For an introduction to this series, click here.
Now this is a very practical chapter. It has to do with standards. No two people think alike or have the same background, so no two people will agree 100 percent on everything. Paul gives us a lot of practical advice to help us get along with our fellow believers: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself." (14:1-7)
Everybody always figures that they are doing things the right way. If that were always true then those who do things differently must be in sin. That is the attitude Paul is trying to combat here. I could get real specific here and blast certain people for their narrow-minded views on certain things, but I think that would be counter-productive. We all know people we think have nutty views on some sort of issue that is not really all that important. The best thing to do, and the advice Paul gives us here, is to get along with our brothers and sisters and disagree without being disagreeable.
Eating meat offered to idols and observing days, particularly the Sabbath but also other days of the month and year, were the flashpoint issues in Paul's day. Today of course, some of the issues we fight over unnecessarily include music/worship styles, Bible translations and worldly influences- what kind of movies/ TV shows/ music/ magazines/ books are OK to take in and what kind are not. Now of course there are general Biblical principles that need to guide our choices in these matters, but there are no clear lines in the Bible on what kind of music we should sing in church, for example. Or take the issues of hair and dress, which thankfully most Christians have stopped fighting tooth and nail about: we are supposed to dress modestly, and men are supposed to have short hair and women are supposed to have long hair. But everyone's definition of modesty, short and long is different.
Now after the general principle, Paul gets more specific: "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (14:13-23, ESV)
Read very carefully what Paul says here. He is persuaded that there is nothing unclean of itself (even wine, but that is for another time), but he chooses to avoid exercising his liberty if it will cause a brother to be tempted to sin by violating his conscience. Paul explains very clearly at the end of this chapter the reason why we need to consider the weaker brother: the weaker brother has not been convinced that all things are clean, and if we in our liberty convince him to do something he believes is wrong, he is violating his conscience and we cause him to sin.
Now I may be wrong, but I think the definition of a weaker brother is very clear here. A weaker brother is one who is new or immature in his faith, and consideration needs to be taken to help him. A weaker brother, by definition, is not a leader in the church or a mature believer in general. I have been in at least one situation where a Christian supposedly more mature than I, and certainly one I would not think would be tempted to violate their conscience by participating in an activity with me, has told me I shouldn't do something because it offends them, citing this portion of scripture. Well I'm sorry but I don't think a pastor or church leader qualifies as a weaker brother. They were just trying to impose their beliefs upon me, doing the very thing Paul tells us not to do in the beginning of the chapter.
So it cuts both ways. If God intended for us to have the exact same opinions and practices on every issue, He would have given us more clarity in the Bible. It would make the Bible much longer. Since God did not do this, we should practice charity whenever possible when confronting troublesome issues between brothers.