the weblog of Alan Knox

Stumbling Blocks

Posted by on Mar 2, 2008 in love, scripture, service, unity | 12 comments

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to some students regarding Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Particularly, we focused on the last few chapters of the Epistle. Part of that conversation concerned “stumbling blocks”:

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. 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. 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 14:13-16 ESV)

In these last few chapters, Paul continually tells the Romans to humble themselves, love, serve, accept, and greet brothers and sisters with whom they disagree. Specifically, he lists two “stumbling blocks” to the type of fellowship that the Spirit creates within the lives of God’s children: 1) holding one day as more important than another (Rom. 14:5-6) and 2) eating meat sacrificed to idols (Rom. 14:20-21).

Some may suggest that Paul wanted believers to fellowship in spite of their different beliefs in these two areas because these two items are not as important as our differences today. Today, we hold many different positions: Calvinism vs. Arminianism, infant baptism vs. believers’ baptism, cessationism vs. continuationism, and a plethora of eschatological beliefs. Certainly, these differences are much greater than days and food, right? It is right for us to dis-fellowship ourselves from those who hold to different views than us, right?

In fact, I think the two different views in Romans (days and food) should help illustrate how important continued fellowship is in spite of differences. For example, consider the first difference: holding one day as more important than another. In Rome, during the 1st century, which group of people would have held that one day was more important than other days? The Jews. Why would they hold that belief? Because Scripture is clear that God created the Sabbath to be honored. In other words, those who hold that one day is more important can back up their assertion with Scripture. Certainly, if someone disagreed with their claims, they were disagreeing with the clear teachings of Scripture.

Which group of people would have held that all days have equal importance? The Gentiles. They could also back up their beliefs with Scripture. Again, anyone attempting to hold one day as more important than the others would be disagreeing with the clear doctrine of Scripture. Even Jesus worked and healed on the Sabbath! Plus, Jesus rose on Sunday, given more importance to that day, if any day. However, Paul said that these two groups should accept one another and should not be “stumbling blocks” to the other. Yes, they should hold to their beliefs, but they should not let their beliefs keep them from serving, loving, accepting, and greeting those with other beliefs. Why? Because they were all part of the same family in God through Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Consider the second illustration that Paul uses: eating meat sacrificed to idols. Who would consider it problematic to eat meat sacrificed to idols? Those who associated eating this meat with worshiping a false god. Eating and drinking was part of the rituals associated with showing allegiance to and deference to and respect to and worship to that particular god. Scripture clearly teaching that we should worship no god besides the One True God. Why would anyone argue with this assertion, which is so clearly displayed in Scripture?

But, of course, the other side would argue that there are no other gods. In fact, only one God exists. So, eating and drinking – even food and drink that had been used in some pagan ritual – has nothing to do with deity. God himself declared that all food and drink are clean and that eating and drinking do not make a person unclean. This is very clear in Scripture. Yet, in spite of the fact that both groups could easily defend their positions in Scripture, Paul expected them to serve, love, accept, and greet one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, they should hold to their beliefs that their conscience requires, but they should not allow these beliefs to separate them from other believers and they should not allow these different beliefs to become “stumbling blocks” to other believers.

I hope you see that these two points were no less significant then than our differences are today. Both sides have biblical arguments for their positions, and they could easily use those arguments to beat sense into the other sides – those heretics who refuse to see the clear meaning of Scripture. But, Paul encouraged them not to do so. I think he would say the same to those who hold differing views of soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, eschatology, or any other -ology.

To Paul, what was important was being a child of God, through Jesus Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, he expected our relationship with God to demonstrate itself through our relationships with one another and with the world around us. According to Paul and other authors of Scripture, we do not questions a person’s relationship with God primarily by what they say they belief, but by how they live their life. (Yes, I know there are some beliefs that are given as reason for separation, like believing that Jesus is not the son of God or believing that Jesus did not come in the flesh. But, there are very few of these given in Scripture.)

Today, if Paul were to examine how we treat other believers who differ from us in the areas of soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, eschatology, etc., I wonder if he would be concerned with our relationship with God. He would not be concerned because of what we say we believe. Instead, he would be concerned about how we are treating our brothers and sisters in Christ. He would be concerned that no one was willing to defer to a “weaker brother”. He would be concerned that we are not humbling ourselves before, serving, loving, accepting, and greeting one another because of these differences. He would be concerned that we are living as “stumbling blocks”.

The first eleven chapters of Paul’s Letter to the Romans contain important lessons on sin, grace, righteousness, sovereignty, faith, etc. Through these chapters we see the awesome majesty of God and his work in the world and his people. But, we should not think that we can separate these great truths about God from living the life that God is creating with us – especially when it comes to our relationships with other believers. If we are not demonstrating love and grace in our relationship with our brothers and sisters – if we are living as “stumbling blocks” – then we are not thinking right about God, whatever we profess to believe.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-3-2008


    I think if Paul were to examine us today he would be very concerned that we are living as not only stumbling blocks but land mines. Setting our minds on and teaching man’s interests and doctrines instead of God’s.(Mat.16:23) So called “leaders” have effectively placed them around the perimeters of their denominational boundaries. i.e. Teaching that crossing those lines for fellowship or anything else would surely be, at the least, irresponsible and, at the most, flirting with spiritual death.


