Therefore let us…decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance (gray area) in the way of a brother. Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:13, 19 / ESV, parenthesis added)
Whether we are a spiritual help or a spiritual hindrance, we are all accountable to God. So, how do we handle “gray areas”?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a complete list of Christian “do’s and don’ts” for every “gray area” of our lives? It would certainly make life a lot easier. We could learn the “rules” and then just live – not worry about the impact of our actions on other people or what others may think. However, that wouldn’t do much to promote our spiritual sensitivity and growth, would it?
Paul encourages us to exhibit spiritual conscientiousness in our lives. Aside from anything recognizably immoral, unethical, and illegal, we all have “gray areas” that seem harmless to us, but in actuality they are spiritual blockades to others. The instruction from today’s reading is not to explain ourselves or justify our preferences in the attempt to “convert” anyone to our way of thinking. Instead, Paul counsels us to decide ahead of time to avoid doing or saying anything that could be a spiritual obstacle or hindrance to our fellow Christians. Our goal should be twofold: to seek mutual peace among ourselves and to strengthen ourselves in the Lord. We should strictly avoid anything that tears down or causes others to stumble in their faith. This applies not just within the church – the entire unbelieving world is also watching our Christian behavior and lifestyle!
What is a Gray Area?
So what exactly qualifies as a stumbling block or spiritual hindrance? Body piercings? Tattoos? Weird hairstyles? Worldly fashion standards? R-rated movies? Smoking? Speeding? The list is as long and varied as our personal opinions and preferences. Although many of these may not be specifically prohibited in Scripture, they could be a spiritual hindrance to someone – probably even to us. As believers, we are urged to be spiritually cautious and sensitive.
Instead of leaning toward self-justification for our preferred “gray area” habits or activities, why not err on the side of caution? Let’s ask God to reveal anything in our lives that could spiritually impede a fellow believer – or even a non-believer – and then forsake it for the cause of Christ. This may be God’s specific method to draw us closer to Him in intimate fellowship and to transform us into Christlikeness.
- What lifestyle characteristics in other believers do you consider to be spiritually offensive?
- What are some habits or favorite activities you have that could be stumbling blocks to others?
- In what way is the Holy Spirit convicting you to become more like Christ in your lifestyle?