Romans 14:1-23- Freedom and Restriction of the Conscience
Explanation- Continuing on in the theme of loving one another, Paul addresses a matter concerning the conscience. There were those (as there are today) who believe that certain acts are unclean or unlawful because their conscience is of a weaker persuasion. Others, of a stronger conscience in such areas, believe that these acts are clean and lawful. Paul exhorts both parties to live in harmony with one another and to not pass judgment on the other for such convictions of conscience. The question is raised then for those who continue to raise trouble on this issue of, ‘Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?’ If God is the Master of such a servant and has accepted the one who does not eat meat, then he is doing no disservice to his Master by abstaining from meat. Why then does a fellow servant feel the need to rebuke the other for something his Master has found no fault in?
There are many areas in the Christian life where Christians have differing opinions. Paul gives examples of eating meat and observing certain days, but there are many that could fall into this category. Each of these areas is done in terms of conscience and has no specific commandment from the Lord. Paul says that he who eats should do so to the glory of the Lord, and the one who abstains should do likewise. The bottom line is that if a man is in Christ, he lives to the glory of God, and when he dies, he dies to the glory of God. Everything in between should be don for His glory as well. Why then should we pass judgment on one of God’s children? We shall all stand before Him on that final day and give account for what we did on this earth. Those areas that we lived outside of obedience shall suffer loss, but those that were done in obedience shall find reward.
Our motive should not be one of judgment, but we should seek to never use our own freedoms in Christ as a stumbling block for another. The conscience is a delicate thing and can be easily offended when provoked. Paul reminds us that nothing is unclean in itself, but there are those who believe those things to be unclean, and therefore, their conscience forbids them from partaking. In a very real sense, because of the conscience’s offense, this act becomes sinful to the individual because it is not done in faith toward God. If we are walking in love toward one another, then we will always seek to guard the weaker brother’s conscience, even avoiding certain freedoms in their presence. In like manner, the one with the weaker conscience should not seek to lay his burden on the one who’s conscience permits him to do certain things. It is not the one who partakes or abstains that is pleasing to God, but the one who, in righteousness through faith in Christ, comes to God with a pure conscience. Therefore, let us do all things to build up the body of Christ and seek to offend none in terms of conscience and personal preference. If we have the freedom to partake, then let that freedom be between God and us. If we are forbidden by conscience, then let that be between God and us as well. Whatever the case may be, we are to do all in faith toward God. Anything outside of this is sin.
Application- This is a subject that hits close to home for me. I have a friend who is very opposed to a certain restaurant that I am particularly fond of. He does not agree with their business model nor some of the decisions that they have made as a corporation and therefore stands in opposition to this establishment. He knows that this is my favorite place to eat and often sought to chastise me for giving my business to them, claiming that it was a sin to support them. I, rather than using my freedom in faith toward God, mocked at my brother’s weaker conscience and openly spoke of my enjoyment of this food in front of him. I took offense at my brother’s weakness and was embittered toward him about this. Rather than preferring my brother and seeking to guard his conscience, I was unloving and flippant toward it. I see how great of an error that this was, and although my brother has recently changed his views on this and no longer believes it to be sin, I still recognize that this spirit of division and lack of love exists in my heart. Just as I am writing this, I see the need for repentance in this area, and the greater need I have to be conformed to Christ’s image. Certainly, this is something that will come up again in life, and I want to be prepared to respond in a Biblical, Christ-honoring way.