In reading Romans 14 to prepare this article, it struck me for the first time that when some of the verses in it are taken in isolation, this really looks like a licence for believers within the church to not be judged by others for anything! However, read in context this is really not about moral relativism but about conscience – lovingly handling differing struggles and opinions about matters on which the Bible does not unconditionally forbid something.
Obviously Paul was writing Romans in a time and culture where both Old Testament and pagan traditions attached differing significance and prohibitions toward eating certain foods. It was a real problem for early Christians because many would have come from a background where certain meals were special, others were forbidden and yet others involved sacrifices to other gods. Obviously this passage was aimed at ensuring some whose consciences meant they continued in certain dietary practices would not be offended by others within the church (who could equally eat in good conscience), whilst others who had previously engaged in idol worship and sacrifices would not be given the encouragement to slip by believers who attached no significance whatsoever to the food involved.
This is not something we necessarily have to deal with all that often in our culture today. However, openly harming a brother or sister who abstains from doing a certain thing because of their personal weakness by partaking in that very act or thing ourself in their presence could be seen in just the same way. The drinking of alcohol in the presence of a recovering alcoholic might be a prime example. Causing difficulty by our actions on a particular day toward a believer who with a clear conscience considers that day more significant than another is just as unloving.
In today’s post-modern culture I wonder if we can be so thoughtless as to the differing needs/views of other believers on some matters that they feel guilty for being discouraged or even offended. That is, in an age when anything goes as long as it doesn’t “harm” anyone else, are we switched off to the sensitivities of others in doing what we do in their presence, either because of a particular weakness that they are struggling with or because of their doubts about the godliness of that thing? I can’t think of anything in particular, but don’t know if that’s exhibiting the kind of thoughtlessness I’m writing about. Hopefully this helps at least in thinking about the good of others more today than I/we did yesterday.