second core principle we saw last week was practicing non-judgment. Rather than seeking to discern the purity of another person’s faith, we recognize that everyone is in a different place developmentally when it comes to Christ. Paul said some are weak and some are strong, or in other words, some are immature and some are more mature. And, Paul began this paragraph by posing this challenge to his readers, “you need to decide now to never put a stumbling block or a hindrance in the way of a brother.” And, it seems to me as if Paul here is certainly addressing everybody, but perhaps looking most intently at those who should be more mature.
Martin Luther famously summed up this situation when he said, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” And, while this may sound like doublespeak, it actually aligns perfectly with the teaching of the New Testament. Consider these verses.
Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
1 Peter 2:16 – Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 – 19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
So, what do the Scriptures mean when they talk about freedom? Well, the foundational notion of freedom is freedom from sin. Christ has come and through his death and resurrection loosed the bonds of sin on our lives so that we might, for the first time in our lives, be free not to sin. But, also in the context of Romans, it also relates to a freedom from the old dietary restrictions of the Torah.
But, here’s perhaps an overarching principle in all of this: your freedom in Christ also provides you with an opportunity to be free from self-focus and old priorities so that your focus can become loving others well.
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.
So, if you read that right, we do in fact need to care deeply about how our actions might affect or be perceived by others in our faith family. If you’ve bought into this modern notion that the secret to happiness is in not caring what others think, then you have bought into a notion that really says that extreme self-focus is the key to happiness. That is anti-gospel thinking. And, let me point out that there is a big difference between people-pleasing and people-serving.
People-pleasing is rooted in a place of self-focus that craves the approval of others and is willing to alter behavior or beliefs to receive that approval. So, if you are a people-pleaser, that’s really all about your neediness not theirs, and it is reactive. “Who do I need to be for you so that you will affirm me?” People-serving on the other hand is all about the other person and their neediness. It is a place of pro-action rather than reaction, and it asks the question, “who do I need to be for you so that you might grow in Christ?” And, humility is in sacrificing your desires and preferences so as to serve another person.
19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.
Now, here’s where this really gets challenging for us. Paul says this: “if your brother sees what you do as being sinful, and if you persist in it knowing that it offends your brother, it becomes sin to you even if what you’re doing is not wrong.
I grew up in a town that was completely dry when it came to alcohol. There were no liquor stores. You could not buy beer at a gas station. You could not have a glass of wine at a restaurant. My family largely did not drink, and the culture of our church was such that I learned that drinking alcohol was a sin. As a teenager, the church would put on these evangelical dramas in which there was always a part of play where kids would drink and drive and die and go to hell. But, as I got older and read the Bible for myself, I learned that drinking is in fact not a sin. Rather, drunkenness is the sin, and, wine, for example is seen throughout the Bible as a sign of God’s blessing. I also learned that Jesus, in fact, did not drink Welch’s grape juice at the last supper. This, by the way, was not some new freedom we found in Christ, it was something the people of God had always been free to do. So, I felt like I had been lied to, like some new law had been added to the pages of Scripture and imposed on me. Now, I didn’t head off to college and become a lush. In fact, I really didn’t drink until it was legal for me to do so. But, I did take on a self-righteousness that made me feel better than everyone else or smarter than everyone else as it related to this issue. And, I thought that it would probably be best for me to intentionally drink in front of other people who perhaps did not approve so as to prove to them it was ok.
Several years later, though, I developed a close friendship with someone whose life had been ruled by alcohol for many years. He had a crazy story, and it was really only through the grace of God that he was still alive and still married and that he still had a relationship with his kids. And, never once did I think, I need to prove to this guy that drinking is actually ok. Instead, I thought, I need to be very cautious to never put a stumbling block in front of this person. Why? Because I loved him.
To use this analogy with Paul’s point, drinking alcohol may not be inherently wrong; however, if you know that others see it as wrong and you intentionally do it in front of them anyway, then you have sinned. And, the sin is not drinking, the sin is pride. It is showing through your actions that you care more about being right than you do about the other person.
So, the call is to sacrifice your need to be right, so that you might lovingly guide people toward Christ. Remember, last week we talked about issues of primary importance and issues of secondary importance? Jesus didn’t die and rise from the dead so that I could convince other people that drinking is ok. No, what does Paul say,
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
This morning, let us leave this place walking in love joy and humility, ready and willing to sacrifice our preferences, not matter how right they are, so that others will Christ, know Christ, love Christ and follow Christ.