Adorn the Teaching of God in All Things
“The kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit.”—Rom. 14:17.
1. What factors that could be a source of trouble exist in every Christian congregation?
DIFFERENCES of opinion, taste and inward feelings exist among any group of people. This is also true among sincere Christians. These variations can upset the peace and unity of the congregation if its members view their own opinion as superior or as being the one to which all should conform.
2, 3. (a) What kind of differences existed in the congregation at Rome? (b) What was the gist of the counsel given by Paul to those in the congregation who differed in certain opinions?
2 In the 14th chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul deals with differences of opinion in the Christian congregation at Rome. These had to do with things affecting the conscience—differences that some felt had to be settled definitely, one way or another, in order to carry on the true worship of God. The foundation teachings of the Bible were not involved. The matters under dispute concerned interpretations of conscience on the less important everyday activities of life. The apostle pointed out that mature Christians have a wide latitude of freedom in these things. But he also cautioned against the unbridled exercise of this liberty or a Christian’s attempting to restrict another’s freedom.
3 One Christian might feel conscientiously free to exercise a certain right. However, Paul encouraged such a one to temper his actions if he knew that they offended the conscience of a brother. Conversely, the one having a conscience overly tender in some respects was counseled not to condemn his brother for doing what the Scriptures allow, even though he himself could not conscientiously do it.
WE MAY WORK AGAINST OUR OWN INTERESTS
4. What good does the Christian try to do?
4 The apostle then says: “Do not, therefore, let the good you people do be spoken of with injury to you.” (Rom. 14:16) A Christian works hard to do good, to “adorn the teaching of our Savior, God, in all things” before the eyes of everyone, so that all will look on Christian teaching with the highest respect. (Titus 2:10) He wants his life to be a living testimony to what he and the congregation teach, as the apostle Peter counsels: “Hold a good conscience, so that in the particular in which you are spoken against they may get ashamed who are speaking slightingly of your good conduct in connection with Christ.”—1 Pet. 3:16.
5. How might something “good” that the Christian does be spoken of to his injury?
5 Now, having been so careful in all these matters related to Christian living, what a shame it would be to destroy this good influence for true worship by insisting on doing something that is in itself entirely all right—“good”—but which looks wrong in the eyes of an overly sensitive Christian brother. The brother might tend to speak disparagingly about this to others. Or, some act that the Christian might do could be misinterpreted by the whole community. This act would not be one that is wrong in itself. But, because others condemn it, they could bring injury to the Christian’s good reputation. It could reflect reproachfully on the message of the “good news” that the congregation works so hard to proclaim and teach. For this reason, it would be better that the Christian restrain himself from indulging in the enjoyment or practice of certain freedoms, even right ones, on which point the conscience of another Christian may be weak.
6. What advice is given the Christian with an overly scrupulous conscience?’
6 On the other hand, it is also essential that a Christian with an overscrupulous conscience refrain from criticizing another, who is making use of his freedom, and actually doing no wrong. He is judging his brother. He should get his view adjusted. (Compare 2 Corinthians 13:11.) For otherwise he will continue to disturb the peace of the congregation. Because of his judging his brother, he must share a very large part of the blame for the trouble his critical attitude causes. Rather, he should strive to become fully mature and firmly established, making his faith on all points strong, so that he will not be prone to stumble or to condemn others. If he does not progress in this way, he can be a constant source of trouble and can bring reproach on the “good news.”—Heb. 5:12-14; Ps. 119:165.
KINGDOM OF GOD CONSISTS OF MORE IMPORTANT THINGS
7, 8. What is meant by the apostle Paul’s statement, “The kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking”?
7 The apostle comes to the focal point of the matter when he says: “For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit.” (Rom. 14:17) True worship and that which pertains to the kingdom of God and his congregation are not centered on these physical matters. As Jesus said: “There is nothing from outside a man that passes into him that can defile him; but the things that issue forth out of a man are the things that defile a man.”—Mark 7:15.
8 This can be said of many other things of life. Dress and grooming, entertainment, employment and other personal affairs are not the essentials “for the advancement of the good news.” (Phil. 1:12) If there is no actual violation of the Scriptures and if moderation is shown by shunning extremes or involvements with worldly wrongdoing, then these matters of daily living do not come within the area where we should be judged by our brothers.—Compare Proverbs 11:2.
9. How is the kingdom of God “righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit”?
9 It is the teaching about the kingdom of God that will produce the far superior fruitage of righteousness in its proclaimers and in those who hear the message. (Titus 2:12; 1 Pet. 2:11) Everyone should be ready to yield his own will and desires and his private indulgences for the sake of peace in the congregation. If a Christian really allows the holy spirit to work in him and direct him, he will have joy because of his confidence that he is pleasing God. The design of the kingdom of God is to promote these vital things of the spirit.—Rom. 8:6, 13.
10. In view of what the kingdom of God means, in what way is the Christian who slaves for Christ in this regard acceptable to God and approved by men?
