It’s not Always Black and White
When it comes to sin, the Bible is clear what is and is not sin. God sets a baseline for us so that we can strive for righteousness. But what about those areas where it is gray? Not the gray areas of sin, but the gray areas of what is righteous and what is not.
“It is good not to… do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” – Romans 14:21
Keep in mind that this isn’t an endorsement to make excuses for sin. It’s not a means of saying, “It’s ok if…” or “At least I’m not…” This is determining when you should go above and beyond.
Do Not Cause Another to Stumble
In Romans 14 Paul is talking about those that struggle with certain sins. He is using a common problem in the Roman church at the time, clean and unclean foods, to drive home his point.
At this period of time there were two big distinctions in the young church. There were the converted Jews, and the Gentiles. Gentiles were raised with the notion that anything that was food was acceptable to eat (in other words, pork chops were just fine). The Jewish laws, however, said that certain types of food were not acceptable (bottom feeding fish were a no-no, so a good old catfish fry was never on the menu).
Jesus came to fulfill the law. And in doing so he said that anything God has created is clean (Mark 7:19). The old rules of banning certain foods were out, but that doesn’t mean the notions were gone for good. In Rome there were those that weren’t concerned with eating previously unclean foods, and there were those that still saw it as something to be avoided. There was tension that came up when two Christians got together, and one served the other a food the guest deemed to be unacceptable.
To avoid this strife, Paul lays it out pretty clearly. He says don’t do anything that is going to be a stumbling block or a hindrance to your fellow Christian. If your Christian brother doesn’t want to eat meat, then don’t eat meat with them! If they feel weird, bad, or otherwise have doubts about the food that they are eating, then they are sinning because they’re doubting. Instead, just take the doubt off the table (literally) and focus on what really matters: our relationship with Christ.
How Does that Look Today?
Living in 21st Century America we don’t really see this as a problem. There aren’t too many Christian Jews that we run into on a daily basis, so this passage seems to get pushed to the side as outdated. Far from it though! We just have to see it in a different light.
I enjoy brewing my own beer. I love the chemistry, the complexity, and the change that the liquid undergoes. Naturally, I drink my own beer (and other beer) because I find the taste to be pleasing, and I enjoy it. According to Ephesians 5:18 there’s nothing wrong with having a drink here and there, as long as you’re not overindulging and getting drunk (which leads to bad decisions). Having alcohol with dinner or going out on the town for a couple of drinks is not sinning… depending on your company.
Let’s suppose that you have a recovering alcoholic friend over for dinner. This individual struggles with controlling their urges, and you pour a glass of wine for yourself (but not for your friend because you know they are recovering). When they leave your house, they stop at the store and pick up a few bottles of wine, head home, and get hammered. Was your simple drink, one that didn’t lead to drunkenness, an act of righteousness, or was it sinful because it caused your friend to regress?
We can take this a little further and look at other sins too. Going to a movie that has scantily clad women with a friend that struggles with a pornography addiction. Stopping at McDonald’s for a quick bite with a friend that struggles with obesity. Using “mild” curse words around a friend that has had problems with wholesome talk. Skipping church to go hunting with someone that has been debating on whether church attendance is necessary… the list can go on and on.
Don’t be an accomplice to sin. Even if you’re not sinning, remove the temptation for someone else by taking the higher road.
Skip the Sin
We can’t control someone else’s actions. If you have a recovering alcoholic friend over for dinner, and you don’t even have any alcohol visible, and that friend stops at the store and loads up on booze, there’s nothing you could have done to prevent that. But when you know better, and you cause those doubts, temptations, or disagreements to enter into the picture, that’s when sin begins.
Skip the sin by going over and above what the Lord tells us to do.