To have an honest understanding of Paul's point to these Christians in Rome, it is necessary to understand two of Paul's basic perspectives. These two perspectives provided some of Paul's primary motivations. Paul's first perspective: God always seeks a Christian's best interest. That is an astounding perspective for a man who forfeited so much to be a Christian. He was among Judaism's leading students prior to becoming a Christian (Galatians 1:14). He possessed all the proper credentials to be successful in Judaism (Philippians 3:4-6). He willingly forfeited all the advantages that could produce success in first century physical Israel. He consciously, deliberately made those choices in order to acquire Christ (Philippians 3:7-11). Yet, he had absolutely no doubt that God always seeks a Christian's best interest.
Acceptance of Paul's message about Jesus Christ often resulted in struggle and hardship in the lives of those who believed. Paul always considered the "this world" rewards of Christian existence to be superior to "this world" consequences of being a Christian. Repeatedly Paul stressed the rewards of such qualities as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Consider Galatians 5:22,23; Ephesians 5:9; Romans 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:7; Colossians 3:12-15). To Paul, the intangible traits of Christian character and integrity were superior to the tangible gifts of status and possessions.
Paul's second perspective: life in God's world with God is vastly superior to any lifestyle on this earth. Consider Philippians 1:23. To Paul, nothing equaled life with Christ in God's world. Compare his Philippians 1:23 statement to 2 Corinthians 5:8 and 2 Timothy 4:6-8.
Under no circumstance could Paul consider any person entering eternal life with God and Christ as an undesirable occurrence. Under no circumstance could Paul envision a judgment scene in which one saved person regretted another person's being saved. In judgment, no Jewish Christian would regret the salvation of any Christian who was not a Jew. In judgment, no Christian who was not Jewish would regret the salvation of any Jewish Christian. In judgment no saved person will oppose or regret the salvation of another person--regardless of what the person did on earth or who the person was on earth.
Paul's two perspectives totally change the purpose and objective of a Christian's earthly life. "If I will not oppose or reject a person's salvation in judgment, I will encourage his or her relationship with God now. I will encourage the spiritually weak. I will neither judge the spiritually weak nor hold the spiritually strong in contempt. I will be an encourager, not a stumbling block."
Jesus stressed this responsibility: never cause believers to stumble! In Matthew 18:6-9 Jesus said drowning in the sea because a heavy stone was tied to your neck is preferable to causing "a little one who believes in Me to stumble." His emphasis was so definite that he said people should separate themselves from anything that caused stumbling. A similar emphasis is seen in Luke 17:1,2. A person who caused stumbling was promised severe punishment. Though stumbling is a part of this world's existence, do not cause it!
Why? Paul answered why in today's text. God invested the supreme sacrifice to make a believer's salvation possible (14:15). Do not cause a person for whom Christ died to stumble. Be deeply aware of the enormous price God paid for his or her salvation. Never allow self-centered concerns to become obstacles to another Christian's faith.
"Instead of judging each other regarding sacrificial meat, be concerned about not placing an obstacle or reason for stumbling in your fellow Christian's spiritual path. I am convinced Jesus Christ makes all food pure. However, if a Christian considers sacrificial meat impure, to him it is impure. If you really love that Christian [as God does] do not allow mere food to spiritually destroy him. Because of understanding, to you the food is a good thing. To your brother who does not have your understanding, your food is an evil thing. Do not allow your good thing to be his evil thing. The focus of God's kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The focus is not food and drink. So do not allow your food and drink to be more important than the spiritual well being of another Christian. Being considerate in the food you eat will result in God and people's approval. Commit yourself to practices that produce peace and nurture other Christians. Do not allow what you eat to tear down God's work. If what you eat offends another Christian, your eating results in evil. Do not do anything that causes another Christian to stumble. Hold your correct understanding and conviction quietly before God. Happiness is found in not condemning yourself through matters that receive your approval. Do not forget this: if your eating sacrificial meat encourages a brother who doubts to eat sacrificial meat, he sins. There is no sin in eating sacrificial meat. However, when a Christian violates his conscience, he sins. To him, eating that meat is an act of rebellion against God. His conscience regards eating that meat as a act of rebellion. Faith in God does not rebel against God. If eating sacrificial meat is to him an act of rebellion [not an act of faith in God], he sins because in his understanding he rebelled." In answer to an ancient question, spiritually we are our brother's keeper.
Noteworthy principles to be understood and practiced:
Never place obstacles in another believer's spiritual path.
Something may be purified by Jesus Christ and evil at the same time.
A Christian cannot love another Christian and be insensitive to his or her conscience.
Christians can spiritually destroy a Christian for whom Christ died.
While what you do may of itself be good, do not do it in a manner that causes another believer to see it as evil.
The focus of God's kingdom is on God's purposes in human life.
Christians should pursue things that produce peace among them and result in spiritually building each other up.
Do not allow self-centered concerns to tear down God's work.
Encouraging a Christian to violate his or her conscience is encouraging that Christian to sin.
Encouraging a Christian to violate his or her conscience is encouraging that Christian to stumble spiritually.
We can hold a correct understanding quietly before God when that correct understanding would cause other Christians to stumble.
Explain why it is essential for a Christian to honor his or her conscience. Note: the most common way to cause a weak Christian to stumble is to encourage him or her to violate his or her conscience.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 3, Lesson 10
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