Our Christian liberty should never be used to offend a weaker brother. But does that mean we have to limit our own freedom because of someone else's weakness? This is a big question in our day and age and one that many Christians have neglected to answer Biblically.
The other messages in this series are available here: Grey Matters
“Adding the Third Crayon”
I have learned that there are 3.8 million Americans afflicted by a physical malady known as color-blindness.
Color blindness is a physical malady that affects nearly 1 in 12 people; which is cause to consider if you design web sites, advertising pieces, clothing or even maps – which I discovered was a particularly challenging issue for the color blind.
It seems that this malady doesn’t like men. While only 1 in 200 women are color-blind, 1 out of ten men are.
Which probably explains why we dress the way we do.
Actually, this particular handicap, properly called color deficiency can eliminate many people from vocations of their choice.
You can imagine what this means to someone who cannot distinguish all the colors in such fields as cosmetics, photography, textiles, electronics, decoration and even telephone repair.
I discovered in my research that certain things can improve a person’s color sensitivity – such as diet; the abstinence of certain foods and substances.
One of the men on our elder team has a form of this disability. If I see him on Sunday morning and comment that he looks sharp in that suit and necktie, he’ll say, “I wouldn’t know . . . I’ll take your word for it.”
For those who suffer from this disability, the world isn’t necessarily sympathetic. And our world is a world of color.
I found it interesting that America has more people with this condition than any other country in the world and the most commonly confused colors are red and green – which happen to be the colors chosen for – what? – traffic lights.
The first man to scientifically study this physical condition was John Dalton, a 19th Century English chemist, who happened to be . . . color-blind.
He was also a devout Quaker which helped immensely since most of the clothing he wore to church was rather bland. One on occasion, a practical joker had a little fun by secretly trading out the old Quakers somber gray knee socks that went with his black knickers . . . so he showed up to prayer meeting one night unknowingly wearing a pair of bright red knee socks . . . can you imagine?
Adapted from, Beauty Care for the Eyes by Leroy Koopman (Zondervan Books, 1975), p. 75
My 6th grade daughter, along with her friends at school are wearing these multi-colored knee socks – bright stripes, loud, wild, bizarre. When I see her in the morning wearing a pair of those I think, “Man, she’s gonna help her teacher stay awake today.”
Can you imagine - here comes Quaker John Dalton into the meeting house with socks that stretched all the way to his knees – in bright red; with embroidery on the front that read, “Go Wolf-pack” . . . okay, I made that part up.
Without meaning to, John Dalton created quite a stir that night in church.
It wouldn’t be the last time the church has gotten stirred up over an inability to distinguish color.
On one hand, a healthy church is completely, utterly color-blind. The bride of Christ is a world of color and the saints don’t seem to notice. All the nations are present – black, brown, yellow, cream, tan, or for the rest of us with Irish blood who can’t stay out in the sun for very long – reddish-pink. Except when we’re mad – then it’s a hot pink.
On one hand a healthy, maturing believer never really notices color.
On the other hand, a healthy, maturing believer sees more than two colors – black and white.
He learns to distinguish a third color that makes up most of the world around him . . . he’s sensitive to this color – he’s able to spot it, mark it, make a note of it.
That third color is grey.
I get the idea that, in a very practical way, throughout Romans chapter 14, Paul is exhorting the church to add a third crayon to their box . . . the color grey.
And he’s teaching the church why it’s important and how to live with it.
So far, we’ve covered the first 12 verses of chapter 14 as Paul has clearly stated that some of the past life of the Jewish nation is no longer an issue of separation. Times and seasons, festivals and Sabbath days are now an issue of personal preference.
He has reminded us all that one day we all will stand before the Lord of the Sabbath and give an account – seeing our lives through His eyes – and receiving rewards for everything we did for His glory.
Now Paul becomes even more focuses on this issue of grey matters.
And he will deliver, what I believe to be, 9 Principles for Balanced Living.
Or 9 Ways to Work Through Grey Issues.
Or, 9 Guidelines for Coloring in Grey.
I couldn’t decide . . . by the time we finish this series, sometime in the, uh, future, I’ll make up my mind.
The First Principle is the principle of PROTECTION.
Paul writes in verse 13 of Romans chapter 14; Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore.
What does that imply? That clearly implies the church at Rome had been judging one another.
Paul says, “Whaddya say, we all decide together to stop judging one another.
Let’s make a resolution . . . a pledge to one another, we’ll all add to our crayon boxes the color grey.
There is a wonderful play on words here that is lost on the English reader.
Paul uses the same Greek verb (krino) twice in this one phrase. The verb means basically, to judge – or to render judgment.
But Paul is using a play on words, with this verb.
