6 “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18:6–7, NASB95)
A stumbling block (Gr. skandalon) is a “trap-stick” (G4625). It is “the moveable stick or tricker (“trigger”) of a trap” (Thayer, 577). Thus, a stumbling block is “any impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall” (Thayer). It is an enticement to sin. Jesus warned against becoming the “cause” (stumbling block, v. 6) that lures and captures another person in sin. We must not entice others to sin. Solomon warned his son to avoid the enticements of sinners (Prov. 1:10). But today’s passage warns against becoming the enticer of others. The apostle Paul explained that even a sinless act (like eating meat previously dedicated to an idol) becomes a stumbling block when it leads the weak in conscience (toward eating such meat) to eat in violation of his scruple (1 Cor. 8:4-13). Being a stumbling block is a “sin against the brethren” and a “sin against Christ” (1 Cor. 8:12). Therefore, Paul would forego his liberty to eat meat to avoid being a stumbling block (1 Cor. 8:13). Jesus said the punishment for being a stumbling block is worse than being drowned in the sea (Matt. 18:7). Woeful punishment awaits those who are impediments to righteousness and enticements to sin (Matt. 18:7). Love does not harm a neighbor (Rom. 13:10). Therefore, love carefully avoids becoming the cause of someone else’s sin (Rom. 13:8).
7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. 8Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, 9 and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name” (Romans 15:7–9, NKJV).
The gospel brings into one body people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, etc., “Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28). He is our peace, reconciling us to God “in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:14, 16). Therefore, outward, physical differences must not become barriers preventing us from receiving one another as Christ received us: Fully, complete, and to the glory of God (Rom. 15:7). Using Christ as our great example of pleasing others instead of ourselves, the inspired apostle summarizes the message of Romans 14. Like Christ, Paul urges Christians to sacrificially serve each other instead of pleasing ourselves over scruples of conscience (Rom. 15:1-3; 14:1-3, 13-18). Christ served the truth of God (Rom. 15:8). For the Jews, He did so by fulfilling the promises made to the fathers (Rom. 15:8; Acts 3:20-26). For the Gentiles, He did so as their (our) only means of mercy (Rom. 15:9-12). Surely, since Christ served us by serving the truth of God, we must “receive one another” without rancor, dispute, and division over matters that do not prevent God from receiving us (Rom. 14:3-5). This is not a defense of “agreeing to disagree” over doctrinal and moral issues (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11). It is a pattern of how those who practice the truth of God receive one another to the glory of God (Rom. 15:7).
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NKJV)
The Christians to whom Paul wrote these words were troubled with “disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). The urge to demand others conform to our conscience over matters of liberties is strong. Left unchecked in our hearts, it leads to contempt and condemnation of each other (Rom. 14:3, 10). Critically condemning personal liberties had to stop to avoid being stumbling blocks and promote unity (Rom. 14:13; 15:1-3). Paul is not advising and advancing doctrinal and moral unity in diversity in Romans 14. He is advancing unity by respecting the consciences of each other in matters that are “clean,” “good,” “acceptable,” “pure,” in things God does “not condemn” (Rom. 14:14, 16, 18, 20, 22). By focusing our faith on God through His word guiding us, we avoid factiousness over different consciences toward God-allowed liberties. Christians glorify God by hearts filled with joy, peace, and hope by the power of God’s Spirit guiding us in truth (Rom. 15:5-7, 13).
3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, 5 when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. (2 Timothy 1:3–5, NKJV)
Tears and joy. Timothy shed tears as his beloved father in the faith was imprisoned in Rome. Death was near (2 Tim. 4:6, 17-18). Would Timothy arrive in time to see Paul one last time (2 Tim. 4:9)? We do not know. Yet, Paul did not dwell on his departure except to say it was near, he was ready, and the Lord would deliver him (2 Tim. 4:6-8, 16-18). He focused on the joy of seeing Timothy’s face again and on the deep faith that sustained his companion, brother, and friend. Comforted by knowing Paul prayed continually for him, we are sure Timothy went to Rome as quickly as possible (2 Tim. 4:9, 21). Life brings times of sadness, pain, loss, and sorrow. Prayers and memories of lives lived faithfully see us through the vale of tears and sustain us with a joy no one can take from us (Jno. 16:22). Remembering the faith of Timothy, Eunice, and Lois comforted Paul. No doubt, Timothy remembered Paul’s pure conscience and faithful service. So it is between fellow-Christians when life fades and eternity’s light grows brighter. Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 with tears and joy. “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psa. 126:5). As when God restored the captivity of Zion, so it will be when He gathers His faithful ones to glory (Psa. 126:1-4). Tears will be replaced with joy forevermore.
