Community Disciplines: Community Disciplines: Romans on Discipline, Part 2 (chapter 14b)

Stumbling blocks

(Rom 14:13b ESV) 13b rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

Paul is ever the pastor, and while he is very concerned that we not divide over differences, he is also concerned that our differences not lead to subjective sin.

(Rom 14:14 ESV) 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.

Paul does not content himself with teaching what is true: “Nothing is unclean in itself.” Why not stop there? Because he realizes that not everyone will be persuaded in his heart — even if taught by an apostle from the Lord! Humans are frail, weak beings. We struggle to align our consciences with our intellect. We can know something is not sin and still feel like sinners when doing it.

And Paul recognizes the severe peer pressure that community life brings.

(Rom 14:15-16 ESV) 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.  16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.

“Destroy” is a word often used of the fate of the damned at Judgment. Paul is speaking literally of a brother falling away — becoming damned — because a stronger brother chooses to exercise his faith in an unloving way.

If a Christian eats food sacrificed to an idol, knowing that there are no idols and the pagan ritual was meaningless, he has a strong faith. But a weak Christian, freshly converted from paganism, may see his brother as a rank sinner, worshiping idols in the love feast among Christians. He’d be appalled. Worse yet, the peer pressure of eating in community may lead him to eat what he considers sinful, and thus to sin in his heart — which Paul sees as a very serious offense. After all, each sin we commit makes the next one easier, hardening our consciences. And the result is the same even if we’re wrong and it’s not really sinful.

(Rom 14:17-18 ESV) 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

The essence of Christianity is not what we do or don’t eat. It’s about bigger things.

“Righteousness” in Romans is about being like God, who is faithful to his covenant to forgive those with faith. It includes many things, including graciousness and generosity.

“Peace” in Romans is about right relationships, being restored to right relationship with God and with our fellow man.

“Joy” is, of course, a gift from God that comes from receipt of the Spirit.

Rare would be the Church of Christ preacher who declares, “For the kingdom of God is … a matter … of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” We want it to be about how we organize our churches and conduct our assemblies, but at its core, the Kingdom is about becoming like God by sharing in his heart and being restored to right relationships with God and with our fellow man — which results in God-given joy.

And knowing this puts our priorities straight. We should be much more about healthy, spiritual relationships with each other than tempting one another to sin and dividing just to prove how very smart we are.

(Rom 14:18-19 ESV)  18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Note v. 18 well. Paul tells us plainly that the test of what is acceptable is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” That’s very, very far removed from how we often teach and think. But this language fits perfectly with Kingdom theology and the narrative of the scriptures.

Therefore, our discipline is to build each other up and to pursue peace. Blessed are the peacemakers.

(Rom 14:20-23 ESV)  20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.  21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.  22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.  23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.


Now, being disciplined is not always easy. But here’s what I read Paul to be saying —

* The peace of the local congregation is of paramount importance because Jesus came to restore us to right relationships with each other and with God. Don’t let issues of food and drink (or whatever else is the controversy of the day) destroy that peace.

* The burden is on both sides. Neither side gets to claim to be the weak brother and make demands on the other side. This is not about getting your way. Indeed, it’s about not getting your way.

* Don’t condemn. Don’t look down on your brother. Don’t judge.

* Don’t tempt anyone to sin against his or her conscience.

* You win by not getting your way — by submitting to your brother. The path to peace is submission and redefining a “win.” A win is peace, not getting your way.

* Thus, Christians who’ve been baptized for 30 years aren’t allowed to claim “weaker brother” status as leverage on others. This is about submitting, not compelling others to submit. That’s the opposite of submission. It’s control. Both sides submit. Neither side controls the other side.

Now, working these principles out in practice is really hard — in part because we’ve been trained by experts to use these principles to destroy harmony and to damn each other — showing just how perverse our preaching can sometimes be.

For example, a church wishes to introduce a second service with instruments. Some members consider instrumental music sin. Some are theologically okay with instruments but hate the thought of no longer being a “Church of Christ,” because in their minds, our identity is defined by a cappella singing, not by our relationship with Jesus.

Those who advocate for the second service are motivated by a desire for improved evangelism and to keep their children in the church. Those who are opposed are motivated by sincerely and deeply held beliefs. The elders decide to add the second service.

