Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Insult To Injury

We are going through the book of Romans in class currently.  This past Sunday we began to cover chapter 14.  In that chapter, Paul discusses and contrasts 'stronger' and 'weaker' brothers, freedom and not abusing that freedom, offending and being offended.  
Very interesting stuff.  

Personally, I don't have any problem with the part where we are NOT to look down on others for how they believe they should live their life.  The difficult part for me is this idea of adjusting my life to what is acceptable to others.  It seems to me that it would be very fair to live and let live.  I won't judge you on matters that are 'disputable' or non-essential to being a christian, and you afford me the same respect.  
But that's not what it says.  
Paul states in vs. 15 that I'm not acting in love if I 'distress' my brother with what I'm doing.  He goes on to say that I shouldn't let that which I know is good be spoken about as evil.  Hmmm.  
Vs. 20 - 21 talk about not causing another to stumble or fall.  
So let me get this straight.
I can, by exercising my own legitimate freedom, cause another person to fall because they erroneously believe that what I'm doing is wrong?  Maybe they see me doing what they consider wrong, and are influenced to do the same, which results in their conscience convicting them.  I don't even like to use the word 'conviction' in this context.  I think 'guilt' would be more accurate, and inappropriate guilt at that.  (We can discuss later whether feelings of guilt are ever good)  However, vs. 23 warns that if you have doubts about what you are doing, and go ahead and do it, you're sinning. 

A point was raised that we always, or often, think of ourselves as the 'stronger' brother having to put up with that poor weakling brother.  So maybe I'm just plain wrong, and the one I consider 'weak' is the right one?  Yet, in the context of Romans 14, the stronger brother is the one who doesn't look down on, or condemn, his brother for what he does in these matters.  
By definition, the weaker brother is the one who is offended.

Another point was made that the 'stronger' brother would be the one who gives preference to the one who insists that his way is right.  That seems legit.

I'm no expert on this matter, and I don't have a tidy summary/conclusion.
I'm asking questions.
I hope I haven't offended anyone.


  1. I totally get what you are saying. Back to the point Steve made on the post about political correctness, how can we possibly keep up with everything that will or will not offend every person that we come into contact with in our life? Exhausting. We can't control people either, they have free will just as much as we do. So I'm with you, I only have more questions here. But great discussion points :)

  2. I think Paul is trying to say a few things here. Paul lays out principles of conduct for Christians relative to questionable matters. He gives us three guidelines: conviction, conscience, and consideration. A christian should have conviction about what he does. Conviction means "that which anticipates."Does he look forward to what he is going to do with high anticipation and enthusiasm? The second guideline is conscience. Does he look back on what he has done, wondering if he were right or wrong? Or does he even hate himself for what he has done? The third guideline is consideration for others. Are other people adversely affected by what he does? These three guidelines give us principles of conduct for our christian lives. Here is how I would sum this up. To do what conscience allows is not always right and to do what it questions is always wrong. The strong christian should not be contemptuous toward the opinion of a weaker brother on a doubtful question, neither should the weaker man be censorious toward the stronger because of what conscience allows him. Both have a right to opinion and both are responsible to God for it. I hope this helps some.

  3. Dude. Did Sarah smack you in the head with a Systematic Theology book? Never say the word censorious again. Yes - the issue for me is your point: to do what conscience allows is not always right. I don't think I'm looking down on anyone for their preferences, nor am I censoring anyone. I'm struggling with the limiting of my freedom due to the unnecessary (as I see it) limitations another is putting on me.

  4. Censorious. Good word, my man! Nope that wasn't me, I blame Capps, lol!

  5. Also, consider this - related to the point about the stronger brother can be identified as being the one who gives preference to another in a dispute. If the stronger brother always gives preference to the weaker brother, then the less-mature christian is the one that calls all the shots (admittedly in non-essential matters). The one who is more mature, and therefore presumably better at making wise spiritual decisions, must defer to the less mature one. That doesn't sound like it works right. I do recognize that love and unity need to be above all other concerns. Also, determining who is the 'stronger' in order that they may make the decisions leads to hierarchy, status seeking, pride, facades, and all other manner of hypocrisy.
    Maybe that's the point?

