Because it is God who accepts or rejects, we don’t judge one another any more when it comes to whether a person eats or drinks or worships on this day or that or any like thing (cf. v. 1-12). Rather than judge, we determine not to put an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother’s way. That obstacle, then, is judgment—regarding a brother or sister with contempt because he either chooses to abstain from something or not (cf. v. 10).
Immediately, we are going to notice that the text says something different than is normally taught by, I believe, well-meaning people. They claim that we don’t become stumbling blocks by withholding ourselves from certain good gifts when we are around brothers or sisters who have a problem with that gift or who have been addicted to that gift instead of Christ in the past. That is not what this text claims. This text claims that we become stumbling blocks to others in the faith when we judge them for enjoying the good gifts God has provided. So, instead of judging, we determine not to be an obstacle—very much in the same spirit of Acts 15. We don’t want to place unnecessary blockades between people and Christ. When we require what God does not, or judge others on bases Christ does not, we cause others to stumble as they are trying to run to Christ.
Paul knows that nothing is unclean. We can be confident that nothing is unclean. Paul also recognizes that those who are weak in the faith (cf. v. 1) consider some things to still be unclean for them. To the weak brother, it is a matter of conscience. In order for either brother not to be a stumbling block, each one resolves not to cast judgment on the other. Judgment is the stumbling block, not partaking or abstaining according to Paul, here.
Look at Paul’s wording, “If because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Chris died.” This verse is not out of context from the next, “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking.” While there may be a sense in which temporary abstinence from God’s good gifts is healthy for our brothers and sisters who were once addicted until they no longer idolatrize whatever it is we are eating or drinking, that’s not what this passage encourages. Instead, it instructs us not to let a good thing be spoken of as evil. If a brother or sister is going to treat our enjoyment with contempt, and so fall into the sin of judgmentalism, we can abstain for their sake–so that others in the faith do not live in the sin of judgmentalism on our account and so live as stumbling blocks. Though nothing is unclean, the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking; though eating and drinking are good gifts from above, they are not necessary to our spiritual health or the standing of God’s kingdom. We like to enjoy to the glory of God, but we do not have to. Instead, we hunger for righteousness and thirst for peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If we serve Christ by considering our brothers and sisters to be more important than ourselves, even our enjoyment of what is good, we are acceptable to God and approved by people.
So, instead of treating what God has provided as good as if it were a god, we actively pursue the things which make for peace and building up of one another. We do not tear down God’s work for the sake of eating or drinking. All things are clean, but consumption is evil for the one who causes weak brothers and sisters to fall into the sin of judgmentalism and so be distracted from Christ. It is good not to cause anyone to speak of any good gift as evil (cf. v. 16).
Paul, here, provides a secret to having happiness in Christ. A person is happy, the same term for blessed, if he does not condemn himself in what he approves. If we doubt what we eat or drink, we do not eat from faith. Whatever is not from faith is sin. So, we eat and drink what we are comfortable with in Christ. If we are not comfortable with something, we do not partake for the sake of our own conscience. Sin is not eating or drinking a certain thing. Sin is doing anything apart from the faith we have been given. For some then, consuming certain things is a sin. For others, it is not. This is a matter of conscience, not legalistic requirement. So, walk in wisdom.
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