Matters of Conscience

This entry is part 129 of 140 in the series Holiness Matters
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There are many ways to deal with conflict. Most organizations have a manual that explains how to handle these situations. Because they are so volatile we have to have a plan before they happen, so we know what to do.

Human nature tends to do what doesn’t work in conflict. We get angry with one another. We throw things. We act out in violence. But these tactics do not solve the conflict. The conflict will still be there, if not exacerbated by such a reaction.

Conflict is just as possible in the Church. There were disputes among believers, and even the apostles, for different reasons. From personality issues to theological conflicts, we must rely on Jesus’ plan for discipline and what the letters tell us to do in these situations.

Paul laid out a way to deal with what he called matters of conscience in Romans 14. In his day, younger Christians were becoming involved in theological issues they were unprepared to discuss. So Paul described a way to deal with one another in love when we don’t need I tie on every issue.

Walking along the Path

Before we get into how Paul teaches us to address disputes we may have amongst Christians on doctrines and practices let us first acknowledge the path every Christian travels to holiness. From the moment of salvation to our glorification we take steps toward God.

But the path for every Christian is not the same. Discipleship cannot be decided by a cookie-cutter model. A Christian who has walked with Jesus for 40 years will not have the same issues and maturity level as a Christian who has believed in Christ for 10 minutes.

This creates a difference in maturity levels. We must be able to see eye to eye on the matters that we believe in and decide our community standards. But how we walk along the path with others of different maturity levels?

Paul tackles this issue head on. He uses some of the examples of his day, like meat sacrificed to idols, the holy days we observe, and the drinks we drink. I will try to use more modern examples but will explain some of these.

Paul found meat sacrificed to idols was one of the top issues of his day. He covers this here and Romans 14 but also in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Basically the issue was with the meat put on the table during the Christian feasts.

Meat that was sacrificed to idols in ceremonies around the Roman Empire was discounted in the meat markets. If a Christian did not have a lot of money this may be their only go to option. But some of the brothers raised issues about the meat because it was used in sacrificial ceremonies to the gods. They found it as unethical to eat this meat because of its former use.

But Paul teaches Christians to heat what is placed in front of them with thankfulness, not concerning themselves with where the meat came from. It would be like the usher passing the offering plate and asking each person if the money was from gambling wins.

The issue in the churches which Paul addresses in Romans 14 concerns how younger believers and older believers should conduct themselves when it comes to these issues. The more mature believers must not interfere with the growth of the younger believers.

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.” (Romans 14:6, ESV)

Paul gives the example of a special day of the week or of the month. He is thinking of the feasts for Israel, the Sabbath, new moons, and anything else they could celebrate. Some Christians may still celebrate Israelite feasts while others saw them as unnecessary.

This could create a great argument, perhaps like our arguments over whether the Sabbath is today. They don’t help anybody involved unless they are done in love and we can actually learn something.

Paul points out that the matter what side of the fence you fall on this issue he was still thanking God for what you do celebrate. If each person is thanking God and celebrating what his or her conscience is clear about celebrating there should be no issue. It becomes a theological or scholarly discussion rather than a practical one.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10–12, ESV)

One principle of matters of conscience keeps us from passing judgment on one another. Just because one person is at a different maturity level or a different step in the path does not mean we can judge them. We may think they are completely wrong about the issue but it’s not our right to judge them in putatively.

God is the Judge. Each of us will stand before him and be judged for the choices we made and how much we listened to the Holy Spirit and obeyed him. So we must not judge one another. Judging with impunity is different than judging the fruit of a person. We must not look down on one another.

As we consider matters of conscience we must also apply the principle of operating unconditional Christian love. Let’s give others the benefit of the doubt if we think they are wrong about something.

Let’s hear them out and see why they believe what they believe within Christian orthodoxy. Let’s walk the path of holiness with Christ and not cut others off as they follow the path where they are.

The Weaker Brother

So who is the weaker Brother Paul talks about? A weaker brother is a person who is on the path further behind you. This is a person who has less maturity than you do. This does not mean you can think they have less maturity because they disagree with you on an issue.

Maturity levels will be different among Christians based on how much time we have spent with the Lord. One would hope that a person who has been walking with Jesus for 40 years would be more mature than a person who has walked with him for 20 years.

It’s possible that a person is not as mature as they should be for the time they have spent with Jesus. But you should grow and maturity as you grow in Christ and walk the path of holiness.

A weaker brother has not considered whatever issue you bring up. If you want to talk about predestination and you disagree with someone who is younger in Christ you’re the one at fault for bringing it up. They may not have considered a stance on predestination yet.

For Paul’s day this referred to meat sacrificed to idols. If the more mature Christians taught the younger Christians to ask at every meal where the meat came from this would violate their faith. If they were told the meat was sacrificed to idols they may not want to eat it because of its background.

We can avoid the dilemma of faith we would put a younger brother or sister in by not teaching them to ask about the meat. As Paul came to the conclusion, let’s just eat the meat with thankfulness that God has provided and not ask how it was provided.

