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 Corinthians 10:31–33, NKJV)
The apostle Paul refused to contribute to someone else’s sin. The word “offense” in verse 32 means “not led into sin” – Paul would not lead someone into sin. He would forego his own personal liberty so that his influence would not lead any one to violate their weak conscience (1 Corinthians 10:27-31). Christians should not say, “Since I have the liberty (right) to do something, I will do it regardless of what your conscience lets you do.” Such an attitude may embolden the one with a weak conscience toward the liberty to violate itself, which would be sin (Romans 14:23). One’s use of a personal liberty must not be more important than glorifying God and saving a soul. We sin against Christ when we press a personal liberty to the point of causing someone to the sin against their weak conscience (1 Corinthians 8:10-12). Do you forego liberties in order to save souls, or do you seek your own personal benefit first? Surely this is one way we deny ourselves in order to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23).
22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22–23, NKJV)
The personal “faith” of which Paul speaks here, is one’s personal confidence (trust) of conscience to participate in a God-approved liberty. Paul adds a warning not to violate one’s conscience in using these liberties: “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (v. 23). His exhortation and warning about one’s conscience and God-allowed liberties agrees with his earlier statement, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Today’s passage is not at all suggesting that every person decides for himself what is sin, and what is not. God sets that standard, and when we violate it, we sin (John 17:17; 1 John 3:4; Romans 3:23). Before we engage in an activity, we must be sure from Scripture that it has God’s approval (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In matters of liberty (a God-allowed, but not compulsory, action), our conscience must be clear. We must not violate our conscience in these liberties, nor force our conscience upon others (Romans 14:13-16).
1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. (Romans 14:1–3, NKJV)
There are quite a number of folks who try to insert questions of morality and doctrine into Romans 14. For them, “let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (verse 5) means you are at liberty to choose from a variety of studied views on topics of moral and doctrinal import. We can all be united, they say, by letting each one decide what is right for himself and herself on subjects like divorce and remarriage, drinking alcohol, immodest clothing, and many other such things, that, when taught or practiced, constitutes sin in the Scriptures. But, this is not at all the context and application of Romans 14. In this chapter, the items over which conscientious disputes are to cease are matters that, when practiced, do not produce sinful immorality or doctrinal error. We are to receive each other when our scruples of conscience differ over issues of liberty. These are “doubtful things” – not sinful things. If one can put moral and doctrinal differences into Romans 14, then God is made to have already “received” those in immorality and error (v. 3). That, He does not do; and neither must we (2 Jno. 9-11).
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Romans 14:13, NKJV)
Understanding the context of a passage of Scripture is crucial to making proper application of it. Without respecting context, Scripture is twisted and perverted (2 Pet. 3:16). For example, some believe one should never render a judgment concerning another person. One appeal made to support this conclusion is today’s verse . Yet, Jesus said we are to “judge righteous judgment,” and, “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” (Jno. 7:24; Lk. 12:57). His inspired apostle said the local church must judge “those who are inside” it (1 Cor. 5:12-13). So, there are judgments we can and must make. The context of today’s verse concerns how to treat each other when differences arise over matters that make no difference to God (Rom. 14:1-5). It addresses matters that are not sin and error, since whether one practices it or abstains from it, God equally accepts both (Rom. 14:3, 6). This text concerns things over which God allows us to exercise personal liberty, since no sin occurs in such things (like eating meat or not, 1 Cor. 8:8). In context, Romans 14:13 forbids the critical condemnation of one another’s personal liberties. We must not demand that others conform to our own conscience when that matter makes no difference to God. To do so puts a stumbling block before another. It is binding where the Lord has not bound.
10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10–12, NKJV)
Nobody will escape standing before “the judgment seat of Christ.” Therefore, it is essential we do not condemn (judge) or despise (show contempt for) one another over things that are indifferent to God (see the context of Romans 14:1-6). In this context, the apostle urges us to stop the critical condemnation of each other’s personal liberties precisely because we will each give account of ourselves to God (Rom. 14:12-13). Paul is not advancing unity in moral and doctrinal diversity (the false notion that we can agree to disagree over revealed truth with Christ’s approval, Jno. 17:17, 20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:3-6). The Lord does not grant us liberty to sin with His approval! When it comes to God-given liberties, we are not to bind our personal conscience upon others. Knowing we are accountable to God ought to persuade us to respect each other’s liberties, rather than demanding others live by our conscience concerning matters that are indifferent to God (Rom. 14:3-5). One who binds his conscience on others has made himself superior to his brethren. He has forgotten his own accountability to God. He will not escape the judgment of God.
14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void.” (1 Corinthians 9:14–15, NKJV)
A mark of spiritual maturity is the ability to see and assess a situation beyond oneself, to see the broader implications and outcomes of one’s actions, legitimate though they may be. And then, to forego one’s right for the sake of others. Here, Paul showed such maturity, acknowledging the right to be materially supported for preaching the gospel. Yet, in the case of the Corinthian church, he chose to forego his right for the sake of their spiritual development (see 1 Cor. 9:16-18). Too many times we say, “I have a right” (liberty) to do something, then press our freedom regardless of how our action impacts others. Such a decision is evidence of spiritual immaturity that can contributes to sin. For instance, Paul also said he would not eat meat if, by doing so, a brother who was weak in conscience was led to sin by violating his conscience (1 Cor. 8:10-13). Would you give up eating meat for the sake of your brother’s soul? Or would you proudly profess, “I have a right to eat meat, and I will, regardless of the circumstances.” Having a liberty does not make using it mandatory. At times, it is wiser to forego a liberty, and by so doing “save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9, NKJV)
Having the liberty to do something does not automatically mean it is the right thing to do. Paul had the right to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but under certain circumstances, he refused to exercise his liberty (1 Cor. 8:4, 13). If the use of Paul’s liberty led a Christian (whose conscience was weak concerning eating such meat) to violate his conscience (sin) by eating such meat, then Paul would forego his right to eat meat (1 Cor. 8:10-13; 10:28). He choose not to be a stumbling block instead of use his liberty (1 Cor. 10:32). The demands of love, not the selfish desire for a personal liberty, define and decide whether one uses a liberty (1 Cor. 8:1). Just because you have a liberty does not mean you must exercise it. Will your use of a liberty influence another Christian who conscience is weak toward that liberty to go ahead and violate his or her conscience? If so, then do let your liberty to become a stumbling block to another. Forego your liberty for the sake of your fellow-Christian. Such is the decision of brotherly love. The apostle reminds us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).