Summary: A sermon on when we should not use our freedoms to trip up the "weak" and when we should exercise our freedoms (Material adapted from Dave Swavely's book, Who Are You to Judge? and outline from Steve Cornell)
Bob Deffinbaugh- I have been in some of the meat markets of the eastern world, especially in some of the remote villages of India. I wanted to know just what kind of meat it was. I also was interested to know how long it had been dead. The flies which swarmed over the dead carcasses were not doing much for my appetite. I was most concerned about whether I would live after eating these meats, and how they would taste on the way down. The early Christians had different concerns: Were these meats in any way involved in heathen worship? If so, should they be eaten? How hard should one try to find out about the origin of these meats?
A. On Romans 14:13-21: Dave Swavely- One time I was playing Uno with 3 of my children. The youngest one, Madison, was only 4 and still learning how to win and lose with grace. So when things were not going her way in the game, she would be tempted to whine and cry. In one game, she was not doing well at all, and she was on the verge of losing it. I, on the other hand, was about to win, and I almost put down a “Draw 4” card which would have put her deeper into the hole and almost certainly sent her over the edge emotionally. But I didn’t want to have to discipline her for throwing a tantrum, and I wanted her to have a good first experience with Uno, so I kept the “Draw 4” card in my hand and picked one off the pile (which disadvantaged me). Then the next time around, the only card I could play was the “Draw 4” card again, but after staring into Madison’s blue eyes and noticing her quivering lip, I kept it in my hand and drew again. This happened a third time and a fourth time, until Madison finally won the game and I was left with a big stack of cards! I don’t like losing any kind of game, even when the winner is so cute, but I thought afterwards what a great illustration this is of how we should treat one another in the body of Christ. We must be willing to give up our rights and our freedoms to keep others from going down the wrong path, when we know they might be headed that way.
However, Dave Swavely doesn’t end it there. “I have not taken a vow to lose every game I ever play, however. This will serve to correct a misunderstanding that some people have of the principle of edification. Some say that if our actions might possibly cause someone to stumble in any area, then we should abstain at all times, just in case we might lead our brothers into sin.” Many times use this Scripture to back this up: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV. Two problems with this:
If we were to apply this principle consistently in all areas, we would become people who never do anything! We shouldn’t go to the mall, because a lot of people struggle with covetousness and materialism. We shouldn’t eat food, because gluttony and obesity are such common problems. We better not brush our teeth or tame our hair, because someone somewhere might possibly be led into vanity!
It is not scriptural. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:23-29. In this passage that is also talking about eating meat, Paul repeats the principle of edification, but he also makes clear that he is talking about applying it in situations where we know that our potential actions will cause a brother or sister to sin. If we have no reason to think that will occur then we can go ahead and enjoy our freedom in Christ. For instance, if we know that a certain kind of music brings back memories of a former lifestyle for our brother in Christ, and tempts them to sin, then we should not listen to this around them. But if no such issue is a problem as far as we know, then go ahead and listen to our music (as long as we can give thanks to God and do it for God’s glory and not be ashamed at the judgement Day)
Another misconception relates to the meaning of the word “offense.” Because we use that word in the sense of offending someone, or bothering someone by our actions, it is easy to read that idea into places like Romans 14:20 (New American Standard Version): “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.” We might think that we should not do anything that bothers other Christians. But that is not what Paul means here when he refers to “giving offense”- he is referring to causing someone to sin (an older and less common meaning of the term). For instance, Jesus had not problem about bothering judgmental people like the Pharisees- in fact, He sometimes went out of his way to do so. (Looked at man with withered hand in Mark 3). Jesus often offended the Pharisees, does this mean that Jesus did wrong. No