Those who oppose the instrument could argue that they are the weaker brothers (admitting they are in error, I suppose, but any knife will do in a knife fight) and that therefore the “stronger brothers” (who they actually believe are weaker) should submit to them under Romans 14.

Those who favor the instrument would never take the position of “weaker brother,” but would acknowledge that they should not place a stumbling block before their brothers — meaning they should not tempt them to sin against their consciences. Thus, they readily agree to maintain the a cappella service so that no one is forced to sing with an instrument.

But there are other issues. We’ll take them up next.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Christian Disciplines, Romans, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Community Disciplines: Community Disciplines: Romans on Discipline, Part 2 (chapter 14b)

  1. Charles McLean says:

    Guest, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what “versus 1 and 2” means in your post. I thought at first that it referenced my question, but after a careful reading, it doesn’t.

    Maybe I just missed something. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  2. abasnar says:

    This is a bit of a side issue, but I take this out of your post, because it is a very common misreading of scripture:

    If a Christian eats food sacrificed to an idol, knowing that there are no idols and the pagan ritual was meaningless, he has a strong faith.

    No, he has not strong faith, he is disobedient. Paul never said that eating meat sacrificed to idols was “neutral” as soon as we discover that these idols don’t exist. He also points to the spiritual background: Demons are very real, and although the meat itelf is not poisoned, we are in / express fellowship with demons when we eat such meat. Fleeing from idolatry includes abstaining from this kind of meat. The only way we can eat it: If we don’t know that it is meat sacrificed to idols. Therefore we should not be overscrupulous when we buy it on the marktet place.

    This command is stressed by Christ Himself:

    Rev 2:14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.

    Rev 2:20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

    Among the things Christ had against these churches was eating food sacrificed to idols. Would that have been on our list?

    Paul said, and this needs to be kept in mind and taken seriously:

    1Co 10:19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?
    1Co 10:20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
    1Co 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
    1Co 10:22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

    This is a very strong NO to eating meat sacrificed to idols. BTW the epistle of all Apostles from Acts 15 was read in all of the Gentile churches Paul founded – so it was not necessary to repeat it word by word in his own epistles. All of the four “necessary things” (no fornication, no meat sacrificed to idols, no eating of blood or strangled animals) are as binding as ever.

    And – as almost always – the ECF were very unanionous on this point of teaching. The Early church followed the Apostles (Acts 15), Paul (1Co 10) and Christ (Rev 2) in not eating meat sacrificed to idols. It’s not a matter of havong stronger or weaker faith, but a matter of obedience to a clear and often repeated (!!) command.


  3. Bob Brandon says:

    The problem with Alexander’s point is that he’s wrong. Paul has no essential problem with Christians eating meat offered to idols, even the Corinthians. Alexander’s mistaken, and he’s leaving out the rest of ch. 10 (vs. 23-33):

    “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; 26 FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS. [Ps. 24:1] If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?

    Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. ”


    The command is not to not eat meat; the command is not to cause one’s brother to falter in faith because of my liberty. That’s simply an extension of the second commandment, love your neighbor as yourself.

  4. abasnar says:

    But the problem with Brandon’s post is that he is totally wrong – and so are you David, when you agree with him.

    Why? Paul “signed” the letter of Acts 15 along with all other apostles. This letter was conformed in Acts 21:25 (several years later!). And Christ was angry about churches who taught it was all right to eat food sacrificed to idols.

    You both ignore the multiple testimony to thes commands! You brush them aside by your interpretation of a few verses from Paul’s letters – against paul#s “signature” under the letter from Acts 15, against the decision of all the elöders and apostles that were present tehre, and against the fury pof our Lord Jesus Christ in Rev 2! And against the unaninous undetsanding of the Early Church!

    As soon as you read ALL that has been written on this subject, you will be able to put your proof texts into persepective, Brandon. But whoever (mis)uses one scripture to overrule another CANNOT be right. Any result of Bible study that ays the opposite of the texts (in their context) is wrong. And such are your conclusions

    So there are a few 21st century Westerners who stand against what the Spirit (Acts 15:28) decided and the whole church sais Amen. This doesn’t work, brothers – this is absurd!

