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.
I was in a restaurant recently and everywhere I looked there were people of all ages, nationality, race, sex. There were all on the smartphones. Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, playing games. I mean they were eating with others. I found myself secretly judging them from my sanctimonious perch of a high-back chair. I couldn’t believe that they were so tied to their technological devices. I was getting pretty worked up inside…until I looked down and saw that I had my phone out and during this whole time I had been checking messages and replying to texts myself. It’s not easy to jettison our judgmental spirits, is it? We try to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable, how to overcome a judgmental spirit, and how to deal with diversity. This is only possible when we realize that in “disputable matters,” our motto should be, “Not Wrong, Just Different.”
Pursue harmony and be helpful. We see this in verse 19: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” As we mentioned last week, that little word “therefore” comes up a lot in this chapter. When we let love limit our liberty and begin to care for others as Christ does, then we will pursue peace and look for ways to edify everyone we can. I love that Paul includes himself in this by using the word “us.” This shows that these words are for every one of us, me included.
The phrase “make every effort” means “to follow or press hard after or pursue with earnestness and diligence in order to obtain an objective…like a runner in a race exerting with every fiber within him to reach the goal.” Oh, and it’s in the present tense which means we must go after this all the time, daily, minute-by-minute as a lifestyle. One paraphrase puts it like this: “So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other.”
The word “peace” means to “join or bind together that which has been separated.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. When He called them they found their peace, for He is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it.” Jesus said in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t tell us to be “peacekeepers,” but instead “peacemakers.” This could be translated as “peace workers.” It takes effort to bring conflict to an end. When we work at resolving conflict we are doing what God does.
We can’t be passive about peace; it must be pursued. Let me share some additional verses on the importance of going after peace.
* Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
* Psalm 34:14: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
* Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
* 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
The word “edification” is a construction term that was used to describe a building going up brick by brick or the process of making a structure stronger to improve its usefulness and extend its longevity. Are you a constructor, or a destructor? Do you build up or tear down? Whether we like to admit it or not, our actions either strengthen or weaken the church. Our words are either flames or flowers. They have the power to construct or destruct. Check out Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome [rotten] 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.”
I hope you’re not like the hypercritical husband who was impossible to please. He was really cranky at breakfast. If his wife made scrambled eggs, he wanted them poached; if the eggs were poached, he wanted them scrambled. One morning his wife hit upon what she thought was a brilliant idea. She decided to poach one egg and scramble the other. When she put the plate before him, she thought for sure he would be happy. He peered down at the plate and snorted, “Can’t you do anything right, woman? You scrambled the wrong one!”
Does that describe you? Are you always unhappy and do your words wipe others out? If you’re like most of us, you need some help knowing how to change what you say.
Don’t demolish those you disagree with. The opposite word of construct is “destroy” and is used in verse 20 as a term for tearing down a building: “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food…” This tearing down often happens in a marriage. I heard a story about a couple who had an argument while they were driving down a country road. Neither of them was saying anything because they were both too mad to talk. But when they passed a barnyard full of mules, the wife sarcastically asked, “Relatives of yours?” Without missing a beat, the husband replied. “Yep. In-laws.”
Paul repeats what he has been saying throughout this chapter in the last half of verse 20 and in verse 21: “All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better [beautiful] to not eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” Go back and circle the words “destroy,” “stumble,” and “fall.” What I do affects you and what you do affects me. And, if that means we abstain from something for the sake of a brother or sister, than that’s what we better do. As someone has said, “Your freedom ends where my nose begins.” Friend, do you love people more than you love being right? The question is not, “Can I do this?” but rather, “If I do this, how will it affect another believer?”
Paul is challenging us to be builders instead of demolishers. My highest priority in relationships with others should be their edification, not their demolition; their construction, not their destruction. Paul was really serious about this according to 1 Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”
Keep your convictions quiet (22a). There are certain truths that all believers must accept because they are explicitly taught in Scripture. However, some of us may feel like we have to tell people what we’ve decided about different debatable topics. Actually, according to verse 22, the way of wisdom is to keep some things private: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” Your personal convictions are just that – personal. If they were meant to be for everyone, God would have included them in the Bible. But He didn’t. He gave them to you personally and they should stay between the two of you.
