Summary: Our liberty should 1) Never cause a brother to stumble (v. 13), 2) grieve or be devastated (vv. 14–15); 3) never forfeit our witness for Christ (vv. 16–19), 4) tear down His work (vv. 20–21), or be either 5) denounced or flaunted (vv. 22–23)
Most churches include dedicated, faithful believers whose consciences do not allow them to participate in or approve of certain practices. The Apostle Paul described those who exercise their legitimate liberty as “stronger believers”. Those who feel restricted in exercising legitimate liberty as “weaker believers”. When stronger believers, out of love for those brothers and sisters in the Lord, voluntarily restrict their own lives to conform to the stricter standards of the weaker believers, they build closer relationships with each other and the church as a whole is strengthened and remains unified. In this loving environment, the weaker believers are helped to become stronger. But as Paul emphasizes throughout Romans14:1–15:13, all responsibility does not fall on the stronger brother. Strong and weak believers have a mutual responsibility to love and fellowship with each other and to refrain from judging the other’s convictions in regard to issues that the New Testament neither commands nor condemns. Paul urges the weak to stop criticizing the strong, and the strong to cease finding fault with the weak. Both parties should decide not to place any hindrance in the way of their brothers. On the contrary—for the negative implies the positive—each group should help the other to become a more effective witness for Christ (Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, p. 461). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.)
In Romans 14:13–23 Paul continues his teaching about Christian liberty and the mutual obligation of strong and weak believers to accept each other in Christ without being judgmental or causing offense. In these eleven verses, the apostle mentions a number of principles, each given in negative form, that serve as guidelines for all Christians. The principles are closely related and sometimes overlap, but they seem to fall into six general categories: Our liberty should 1) Never cause a brother to stumble (v. 13), 2) to grieve or be devastated (vv. 14–15); and it should 3) never forfeit our witness for Christ (vv. 16–19), 4) tear down His work (vv. 20–21), or be either 5) denounced or flaunted (vv. 22–23).
In exercising legitimate Christian liberty we must take care:
1) Don’t Cause Your Brother to Stumble (Romans 14:13)
Romans 14:13 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (ESV)
Therefore refers back to verses 10–12, in which Paul reminds his readers that God alone is qualified and has the authority to judge the minds and hearts of His people, who will all stand before His judgment seat (v. 10) and give account of themselves to Him (v. 12; c 2 Cor. 5:10). Judgment is God’s exclusive prerogative.
Consequently, we must not pass judgment on one another (cf Matt. 7:1–5). He is not talking about things plainly forbidden by God, but scruples harbored by earnest but weak believers. (Rushdoony, R. J. (1997). Romans & Galatians (p. 270). Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books.)
It is the unloving attitude of contemptuous superiority by strong believers and the equally unloving attitude of self-righteousness by weak believers (v. 3) by which they pass judgment on one another. From Paul’s day to ours, those wrongful judgments have been major causes of disrespect, disharmony, and disunity in the church. This is a PRESENT ACTIVE SUBJUNCTIVE with the NEGATIVE PARTICLE which implies stopping an act already in process. This is not a warning but a prohibition (Utley, R. J. (1998). The Gospel according to Paul: Romans (Vol. Volume 5, Ro 14:13). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.).
To pass judgment (krino) on one another carries the idea of condemnation, as it does in verses 3, 4, and 10. But, lest we think there is no room for critical thinking, the same word to pass judgment is used in a positive connotation to decide/determine, which refers to making a decision. Those two connotations are also found in the English word judge. “Being judgmental” carries the negative idea of denunciation, whereas “using your best judgment” refers to making a careful decision, with no negative connotation.
Paul’s play on words demands that we should never be judgmental of fellow believers but instead should use our best judgment to help them. This best judgement is called to decide/determine never to put a stumbling block or hindrance/obstacle in the way of a brother. Like the command to stop judging, this is a PRESENT ACTIVE INFINITIVE with the NEGATIVE PARTICLE which implied the stopping of an act already in process. (Utley, R. J. (1998). The Gospel according to Paul: Romans (Vol. Volume 5, Ro 14:13). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.)
Please turn to 1 Corinthians 8 (p.956)
A stumbling block (proskomma) is literally something against which one may strike his foot, causing them to stumble or even fall. The second term (skandalon, rendered “hindrance/obstacle” here) presents a different picture, that of a trap designed to ensnare a victim It is used of something that constitutes a temptation to sin (Harrison, E. F. (1976). Romans. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 148). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)