13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. 14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
Because the Lord receives both the weak and the strong believer.
Because the Lord is able to sustain them, whether weak or strong.
Because both the weak and strong are acting with pure motives, out of love for God and a desire to honour Him.
Because only the Lord is the judge of all believers.
Therefore let us stop judging each other over non-sinful, non-moral, preferential areas.
Do not cause your weaker brother to stumble (v13)
Yes, as a strong believer who understands the freedom you have in Christ, you know that you are free to drink alcohol in moderation. Does this mean you have to drink? No. Does this mean you have to drink in order to prove your liberty? No. Not if it causes a weaker brother to stumble. Though it may not be wrong to drink alcohol in and of itself. If doing so causes your brother to stumble, it is wrong.
Do not grieve your weaker brother (v14-15).
Yes, as a strong believer you know that pork is a clean food to eat. But if a weaker brother believes it is unclean, then for him it is unclean. You should never encourage a weaker brother to violate his conscience by eating or drinking or doing anything that he believes to be wrong. You should never, ever train yourself to violate your conscience. And we should never, ever encourage a fellow believer to do so. If we do something we know our weaker brother thinks is wrong, and it causes them to follow in our footsteps and causes them to violate their conscience, we will have caused them grief, we will have caused them distress, and that is wrong. Unequivocally wrong.
Do not destroy your weaker brother (v15b).
MacArthur explains the difference well.....
If you drink alcohol in front of a recovery alcoholic, that's not "just" going to cause them to stumble, that's not "just" going to cause them to have a guilty conscience, that could very well through them full scale back into alcoholism and destroy them.
And this is one of those things that causes me to decide almost universally not to drink. Why? Not because it's wrong. It's not wrong. Not in and of itself. But how do I know ahead of time that my weaker brother has an issue with alcohol that could lead to alcoholism? Is living out my freedom to drink so important to me that I am willing to gamble the spiritual welfare of my fellow believers on it?
Now, if I knew for a fact that all the people I was having dinner with together in the privacy of our own home had no issues with alcohol and knew they were free to drink in moderation and knew that they were also sensitive not to flaunt this freedom - well, then that's another story. But if there is ever any doubt whatsoever, the Bible is very clear that we are to refrain from exercising our freedoms out of love for our weaker brother. Do not do so, is wrong. Plain and simple.
Do not damage your testimony. (v16)
Yes, there's nothing wrong with drinking in moderation (there are numerous other examples of course, I'm just using this as an example because it is a very common one in our society today). But it is possible to so abuse our liberty that we create such conflict between weak and strong believers, that we damage our witness and credibility to the watching world. Because make no mistake about it, they are watching.
The Bible says that they will know we are Christians by our love. If the world sees as treating our fellow believers with contempt, they are not seeing that love and they are very likely, being turned off of the gospel message entirely. Instead of people watching us and thinking that we are a worthy group of people to be identified with, they will think the exact opposite. They will think that if that's how we treat other, who wants to be part of that?! With friends like that who needs enemies, right?
In fact, if we have to make a choice between offending an unbeliever or offending a believer, which one do we choose? If we're at a neighbourhood bbq and an unbeliever offers us a beer in front of a fellow believer whom you know to be a recovering alcoholic, what do you do? The answer should be obvious. You offend the unbeliever instead of the believer. You love the believer. And that will be a witness to the unbeliever.
Because if you offend your weaker brother, you've discredited the significance of Christian love. If you offend the pagan in order to show love to your brother, you've given a profound testimony to that pagan. Right? That love overrules everything. And that's the kind of association most pagans would like to get into, an association where people cared enough about each other to set aside perfectly good liberties so as not to offend. The pagan will see your love and your care for a fellow Christian and be drawn to the gospel, perhaps.
The world doesn't need to see how free we are. The world needs to see that we love each other.
The kingdom of God is not concerned about what we eat or what we drink (v17). That's not what salvation is about. The kingdom is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. This is a little bit long but I just thought it was so good....
And when we live like that, we please God (v18) and gain approval by a world that is scrutinizing our behaviour.
Part of MacArthur's closing prayer....
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Romans 14:19-21