  6. Dogmatics bro, Dogmatics! I have been meeting with Kapps for 2 years guess he's rubbing off on me now, or maybe I'm just seeing the light, haha! I have learned over the years to kinda just "agree to disagree." Especially when it comes to questionable things. It is one of the main ways the enemy works to create division. It is also funny that the things we do disagree about most of the time are things pertaining to THIS world. I would say that most of our disagreements are not vertical but horizontal.

  7. You're gonna have to enlighten me on dogmatics as well. Capps needs to get in here and weigh in on these topics. I agree that many disagreements are about personal preferences. But what happens also is that people find a 'biblical' or 'spiritual' reason for supporting that preference - i.e. KJV, hymns, tradition. I mentioned a Mark Driscoll article called Methodology or Methodolatry in class. Check it out at http://theresurgence.com/2011/08/30/methodology-vs-methodolatry

  8. Y'know the ironic thing here is that we are basically talking about relativism! Generally speaking, relativism is a dirty word to me. Used in it's normal broad sense, it usually means that a person rejects the idea of absolute truth, and instead comes up with their own truth. The next guy may come up with a different truth. That's ok. Everyone can invent their own truth that works for them and everyone is happy.

    Obviously, relativism butts heads with people who believe that the word of God is absolute truth.

    HOWEVER...is there absolute truth in every situation? Is there a right and a wrong in every choice? Is it ok to wear jeans to church or not? How about shorts? Should women be allowed to be deacons? How about teach? Hymns or choruses? Drums in worship or no? The list goes on and on, and you could probably find someone you know on either side of each one of these examples...and furthermore they could probably point you to scripture that they believe supports their view.

    But allow me to offer up an idea that you may have never considered: Is there a single right answer to every question? Many would tell you "well it's my desire to follow God's will in this issue." That's understandable. God MUST have an opinion on all of these topics, and we, as good Christians, want to be in-line with His opinion.


    I'm honestly not so sure that He does. God chose to create humans with free will. The ability to choose. They can even choose to abandon their creator. God did not create humans to be little robots who follow their preprogrammed code every minute of their existence, unable to make any choices of their own.

    Does it make sense to think that God gave humanity the ability to make choices, yet desires for His followers to be mindless automatons? I don't think it does.

    As I sit here and chew on all of this, I'm coming to the conclusion that God desires for their to be some (reasonable) differences of opinion within His church, and by accommodating those differences of opinion in love, unity is increased, and God is glorified.

  9. I think, as humans, we see a lot of 'gray' areas (except maybe for those who are sure they are always right). I don't think that's true of God (openness theories ignored for now). Theoretically, that means there's an exactly right answer to every issue. I suppose that, since we often can't know that exactly right answer, our primary objective should be to 'do no harm' to others. Insisting that things be 'our way' can be harmful to relationships. But again, that still doesn't address the issue of limiting my personal freedom to please another. I'm not insisting that others agree with me on how to live.

    Also, do these concepts apply to home life as well as church life?

  10. Let's come at this from a different perspective maybe. And no this isn't relativism (which says there's no absolutes at all) but maybe more like discernment (the good kind of judging).

    Ok, here goes...let's give a definition of sin as "anything that damages my relationship with God and with other humans". Ok, using that definition, what is a sin for you may not be a sin for me, according to these passages, because of conscience. Now obviously, no two people have the exact same conscience. Our conscience is developed as we live, and depends on how close we are to God and what kinds of things have shaped us in our past (at least that's what I think, sorry if I offend someone :).

    So, for someone who grew up in Paul's time, where his family sacrificed meat to idols (i.e. Greek gods, or Roman gods or whatever) and has this worldview of there being tons of gods out there. Now he has become a Christian, and Jesus is Lord and the only true God. Obviously, it's gonna be hard to escape the idea that eating meat associated with the idol worship and sacrifice isn't wrong, absolutely it is (in their minds). And they're right! To eat that food would hurt their relationship with God, it'd throw them into a funk, and sin is what pulls us away from God.

