Romansby David Cook
At our sons’ school, a “bullying hotline” used to operate. Concerned parents could use the hotline at any time up to midnight. The school took the issue of bullying very seriously.
The apostle Paul takes theological bullying over disputable matters seriously. In chapter 14, he repeats the encouragement to stop passing judgment. The Roman Christians are to make every effort not to cause one another to stumble. Romans 9:33 reminds us that the Jews stumble over God’s way of making people righteous. If people do stumble, we must make sure it is not over disputable matters, but over the indisputable Christ of the gospel. Paul is convicted that no food is unclean (v. 14). Others may disagree, but Paul doesn’t wish to quarrel over this conviction. Rather, he respects the conviction of fellow believers. Paul instructs the believers to practise a sensitive exercise of Christian freedom (as he did in 1 Corinthians 8:4 and 7), which is: Love must guide liberty. In other words, we are to be our brother’s keeper. Paul sets forth the following principles:
Love is to control the exercise of liberty (v. 15).
Unbounded freedom leads to stumbling (v. 13), obstacles (v. 13), distress (v. 15), destruction (v. 20), falling (v. 21), and condemning (v. 23). This is a serious issue.
Liberty must be exercised recognising the preciousness of brothers and sisters in Christ (v. 15); the preciousness of gospel freedom (don’t act in a way that will give it a bad name); that matters of eating are peripheral (vv. 19–21); and that life is about building up, not destroying (v. 20).
Our convictions about disputable matters are not for public display (v. 22).
The basis of all that Paul says is that the conscience-bound brother does not have an objective case. If he did, then the issue would no longer be a matter of freedom.
To sum up: We are to make sure we don’t put obstacles in front of our brothers and sisters in Christ, or destroy their faith by the insensitive exercise of our Christian liberty. The kingdom of God is about righteousness, peace, and edification, so we must work for that and keep convictions about peripheral matters to ourselves.
Freedom must be constrained by love.
What are some matters that fall into the category of being disputable today?
How do you show your respect for both your freedom in living under the gospel, and for other Christians who may differ with you on these matters?