    And such absurdities are at the root of all the big problems that divide the churches today.


  5. Bob Brandon says:

    No, Alexander’s still wrong because he wants to pick and choose his prooftexts as if the NT is a statute book to be enforced. He’s the one who wants to use the passages he likes to nullify the ones he doesn’t.

    If Alexander won’t be held to context, all else he may have to say is merely pretext. Or has said.

  6. aBasnar says:

    This can turn out to be fun, Bob. I presented to you the whole spectrum of texts that deal with this issue, and you decide the one you take out of context is the one that explains them all (away). Can you give me the reasons for this, so I can at least try to follow your thoughts?


  7. aBasnar says:

    Just a small observation concerning your passage:

    First Paul writes:

    1Co 10:20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
    1Co 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
    1Co 10:22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

    These are “no-cpmpromise”-words. What did he mean with the following text?

    1Co 10:23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

    Do these words cancel out the preceding ones? So we don’t fellowship with demons after all? Or what does he mean? He is reaüpeating a similar statement from chapter 6:

    1Co 6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
    1Co 6:13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”–and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

    Did you notice the quotation marks? They are not in the Greek, but they make sense. 1Co 6 is about sexual immorality – and he is answering an objection: “Hey, Paul, all things are lawful for me!” Can we use this quote to say, well sexual immorality is not so bad afer all, just a matter of conscience? Of course not.

    In the same way 1Co 10:13 cannot be used to overrule 1Co 10:20-22. It is the same objection of peaople who think themselves to be above and beyond such “laws”.

    What follows is dealing with this objection, but doees not overrule or cancel what was said before. And did you see in which two contexts this “all things are lawful appear”? sexual immorality and meat sacrificed to iol. Two out of the four things from Acts 15 – and the very same two things Christ addressed in Rev 2.


  8. HistoryGuy says:

    I sent you an email about a German translation. Did you get it? I realize that you are busy, but I wanted to make sure you got the email.


  9. Jay Guin says:


    Chrysostom interprets 1 Cor 10:15 thusly,

    For such is the nature of those things which are not in their essence evil, but through the man’s intention make him unclean.

    Clement of Alexandria writes,

    We are not, then, to abstain wholly from various kinds of food, but only are not to be taken up about them. We are to partake of what is set before us, as becomes a Christian, out of respect to him who has invited us, by a harmless and moderate participation in the social meeting; regarding the sumptuousness of what is put on the table as a matter of indifference, despising the dainties, as after a little destined to perish. “Let him who eateth, not despise him who eateth not; and let him who eateth not, not judge him who eateth.”

  10. aBasnar says:

    Clement of Alexandria also wrote

    The apostle says, “All other things buy out of the meat market, asking no question” – with the exceüption of the things mentioned in the catholic epistle of all the apostles “witht he consent ofthe Spirit”. That epistle was written in the Acts ofthe Apostles and was conveyed to the faithful by the hands of Paul himself. Forthey indicated “that they must abstain from these things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication.”

    You seem to do with the ECF what you do with the scriptures in this respect. It’s simply not correct to take a passage on the “indifference of food” (and there are such passages in the NT as well) to rule out the few limitations there are. The limitations need to be in the backs of our minds when we read the other passages. Clement of Alexandria gives us a fine example here.

    And Chrysostom is right, that the essence of the meat is not evil. But the connection with the demons is nonetheless real, although not in the meat, but in the intentions. (I have no copy of Chrysostom’s work to check hs other statements, though)

    A few other quotes:


    Against that which is sacrificed to idols, be exceedingly on guard; for it is the service of dead gods.>/blockquote>


    Christians do not eat the food that is consecrated to idols, for they are pure.

    Justin Martyr

    “Those of the Gentiles who know God … through Jesus the crucified … abide every torture and vengeance even to the extremity of death, rather than to worship idols, or to eat meat offered to idols.” And Trypho (a Jew) said, “I believe, however, that many of those who say that they confess Jesus, and are called Christians, eat meat sacrificed to idols, and declare that they are by no means injured in consequence.” And I replied, “The fact that there are such men confessing themselves to be Christians … yet not teaching His doctrines … causes us who are disciples of the true and pure doctrine of Jesus Christ to be more faithful.”

