Romans 14:17-23, 15:1-2 (NLT) 17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. 20 Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. 22 You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. 23 But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. 1 We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.
Sacrificing animals as a religious practice was common among Jews and Gentiles during the era in which this letter was written. Pagans believed that sacrificing animals pleased their gods and brought them favor as well. The meat from these animals would then be sold in market places or distributed among the people to eat. There were also certain foods that Jews weren’t allowed to eat. But after Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, the restrictions of certain foods was no longer an issue because salvation is by grace through faith and religious rituals no longer had any impact on Christians. Christians were now free to eat or drink whatever they liked but there were still those who were bound to the previous rituals and restrictions. Rather than the church finding freedom in Christ, contention and arguing arose over eating and drinking. Paul wanted to address two things here. Personal conviction and displaying love to each other.
All of us have personal history that impacts our thinking and personal beliefs. When a person first comes to Christ, most are uncertain as to “what the rules are”. Depending on how we were raised and what our personal experiences have been in life, we begin to form opinions as to what we should and shouldn’t do. One Christian will feel conviction over one thing while another Christian has no conviction about that same issue. There are “so-called rules” that exist and should be heeded when it comes to living out our lives, but those are not given to us in order to deny us the joy of life but to safeguard us from disaster.
Each of us must live according to our personal convictions and unless God gives us freedom in these areas, we must hold firmly to them. But we are never to attempt to impose our freedoms on someone else simply because it may be our right. That is sin and violates the love that we are to show to one another. The Bible says, “Who are we to judge another man’s servant?” God is more than capable of dealing with each of His children as He sees fit. We are called to love each other and extend grace to each other. We are also called to speak about and do whatever we can to build one another up and encourage one another in growing in our relationship with Christ. If we strive to love God with all our heart, and love others as ourselves, we will do just fine. We simply need to stop trying to conform others into our image and allow the Holy Spirit to lead His own children as He chooses.
I have learned that I’m not responsible “for” people but rather I’m to be responsible “towards” people. I pray that nothing that I do or say is ever a stumbling block to someone else and if my freedom keeps someone from coming to Christ or growing in their relationship with Him, then I pray for forgiveness. It is my desire, and I pray it is yours, to always enjoy the freedom I have in Christ Jesus to live life to its fullest but may I always be willing to deny my rights for the benefit of someone else that needs to meet Jesus and grow in their knowledge of him.