Have you ever tripped over nothing? Or at least you thought there was nothing there. In skiing, we called it a land shark. You’re skiing along and suddenly your ski catches an edge on apparently nothing and you fall. You weren’t doing anything tricky, nobody cut in front of you… you just fell. We see this all the time. We even laugh at ourselves and at others who trip over nothing. In reality, there was likely something so small, a slight brick out of place, a tiny change in the slope of the concrete… something so small it was not visible but it did have an impact.
The think is, this happens all the time in real life too. Not a physical ‘stumbling block’ but some sort of mental or spiritual one. Something that trips us up and moves our attention away from Christ and onto the thing we perceive caused us to stumble. In those moments, when our attention has shifted, we are no different that Peter sinking after trying to walk on water.
The unfortunate part of this whole thing is that many of us are responsible for those stumbling blocks that trip up other believers… sometimes we’re aware of it and sometimes we’re oblivious. Paul was discussing this to the Romans, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Rom 14:13)
This verse alone can easily be taken out of context. People will see this and take it to mean that when we judge another it causes them to stumble. That is not entirely true. In context, Paul was referring to the eating of certain meat. Some felt called to stick with the traditional Jewish law of not eating certain ‘unclean’ meat, while others felt they were ‘free’ in Christ to eat any meat. Both run the danger of causing the other to stumble if they are not careful.
Paul followed his statement with “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” (Rom 14:14-15) If the one thinking the meat is unclean, eats the meat, he will be guilty. Likewise, if the one thinking the mean is OK to eat, does so in front of one who sees it as unclean, he too is guilty.
Paul’s point was not whether or not it was OK to eat the meat, or right to withhold… his point is that we should never exercise our freedoms in a way that causes another brother to stumble.
In a country as free as the US, we see this all the time. We do have freedoms in this country that many in the world don’t have. But just because we have the ‘right’ to do something (in our freedom) doesn’t mean it is always the right thing to do.
I have seen this verse rightly applied with the drinking of alcohol. If you are of the opinion that it is OK to drink alcohol (after all, Jesus did), then you have that freedom. But if you exercise that freedom in front of someone who believes alcohol is dangerous and should be avoided, you can cause that brother to stumble. They can either make the mistake of thinking it’s OK for them to drink (ignoring family history of alcoholism) or they can end up passing judgement on you for your freedom. Neither option is good.
So yes, you are Free in Christ. The old law has passed and Christ’s death and resurrection has paid the price for all. However you should never exercise your freedoms in any manner that could potentially cause a brother to stumble. Their development of their discipleship walk should have more value to you than that simple freedom.
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