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.” (Romans 14:13, ESV)

When I was pastoring my church in eastern Pennsylvania I went out to eat with a couple in my congregation. Before one of them ordered their food they asked me if I would be offended if they had a beer. In our denomination alcohol is very conservatively dealt with. I told them I didn’t have a problem with it. Then they ordered one.

The fact that they asked me before they ordered showed that they were mature in Christ. They understood that my conscience may be affected if they ordered without knowing where I stood. This is one of the wisest ways to deal with different maturity levels in the body of Christ. If I had said I was offended they would not have ordered one. They would’ve kept my conscience in check.

This is the kind of wisdom Paul wants Christians to use when we gather together. We must be able to gauge whether or not an issue should be brought up. The weaker brother or sister among us must not be corrupted in any way.

Weighty Matters

The weighty theological and practical matters we address may affect the conscience of weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. We must be careful not to show off our knowledge and think it is maturity. It is immature to act like you are a know-it-all about theology. You may be knowledgeable, but you are not wise.

Just because you feel like you can drink in front of someone else does not mean you have freedom in Christ. If we offend the conscience of another Christian we are showing our immaturity. We must be considerate of the other Christians around us.

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.” (Romans 14:15–16, ESV)

Paul introduces the principle of Christian love as part of his conversation on matters of conscience. If we act like we are more mature than another person we are not demonstrating love. Christian love calls us to care about another person’s conscience.

There are certain things we teach and do that don’t challenge the conscience and other Christians. If we talk about salvation it does not challenge the conscience of other Christians. We’re talking about matters on the edge of Christian doctrine and practice.

Consider the community standards of your local church and what is expected of those in your group. In my denomination most have a conservative attitude toward alcohol among us. Theologically, we believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, lean more toward the Armenian side on predestination, and believe and practice the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Walking up to someone in my denomination and explaining why they are wrong about the baptism in the Holy Spirit if they are a weaker brother or sister puts their conscience in danger. They were taught a different stance on this issue.

Don’t bring it up if it doesn’t build them up. Consider why you bring up such issues. Is it to have a discussion, to prove another believer is wrong, or to show off? Your heart must be right before you discuss such matters. You must also have the right venue to discuss them.

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.” (Romans 14:20–23, ESV)

Paul concludes his discussion on matters of conscience by telling the mature Christians to not interfere with the growth and maturity of younger Christians. We must consider the welfare of either believers. We must find like-minded Christians who are at the same maturity level as ourselves to discuss these deeper issues properly.

Do not look down on others because they are not on your level. If you are a younger Christian do not try to get involved with matters being discussed beyond your maturity level. With listen to others to learn from them. Mark things you don’t understand to study later and grow. At the Spirit’s direction, make your own Spirit-informed decision about the matters discussed.

Taking a Backseat

As we consider the way we treat one another in doctrinal and practical issues, practicing the principles of matters of conscience among other believers helps us to treat one another with love. We welcome all Christian brothers and sisters for the Fellowship and enjoyable presence. Nobody has to discuss anything deep unless everyone agrees to do so.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” (Romans 14:1, ESV)

Paul begins this chapter on matters of conscience by saying we welcome one another not based on our maturity levels but based on Fellowship. We don’t gather together to quarrel over our opinions.

Our desire to discuss these deep matters must take a backseat to our fellowship and love for one another. Consider that the Holy Spirit is in charge of the growth of every Christian. We get in the way of the Holy Spirit when we bring up these issues to teach Christians younger than us in the face.

Places like study groups, life groups, Sunday school groups, and other forms of Christian education provide an environment to learn about the different things of God. Younger Christians benefit as well as more mature Christians. But the principles of Christian love and consideration must still be in place.

Don’t get ahead of the Holy Spirit by bringing up matters of conscience. The Spirit is in charge of where we are on the path to Christian maturity. Only if a younger Christian asks for your input should you interject your opinion on these matters. And it must build them up.

Some Christians are more opinionated than others. Jesus decides what our personal views will be. Jesus does not attempt to break us down. He wants us to form the opinions and stances that need his approval for our lives.

One Christian may have a background of alcoholism and may have stricter standards than many concerning alcohol. The Holy Spirit has taught such a person that this is a weak spot that must have fortification. But for another there is no desire to even try alcohol. The Holy Spirit will treat this situation completely differently.

We are all tempted by different desires. This is why the Holy Spirit must tailor discipleship and advances in maturity in Christ to each person. To a certain extent we can have a “one-size-fits-all” discipleship program. But then it becomes more individualized to meet the needs of each Christian and his or her background.

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.” (Romans 14:17–19, ESV)

We must not major in the minors. Sometimes we get too focused on minor doctrines and practical matters instead of the big picture. We can push other Christians away from us and their faith. We want to seek peace and build others up.

Conclusion

So let’s stay out of the Holy Spirit’s way. Let the Spirit control our growth in Christ. Only help other believers in matters of conscience when the Holy Spirit directs you to do so. Let us all be led by the Holy Spirit in matters of conscience.

How do you handle matters of conscience? What are some tactics you use that can help us avoid matters of conscience in mixed groups? Leave a comment and 6 your experiences and helpful approaches to these matters.

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