Bible Studies/stumble


QUESTION: Hello Teacher Scott! Bet ya cant guess who?
Well, I am confused when it comes to Romans ch 14. I know what it means as far as 'stumble'. and causing someone to 'stumble' but what I don't understand is where to draw the line? an I live in Gainesville Florida. There is some 13,000 people in this city. And regardless of what I do, someone will have a problem with it and may 'stumble' If I take my daughter to a movie someone else may see that and 'stumble'. The same goes for bowling or swimming or anything else I may do. So after a while you have to do what is right to YOU and not worry what someone else thinks because there will always be 'someone else' looking.
So where do you draw the line between being careful and respectful of someone else and doing what YOU believe?

ANSWER: Hi, Joyce! It's so nice to hear from you.

When Paul talks about stumbling, he isn't talking about merely offending someone or trying to control what someone will think about you. One can be completely innocent, and yet another might interpret his actions as being wrong.

Case in point. Jesus scolded those who rejected Him and His message. John the Baptist was Christ's forerunner, and he was condemned for his strict diet, unusual clothing, and reclusive lifestyle. Jesus, on the other hand, was condemned for being quite the opposite--one who came "eating and drinking" and associating with tax collectors and sinners. No matter what the case, the actions of Jesus and His messengers were condemned, not because they were wrong, but because others chose to interpret them as such.

The idea of stumbling, in this passage, is that of contributing to one's decision to sin due to a violation of his conscience.

Let me see if I can explain. Some people believe that it is wrong to mow the lawn on a Sunday. Technically speaking, it isn't wrong. However, if one truly believes it is wrong, and he violates that belief, he is violating his conscience. Therefore, if a brother encourages him to mow his lawn on a Sunday, he has contributed to that person's violation of conscience.

Does this mean that Christians should not mow their lawns on a Sunday, even if they know that it is OK to do so? No. Paul's point is that we should be careful how we use our liberties to ensure that we are not jeopardizing the spiritual growth of another.

I think the primary point is that the conscience, as aided by the Holy Spirit, is a very important "tool." We should develop a sensitivity to it and to the Holy Spirit so that we can effectively "walk in the Spirit." Deliberate violation of one's conscience--even when a sin is not being committed (but the individual believes it is)--is harmful to one's spiritual growth and health.

Because of this, Christians should be sensitive especially to those new or less mature believers who are still learning and growing, understanding that liberties are allowed, but that the spiritual health of my brother is more important than my liberties.

Does that make sense?

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: actually no. I am still confused. Lets use your example. My next door neighbor thinks its wrong to mow your lawn on Sunday. But I don't have a problem with it? Does that mean I go ahead with my chores or refrain? Where do you 'draw the line' is my problem/question.

ANSWER: Joyce,

I'm not surprised that you wrote back to discuss further. This is a difficult area, and it is a little bit of a challenge to know where to draw the line.

How 'bout we go through the passage and try to elaborate?

1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Paul uses the example of meat offered to idols. It was a common practice in those days for pagans to offer meat and other food to their idols by putting it around the idol. Obviously, it was not eaten, so something had to be done with the food. Often it was sold or given away. Most Christians did not have a problem eating this food because they understood that idols were simply a fabrication of a "god" who did not really exist. Therefore, there was nothing wrong with eating that food. Some less mature believers, however, felt it was wrong to eat this food due to the association with a false religion. Because they believed it was wrong, to them, it was wrong--though only because it was a violation of one's beliefs. In their minds, it was dishonoring to God because it was "wrong" and they chose to do it anyway.

5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

Paul here is talking about Christian liberty. One man believes that the Sabbath should be honored because it was a part of the Old Testament Law. But another believes that he is no longer obliged to keep the Mosaic Law because Jesus fulfilled the Law and its purpose and thereby abolished it. Whether one chose to treat one day as sacred or not, either was fine. But his motives for doing so should be that he is doing it to honor God--not merely to exercise his religious liberty, or to earn "brownie points" through a legalistic form of lifestyle. It's all about how we relate to God.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11 It is written: " 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.' " 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.

