Lastly, is the idea of a “Stumbling Block”. In the case of Romans 14, this is talking about a Stronger Brother who exercises his liberties, and in the process causes the Weaker Brother to stumble.
The prohibitions mentioned in Romans 14 could lead people to believe that the Stronger Brother has no option but to live like a weaker brother. Take a look:
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is [dang]ed if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. – Romans 14:15, 21-23
If you took the first part without the second you could certainly get that impression. However, it’s the second section I think is worth our attention.
Don’t Cause Your Brother to Stumble
Paul instructs us that it is important for us not to do things that would cause a brother to stumble into sin. This would include things that are doctrinally wrong as well as things that he has a personal conviction about.
However, if I don’t know that you have a conviction against coffee because it has a drug in it (caffeine) and you believe that you shouldn’t ingest it because your body is a temple to the living God and that would be sin for you—if you don’t tell me this and I offer you coffee, am I causing you to stumble?
If you don’t have a problem resisting the temptation, and you aren’t judging your brother, I don’t think that there’s any problem with the Stronger Brother drinking coffee.
However, if you entered my house and told me that you don’t drink coffee because it’s against what you read in God’s Word and you’ve been working to give it up, and I open up a can of coffee in front of you and proceed to drink it, not only am I inconsiderate, but I’m doing something that could cause you to sin.
Paul says that it’s better to do things in the privacy of your home before God than to destroy a brother because of your liberty.
How Far Does This Go?
Again, I mentioned that some take these passages as believing that it places so many restrictions on the Stronger Brother as to make him into the Weaker Brother. For if there’s someone, somewhere that could be tempted to sin because of a given thing, then the Stronger Brother shouldn’t do it, right?
I don’t believe that’s what this passage is saying. I think there’s room here for common sense. I think that you can drink coffee in the privacy of your home or in public without having to look for Julie from church that might be in the restaurant and has trouble with coffee.
I think that you can respect any day of the week you want, or not respect a day, without looking around for Joe from church that wants you not to do anything on Saturday, since it was the day God rested.
And this extends to topics like modesty. If we begin to apply “do not cause your brother to stumble” we’d have to figure out whether there are single guys around that would be attracted to you if you wore anything but a big shapeless sack. The location and the expectations need to be set.
We don’t want people to stumble. It’s not worth it—whether that means we dress more conservatively, skip the coffee, or don’t go out on Saturday—to cause someone to go into sin. At the same time, it’s important for the Weaker Brother to know why he stands on what he stands, and to get to the point that regardless of what happens around him he will not fall.
The responsibility, and the liberty, goes both ways in my opinion.
What do you think?