Thursday, February 28, 2013

Removing the Stumbling Blocks


Removing the Stumbling Blocks

 

“So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 14:12-17

Mmmm… The taste of fried beef liver, tenderized and smothered in onion gravy, piled atop a mound of mashed potatoes!  So delicious! But while I love liver, if you came to my house for dinner, I wouldn’t sit you down to a big plate of it.  I understand that not everyone appreciates liver as much as I do.  It’s an acquired taste, something I grew up with.  But to others, it gives way to heaves and gags, and well, it just wouldn’t be the loving thing to do to force you to eat liver! 
In the early days of the church, the apostles were sent out to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in Jewish, Greek, and Gentile communities.  Each community had their own traditions, foods, homes, and clothing.  They were culturally different, and sometimes those cultural ways became obstacles.  In order to be accepted by the community, the apostles had to make adjustments to assure they were accepted by each culture.  And God, knowing the hearts of men, provided apostles from all cultures so that there would be acceptable ministers.

One of those cultural differences was the law of circumcision, which the Jews found to be necessary for a man to follow God under the laws of Moses.  The Gentiles and the Greeks didn’t follow the laws of Moses and were not circumcised.  Because they were not, the Jews saw them as “unclean”.  In the early church at Judea, this became a stumbling block for many new Christians who could not separate the old covenant of law from the new covenant of grace.  They wanted to require new Christians to be circumcised and were teaching “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”(Acts 15:1)
This led to the first letter to the churches, which was called the Apostolic Decree.  It was a life-application sermon, and would be hand delivered to the churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.  In Acts 15:24-29, the decree says that because some were following the circumcision command, which the apostles had not given to the church, that they decided to tell them how they should live.  They told them to have no greater laws than to abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

What happens in the following verses seems confusing until we understand why Paul did what he did.  Timothy, whose mother was a born-again Jew, and father was a Greek, joined up with the disciples to minister.  The first thing Paul did was circumcise him.  But it wasn’t because of Mosaic laws - but out of love for the Jewish people.  Paul recognized that the Jews in the region would get hung up over the fact that Timothy was not circumcised, and it would become a stumbling block for his ministry. So Paul, “circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region”.(Acts 16:3) 
Christians tend to do the same thing today.  We get hung up on things that don’t matter.  A minister with long hair, tattoos, piercings, earrings, or even a pink shirt can distract us from hearing what a minister says over their appearance.  We judge them based on our own cultural rules, the traditions in which we were raised. 

Romans 14:12-17 warns us to concern ourselves with the values of those we minister to, so that we don’t present a “stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way”.  Even when you know in your heart that there’s nothing wrong with eating liver, you shouldn’t serve it to someone who finds it unclean.  Romans 14:15-17 says that “if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Motivational speaker Stephen Covey is quoted as saying “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  But in order to keep the main thing the main thing, we have to remove the stumbling blocks from our ministries.  The little things that are distracting and offensive to those we want to see become Christians are small sacrifices for seeing them receive salvation.  Sometimes that can mean giving up eating red meat on Fridays, wearing a suit and tie, or wearing a dress when pants would be more comfortable.  In these little sacrifices we must make we assure that the good news is heard, we show love, and we assure that the main thing remains main thing – salvation through Jesus Christ.

No, eating liver is not wrong.  But causing someone else to stumble is. 

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