As the story goes, a Baptist preacher and a Catholic priest were seated next to each other on a flight. They were having a calm discussion about their beliefs differed and how they were similar. The flight attendant came around taking drink orders. The Baptist preacher asked for a soda and the Catholic priest asked for a whiskey. The preacher muttered under his breath as the attendant left, “I’d rather commit adultery.” The priest looked at him and said, “I didn’t know we had a choice.”
As a traditional, tee-totaling Baptist, it’s easy for me to look at people who are drinking and make those kinds of judgments. I look at my fellow Christians who have no qualms about alcohol and I can begin to think badly of them, or at least their commitment which can’t be as strong as mine. I can feel pretty smug about my faith, until I start reading Romans 14. Paul deals with the question of strong and weak faith throughout this chapter. The emphasis is very simple: we have different ways of approaching our faith in Christ and we need to help each other, not try to tear each other down. “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Romans 14:13)
In the chapter, Paul begins with a “live and let live” attitude. The question is eating meat. Most of the meat sold in Rome came from the markets at various temples. An idol worshiper would make a sacrifice and the leftover meat would be sold at market. Because of that, many Christians refused to eat meat. It became a sticking point in the churches and could lead to controversy. Paul tells the Romans that if someone eats meat, that’s cool, and if they don’t eat meat, that’s cool, too. Our faith is established in Jesus, not in whether or not we eat meat that might have been offered to idols. After he reminds people of that, and after he commands people to stop judging each other, he speaks to those who claim to be stronger in the faith – and able to endure the possibility that meat might be a problem: “Don’t eat meat if it may cause your brother to stumble.” If we truly love God, we will build each other up in the faith. And if eating meat causes problems for some, then don’t eat meat and build your brother or sister up.
The important thing to remember is that this part of the chapter is written as a guide to meat eaters on how to support their brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not a command for non-meat eaters to pummel their brothers and sisters in Christ into submission. The problem with a lot of us tee-totalers is that we want to use the principles in the last section of the chapter to force others to conform to our beliefs, when we need to learn the message of the first part of the chapter. If seeing others drink alcohol is a temptation, or stumbling block, to me, I need to avoid places and people who do that, not condemn them. Here’s the key though, there are a lot of issues like that where we as Christians need to stop worrying about fixing our brothers and sisters in Christ and more about loving them. There are some sins we must confront, there is no doubt, but we as Christians, in our drive to make others as pure as us by only committing the same sins as us, often confront 101 sins of the 7 or so we need to. Often, we confront those sins in new Christians who have just begun to let God work in them. Even moreso, we confront these sins in people who don’t know Jesus as if cleaning up the sins will make them a good enough person for God to love. Perhaps if we worried about loving each other and trusting God to clean up what needs to be cleaned up in a life, we’ll see a stronger church.
God, there are too many people who are wrong for me to get them all cleaned up. Help me to trust You to do Your job.