In the first part of the phrase Paul writes, “let us not judge one another” – which carries the idea of censorious judgmentalism which he’s already addressed in earlier verses.
In the second part of the phrase, Paul uses the same verb again, only with a different connotation – notice it’s translated, “but rather determine this – or, be careful to judge this”, you could translate it.
Paul is saying, as he plays off the different nuances of this verb: “Don’t be judgmental, but instead, use sound judgment.
John MacArthur, Romans: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1994), p. 290
There’s a vast difference in the way you use that word.
There’s a world of difference between being passing judgment on someone and using sound judgment, isn’t there.
Paul’s play on words demands that we should never pass judgment of fellow believers in areas of grey – where the scriptures are either silent or inconclusive – but instead we should use our best judgment to help each other out.
Not like the judgmental person Jesus Christ referred to when He challenged his disciples to not be like the man who says to his brother, “‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck (or splinter) that is in your brother's eye. (Luke 6:41-43)
Imagine a guy coming to church like that – a log sticking out of his eye – the word the Lord used, referred to a beam used to build roof structures in His day; here comes this man with a beam sticking out of his eye.
Somehow he gets past the greeters without being noticed. He walks down the hallway and every time he turns his head he knocks somebody over; he’s oblivious to it, unaware of how it’s blocking his own vision, but he’s convinced he’s able to spot the tiny splinter of offense in someone else’s life.
He is a fantastic splinter spotter . . . there’s a ministry for you; he thinks it’s his spiritual gift.
The truth is, as Jesus implies in that text – people do have specks in their eyes – we all have blind spots . . . so let’s work together by living pure lives for God’s glory and then help others to do the same.
Paul says, “Here’s a personal pledge - let’s help one another out!”
Here’s how – Paul writes in the last part of verse 13, “Determine this – not to put an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother’s way.”
Paul says, “Don’t put either of two things in your brother’s walk of faith and growth in the Lord; an obstacle or a stumbling block.”
Those are two different words and two very different actions.
The first action is an innocent hinderance – that’s the idea behind the word “obstacle.”
The second action is an intentional hurt – that’s the idea behind the word “stumbling block.”
Either way, Paul writes, stay alert so that you don’t innocently hinder your weaker brother’s faith, and certainly, don’t intentionally hurt your brother’s weak, uncertain, infant steps in the Lord as they grow from infancy to adulthood.
This is the categorical principle of Protection.
Like a prepared North Carolinian, you’ve taken your umbrella to work – you’re experienced enough to know it just might rain. And it does – suddenly, there’s a downpour.
You’re walking down the street and one of your younger brothers or sisters in Christ didn’t think ahead – in fact, they don’t even know how to use an umbrella yet – they’re standing out in the rain.
They’re not used to being pelted with a hundred different issues and opinions and decisions in their new walk with Christ and they are becoming more and more miserable in the process of getting all wet!
Go shelter them.
- Don’t make it harder on them;
- Don’t go over and splash more water on their shoes;
- Don’t make fun of the fact that they don’t know how to use an umbrella;
- Don’t show off your new rain coat;
- Don’t point your finger at them and say, “You look terrible standing there in the rain!”
Paul writes a little later, “You are not walking according to love.” (v. 15a)
Let’s go back and take a closer look at these two actions whereby we fail to protect our weaker brother.
You could circle the first word – obstacle.
You didn’t necessarily do this on purpose – it was unintentional, unplanned – you did something and they saw you and it became to them an obstacle.
This word is the word proskomma which carries the idea of bumping . . . or stumbling. The verb can be translated, “to stumble against.”
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged (Eerdmans, 1985), p. 946
Have you ever walked through a room in the house in the dark?
And you stubbed your toe? Something the kids left out on the floor – nothing like stepping on Barbie’s pink convertible. That can do some damage.
Your younger brother or sister stubbed their toe on something you inadvertently left out in the open.
The second word is this word translated “stumbling block.”
It’s a much more serious matter.
While an obstacle might have been an innocent hinderance, a stumbling block is an intentional injury.
It comes from the Greek word, skandalon and it gives us our word, scandal.
In Greece, this word was used for the trigger on a trap. If you put a piece of cheese on a mousetrap and the mouse is caught, the trigger that sprung the trap was called the skandalon.
Woodrow Kroll, Romans: Righteousness in Christ (AMG Publishers, 2002), p. 223
I have up here with me a large mousetrap – demonstrate setting the trap. This yellow thing here is the trigger that springs the trap. This is the skandalon . . . before I set out a trap like this I’ll put some peanut butter on it . . . so the mouse can have a nice final meal. Trip the trap with a pencil!
This is serious damage – you’re not stubbing your toe here, you’re breaking your toe. You’re becoming crippled – you’re devastated in your faith.
