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Protecting the Weaker Brother

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 14:13–15

The Christian life is not primarily about being right on all the issues we face. It is far more about learning to balance our liberty in Christ with love for our brother as we seek to protect one another from spiritual harm.


We have been sailing through the challenging waters of Romans 14. The apostle Paul is giving guidance to believers regarding doubtful things; gray areas of life where the Bible does not clearly speak to a decision we need to make.

So far in our Journey, Paul has encouraged us to develop personal convictions and to prayerfully and carefully determine what might be the wisest, most God-glorifying decision to make. At the same time, Paul effectively tells us to not expect everybody in the Christian community to make the same decision. Those people in Rome who would not eat meat from the pagan marketplace were just as right as the believers who bought their steak and hamburger directly from the temple. They did not all view the Sabbath day or the Jewish festivals with the same attitude.

Paul makes it clear that these are matters of personal conscience. For any number of reasons, you make a decision that is different from other Christians. And both decisions, Paul says, can be equally valid before the Lord.

Now that does not mean we do not have to worry about other believers—that we can say, “If they have a problem with our decisions, well, it’s their problem!” Oh no. Paul now moves on to give us another principle for handling these gray areas of life. I call this the principle of protection.

Let’s pick up our Journey in Romans 14:13: “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer.”

This implies that the church in Rome was in trouble; disagreements were turning into dissension. Paul is encouraging the believers to stop judging each other and start protecting each other.

How? Paul writes in the last part of verse 13, “Rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”

This word for “stumbling block” translates the Greek word (proskomma) that refers to something in your way that you stumble over. It is an obstacle—like your child’s toy left out on the floor, which you step on and trip over. It hurts—and you might even fall down.

But keep this in mind: a stumbling block is unintentional. Your child did not put that toy there to make you trip or fall.

But Paul refers here, not only to a stumbling block, but also to a “hindrance.” That word in the Greek language is skandalon, which gives us our word scandal.

A skandalon is intentional; it is something done with awareness. This word was used for the trigger of a trap in Paul’s day, much like a mousetrap today. We had some mice out on our back porch not long ago, and I intentionally set out a mousetrap. I even put a little piece of cheese on the trigger point—the skandalon—of the mousetrap. I knew that it might bring some serious harm to that mouse.

Paul is telling us here, “Do not live in such a way that you knowingly create a dangerous trap for another believer—something that could bring confusion or harm to that person’s walk with Christ.”

I remember a man coming to visit me, a man who had begun attending our church. He told me he was leaving his church and coming to ours, and I asked him why. He said that he was a recovering alcoholic, and the men in his church would gather for weekly Bible study and they would all bring their beer over and drink it during the Bible study. He told me, “It was just too tempting for me; it was a trap for me, and I didn’t want to fall back into my old addiction.”

Beloved, his Christian brothers were callously and uncaringly putting out a trap for him. Can you imagine a Bible study becoming a place of temptation?

We can insist on our liberty in Christ all we want, but Paul here is effectively asking us, “Is your liberty creating an unhealthy place for younger believers?”

Paul then adds his own personal testimony in verse 14:

 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

You might read this verse and be tempted to think, Anything goes then, as long as I do not think it is wrong!

Not exactly.

 “Unclean” here refers to something that is “common” (koinos). The Jewish community used this word to refer to things they considered secular or common; that is, earthly or unspiritual. When Paul says he does not think anything is unspiritual, he is obviously not referring to God’s moral law, which certainly declares some things unspiritual. In this context he is referring to nonmoral matters like those related to the ceremonial law—such things as diet and ritual and observance of religious festivals. Your decision on such matters is neither right or wrong—unless your conscience troubles you.

So, Paul is saying that while he does not think anything is wrong with either eating meat or not eating meat, what he thinks is not the only issue; what his Christian brother thinks matters as well.

Beloved, you might have the right to do something you want to do as long as your conscience remains pure, but are you willing to limit your liberty for the sake of the conscience of a younger, weaker brother in Christ?

Now you might say, “That’s not fair! I know the truth of grace and liberty, and there is nothing wrong with what I am doing. I am right!”

Paul is telling us there is something more important than being right! Note what he writes here in verse 15:

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

Again, you might be tempted to say, “Well, let him be grieved. He will get over it!”

That is an unloving attitude toward others. And Paul warns us that our lack of love can bring harm to someone for whom Christ died. It is as if Paul is saying, “Look at what Christ sacrificed to pardon your brother; will you not sacrifice something to protect your brother?”

Be careful here: Paul is not talking about trying to please everybody in the church—never doing anything that other Christians might not agree with. I can tell you, some Christians get offended over every little thing. I remember my missionary father taking us four boys to the park on Sunday after lunch to play baseball together. That offended some Christians who did not think we should play outdoors on the Lord’s Day.

Paul is not talking about those kinds of offenses. Frankly, we can be downright critical of others and hide it behind this idea of being “offended.”

But Paul is using much stronger language. Again, he says in verse 15, “If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”

This word for “grieved” literally refers to spiritual damage—spiritual bondage—caused by our actions. Because of what he sees us do, he is not going to be spiritually destroyed, but he might be spiritually devastated.

So be careful. Be sensitive to the needs of those who are young in the faith, especially. They are looking up to you. Make sure you do not look down on them.

Perhaps you are in the habit of saying things like, “I have a right to do that as a Christian, and if someone thinks I am wrong, well, they are just the weaker brother; they need to grow up.” If that is your attitude, you are not walking in love. Keep in mind this biblical principle of protection.

I like the way one author put it: “The Christian life is like walking on a high wire with a balancing pole. On one end of the pole is liberty. On the other end is love.”[1]

Ask God for wisdom to maintain that balance.

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