In chapter 13, Paul said,
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (13:8)
Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (13:10)
In this chapter, we see a very important application of this verse. We saw before that there were people who were bothered by their fellow Christians eating meat offered to idols. It also seems that there were those who were bothered by those who drank wine.
We don’t see the former problem so much if at all in our society today, but we do see a lot of the latter: Christians judging others over drinking. Now the Bible is clear cut in saying “Don’t get drunk.” But it doesn’t teach that we must completely abstain from alcohol.
Yet many Christians who drink alcohol condemn as legalistic those who don’t, and those who don’t drink alcohol often condemn as sinful those who do.
But again, Paul says, “Don’t judge others about these kinds of things. Leave judgment up to God. These are God’s servants, not yours. They are accountable to him, not to you.”
And yet, Paul does say this.
If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. (15).
So he said,
Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (13)
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. (19-21)
In other words, as Christians, we shouldn’t just live for ourselves and think only of ourselves. Rather, remember that you are accountable for God for your actions, and he calls you to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. But if you do something that distresses them because they think it’s wrong, you’re not acting in love. Worse, you could cause them to break conscience and fall into sin. For as Paul wrote,
But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (23)
We’ll talk more about that tomorrow, but the key point is that we should never cause someone to break their own conscience.
I heard a story once of some people at my church back in Hawaii. Some of the guys were hanging out at someone’s house, and they all had a beer. But unbeknownst to them, one of them was a recovering alcoholic. And unfortunately, being with other brothers that were drinking, he started to drink too. But unlike them, he didn’t stop until he got drunk.
Now it wasn’t their fault. They didn’t know. But it shows the problems that can happen if we abuse our freedom at the expense of our brothers and sisters.
So let us not be selfish in our thinking. If our brother or sister is bothered by something that we do, then avoid doing that thing where they can see it. Let us be sensitive to them and love them. After all, Christ died for them too.