It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.

Romans 14:21 (ESV)

In a week where Americans celebrate the freedoms that are ours as citizens of this great country, Christians will also reflect upon the freedom that is ours through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This freedom—the ultimate freedom from sin and death—comes with even greater responsibilities on the part of the believer than does the freedom that comes from being an American. While we must obviously abide by the laws that govern us, we have great latitude in what we say and how we say it. Furthermore, we also have tremendous liberty in how we behave before actually being held accountable by the law. Christians, however, have a far greater concern than violating the laws of man.  

In Paul’s letter to Roman Christians, he warned of the danger of flaunting certain freedoms in the presence of those who were not mature enough to understand the full extent of Christian liberty. The verse above addresses both a specific issue that would have applied during Paul’s time and then a general behavior that is as applicable now as it was then. Eating meat and drinking wine during certain observances were deemed disrespectful by some and sinful by many in Rome. Paul reminded believers that they were more responsible for their testimony and reputation among those they were trying to reach than they were “entitled” to enjoy the fruits of their freedom.

For the most part, Paul’s reference to eating gets lost in our American culture. His reference to partaking of wine (or other alcoholic drink) strikes a bit closer to home since alcohol is associated with so many negative aspects of society. But his wording, “or do anything that causes your brother to stumble,” transcends time and all cultural barriers! The idea that a believer’s behavior would damage their own testimony while diminishing the power of the Gospel was unthinkable. Paul understood the natural human tendency to be influenced by the behavior of those claiming to follow Christ far more than the teaching that would have been so foreign to the customs of their pagan society. 

In this day of unbridled evil in America, we must remember that it must be love—not the law—that empowers our actions.