  2. 3-3-2008

    I was reminded of Jesus’ words in John 17 indicating that our unity is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine origin. (23-“that the world may know that you sent me”) Francis Schaeffer said that if people should see the truth of Jesus from his followers unity, then people were “justified” in not believing in Jesus if those followers were not united. At least, believers testify against the truth of the gospel by disunity

    - Bill

  3. 3-3-2008

    I think this is one of your best posts, and you write great ones all the time. Thank you for writing this one!

  4. 3-3-2008


    Very good post. I agree with what you are saying here.

    I think one of the main barriers for putting this into practice is our conception of the church itself. If we limit the “church” to our local congregation, in the traditional sense, it is true, it is difficult for certain differences (women pastors v. no women pastors, only believers baptism v. accepatance of infant baptism) to live side by side.

    However, if we see the church, in addition to its local manifestation in the traditional sense, as a city-wide, region-wide, and world-wide reality, we have many more opportunities to put into practice the unity Jesus prayed for, without necessarily needing to compromise on personal convictions on biblical interpretation at the same time.

  5. 3-3-2008

    The questions that I have struggled with in ministry is: Does the “weaker brother” hold back the church from being effective for the Lord? Does sometimes Satan use this as one of his tools to defeat and hold back the church from being missional. Does the “weaker brother” get too comfortable and not allow the change that needs to take place within the church for us to be really effective for Jesus Christ? We must remember Jesus hasn’t called us to be comfortable but to take up our crosses and make disciples. As the Church we need to understand that the world has change and the way we reachout and meet the needs of lost calls us to change in the way we worship, experience God, and reach out to the lost. I pray that the “weaker brother” will not hinder the work of the Lord. I pray we will move forward and make the change neccessary in order to be more missional and reach this post Christian generation for Jesus Christ.

    Excellent post brother.
    Great thoughts as always.
    I love your blog.
    It is one of my favorites.
    I check and read it daily.
    Keep up the wonderful work.
    May God bless you as you continue to make a difference in your readers and in the lives of those who come across your blog.
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry

  6. 3-3-2008


    “land mines”… interesting analogy. I think you might be right. It does seem that some people spend more time defending their denomination or system than they spend proclaiming the gospel or discipling people.


    Welcome to my blog, and thanks for the comment! John 17 is very, very powerful, especially when we recognize the results of unity in John 17. May we learn to testify to the truth of Jesus by our unity!


    Thank you for the kind words. And thank you for continuing to read my blog!


    Yes, we have to see the church as bigger than our little group. Otherwise, we will tend to differentiate and divide. If I recognize the person across town (or across the street) as my brother, then I will also have to recognize that it is my responsibility to live in unity with him.


    Thank you for the kind words about my blog. When I think of the “weaker brother”, I think of the less mature brother who refuses to yield to another. Thus, the “stronger brother” or more mature brother will yield to the weaker, but would then help the weaker to mature – with love, gentleness, and patience. This is a church that grows, not one that is stalled or one that divides.


  7. 3-3-2008

    I’ve been wondering if we believers defend our beliefs so strongly and shun those don’t believe as we do because, deep down, we believe that God is truly only pleased with and loves those who believe the right things. So, are we really just trying to defend truth or are we afraid of losing God’s love and acceptance if we don’t believe correctly?

  8. 3-4-2008


    I think that you are right about some people. Some think they have to be right, or others have to be right, or God will not accept them. However, I think there are others who believe that God will accept them or others even if they are right, but they maintain that it is of utmost importance to both be right and make sure others are right as well.


  9. 8-4-2011

    Amusingly, I was reading earlier a history of the Plymouth Brethren who, as you know, loved a divisive arguement! For weeks the battle raged over should they meet ‘in the Name of the Lord Jesus’ or ‘into the Name of the Lord Jesus’…..they only ceased arguing whena brother remarked ‘Whilst this is taking up time and effort, millions haven’t even heard of the Name’….. Humbling, eh?

  10. 9-29-2011

    Alan … I think this is a major helpful distinction in the current tension between what some call “the organic church” and “the traditional church.”

    We in the traditional church, like the Jewish christians in the New Testament, have a lot of traditions and ideas left over from how we were raised up in the church. We tend to assume that those cultural ideas are simply the truth without analyzing them. On the other hand, we have people finding and attempting to live for Christ in a way that is free from former traditions. Sometimes the hostility between the two sides is significant.

    I think this hostility sometimes in the “organic” folks could get in the way of their following Christ as they desire … that they might become more focused on what they are leaving than on what they desire to move toward.

    So I wonder if we do not have a great parallel developing among us to the NT days, and that this distinction in Paul respecting both is helpful in letting us understand each other. I find this to be especially true in reading Galatians.

  11. 9-29-2011


    Yes, if we distance ourselves from or condemn our brothers/sisters because they prefer either “institutional” or “organic” church patterns, then we are placing stumbling blocks before them.


  12. 6-6-2012

    I think this one is my favorite of all your posts. It really hits home for me, as to why I was rejected from my church.