    Irenaeus reports:

    The “most perfect” amongthem (the Gnostics) addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the scriptures assure us that “those who do such things will not inheritthe Kingdom of God”. For instance, they make no scruple about eating meats offered in sacrifice to idols, imagining that they can in this way contract no defilement.

    (All quotes from the Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs)

    Well, this is quite clear and straightforward, isn’t it? The position of most Western Christuians on this matter today is like the position of those confessing Christ without following Him (Justin) or even the position of the Gnostics.

    There is one last straw to hold on, if you want to defend the “indifference” of meat sacrificed to idols: You can brush their testimony aside as uninspired – leaving the matter to your own inspiration and interpretation of scripture.


  11. Alabama John says:

    Even today folks know to not strangle and leave the blood in an animal destined for food. Blood, strangle, all familiar to killing animals for food.

    Seems same for offerings to idols.

    Why did FORNICATION come into this food preparing for idols or ourselves discussion?

    I briing this up as its a sore spot among the churches of Christ for it to mean SEX only.

    Excuse the jumping off topic..Drive a stake here and come back later!

  12. Tim Miller says:

    Despite Paul’s efforts to the contrary, jews and gentiles remained at odds over issues such as food sacrificed to idols and circumcision (Galatians).

    To believe that one position held by Paul trumps another, or visa versa, refuses to accept the context of each writer.

    Again, viewing the scriptures as a law book ignores context and intended audience and, by refusing to accept the “intent” rather than the “letter of the law” (as in the case of Jewish christians), one must accept one side or the other when Paul clearly said neither was wrong in itself. Reconciling apparent contracdiction in scripture do not require choosing one side or the other though that may be an option.

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  14. Jim Neely says:

    I admit to being easily confused conserning some thing about which so much has been written as here. This is especially true when the discussion gets into divergent meanings of Greek words, quoting non-biblical writings, etc.
    If I understand you correctly, Christians were told to be sure that they never ate meat that had been sacrificed to an idol. If that is correct, it would mean that before buying any meat purchased in the market or eating meat at the house of a host, the Christian would be obligated to esquire about its origin and be very confident of the answer given.
    I don’t believe that requirement was placed on them; In fact, 1 Cor 10.25-33 specifically states that.. And doesn’t he also say that the prohibition was not for the conscience of the Christian but for those who were sympathetic to the connection to idols.
    Therefore, I must believe that if the Christian was ignorant of the meat’s origin it was OK to eat it. On the other hand, if he knew it came through sacrifice to an idol he was not to eat it.
    Of course, actions such as sexual immorality were wrong within themselves and were to be avoided.

    Jim Neely, Tullahoma

  15. aBasnar says:

    It’s the other way round: We don’t need to examine meat in detail, because meat is meat. There is no “physical” difference. From that the Corinthians made a wrong conclusion: Then we can eat meat sacricied to idols as well – and they added: “The idols are images of God’s that don’t even exist!” (not verbatim, but that’s the rationale).

    But they are mistaken: There is a reality behind idolatry, and that’s the demons. Paul did not make that up, he has this from the books of Moses. Therefore eating food sacrificed to idols is not neutral, it brings you in fellowship with demons when you “eat at their table”.

    But this applies only when you know about the background of the meat. Listen carefully, also, about whose conscience Paul is writing here:

    1Co 10:27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
    1Co 10:28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience–
    1Co 10:29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. … (!) …

    We don’t partake in idolatry in any form. If someone tells us this meat has been sacrificed, he implies that there is a special bleesing on this meat, maybe from Zeus himself. shall we then partake? Of course not, even if we know that Zeus does not exist, the demons are behind every superstitious religion. When we refuse this steak then, it is for the HOST’S conscience, that we give testimony to the one true and living God.

    A friend of mine was once invited by his Islamic neighbors at the end of Ramadan to join their feat. He refused, because they eat a sacrificed Lamb at this occansion. This is a sacriofice to a false God, and therefore he acted accordingly – for the conscience of his neighbors.

    What was Christ opposed to in Rev 2? That Christians partook of food sacrificed to idols! What I don’t get is how bible-believing and Chrift-loving people can say: “Come on, Christ, it’s just plain meat!” while He sais: “Don’t eat it.” This should be simple enough. But Paul’s lengthy discourse – which does not allow to eat meat sacrificed to idol’s (as soon as we know it) – shows that Christians sometimes can be hard to teach … You tell me, why …


  16. Alabama John says:

    That’s why all Greeks are members of the church of Christ.

