Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another. 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. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
In his book, Being Disciples, Rowan Williams writes of what Christian faith and discipleship can offer Western society, where everything is a matter of personal preference and my human rights are paramount. He describes 2 principles: firstly, we are each of equal value to God, and secondly, we are all dependent on one another. These principles are consistent with this passage. As we are each of equal value to God, and as God loves each one of us, then we need to love one another and help each other. If I make someone struggle in their faith by the way I live, I am not showing love to that person. Paul speaks of food and drink, and today’s stumbling blocks might also include other matters, such as styles of worship or how we dress in church. To build up our church community, we need to think of our brothers and sisters and how our behaviour affects their conscience – so if we visit a church where shoulders are expected to be covered, we should cover our shoulders, even if we are convinced that Jesus has no objections to bare shoulders. We are dependant on one another for mutual support – for both giving and receiving, so that we are constantly building each other up in our faith, and setting each other free to respond to God’s calling, rather than putting stumbling blocks in each other’s way by judging others’ behaviour unfavourably. We are not the ones to set standards of ‘holiness’ for ourselves or others – we need to leave the judging to God. As we walk the way, we need to consider not just our own journey, but also how our journey impacts on the journeys of others, so that together we grow as followers of Jesus.
Father, we often blunder on our way, with little thought about how we affect others by what we do or say. Help us to live with love and consideration for our fellow disciples, so that as a body of Christ, we are one with you. Amen
The Rev’d Sue Cossey, Synod Pastoral Adviser, Bristol
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