13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good 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 receives human approval.
As we continue to look at people peace Paul turns his attention to dealing with diversity. As he starts in verse 13 with the word “therefore” he ties together the first 12 verses and what he has just taught with what he still wants us to know. If he had ended with verse 12 we would get the impression that all we need to do is to stop judging and leave those who are different from us alone. But now Paul calls us to engage in those that are different and diverse, this is a call to be involved in the lives of others. Paul is reminding us that what we do and how we do it affects others. That even though we have liberty through Christ and don’t have to jump through a bunch of legalistic laws or follow a list of rules and regulations, that we don’t just get to do what we want. We may live in the land of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but that doesn’t mean that we can live as we please. One of the reasons we live in conflicted community instead of Christian community is that we won’t practice the two principles of 1 Corinthians. One of which focuses on us and the other on them. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says: “You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.” We are to avoid those things that have the potential to master us, and second we must avoid those things that have the potential to mess others up: 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 states: 23 “You say, “I am allowed to do anything”- but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” Both of these truths are seen in Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Dealing with diversity means dealing with the truth that what I do affects you. Paul starts in the first 12 verses getting us to pay attention to our attitudes and now he calls us to:
- Analyze our Actions
Paul starts by calling us to let love limit our liberty. The first part of verse 13 says: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another…” We are to stop doing what we want, to stop being held by habit and give heed to God’s heart. Now Paul uses a play on words in the Greek, to say that if we want to judge then go for it, because there is someone that we need to judge, ourselves “…Instead, make up your mind…” this literally means, “Judge this instead” Paul calls us to curb some things in our life for the sake of Christ and Christian community. Our actions can cause adverse harm to others so first we need to make up our mind to remove the stumbling blocks. A “stumbling block” was anything that would cause someone to strike their foot and fall. This is a shift from attitudes to action, it’s a call to remove anything in the road that might trip those around us. It is why the church I’m in celebrates communion with grape juice instead of wine. Because we don’t want to cause those with an alcohol addiction to stumble in what should be spiritually significant. We must also obliterate the obstacles, these are the snares that trap instead of trip. Are there any obstacles you might be oblivious to, why not take the time to talk with those around you to make sure you are not tripping and trapping. We must also determine not to cause distress, verse 15 says :“If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.” Liberty must be tempered by love because our attitudes and actions can have adverse effects on others. The word “distressed” here carries with it the idea of grieving, like when a loved one dies. When we throw around our freedom at the expense of others we become relationally reckless and the danger is in the damage we can do. We are urged to act in love, to lead out of love and not liberty, this is God’s agape love that chooses to act out of self-sacrifice so it can to serve. Next Paul reminds us to refuse to destroy our family, the last part of verse 15 says: “Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” The word “destroy” means to tear down, destruction is the activity of the devil, and it is the work of the wicked one Satan and not the saints. Paul uses the strong word “destroy” to remind us of the seriousness of the situation, when we destroy our spiritual siblings we are acting like the devil. If we are really serious about pursuing love, then we won’t let liberty lead us into limiting others by damaging and derailing them. Verse 16 reminds us of the bigger picture, that there is a world watching and we don’t just destroy and fracture the family, to not destroy our witness and make it worthless: “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.” Second we must
- Focus on eternal realities not on external regulations.
The focus shouldn’t be on whether we feel the freedom to eat meat or abstain but on the kingdom of God. Today in the church we like to focus our faith on our feelings and our freedom instead of on the Father. Verse 17 reminds us that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” It’s about kingdom living, its about the Lord not my likes. Instead of emphasizing our personal rights we’re to focus on righteousness. Are you majoring on what matters, kingdom living or minoring on miniscule matters, the disagreeable differences? It’s not the externals, but the eternals that must be first in our life. It’s interesting how we swing the wrecking ball from one extreme to another and instead of having balance there is brokeness. The church used to be caught up in the dos and don’ts of legalism but now we live in an anything goes church culture. Instead of legalism, we focus on license, where we think we can do anything we want. But in this passage Paul reins us in. We must limit our liberty for the sake of others and we must make sure we are allowing what really matters, the eternal and not the externals, to define and drive our lives. Verse 18 reminds us that we are called to live a life that pleases God and one in which others can praise: “Because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” The word “serves” is the word “bondslave,” which means we belong to another and are seeking to obey their command. Liberty is best lived out by letting the Lord lead. We need to remember that we are striving for unity not uniformity. So how are you a unifier in your home, your workplace, your friends, your school, your neighborhood? We need to stop judging, giving in to gossip, and surrendering to slandering, instead we are to pursue peace. Proverbs 6:19 says the Lord finds detestable “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” Are you watching your words? When you hear others criticizing and complaining about another Christian are you calling them to account in love, and instead of joining in the judging are you journeying with them to go seek and speak to the one they are skewering? Yes it is possible to be diverse and not divided. We are different and distinct pieces of the puzzle, but variety is valuable because we have different gifts, abilities, and talents. We have a plethora of different personalities, totally different temperaments and thoughts, and often very opposite opinions. But God is not calling us to be the “same,” we’re called to be one. That means we can disagree without being disagreeable, we can have harmony even though we’re not homogeneous. So in what specific ways can you live bigger and love better? In order to live bigger, is there anything you need to give up or begin that you know would be beneficial? Is there anyone you’ve been denying love that is desperate for a deeper love? What liberty do you need to limit in order to love larger? Are there any activities you are engaged in that are adversely affecting those around you others? Are you willing to stop for the sake of serving your brother or sister in Christ? What do you love more your freedom or God’s family, what leads you your liberty or His love?