In the course of his earthly ministry, Jesus gave a stern warning to those who might trip up the faith of his people. It went like this:
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. -Matthew 18:6.
Here in Romans 14, the Apostle Paul echoes this very sentiment. His words flow like this:
Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. -Romans 14:13
In Paul’s context, the issue of causing a brother or sister to stumble in their faith was a very real possibility rather than a theoretical thought experiment. Christians in Rome disagreed on whether or not it was okay to eat certain foods. Paul himself agreed with those who didn’t view any foods as unclean in themselves. However, rather than trumpeting his right views and exercising his freedom in Christ, Paul put love on the table. The issue, Paul tells us, is not what I can do. No, the issue is discerning what is loving to my brother or sister. Positively, this means that we look out for their good. Negatively, it means we abstain from things that might harm their faith, or, to echo language from Jesus and Paul, we avoid things that might cause them to stumble. In the case of food, that means not eating perfectly good food if a brother’s or sister’s faith might be harmed because we do so.
This is such an important insight in an age when self-expression and personal rights are often viewed as ultimate goods. In the Christian life, love should control.