10 In view of his having these majestic goals, a mature Christian focuses his attention on the matters that really have to do with the characteristics and principles of the kingdom of God. “For he who in this regard slaves for Christ is acceptable to God and has approval with men.” (Rom. 14:18) If he slaves for Christ in promoting these important things, he will certainly have God’s approval, and other Christians will love him for his reasonableness and good sense. His life course will commend him to people on the outside. Even though some may not want to take up Christianity, his conduct will recommend itself to their consciences.—2 Cor. 4:2.
SEEK THE CONGREGATION’S PEACE
11. Instead of finding fault with one another, to what should the members of the congregation lend all their energy?
11 “So, then,” says the apostle, “let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.” (Rom. 14:19) He thus advises the congregation to set aside all causes of contention and to live in harmony with one another. His appeal is for them to do the things that build up one another spiritually, instead of finding fault or, on the other hand, stubbornly insisting on a personal right—the things that tear down others. Paul recommends that they work so that all can “attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ,” and “by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.” Then they can join together unitedly and, with real force and effectiveness, bring the message of salvation to mankind.—Eph. 4:13, 15.
12. How can a Christian avoid “tearing down the work of God”?
12 Those who have come to a knowledge of the truth are the work of God. Much time and effort has also been spent by God’s servants in teaching and assisting these, with great care and tenderness. They are “God’s field under cultivation, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9) Could any Christian be so disrespectful and destructive as to tear this work down? The apostle admonishes: “Stop tearing down the work of God just for the sake of food. True, all things are clean [because the Mosaic law regarding clean and unclean things was abolished through Christ], but it is injurious to the man who with an occasion for stumbling eats. It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” (Rom. 14:20, 21) In leading another, by our example, to take a course contrary to his conscience, or by trying to force our preferred way on another, we may tear down all the good work that God’s spirit has accomplished with that person, even though we ourselves do not realize the damage that we are doing.—Compare 1 Corinthians 3:17.
SEEK GOD’S GLORY, NOT PLEASING OF SELF
13. How should one have his faith ‘in accord with himself in the sight of God’?
13 The conclusion to draw, then, is this: “The faith that you have, have it in accord with yourself in the sight of God.” (Rom. 14:22) The faith here mentioned has reference to the subject under discussion. Obviously, it does not mean faith in the kingdom of God and the important things in connection with it, for this faith is to be proclaimed openly to all. (Matt. 28:19, 20) Paul refers to the faith that a Christian has that Christ’s sacrifice has freed us from former restrictions, such as eating certain foods and observing certain days—things that are not the real elements of the kingdom of God, but are now simply matters of personal preference or opinion. (Gal. 4:8-11) So the counsel is, ‘Do not force your opinion on others.’ If you know that there is a question in the minds of some as to the rightness of a certain thing that you know is not wrong, you should not seek to overpower them, or make a display of your own “freedom.” God would then respect your considerate attitude. He would understand why you held back from exercising what really is a Christian right. But if you knew that your doing this certain thing would not cause qualms of conscience in others, you could go ahead. God would appreciate that you have a well-trained conscience and exhibit good judgment. Either way, God would see the sincerity of your faith. His judgment is what counts. He sees that you act both conscientiously and with love in the exercise of your faith.
14. Why is the man happy who “does not put himself on judgment by what he approves”?
14 Now, to the other one who is conscientiously hesitant about taking a certain step, the apostle goes on to say: “Happy is the man that does not put himself on judgment by what he approves.” (Rom. 14:22) By never going contrary to his conscience, the Christian will have peace of mind. But if he has doubts about a certain course, then without hesitation he should reject or abandon it. Whatever a person approves, it should not violate his conscience, however appealing it may be, or whatever argument someone else might make. On the other hand, if he finds that argument to be based on the Scriptures and becomes thoroughly convinced of its correctness, then he may adjust his conscientious view accordingly.—Rom. 14:5.
15 “But if he has doubts, he is already condemned if he eats, because he does not eat out of faith. Indeed, everything that is not out of faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23) The apostle directs this remark to those professing to be Christians, not to unbelievers. What a person does should be something that in no way makes his conscience uncomfortable. If his conscience is bothered, he is self-condemned. And he should constantly strive for a clear picture of the Christian faith, so as to achieve a more balanced conscience. While not all things that a Christian does have a direct connection with the proclamation of the “good news,” what he does, even in recreation and relaxation, he does with the view of upbuilding himself and others.
16. In order to “do all things for God’s glory,” what should a Christian do before taking any step?
16 In summary, the wise counsel of the apostle is: “Do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Cor. 10:31) Before taking any step, ask, ‘Will this work for the peace of the congregation, so that God’s spirit will operate freely among all?’ ‘Will my action be such as to bring no reproach on the name of God and Christ?’ ‘Will it build up and not tear down the work of God in the congregation?’ Happy indeed is the Christian who can keep his life in full harmony with a right, balanced, clean conscience before God. Such a Christian is a blessing to the congregation of God.
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Rather than persuade another to go contrary to his conscience, we should let holy spirit lead him as he studies God’s Word