19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
It’s not easy to jettison our judgmental attitudes, or disagree and not be disagreeable, but we are called to care and come alongside each other not run over and run into each other. Paul now turns his focus on four positive and productive ways we can build each other up:
- Pursue harmony and be helpful.
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” If we let love limit our liberty and compassionately care for others like Christ, we will want to pursue peace and look for ways to edify everyone. Notice that Paul uses the word “us” including himself in the call to edify, and teaching us the truth that we are called to practiced what we preach. He doesn’t call us to a casual care but to “make every effort” which means to press hard, to pursue with perseverance in order to obtain an objective. It’s the picture of a runner in a race giving their all to reach the goal. Pursuing peace is not a picnic, it takes effort to extinguish animosity and edify another. Again we see that this pursuit of peace is in the present tense which means that it’s a permanent pursuit that requires daily diligence. It’s the call to a lifestyle of love that requires minute-by-minute maintenance. Peace here means to “join or bind together what has been separated.” In Matthew 5:9 Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” Jesus didn’t tell us to be “peacekeepers,” but “peacemakers.” This means that we can’t be passive about peace we have to passionately pursue God’s plan edify. Edification is a construction term describing the build of a home brick by brick, or the improving of a structure to make it stronger. Just like home construction, there are times in our relationships that require building from the ground up and times that are more of a retrofit or remodel. So are you a constructor, or a destructor, do you build up or tear down? Are you build others back up or do you just back up? Our attitudes and actions will either strengthen or sabotage, our words aid or attack, wound or warm. Words have the power, Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “The tongue can bring death or life” Are you teaching your tongue to speak words of praise or poison? Ephesians 4:29 reminds us: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Is my talk righteous or rotten, are your words wiping others out or whispering love and life?
- Don’t demolish those you disagree with.
The opposite of construct is to destroy and this is the word that Paul uses in verse 20: “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food…” How are you treating others are you tearing down and taking advantage of others or treating them with care and concern? How often do we make the mistake of tearing down in our marriage, instead of showing how much our spouse means to us we are just mean. Now Paul repeats himself by saying “All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better to not eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” Pay attention to the peace poisoning words, destroy, stumble, and fall, these are destruction not construction words. Are you bashing or building, are you making it about self or serving? Many of us in our relationships act more like we are trying to win first place in a demolition derby than be a disciple of Christ. Do you love people more than you love being right? The question is not, “Can I do this?” or “It’s my right” but rather, “If I do this, how will it affect another believer?” Our highest priority in relationships is not our right but doing what is right. The goal is giving grace not grabbing and getting, our focus should be on others edification not eradication. You can demolish and demoralize those with whom you disagree with or dare to dive deeper and discover the heart.
- Be careful with your convictions
There are certain truths that all believers must accept and abide by because they are clearly commanded in Scripture. These are the black and whites, but when we get into the grey areas we need to be careful calling others to come under our convictions. You may know what you have decided about different debatable topics so do them, but don’t dump them on everyone else’s doorstep. Verse 22 teaches us that the way of wisdom is prudent and sometimes private: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” Your personal convictions are just that, personal and you need to remember that if they were meant for everyone, God would have made them clear for all Christians. Albert Barnes once said: “Be satisfied with cherishing your own opinions.” Remember, my response is my responsibility, and your response is your responsibility. This means letting go of the need to herd others hearts and letting God lovingly lead. In his book, Grace Awakening, Chuck Swindoll quotes an unknown author: “To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring; it means I can’t do it for someone else. To let go is not to cut myself off; it’s the realization that I can’t control another. To let go is not to try to change or blame another; I can only change myself. To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being. To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all outcomes, but to allow others to affect their own outcomes. To let go is not to deny, but to accept. To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue, but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.”
- If in doubt, throw it out.
Verse 22 and 23 tells us that if our conscience whispers a warning we should wake up and walk it out, and if we are in any doubt we should throw it out: “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Paul practiced what he preached in Acts 24:16 when he said: “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” When in doubt its best to cut it out. So how do we make decisions in the debatable areas? Walking in the word will help us to cultivate a clear conscience and come back to the basics. So here are 12 basic bible tests to take when you are faced with determining what to do in those difficult and debatable times:
- THE WORLD TEST. Is it worldly, or will it make me worldly (John 15:19, 1 John 2:15-17)?
- THE QUALITY TEST. Is it good for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually (Romans 12:9b)?
- THE TEMPLE TEST. Can I do it knowing that my body is God’s temple that must not be marred or misused (1Corinthians 6:19)?
- THE GLORY TEST. Will it glorify God, or shame His name (1Corinthians 6:20, 10:32)?
- THE BLESSING TEST. Can I honestly ask God’s blessing on it (Proverbs 10:22, Romans 15:29)?
- THE REPUTATION TEST. Will it damage my testimony for truth (Philippians 2:15)?
- THE CONSIDERATION TEST. Am I being considerate of others and the effect this might have on them (Romans 14:7, 21)?
- THE APPEARANCE TEST. Will it look bad? Does it have the appearance of what is wrong sinful or suspicious (1Thessalonians 5:22)?
- THE WEIGHT TEST. Could this activity slow or sidetrack me from running the Christian race (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:24)?
- THE COMING OF CHRIST TEST. Would I be ashamed to be found doing this when He comes again (1 John 2:28)?
- THE COMPANION TEST. Can I invite Christ to join as we participate in this (Matthew 28:20b, Colossians 3:17)?
- THE PEACE TEST. After having prayed about it, do I have perfect peace in participating (Colossians 3:15, Philippians 4:6-7)?
Is there anything that you need to throw out? How are you currently engaged in edification? Are you being careful with your convictions? Are you pursuing peace or problems? What if you were to place your relationships at a higher priority than the conflict and care for others like Christ calls you to?