I’m challenged by Proverbs 12:23: “A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly.” Albert Barnes, a Bible commentator, said this: “Be satisfied with cherishing your own opinions.” Spurgeon had this insight: “Do you feel quite sure upon such matters? Keep it within thine own bosom, but do not worry other with it. It’s helpful for me to remember that “my response is my responsibility and your response is your responsibility.” In his book called, 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 effect 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.
When in doubt, throw it out. The second half of verse 22 and verse 23 help us see that if our conscience bothers us or we have some doubts about something, the principle is this: when in doubt, 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.” This goes along with what Paul wrote in Acts 24:16: “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” And John adds that we must be in sync with our conscience in 1 John 3:21: “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.
Martin Luther, who was brought to faith in part through his study of the Book of Romans, said this: “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”
When in doubt, leave it out! How is it then that we make decisions in the debatable areas? I came across a list of 12 biblical tests to apply when we’re faced with determining whether or not we should do something.
1. THE WORLD TEST. Is it worldly? Will it make me worldly to do it (John 15:19, 1 John 2:15-17)?
2. THE QUALITY TEST. Is it good for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually (Romans 12:9b)?
3. THE TEMPLE TEST. Can I do it when I remember my body is God’s temple and must not be marred or misused (1Corinthians 6:19)?
4. THE GLORY TEST. Will it glorify my Lord, or will it on the other hand possibly bring shame to His name (1Corinthians 6:20, 10:32)?
5. THE BLESSING TEST. Can I honestly ask God’s blessing on it and be sure I’ll not regret doing it (Proverbs 10:22, Romans 15:29)?
6. THE REPUTATION TEST. Will it damage my testimony for the Lord (Philippians 2:15)?
7. THE CONSIDERATION TEST. Am I being considerate of others and the effect this might have on them (Romans 14:7, 21)?
8. THE APPEARANCE TEST. Will it look bad? Does it have the appearance of what is wrong or suspicious (1Thessalonians 5:22)?
9. THE WEIGHT TEST. Could this activity slacken or sidetrack me in running the Christian race (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:24)?
10. THE COMING OF CHRIST TEST. Would I be ashamed to be found doing this when He comes again (1 John 2:28)?
11. THE COMPANION TEST. Can I invite Christ to go with me and participate with me in this (Matthew 28:20b, Colossians 3:17)?
12. THE PEACE TEST. After having prayed about it, do I have perfect peace about doing it (Colossians 3:15, Philippians 4:6-7)?
Pursue harmony and be helpful. In every conversation you have this week purposely say at least one encouraging word to the person you are speaking with.
Don’t demolish those you disagree with. Is there any one you’ve demolished lately? If so, ask for forgiveness and work at restoring your ruptured relationships.
Keep your convictions quiet. When faced with an opportunity this week to express your opinion on something that is disputable, no matter how worked up you get, take a breath and say nothing. Or you could say under your breath, “Not wrong, just different.” Don’t say, “Not wrong, just stupid.”
When in doubt, throw it out. Think of a way in which you’ve compromised your conscience in your beliefs or behavior and ask God for the strength to discontinue that attitude or activity.
A father was trying to read a magazine but was bothered by his daughter who kept asking him what the United States looked like. On the back of his magazine he found a map of the country and so he tore it up into real small pieces and told her to go in the other room and put it together. He thought this would keep her busy for a long time so he could finish reading his magazine. In less than five minutes, his daughter was back with the map completely put together. He was surprised and asked her how she did it. She replied, “It was easy. On the other side of the paper is a picture of Jesus. When I got Jesus back where He belonged, then our country just came together.”
As we put Jesus where He belongs in our life, our family, our community, our church, and our world, we will come together as well. Let me close with this as I pray it into my life and yours, 2 Thessalonians 3:16: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”