13 So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. 14 I know and I’m convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is wrong to eat in itself. But if someone thinks something is wrong to eat, it becomes wrong for that person. 15 If your brother or sister is upset by your food, you are no longer walking in love. Don’t let your food destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 And don’t let something you consider to be good be criticized as wrong. 17 God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval.
19 So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up. 20 Don’t destroy what God has done because of food. All food is acceptable, but it’s a bad thing if it trips someone else. 21 It’s a good thing not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that trips your brother or sister. 22 Keep the belief that you have to yourself—it’s between you and God. People are blessed who don’t convict themselves by the things they approve. 23 But those who have doubts are convicted if they go ahead and eat, because they aren’t acting on the basis of faith. Everything that isn’t based on faith is sin.
If you examine what various congregations list in their “What We Believe” statements (the Internet makes that easy), you’ll generally find lists of 8 to 15 items. Yet in Romans, sent to a group of smaller “house churches” in Rome (cf. Romans 16:5, 10, 15), Paul named the central truth of life in God’s kingdom in a phrase with just 3 parts: “God’s kingdom is…about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” We can differ on the details if we get the center right.
Lord God, only you are wise enough to judge each person’s thoughts and heart intentions. Help me release the urge to judge others, and instead to seek to show all people your peace and love. Amen.
* Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone, Romans Part Two: Chapters 9-16 (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 107). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
I’ll admit, the topic of not judging others is a hard one for me. I’m generally pretty nonjudgmental, and people who have experienced a lot of discrimination from others quickly find that I’m a pretty safe person to be around. But the times I do judge others are usually based on some major foundational things—things that, if ignored, will definitely hurt people. Because of that (and, let’s be honest, because I’m generally pretty nonjudgmental and I think I get a free pass on some things), it’s a lot harder for me to accept that things I definitely disagree with can be set aside in the name of unity.
What I notice in today’s passage is that Paul doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about which of these two ways is right or wrong. It’s not that Paul didn’t have the right answer in mind. Paul was one of the top Pharisees, so if anyone knew the right answer, it was Paul. I don’t even think that Paul was saying things like that didn’t matter. I get the feeling Paul was holding back quite a bit in this passage for the sake of his readers.
So what was Paul saying here? In putting a dividing line between these two opinions, Paul would have declared one side in the right and one in the wrong—which would draw one group further in and push the other group further out. Putting up a wall like that when someone has the wrong answer can also be a barrier to them finding the right answer. There were still plenty of times when Paul explicitly told people they were wrong; but in many cases, Paul saw the need to give people space to let people discover the truth on their own terms.
Like I said, this is a tough one for me to bear in mind. There’s a very difficult balance between telling someone they’re wrong and giving them the love and acceptance they need to draw closer to God and let him tell them what they need to work on. I don’t always get this right.
I have to also remember that, many times in my life, I’ve been the person who got it wrong and needed space to figure out how to get it right. Sometimes it took years. Sometimes the people that gave me space and grace weren’t even around when I finally figured it out. I still thank God for these people and their willingness to welcome me into the fold when I was so clearly in the wrong. If these people in my life found the grace for me, that gives me the strength to find grace for people today. Well, most of the time. But I’m trying.
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