Preserving Christ’s Sheep
“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. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.”- Romans 14:15–16
Until our Savior returns, the church will include people at different stages of spiritual maturity. Some will have been Christians and will have studied God’s Word for decades, and they will enjoy a rich understanding of all the Lord’s truth. Some will be new believers who rejoice in the basic gospel but have yet to plumb the depths of Scripture. Between these extremes, there will be believers with different levels of understanding.
All of us must live together, walking in love toward one another (Eph. 5:2). Consequently, mature believers will have to show much patience toward the spiritually immature. Just as parents must be patient with their children as they grow, wisely dealing with their kids according to their age and understanding, so must mature Christians deal wisely with the young in faith. As today’s passage reveals, this means that in the presence of immature believers, we must sometimes not exercise our freedom in morally indifferent matters.
The Apostle says that the immature in the Roman church were grieved when the mature ate food that the immature perceived as unclean even though no food is inherently unclean (Rom. 14:15; see v. 14). We face the same problem today when it comes to other indifferent matters, so we must understand what Paul means when he speaks of grieving others. It might consist in rejecting Christ, believing that He endorses lawlessness. Such a conclusion is wrong, based on a wrong understanding of what is lawful. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore this potential grief and its ensuing harm. The grief Paul describes also occurs when immature believers act against their consciences. As we will see, we sin when we violate our consciences (Rom. 14:23; 1 Cor. 8:12). Either way, walking in love with the immature believer means acting, insofar as we are able, to prevent such grief. Dr. R.C. Sproul makes the practical application in his commentary Romans: “If we are the stronger brother, we are not to parade our freedom in the face of our weaker brother who is convinced otherwise. We are to be sensitive. The one with a misinformed conscience is our brother or sister in the faith.”
This takes wisdom, for weaker brothers may not bind the consciences of the strong. Any accommodation to the weaker brother is for his sake and not because his view of what is clean and unclean is correct (1 Cor. 10:29). We will have more to say about applying Paul’s nuanced teaching on Christian freedom. For now, we note that a loving concern to help keep our brethren from stumbling must guide the behavior of mature believers.
Christians who choose not to exercise their liberty before immature believers need not do the same when they are not with immature believers. The weaker brother may not bind the conscience of the stronger believer, and as we will see, the weaker brother is actually expected to grow out of his misunderstanding regarding morally indifferent matters. May the strong walk with wisdom in these issues but not let others bind them where Christ has left them free.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 8
1 John 2:10