I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, (2 Timothy 1:3, NKJV)
The conscience distinguishes us from birds, beasts, and fish. They operate on instinct to survive. Humans have been created in the image of God, unlike animals, and the conscience is one such distinguishing trait (Gen. 1:27). The conscience is a moral monitor of what we accept to be right and wrong, but not necessarily of what is right in God’s sight. It is not the standard of right and wrong – God’s word is. (Jiminy Cricket was wrong when he told Pinocchio to “always let your conscience be your guide.”) We can believe and act incorrectly, and yet our conscience can commend us in the error (Acts 23:1; 26:9). The conscience is like an early warning system, monitoring our choices and conduct to help us avoid moral danger. But, we have to train it with God’s truth for it to operate accurately. Just like sensors are adjusted and cleaned so they alert us of danger, our conscience must be “set” (educated) with God’s word and kept pure to accurately warn us of moral threats (see 1 Tim. 4:1-3). God cannot be served when our conscience is defiled by sin and error (Tit. 1:15). Jesus died to cleanse our consciences from “dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). It is up to us to educate and train our conscience with God’s word, and to keep it pure by serving God according to His truth.
31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. 1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1, NKJV)
With these summary remarks, Paul brings into focus his earlier statement, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor. 10:23-24). We have the right to do many things, but given a certain set of circumstances, we are taught to forego our liberty for the sake of another’s conscience (1 Cor. 10:25-30). We cannot simply say, “I have the liberty, and therefore I will use my liberty regardless of how it affects others.” Or again, “I’m not going to be told what to do by someone else’s conscience.” These are the attitudes of a person who becomes a stumbling block to others (an “offense,” v. 32; 1 Cor. 8:9-13). Paul would seek the well-being of all men – even at the cost of foregoing his own liberty – so that he could help and not hinder their salvation (v. 31). This is what Jesus did when He sacrificed Himself, and Paul was imitating Him (v. 1; Rom. 15:2-3). Let us imitate Paul and seek the spiritual profit of others, and so imitate Christ, too.
5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, NKJV)
The apostle Paul is summing up an extended passage on how to be united when differences over scruples of conscience toward liberties exist (Rom. 14:1-15:7). Those things that do not inhibit one’s fellowship with God must not be allowed to inhibit the unity of the saints (Rom. 14:1-5, 13). According to today’s verse, to achieve and maintain unity without pressing one’s conscience upon others requires us to have “patience” and “comfort” (exhortation) toward each other. This means those with a weak conscience is not to condemn those of strong conscience (Rom. 14:3). This means those with a strong conscience toward the liberty are to “bear with” the doubts of those with weak consciences in the matter (Rom. 15:1). The strong in conscience will gladly set aside a liberty to avoid influencing a fellow Christian to sin against his or her conscience (Rom. 14:15, 19-21; 1 Cor. 8:9-13; 10:28-29). In this way we follow the example of Jesus as we endeavor to please our neighbor instead of merely satisfying ourselves (Rom. 15:1-3). We honor God “with one mind and one mouth” when we practice this kind of unselfish deference toward one another (v. 6; Rom. 12:10).
“Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7, NKJV)
Disputes over personal liberties had strained relations between brethren in the church at Rome. The Holy Spirit guided Paul to write a lengthy explanation of the Lord’s will so they would “receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). The weakness of which he speaks describes personal scruples of conscience over matters indifferent to God (Rom. 14:3, 5). Such differences are not to become wedges of disruption among the saints. Since God receives Christians who hold different consciences in matters He treats as indifferent (like dietary choices), so must we (Rom. 14:2-6, 7-13). Far from endorsing unity in moral and doctrinal diversity (as many assert by misusing this passage), the apostle advocates unity of diverse consciences over liberties approved by God. (Morality and doctrine are not issues of indifference to God; therefore, they do not fit here, Galatians 1:6-10; 2 John 9.) The critical condemnation of personal liberties must cease (Rom. 14:13)! We avoid being stumbling blocks and we exemplify Christ’s acceptance of us by receiving (welcoming) one another with our different conscientious scruples over (non-sinful) liberties. Christ’s unselfish sacrifice and God’s “patience and comfort” toward us are landmarks to imitate so we may be “like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:1-3, 5). This glorifies God.
1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” (Romans 15:1–3, NKJV)
The apostle teaches us to defer to the Christian who holds a conscientious doubt toward a personal scruple (a liberty that allowed by the Lord and that is non-sinful in nature, Romans 14:1-5). We are not to “destroy” a Christian for the sake of clinging to our personal preferences (liberties which, by definition, are pure, but not compulsory, Romans 14:20). We put a stumbling block before the weak (doubtful) brother when we will not forego our liberty to help him keep from violating his conscience (Romans 14:13, 15, 20, 22-23). When it comes to personal liberties we are not to please ourselves, but willingly decline to use our liberty to protect the doubtful (weak) brother. Jesus did not please Himself, but accepted our reproaches so we could be redeemed from sin. Similarly, we must not cling to non-sinful liberties when using them leads the weak (doubtful) Christian to violate his or her conscience (Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:7-13). We must think more of others than we do ourselves. That would solve many problems, wouldn’t it?