    They have a better understanding of the scriptures since it is in their own language. LOL

  17. Charles McLean says:

    Alexander, if someone tells me that the pot roast has been previously part of a blood sacrifice to Dagon or Samhain or Belial or some other god, I will abstain. That is what Paul called believers to do.

    Was there something beyond that you are suggesting for us? Because, frankly, it’s never happened to me. Not saying it couldn’t, but it’s simply not a significant issue for me in this culture. I would be surprised to find things THAT different in Austria. My local grocer does not tell me that much about the provenance of the beef here.

    If this is all there is, I think we are spending way too much time trying to prepare our ship to ride out a tempest in a teapot.

    If on the other hand, there is some larger principle being posited here, I need more clarity on it. Here is one line of thought: if a cut of meat was offered to an idol, and I subsequently bless it in the name of Jesus, does that then make that T-bone “clean”? Would that be another reasonable way to address this obscure issue?

  18. Charles McLean says:

    Oh, and BTW, a Muslim would never tell you that a meat from Eid al Fitr had been sacrificed to an idol. If asked, he would say it was to honor “the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. To reject his lamb, you have to judge the man as a liar, and declare that he does not really worship the God he claims to worship. This is not part of the Pauline illustration, but a different issue altogether.

    When we mix scripture and judgment, we do well to remember which is wihch.

  19. aBasnar says:

    Alexander, if someone tells me that the pot roast has been previously part of a blood sacrifice to Dagon or Samhain or Belial or some other god, I will abstain. That is what Paul called believers to do.

    That’s it, Charles. No more and no less.

    Was there something beyond that you are suggesting for us?

    No, not at all.

    BUT: Romans 14 has nothing to do with this issue. And to make meat sacrificed to idols a matter of one’s OWN conscience is simply not in line with the rest of scripture. That’s why I brought this in. We are TOO quick to move scripture into the realm of “personal opinion/preference/conscience”, while some “restrictions” are menat to be observed whether we like it or not. In fact there are only rare occasions where we in our society may be confronted with such food. Nevertheless it is a good example of how we read or misread the scriptures.

    Of course the Muslim would not tell me that zthe meat has been sacrificed to an idol. But when my friend answered to his neighbeour he could not partake because of his faith, the neighbour respected that without being offended. It was a testimony. Muslims are normally quite open for religious conversation, they are interested in what we believe … and they are (rightfully) puzzled about our inconsistencies, because the Bible and the Quran both e.g. emphasize that we must abstain from blood. Muslims respect this command, Christians (generally) don’t. Muslim women cover their heads (all the time while in public), while Christian women refuse to do that even in worship (in spite of 1Co 11:2-16) – again Muslims are puzzled as to why we ignore what God said. All in all: Muslims are intersting people to converse with – and I liked the experience of visiting a Mosque during Ramadan. Boy, did we have a good dialogue afterwards! … Well, that was off topic. Anyway, my friend’s Muslim neoghbours were not offended, but rather respected my friend’s faith.

    Another friend of mine works as a missionary among Muslim Romas in Bulgaria. For them it is essential to point out that Christ was the last sacrifice, which adds another component to our converesations with Muslims, doesn’t it?


  20. Charles McLean says:

    I would observe that this dialog between Christian and Muslim demonstrates how easily we get into chatting about minor things when the major thing is left unaddressed. “How do you interpret your scriptures?” is easier to discuss than “Who is Jesus?”

    It is fairly easy to find unbelievers to be tolerant of our faith if we are respectful ourselves– and we do not speak to the central truth of salvation in Christ Jesus. Then, things get sticky.

    This is not a criticism of polite and neighborly dialog with our unbelieving neighbors. I don’t have to turn every discussion of the weather with a Sikh into a presentation of the gospel. But I have noticed that in our current culture, there is unfortunately a growing tendency among more progressive believers to minimize the differences created by the unique claims of Christ.

    To me, it is this dynamic which illustrates how we so need the real-time leading of the Holy Spirit in these conversations.

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