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Scruples Part 2

It is not so much the difference itself that is the danger to the unity and continued love of Christians, as it is the mismanagement of the difference. If we make a scruple a bone of contention, then we can bury a church in division.

DON'T DESPISE EACH OTHER BECAUSE OF THEM (14:3). After a disagreeable conversation over contrasting scruples, we are tempted to brood over what the other person believes and how wrong they are. Why can't they see it? They're just... stubborn... dishonest... hard hearted ... insincere. We may devote a good deal of thought and time to how strongly we disagree. It is then but a small jump to move from disagreeing with a position to disliking a person. After another exchange or two, and the dislike grows... a lot. Before long, we despise the very appearance of them.

The one with less strict scruples ("eats meat and vegetables" in Romans 14) may aim an occasional verbal jab at the one who "eats no meat." He may make it no secret that he regards him as a silly fanatic, and even make fun of him in private to his family and friends. "He's so rigid and self-righteous that he not only sacrifices his personal joy but also limits his usefulness to the Lord."

Paul gives a double injunction in 14:3. The first is to the strong brother, to whom he says, "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not...." Despise (exoutheneo) is a strong term that carries the idea of looking on someone as totally worthless, as being nothing or less than nothing. It does not connote simply dislike or disrespect, but utter disdain and abhorrence. Many Jews of that day regarded all Gentiles with contempt, and many Greeks and Romans had a similar regard for those they referred to as barbarians (cf. Rm. 1:14). Paul is saying that Christians must not allow differences of opinion to lead to treating each other like proud Jews and arrogant pagans. Jesus said, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones" (Mt. 18: 10a).

DON'T JUDGE EACH OTHER OVER THEM (14:3). Paul's next injunction is to the weak: "...and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth..." (14:3). Judge also translates a strong Greek verb (krino), which has the basic meaning of separating and isolating. In a legal sense it referred to finding an accused person guilty of a crime. The brother with strict scruples may view the other as so selfcentered and loose-living that he cannot serve the Lord effectively. He may be prone to use harsh criticism.' "He doesn't take his religion very seriously ... he's hurting his influence... he's going to hell if he doesn't watch it," he tells his wife on the way home from a church service.

The fault of the weak is as great as the fault of the strong-both have shown evidence of shallow spirituality .... a large leak in the tank of brotherly love. Paul reprimands the brother who "walkest ... not charitably... " (14:15). He takes the part of the weak member, and condemns the defect in love on the one side more than the defect in knowledge on the other side. This is practicing what he had earlier taught of love, the more excellent way (I Cor. 12:3 1). Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth (I Cor. 8:1-3). When we are honest, we admit that there is seldom any contention without fault on both sides. So, if we just must judge, then let us exercise our facility upon our own hearts and actions (14:13; Mt. 7:13). We have work enough to do at home that we'll be too busy to help out at our neighbor's house.

Why should we avoid judging another's scruples? First, we often do not have the capacity to make a correct judgment. God sees not as a man sees (I Sam. 16:7); this is especially true when we start judging another's thoughts and intentions, which are out of our view. Second, we do not have the authority to judge scruples. When we make ourselves our brother's master, do we not usurp God's throne? We must not judge our brethren because they answer to God; they do not have to answer to us (14:4). God is their Master; they are not our servants. James tells us not to be "many masters" (3: 1). How would we feel if someone criticized our children for doing something we allowed? If it continued, we might say, "Hey. These are not your children, they're mine. Mind your own business." That must be how God feels when we try to bind our scruples on another of His children.

A believer's personal assessment of other believers does not in the least affect their standing before the Lord, of course. Referring to his critics in the church at Corinth, Paul wrote, "To me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you" (I Cor.4:3-5). Paul's point is that if God-the Master - does  not make an issue of such things, what right do fellow servants have to do so? If the strong and the weak have equal fellowship with the Lord, it is sinful arrogance for them not to fellowship each other.

DON'T DESTROY EACH OTHER (OR THE CHURCH) OVER THEM (14:15b). If I so discourage someone over a scruple that they forsake the Lord, or if I so provoke them that they fall into sinful anger and actions, then I've committed a serious crime in God's estimate. Destroy not him with thy meat... In an expressive, down-to-earth figure, Solomon said, "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with" (Prov. 17:14). We may start something that we cannot stop. Our argument may not reach its conclusion until someone sits in the eternal lake of sulfurous fire. Jesus did not "quench a smoking flax" or "break a bruised reed" (Mt. 12:20); we must not either.

We must realize the preciousness of the one with whom we differ. Paul says, "Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died' (14:15b). Shall we despise those whom Christ valued so highly? If one contended that it was his own meat, and that he could do what he wanted with it, he should remember that the brother offended by it is Christ's. If Christ gave up His precious life for souls, should not we give up an insignificant argument for one? If He thought it worthwhile to deny Himself so much for them can we not deny so little for them?

Notes:

Paul does not say katakpivelv, "condemn," but kpivelv "judge," referring to passing criticism.

Drawing a soul into sin threatens the destruction of that soul. (Me apollye denotes an utter destruction.)

Allen Wbster
Glad Tidings of Good  Things
Vol 7/october 31, 2002, page 2