    But take someone who has grown up Jewish and knows there's only one God, and through revelation has revealed that all foods are now clean (see Peter), and has decided that it's ok to eat meat as long as I'm not causing someone else to sin (later in Paul's writing, he talks about don't eat meat sacrificed to idols if your host tells you it was!) and it's not going to affect his relationship with God in any way (i.e. thanks God for the food I'm eating, and that's all he thinks about the food), then it's not a sin for him.

    Are there some things that are absolute? Absolutely! It's just sometimes hard to know which are and aren't in some areas.

    And I get what you're saying Rob. I don't like the idea that it seems the weaker people get to call all the shots. I don't believe that's always the case, otherwise there'd be no teaching or correcting at all. I think the big thing is just to keep things that would cause others to stumble, private. Because even good things can cause others to stumble - read what Paul has to say on speaking in tongues (i.e. don't do it in public if there isn't an interpreter)

  11. Let me ask another question here: how do larger numbers of people factor into this equation? We've been looking at this primarily from a 1-to-1 viewpoint.

    Let's say you have a 100 person congregation. 90 of them think that it's ok to wear jeans to worship service. They feel that being accommodating in this way could help bring in unchurched people who might have reservations about "getting all dressed up", or even poorer folks who don't have many nice clothes to wear at all.

    On the other hand, you have 10 people in the congregation who are vehemently opposed to jeans. They believe that it's disrespectful to God to come to church in any less than a suit.

    So what do you do here? Who is the weaker brother in this situation? Do the 90 acquiesce to the 10, and in so doing, foster a church culture that is different from what their vision? Do the 10 just have to deal with it since they are outnumbered?

  12. Micah: I agree with your point about where does correcting and rebuking come in? The passage in Timothy is in the context of pastoring I think, but shouldn't it apply to christians in general? Think iron sharpening iron. Keeping things private is also obviously right according to vs.22.
    Steve: Interesting scenario. I think it's a weaker position to insist on a dress code for church. However, I do see that person trying to honor God through their dress.
    Do you think Paul is trying to say to ALL readers: be the stronger brother, don't divide over non-essentials, let one wear jeans and let the other dress up according to their conscience?

  13. Possibly correcting and rebuking are regarding 'essential' things or doctrine. Keeping things private certainly doesn't go along with rebuking.

  14. Anonymous11/18/2011

    Your mother is hurt that you removed her very insightful comments.

  15. Another thing to consider here is that Paul is writing this to ALL believers. This isn't a letter written "attn: stronger brethren". The "weaker brother" doesn't get a free pass here. If he's a follower of Christ, then scripture is every bit as applicable to him as it is to those who are more mature in their faith.

  16. Anonymous11/18/2011

    I would never delete Mom's comments. But I do know plenty of people have had trouble with their comments disappearing when they try to post, especially when commenting under 'anonymous' I think. I called Mom and she said the main point is that we're supposed to love our brother. Don't let disputable matters cause relationship problems. 1 John 3:16 If we have trouble laying down meat, we certainly won't be laying down our lives.
    At least, that's the very short version of what she said.

  17. Steve: I agree, but vs. 1 does also say: accept the one who's faith is weak - an appeal to the 'stronger' brother. So if it's applicable to all, then he's calling all to be the stronger brother.
    Also, last Sunday, this Sunday and maybe the next one are good times to have these discussions. Our usual position, unless we want to flesh out all of these nuances with fellow - especially like-minded - believers, is to keep our opinion to ourselves per vs. 22.

  18. By that last comment, I don't mean we shouldn't normally have these kinds of discussions, but that specifics probably shouldn't enter in. Such as: why or why not hymns or KJV is the right way, why or why not alcohol is OK, etc. etc. Those are the kinds of things people hold different beliefs about and we shouldn't try to convince them why we are right and they are wrong. That's what leads to division and hurt feelings.