Paul is dealing with legalism here. It isn't about clear issues of right and wrong. And, in these "innocent" areas, God does not intend for us to force upon others a legalistic system of rules. True spirituality comes from having a heart that is right towards God. We are each responsible to learn what God expects of us. While we might struggle to understand what that is, what is important is that we are not deliberately doing something that we believe to be wrong, nor are we encouraging another to do something he believes to be wrong. It isn't a matter of measuring ourselves by ourselves. Rather, we each answer to God and ought to do so in a manner we believe to be honoring to Him.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.

In the context, it appears that Paul is saying that we should not be forcing our legalistic views on others. Here's an example. I grew up in a legalistic church--one that focused on the "rules" rather than the inner man. There was a lot of emphasis on how you dressed, cut your hair, what kind of music you listened to, what version of the Bible you endorsed, did you go to the movies, send your kids to a Christian school, attend all church services, etc., etc. The implication (if not the clear teaching) was that you had to follow this list of do's and don'ts--many of them man-made--if you were to be truly spiritual. It had little to do with the heart or one's true relationship with God. Forcing this kind of teaching on people is not healthy or conducive to spiritual maturity.

14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

There can be circumstances in which we abuse our Christian liberties by causing confusion in the mind of another believer. Paul is saying that what is more important than your Christian liberty is your concern for another believer. Therefore, we should not abuse our liberties so as to intentionally cause someone else to violate his beliefs.

Example. Some Christians believe it's wrong to celebrate Halloween because of its association with witches and such things. Others believe it's OK, as it is a harmless holiday in which kids dress up and go around to the homes in their neighborhoods collecting bags full of candy. If my sister and brother-in-law are fully convinced that it is wrong, and I believe it's OK, it would be wrong of me to take their children out trick-or-treating, or to try to persuade them that it's OK simply because that's what I believe. If they are still convinced that it's wrong, then for them, it would be wrong. Paul's admonition is for each of us to respect the other's beliefs without forcing ours on them--or forcing them to act on our beliefs. (Keep in mind that this applies to areas of "persuasion" vs. "conviction." In other words, Paul is not talking about those clear cut teachings of Scripture which ought always to be followed.)

But let's go back to verses 3 and 4:

3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

In areas of Christian liberty, neither one is to judge the other--whether the one who mows his lawn on a Sunday, or the one who does not mow his lawn. Paul is simply encouraging us to think through how this might impact the other person, and to be sensitive to that. Love and edification are more important than insisting on our Christian liberties.

So, if I think it's OK to mow the grass on a Sunday, and my believing neighbor does not, can I go ahead and mow my grass? That might be alright, considering I've thought through the potential implications. But what would be wrong is to convince my neighbor that he should go ahead and cut his lawn on a Sunday when he still believes firmly that it's wrong to do so.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Awesome! so if I don't give my neighbor my lawnmower or try to convince him its ok, then I'M ok? do I have that right?

Yeah, pretty much.

If I can try to summarize it in a nutshell, I think Paul is saying this. With freedom comes responsibility. It's generally OK to exercise one's Christian liberties. Just think carefully about how that might affect others, and put the concern for others before your "rights."

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Scott Talbot


I have studied the Bible and Bible-related topics since the time I was very young. My education includes a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Bible, and a Master of Divinity degree. I enjoy delving into deep theological issues and always enjoy a healthy debate. But more importantly, I like working with people and helping them to find the answers that they are looking for. And I am convinced that these answers are available in the Bible.


By the grace and mercy of God, I have been saved, born again, adopted into the family of God. God has given me a love for the Bible, and for Bible-related subjects. In addition, He has blessed me with ongoing training in the Scriptures, from my youth on up. The more I learn about God through His Word, the more I want to share!

Campus Crusade for Christ, Grace Church at Willow Valley

Pillsbury Baptist Bible College - B.S. Bible & Pastorology; Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary - M.Div.

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