Scripture: Romans 14:13-23
Observation: Paul focuses on our responsibility as Christ followers to avoid behaving in a way that would cause others to stumble. In line with Jewish tradition, he focuses particularly on avoiding eating and drinking anything that would cause someone else distress. He encourages us to all live in harmony with one another and aim for unity.
Application: Does anyone else remember that old “I’m not touching you” commercial where a brother keeps putting his finger within an inch of his sister’s face? Despite my best detective work (aka very thorough Youtube and Google searching), I couldn’t find a clip of the commercial. In the commercial, the brother isn’t technically doing anything wrong (he’s actually not touching his sister’s face), but he sure is egging her on.
If Paul were to see that commercial, I think he’d say, “That’s exactly what I’m talking about here! That whole ‘I’m not touching you’ thing? Not cool, man.”
As believers, we have a responsibility to live in harmony with others and create an environment free of tempting and taunting. To do this, we have to start by thinking about others before ourselves.
Look at verse 13:
“So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.”
This takes humility, patience, empathy. What do the people closest to you struggle with? It may be something you’ve never struggled with a day in your life. But as a fellow believer, part of loving that person is helping protect them from something that may cause them to stumble. Your purpose is to build, not to divide.
If you’ve been part of the church world for any period of time, you’ve likely heard the common example used when illustrating these verses, which is not drinking alcohol in the presence of someone who has struggled with alcohol addiction. While that’s certainly a good application, I think there are so many others that are key to understanding this verse. Think through these questions:
- Do I ever aggravate others in the words or tone I use?
- Am I opening the door for gossip?
- Do I ever bring my own selfish pride and ambition into a situation, causing the people to try and prove themselves to me in an unhealthy way?
- Am I ever pushing someone into something I know they’re not ready for?
- Am I creating space for others to stumble in any area of my life?
Here’s why it all matters:
“If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (verse 18 & 19)
Think of how different our lives would be if we were constantly laying down our own motives and desires and trying to build each other up. Think of the unity, the harmony, the peace that would come as a result.
Let’s live others-focused today.
(Real talk: If we’re honest, the “I’m not touching you” boy is just plain annoying. Don’t be that guy.)
Prayer: God, help me search my heart and my motives. Allow me to be pure in what I say, think, and act, putting the needs and desires of others above my own. Amen.