Vol. 4, No. 8
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One of the most misapplied passages in the Bible concerns the eating of meat offered to idols. As Paul concludes his inspired discourse, he shows that there are certain things that could be right for one person and wrong for another, depending on the conscience of the individual. "Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not to faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:22-23). Unfortunately, many have taken this passage and perverted its meaning, trying to justify their own sinful actions. We must understand the true meaning of Paul's instructions so that we will not be deceived by those lying in wait (Ephesians 4:14).
Paul was not speaking of something that is sinful in and of itself, but of an action that could be perceived to be wrong by those who had once participated in it as a religious act. This then shows that Paul was speaking of the realm of personal judgment based on the individual's attitude toward that action. There is nothing wrong with having a cow for a pet, but if one had been a Hindu before receiving the truth, it might violate his conscience since Hindus recognize cows as beings worthy of worship. The meaning that Paul is emphasizing is that one who does not have any problem with having a cow for a pet because he does not attach any religious significance to it, is doing it out of faith. If one were to still attach some religious significance to that cow because of past practice, then it would not be of faith to have that cow, and would be sin. We then see the importance of our not breaking our own conscience even if others tell us that the action is all right. We must understand by ourselves that the action is not sinful. In addition to this, Paul shows us that if we have a brother who has this problem with the cow, then we should not have a cow for a pet ourselves because we do not want to make that a stumblingblock for him and cause him to fall. The action required is not one of impatience, but of teaching the weak brother that his understanding of the truth might be more perfect.
Keeping all of this in mind, one important principle must be noted in view of this passage. God authorized the action under question here. Some did not understand this, but this is clearly seen in the vision of Peter (Acts 10). Some may want to place instrumental music or matters of fellowship under the jurisdiction of Romans 14, but it is improper to do so because neither one of these actions is authorized. Let us seek to put these principles into practice, as true brethren, looking out for the souls of men. If you question a particular practice, do not do it. If you can demonstrate that God allows it, it is permissible. But, if someone brings the matter into question, be honest about the matter and seek to learn the truth from God's Word. Therefore, before we participate in an action we must consider whether God has authorized it, whether it violates the conscience and whether or not it might cause someone else to stumble.
Long ago the prophet Hosea cried out, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children" (Hosea 4:6). The overall level of knowledge among members of the Lord's church today could only be described as abysmal. It is becoming harder and harder to teach (in some ways), because it is necessary to provide so much background information on Old Testament history, the life of Christ or the Acts of the Apostles just so that the lesson will make sense. Our attention to basic facts, such as knowing the books of the Bible, being able to quote scripture and having a basic grasp of the scheme of redemption and the message of each book of the Bible, has given way to a general feeling of disinterest in what the Bible says because people are often content with what they feel about the Bible.
We console ourselves in our ignorance by claiming that we cannot remember "all of that." What amazes me is how much we can remember about other aspects of life while claiming a poor memory as an excuse for not knowing the Bible. While our children are learning computer skills and keyboarding at an increasingly early age, our expectations about their ability to learn Bible facts is dropping. While our teenagers are taking chemistry, physics and calculus, we sit by idly while they act like they are incapable of studying and comprehending God's Word. The truth is that most people know a lot of things; they simply do not know a lot of things that are truly worth knowing! When we claim our children are not capable of learning the books of the Bible, yet they can quote a Disney movie verbatim, there is a problem, and it is not with their minds. When teens can memorize a playbook but not the names of the apostles and judges, the problem is not their lack of intellect. We adults know many facts necessary for doing our daily work but claim that we cannot remember five verses about the plan of salvation.
Think about it. We spend years trying to acquire knowledge of various sorts, but how much of that time is spent in learning how to make a living and how to recreate properly versus learning how to live properly before God? How can we say that we know how to implement God's Word into our lives, when we do not even know how to give an overview about what God's Word says? Learning to know God begins by learning about God. Learning how to trust more in God cannot be taught until we first teach the fact that we need to trust in him. Appreciating Jesus Christ begins by knowing what happened in the life of Jesus Christ. After all, what Jesus taught was generally centered around what Jesus did. While basic factual knowledge is not the end all/be all of Bible study, facts are the building blocks. We must take the time to get to know God by studying his Word. If we do not, we will miss out on the most precious knowledge we can gain in this life, not just something true, but "the truth" (John 8:32).