Here is the question: “Is that a heaven or hell issue?” Many things we discuss in life or even have strong feelings about are not significant in God’s teachings to the degree that they would cost a person their salvation. Think of two men in the Old Testament for a moment before we complete our study in Romans 14. Saul and David were both kings in Israel. Both were flawed men who did some pretty awful things. When Saul set out on his own course and moved ahead of God by offering the sacrifice that only Samuel the Priest should have offered because he was afraid the men would leave him, God rejected him. He would later remove his Holy Spirit from Saul. The time would come when God would tell Samuel to stop praying for Saul that he was rejected by Him. God gave Saul many opportunities to turn back to him and be the man he was called to be but it never happened. David was chosen because he was a man after God’s own heart. But he messed up pretty royally. In a time of burning lust, he summoned Bathsheba the wife of Uriah, one of his own men who was out on the battlefield and had sex with her, committing adultery. When she came back to tell him later that she was pregnant, he had to hide his sin and ended up having Uriah murdered. He tool Bathsheba as his wife and thought it was all taken care of but God wasn’t about to let it pass. He waited almost a year before sending Nathan the prophet to David with a story of a rich man stealing a poor man’s sheep and feeding it to his company to arouse David’s anger and shout that the rich man would be executed. Nathan declared, “You are the man.” You had many wives and I would have given you more if you had asked but you stole the wife of Uriah. David was broken in repentance and pleaded for forgiveness, saying, “Against you, you only have I sinned and committed this great iniquity O God.” He prayed, “Please don’t remove your Holy Spirit from me.” David’s sin was horrible and it cost him dearly, but God didn’t remove the Spirit from him. He forgave him and continued with him in some tough times afterward.
God made a distinction between the sin of Saul and the sin of David. Why and what was the difference? It wasn’t the horribleness of the sin. It was the attitude and the heart of the sinner that made the difference. David did wrong but made no effort to justify it. Saul did wrong and when confronted blamed it on the people.
In Romans 14 we’ve been looking at God’s leading of Paul to discuss how to handle people and situations with regard to things that aren’t right or wrong in themselves but are matters of conscience. He has pleaded with us to seek for peace. He noted the things that really mattered in the kingdom were righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He told them not to judge each other but leave that to God. He longed for all to be compassionate and caring for those who are weak in their faith and often feel strongly about things like certain foods and wine that they are always wrong, that we not destroy a weak brother for whom Christ died.
Look now at Paul’s conclusion to his argument. “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. We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 14-23-15:2)
Here are some huge points out of this conclusion: One, God’s longing is that those who are weak would become strong, not stay in their weakness and use it as an excuse to keep everyone from getting stronger than them. Two, the strong must never become uncaring and frustrated with the weak so that we stop bearing with them and loving them to build them up. Three, no one who follows the Lord can be selfish and think only of what they like and feel about a thing. The church isn’t a playhouse for one strong personality to demand their way about everything and force a church to go along with their doubts and prejudices. It is the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is the church of God, so we must always remember we are simply members of the body, not the ruler of the body. Four, when we do have doubts about a thing, we shouldn’t violate our conscience. Don’t bind your conscience on others. But certainly you must abide by your conscience. Keep studying and growing and you may well learn you have been mistaken about something and then it won’t bother your conscience any longer. But don’t run roughshod over your conscience so that it becomes calloused and useless in God’s call. If you believe it is wrong to eat pork on Sunday, then don’t do it. It is sinful for you to violate your conscience. Is it then wrong to eat pork on Sunday? Certainly not and we as a church mustn’t make laws about pork for we put ourselves in the place of teaching doctrines of demons as Paul discussed in I Timothy 4:1-5. Train your conscience. Realize the conscience can be wrong as was Paul’s when he believed it was right for him to persecute the Christians. When you learn better, live better.
But careful in your application of this principle. I’ve heard people apply this verse to things like the use of instrumental music in worship and say that if it bother’s my conscience that makes it wrong for a church to use it. When you make that argument just realize you have declared the use of the instrument only a matter of conscience and not something that is either right or wrong in itself. Also, you have said to the world, “I’m the weak brother so please don’t offend me.” This passage has to do with matters of opinion and conscience and not to do with matters that are clearly taught as right or wrong in Scripture. They demonstrate that people coming out of all kinds of backgrounds usually bring with them some baggage and much of that needs to be emptied out and destroyed but that is a process and doesn’t happen immediately.
Strong, bear with the weak. Help them grow. Love them even when they are a pain.
Weak, live by your conscience but keep studying and growing. Don’t bind your conscience on anyone but you, including your husband or wife, children or in-laws. A conscience is a personal thing and should be followed personally and not used to condemn everyone who doesn’t see things the way we do.