Once again, I’ve given you a passage to read, but I might cite verses which are prior to or after these. If I do, I’ll link to it.
The reason I’m doing it this way is because Paul is speaking to both the “strong” (more mature) and the “weak,” (less mature) throughout chapter 14 into 15:13, and it’s difficult to divide the passage topically. In other words, he places instruction to the “strong” right next to instruction to the “weak,” and several points can be applied to both, for example vs. 4.
Yesterday we looked at Paul’s counsel to the “strong,” those more mature in the Christian faith. Today I’d like to examine what he says to those less mature.
First, he tells you not to judge those whose decisions in “disputable matters” are different from your own. Again, we’re not talking about anything that’s explicitly laid out in Scripture. For example, the fact that God has categorically forbidden theft is not disputable; he mentioned in his own “Top Ten List.” No, we’re talking about personal decisions that can be debatable, such as whether or not it’s OK to eat meat that’s been offered to idols.
If Scripture doesn’t forbid it, then don’t pretend that it does. Don’t judge another believer if they’re doing something that isn’t laid out in black and white. You might think that they’re making an unwise choice, and you’re perfectly free to try to persuade them as such. But God has some pretty harsh warnings to those who try to pass off their own opinions as something that’s come directly from him. That’s why I’m extra extra extra careful to distinguish what the Bible plainly says from any speculation or interpretation on my part.
On a side note, I feel a little weird giving out these warnings. The zeitgeist in which we live is so heavy on being nonjudgmental that I feel like someone working really hard against polio. It's a horrible disease for anyone to get, and it once ravaged the lives of millions, but now it’s pretty much eradicated as a modern threat. I don’t think that Christians in America are in particular danger of legalism. The main modern danger seems to be antinomianism.
But even though the threat seems to come from the opposite flank, judging others based on your personal opinion masked as Scripture is still a danger. New Christians in particular, with their (very laudable) zeal, want to please God with all their hearts, and they base their convictions off of their personal experience, not what the Bible actually says.
Second--and this is extremely important—don’t violate your conscience. If your conscience is bothering you about something, STOP. If your conscience is telling you that eating meat that’s been offered to idols is wrong, then don’t eat it. MacArthur: “Each Christian must follow the dictates of his own conscience in matters not specifically commanded or prohibited in Scripture. Since conscience is a God-given mechanism to warn, and responds to the highest standard of moral law in the mind (2:14, 15), it is not sensible to train yourself to ignore it. Rather, respond to its compunctions and as you mature, by learning more, your mind will not alert it to those things which are not essential.” If you feel like something is wrong, it’s better for you to abstain and find out later that you were incorrect than to go forward and later find out that your conscience was accurate.
But—and I’ve haven’t heard this point in a lot of discussions and Bible studies I’ve experienced about this topic and passage—the weaker brother in this passage is less mature than the “strong” brother, and regarding his immaturity, while we indulge it temporarily for the sake of love, this is a temporary accommodation, not a permanent acquiescence to those whose understanding of Scripture is faulty. A less mature believer needs to. . .well, mature. They need to examine their convictions in the light of Scripture. They need to move from basing their convictions on their personal feelings and experiences towards basing their personal convictions on what God’s word actually says.
And of course, this is a never-ending process while in this life. I’ve known the Lord for decades, and I constantly need to put my thoughts, convictions, speech, and actions under the microscope of his word. The main result of my becoming more mature in the faith has been to see more clearly just how much further I need to go. The danger of mistaking my personal opinions for God’s revealed truth is an ever-present one. I say this to myself as much to anyone reading this: Watch out.
Father God, it’s so much better for me to mold my conscience around your word, but way too often I do the opposite. Above all else, I just want to please you. By your grace, please help me do that.