Paul is saying, “Don’t do something that might spring a trap and catch an unsuspecting believer and bring about confusion and great spiritual harm.”
Protect them from traps, set out by other believers. Our job is to clear debris from our fellow believer’s paths.
Ibid, p. 223
Not add to the difficulty of walking – sometimes in the darkness of uncertainty . . . when they’re not familiar with the paths of grace and liberty; let alone, try and trip them up.
One missionary explained how one act of Christian liberty, in his country, can literally trap young believers and bring doctrinal confusion – if you can believe it – it all revolves around the manger scene at Christmas time.
In the area where he serves overseas, the people are heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic belief in the birth of Christ – which is certainly biblical, but something else thrown in the mix.
Displaying a manger scene at Christmas time is the practice for nearly everyone, but businesses and homes alike follow the priests tradition in what becomes nothing less than idolatry.
New believers in Christ alone, regardless of merit or good works, have to make a decision early on in their new walk with Christ.
Shortly before Christmas, people take the pieces of their manger scenes to be blessed by the priest. They have to stand in line for hours and even pay the church for this special blessing as the priest makes the sign of the cross over these figurines and then sprinkles them with holy water.
It is only after their manger pieces are blessed by the priest, that the people openly display them in their homes or in their places of business. The figurine of baby Jesus is not placed into the scene until midnight on Christmas Eve, where He is believed to be “reborn.”
The people believe they can pray to the figurines, which, having been blessed, have mystical power to grant blessing in return.
This missionary went on to explain the problem . . . a new believer wants to get rid of all of the superstition and mysticism and welcomes the truth of scripture alone for faith and practice. But, as it sometimes happens, if he goes into a home of another, older believer who knows it’s was all make believe anyway and it really doesn’t matter . . . and has a manger scene set out in his home, it causes confusion to the younger believer. The younger believer associated manger scenes with superstition. They are immediately thrown in mental anguish . . . sometimes verbal, “How can you do something that will associate you with false religion?” “Are you praying to those figurines too?” “How can you carry that into the church?”
This was the problem in Rome.
A new believer is invited to an older believer’s home for steak and mashed potatoes.
“This is excellent rib-eye – where’d you get the meat?”
“I bought it today from the temple priest.”
“You’re eating meat purchased from the temple . . . offerings to idols? How can you associate with false religion? Are you praying to the idols too?”
You could argue, “But wait . . . certainly you have the liberty to eat that rib-eye . . . or have a manger scene in your own home!”
This missionary said, “Our liberty needed to be evaluated in light of our younger brothers in Christ.”
Adapted from notes on Romans 14 by Dr. Tony Beckett, Section 1b page 1
That’s the principle of protection.
Paul adds to this principle a personal testimony.
Notice verse 14. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
You read that verse and you might be tempted to say, “This grey area thing is great, anything goes as long as I don’t think it’s wrong!”
The word “unclean” translates koinos – or common. It’s the word used to describe the Greek of the New Testament period – the koine, or “common” Greek language.
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Volume 2 (Zondervan, 2002), p. 84
The Jewish community used this word to refer to things they believed were secular – or common – earthly – unsavory – we could even say – “unspiritual”.
So when Paul says that he doesn’t personally think anything was common – or unsavory – he’s obviously not speaking of God’s moral law, but ceremonial law; the laws of diet and ritual; the regulations of Sabbaths and seasons.
In other words, when it comes to matters where the Bible doesn’t command or allow or prohibit, Paul is saying, then it isn’t clean or unclean, acceptable or out of bounds – unless your conscience believes it is out of bounds or unclean.”
Okay, then that takes me back to what I said earlier – “This grey area is great, anything goes as long as I don’t think it’s wrong.”
No – Paul is saying that although he knows there’s nothing wrong with what he’s eating, or doing, what he thinks is not the issue – it’s what his brother thinks.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians along these same lines, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify – or build up either myself or the body” (I Corinthians 10:23)
In other words, even though I have the right to do anything I want so long as my conscience remains pure, I must be willing to restrict my rights . . . I will be willing to limit my liberty for the sake of the conscience of another Christian.
Maybe you say, “But that’s not fair . . . I know the truth . . . there isn’t anything wrong with what I’m doing – I’m right!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Paul is trying to tell us that when it comes to grey matters, there is something more important than being right!
Would you notice what Paul says in v. 15. For if because of food your brother is hurt – so what! They’ll get over it! You’re right! Not hardly! Instead Paul pleads with us, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
As if to say, look at what Christ sacrificed to pardon your brother – will you not sacrifice something to protect your brother?
