Read Part 1.
As time has passed I have witnessed the pendulum swing to the other side. I don’t get offended anymore, but I have discovered that some people are offended by me (or would be if they knew me better).
This got me thinking. How can I act most lovingly when others are offended, and even before I might offend them?
So I began to look at how Paul dealt with offense in general and how it relates to sin. Before getting into that, let’s first take a look at some historical background of Paul’s time.
The churches in Rome and Corinth were made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Those two groups of people grew up in very different circumstances, and thus their consciences disagreed on certain issues as to whether something was sinful or not. Specifically, many Jews felt it was wrong to eat food sacrificed to idols (because it was outlawed in the Old Covenant) while most Gentiles had no problem doing so (because they grew up eating such food).
So the question is, who was right, the Jews or the Gentiles? Was it wrong to eat food sacrificed to idols, or was it okay?
Paul addresses this matter in Romans 14 (and in 1 Corinthians 10 as well, which, although I won’t address it here, has a similar message).
His answer: It depends on the person.
Paul first declares that there’s actually nothing wrong with eating food sacrificed to idols. “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (v. 14). This concept has a wider application than the immediate context, as is illustrated by Titus 1:15 – “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.”
Back to Paul, he then clarifies that people can make it wrong for themselves by deciding that it is wrong. Paul continues, “but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” (v. 14).
In essence Paul says that this is a personal matter. “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (v. 5). “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God” (v. 22).
In other words, something that is a sin for you is not necessarily a sin for me, and vice versa. I was always taught that sin is black and white, objective, and universal. If something is a sin for one person, then it’s a sin for every person. But according to Paul, sin is not objective but relative.
But just because something isn’t sin doesn’t mean you should do it. There’s plenty of things that aren’t sin but are plain stupid things to do. Paul addresses this issue too.
Specifically, he points out a situation when you shouldn’t eat meat sacrificed idols even if you are personally convinced that it is not a sin for you to do so. “All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (v. 20-21).
Some people take this to mean that if someone thinks something is a sin, then they cannot do that something because it might offend them. This is absurd, since half the things you do in life would be ruled out (no more eating meat, watching movies, reading bibles that are not KJV, etc. LOL).
Offending people (in the sense of causing them to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful) isn’t the problem. Check out the Greek. The word translated “offense” in verse 20 is proskomma. According to Strong’s Concordance it means:
1) a stumbling block
a) an obstacle in the way which if one strikes his foot against he stumbles or falls
b) that over which a soul stumbles i.e. by which is caused to sin
Paul’s real concern is that we don’t embolden the conscience’s of the weak to do what they think is sin by doing that thing that they think is sin (which also points to the fact that, actually, the “weak in conscience” simply have misunderstandings concerning what is and isn’t sinful, as with the case of eating meat sacrificed to idols).
“For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (v. 15).
There’s a difference between causing someone to stumble (causing sin by doing something they think is sin and thereby encouraging them to do so even though it is sin to them) and offending someone because they think that what is sin for them is sin for everyone.
Paul says we shouldn’t do the former. What does he have to say about the latter?
“But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (v. 10,12-13).
The point is not that we don’t offend anyone but that our actions don’t encourage a brother or sister to sin. It they are offended (i.e. judge that we are sinning), that’s their problem. They shouldn’t be judging in the first place.
My advice regarding sin: personally work stuff out with Jesus. Then when people try to condemn you saying, “you are sinning by doing this,” you can gently yet confidently respond knowing that you don’t need to bow to their imposition of rules on you.
Some people are not going to like the previous claim I made because they know we’ll begin to see people say that certain obviously sinful things (for example, Paul writes that those who indulge in sexual sin, idol worship, stealing, greediness, drunkenness, abuse, etc., won’t inherit the Kingdom of God) are okay for them “because Jesus told me so.” That’s totally fine with me, actually. Some people will use grace as a license to sin, but the negative fruit that will result in their life will make it clear that they are not walking with Jesus. Life will suck for them because ultimately sin is no fun, and although I won’t condemn them I will remind them of their true identity and that they are not acting like who they really are in Christ.
We don’t discern good and bad by an objective rule book anymore like people did under the Old Covenant (contrary to popular opinion and how bibles are often misused for this purpose). In this New Covenant we discern by Holy Spirit who lives in us. We eat from the tree of life, not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Personally, I have decided to give up trying to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m just gonna do whatever brings life – the way God originally intended us to function.
Some of you might be wondering if the real reason I am saying all of this is to make an excuse for the sins I secretly want to do. Honestly, I have zero interest in sin. Zilch. Nada. Jesus cut away my sinful nature, and now all I want to do is love. Really. I’m a love addict. I’m still learning how to love better, and sometimes I make mistakes. But that doesn’t change the fact my only desire is love; sin has no part in it.
In Part 3 of this series, I will “come out of the closet” 😉
Also check out pages 53-61 of http://frankviola.org/rethinkingthewill.pdf