Bible Studies for Life
Romans 14:1-3, 13-19
As a new missionary to China in the 1870s, Lottie Moon was met with taunts and mocking for her western clothes. But a decade later when she moved inland to Ping’tu, Shandong, she changed her American dress to a feminine Chinese jacket, a move to become more like those she wanted to reach.
We are told that Lottie was elated to see an almost immediate cease in the taunting and an elevation of friendliness, even though her style-shift created controversy with other Americans. Her actions of accepting Chinese fashion led to an increased receptivity of her Gospel message. For Lottie Moon, being an incarnational witness meant carrying the Gospel in her American flesh while accepting the dress of her host culture. Sometimes our relationships with people require us to accept their preferences in order to share the Gospel, but that is both an opportunity and a responsibility.
We have an Opportunity for Faith
In his letter to the Roman church, Paul talked about accepting diversity in traditions and cultures. Specifically, he addressed the issue of Jewish ceremonial traditions that had called Christian conscience into question. And the way we pass judgment about these things reveals the integrity of our own faith (Rom 14:1).
For Paul, this was evident in the issue of carnivorous consumption versus veggie plates, especially as it related to repurposed ceremonial meats (see 1 Cor 8 and 10). A Jew might feel prohibited from consuming even slightly questionable dishes because he closely followed the Mosaic dietary code for conscience sake. Those non-Jewish ethnicities coming to Christ had been given singular instruction to avoid idol-purposed meats (Acts 15:29), so they might feel comfortable in their faith to consume what had not been explicitly labeled (Rom 14:3).
But Paul said neither group should regard with contempt or judge the other’s salvation, which has nothing to do with food. Personal discipleship allows each person to answer for his own faith responses: “To his own master he stands or falls” (14:4). Granted, none of these were questions that Scripture had overt direction for non-Jews. They were gray areas of personal conscience. In truth, we can accept a differing opinion where the Bible gives no obvious primary instruction, and it is an opportunity to rejoice in the diversity within Christ’s body.
We have a Responsibility to Remove Obstacles
Nobody likes to be judged. The best curative behavior to replace being judgmental is clearing out obstacles from a fellow Christian’s walk (Rom 14:13). The things that make a brother stumble, the things that hurt his conscience, should matter a great deal to me.
The Mosaic code required fasting from certain foods and drink as pre-steps in order to prepare for repentance and for entering God’s presence. But Jesus injected God’s presence into His church with no preconditional physical manifestation other than public confession; the vilest of sinner was now invited to receive Jesus before making any external change.
But even though we’re freed form dietary codes, we have a moral responsibility for every fellow Christian that now dictates what we consume. We don’t need to destroy each other’s conscience (14:15) over something as insignificant as what might be unclean in our diet (14:14). Instead, we should clear the street of our brother’s Christian walk, sweeping the most minute stumbling stone, a carefully gracious assignment for each day.
For Paul, accepting a person’s weaker conscience was having the faith to welcome him where he was. For Lottie Moon, the simple gesture of accepting the Chinese wardrobe was also an incarnational expression of faith in her missions context. Perhaps the best thing we can do for a Christian brother is accept that his personal relationship with Jesus is just as important as our own, an opportunity to let our faith talk and the responsibility to make our faith walk.