It’s Not My Problem

November 19, 2007

One of the most important and most often ignored passages of scripture about Christian unity is found in Romans 14. That passage teaches us how to handle differences of conscience among Christians. I’ve written many times previously on the subject of the Christian conscience (for example: Conscience and Romans Part 14: Accept One Another).

The differences Paul addressed in Romans 14 were not minor. These were topics on which each party was “fully convinced in his own mind.” The matters were so significant that “the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats.” The two points of view were diametrically opposed. And the stakes could not have been higher. Violating conscience would bring condemnation. The controversy was a dilemma with eternal consequences.

The profound solution that the Holy Spirit provided through Paul’s letter consisted of three parts:

1. Accept one another anyway.
2. Do not violate your conscience.
3. Do not cause your brother to stumble.

It seems to me that Christians are much more focused on #2, and less on #1 and #3. People go to great lengths to avoid complying with #3, because that part requires us to give up our rights for the benefit of our brother.

Rom 14:20-21 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

We hate the idea of giving up our rights. In our effort to avoid that, we sometimes go to ridiculous lengths. We argue about whether a matter is disputable or not (Think about how silly that argument is!) Or we argue about who is the “weaker brother” (What difference does that make? Regardless of whether he is the weaker or the stronger brother, I should not do anything to cause him to stumble). It seems that any argument will do, as long as it results in me keeping my rights.

Another curious argument that is sometimes employed is that a brother’s conscientious objection is not valid, because his conscience is improperly trained–and therefore that we do not need to take his conscientious objection into consideration. Of course it is true that a person’s conscience can be founded on faulty understandings. But he is still obligated to abide by his conscience. In the example of Romans 14, the brother who would not eat meat had a conscience that was improperly trained on the subject. Yet he would still be condemned if he ate. And the brother whose conscience was correctly trained was still commanded not to eat anything that would cause his brother to stumble. The fact that his brother’s conscience was improperly trained was not relevant.

In the general case, both parties must admit that their consciences are fallible. Even the inspired apostle Paul acknowledged that about his conscience:

1Co 4:4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

So we really don’t always know with certainty which party has an incorrect view. We don’t know who is the weaker brother and who is stronger. And again, that really isn’t relevant to my responsibility toward my brother. In either case, I must accept him, and not cause him to stumble, while still following my own conscience personally.

The command to accept one another rests on the foundation of another command, the command to love one another.

1Jo 4:20-21 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

When we argue and look for loopholes rather than giving up our rights for the benefit of our brother, we are not loving our brother. (Rom 13:10 Love does no harm to its neighbor.) Why are we willing to do something that puts our brother’s soul in jeopardy? It really is my problem!

We need to mature to the point that we will gladly give up our perceived rights in order to protect the consciences of our brothers and sisters. Leaders should be the most mature, and therefore the most committed to this biblical mandate. Let’s not make excuses and let’s not look for loopholes. Let’s love one another.

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