Oh, this is a much heavier burden, isn’t it?! It’s so much easier to follow the rule of law than it is to follow the rule of love.
I’d rather go back to only seeing things in black and white. This third crayon – whose color is grey, labeled grace, is more challenging than I ever imagined!
No wonder Martin Luther, the reformer wrote a treatise he entitled, “On the Freedom of a Christian Man.” And he began it by writing, “A Christian man is a most free lord of all, subject to no one. A Christian man is a servant of all, subject to everyone.”
R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Crossway, 1991), p. 267
How subject are we to be?
Go back to the beginning of verse 15 where Paul tells us not to hurt our brother.
The word means “to be grieved.” It could be by passing remarks [of their immaturity]; by acting superior around them; by making fun of them and their views.
Adapted from R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Romans (Augsburg, 1936), p. 836
One author wrote, “A weak Christian can be hurt from watching another Christian say or do something he considers sinful. The hurt is even deeper [still] is the offending believer is someone the [weak Christian] admired and respected. A weak Christian can also be hurt when, by word or example, he is led by a stronger brother to go against his own conscience. A Christian whose careless use of his liberty causes such hurt to other believers is no longer walking according to love.
MacArthur, p. 293
By the way, this “hurt” is not a matter of being slightly miffed – of having your feelings hurt over some slight thing. This word actually refers to being deeply grieved.
In fact, it’s the same word used of grieving the Holy Spirit by willfully sinning (Ephesians 4:30). It is used to describe Peter’s emotions after the Lord asked him three times if he loved Him. And Peter was grieved (John 21:17).
Furthermore, the word Paul uses when he writes here in verse 15, “Do not destroy . . . him . . .”; the word destroy is a word that refers to utter ruin.
Not spiritual being, but spiritual well-being.
W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Thomas Nelson, 1997), p. 294
This does not mean because of you they are now eternally damned; but it does mean that means that because of you they are spiritually devastated.
Their faith is being shaken.
Maybe at this point you’re saying, “Wait a minute!”
- does all this mean that my brother’s weakness in faith is to determine my lifestyle;
- are you saying that I have to subscribe to my weaker brother’s views;
- must I limit the enjoyment of my knowledge of grace to his ignorance?
Adapted from Roy L. Laurin, Romans: Where Life Begins (Kregel, 1988), p. 462
Those are great questions . . . they reveal some of the difficulty of this issue to us all.
Let me answer them by giving a warning to both sides – to the weak, or young in the Lord, and a warning to the strong – or mature in the Lord.
First, a warning to the weak.
If you hear yourself going around and saying things like these to other believers;
- you shouldn’t do that, it offends me;
- you shouldn’t go there, it isn’t right to me;
- don’t act like that, it hurts me as a believer – and remember, Paul tells you to stop doing whatever offends another Christian.
My friend, you are tipping your hand. You’re as good as admitting out loud that growth is needed in your life.
Accept the challenge . . . dig into the word . . . test your views with the scriptures . . . struggle through the issues of grace.
It isn’t easy, but learn to color with that third color – add it to your crayon box along with the white crayon and the black crayon . . . for many things in life can only be colored in grey.
Let me give a warning to the strong.
If you’re in the habit of saying things like:
- I have the right to do that as a Christian;
- I’ll debate anybody regarding my liberty in this area – I dare anybody to tell me I’m out of line.
- Anybody who thinks I’m wrong for acting like this is just a weaker brother – they need to grow up;
You are tipping your hand too . . . you are not walking in love.
You’re not giving any thought to this principle of protection.
I read not too long ago that when Harry Truman became president, he worried about losing touch with the everyday, common American, so he would often go out for walks. Those were obviously simpler days when the President could take a walk like everyone else. One evening, Truman decided to take a walk down to the Memorial Bridge on the Potomac River. He became curious about the mechanism that raised and lowered the middle span of that bridge. He actually made his way across the cat walks and through the inner workings of the bridge, and suddenly he came upon the bridge operator, eating his evening supper out of his tin pail. The man showed absolutely no surprise when he looked up and saw the President of the United States . . . he just swallowed his food, wiped his mouth, smiled and said, “You know, Mr. President, I was just thinking about you.” It was a greeting that Truman never forgot and treasured above any other greeting he’d ever been given.
I think the Apostle Paul is saying something similar. In whatever we do . . . should another believer come across our path, we would be able to say, “You know, I was just thinking about you . . . the things I’m doing, enjoying, saying, experiencing, I’m actually thinking about you.”
Living the Christian life is very much like walking a tightrope. As you walk the rope you hold in your hands the balancing pole – on one end is your Christian freedom; on the other is care and concern for your brother.
On one end is liberty . . . on the other end is love.
Adapted from Hughes, p. 269