If the Bible is my handbook for life, what do I do when the Bible is not clear about an issue?
Many times we have questions related to spiritual matters, but the Bible is not specific or clear about that situation. A perfect example is the issue of drinking alcohol. Is it okay for a Christian to drink alcohol? The Bible says in Ephesians 5:18: "Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit..." (NLT)
But Paul also tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23, "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses." (NIV) And, of course, we know that Jesus' first miracle involved turning water into wine.
Don't worry, we are not going to discuss the age-old debate about whether or not the wine spoken of in the Bible was really wine or grape juice. We'll leave that debate for much smarter Bible scholars. The point is, there are issues that are debatable. In Romans 14, these are called "disputable matters."
Another example is smoking. The Bible does not specifically state that smoking is a sin, but it does say in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (NIV)
So you get the picture? Some issues just are not clear: Should a Christian work on Sunday? What about dating a non-Christian? What movies are okay to see?
Lessons from Romans 14
Maybe you have a question that the Bible doesn't seem to answer specifically. Let's take a look at Romans chapter 14, which speaks specifically about these disputable matters, and see what we can learn. I would recommend that you stop now and read the entire chapter of Romans 14.
The two disputable matters in these verses are: Whether or not Christians should eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, and whether or not Christians should worship God on certain required Jewish holy days.
Some believed that there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been offered to an idol because they knew that the idols were worthless. Others carefully checked the source of their meat or gave up eating meat altogether. The problem was especially serious for Christians who had once been involved in idol worship. For them, being reminded of their former days was too much temptation. It weakened their newfound faith. Likewise, for some Christians who had once worshiped God on the required Jewish holy days, it caused them to feel empty and unfaithful if they didn't dedicate those days to God.
Spiritual Weakness vs. Freedom in Christ
One point of the chapter is that in some areas of our faith we are weak and in some we are strong. Each person is accountable to Christ: "... each of us will give an account of himself to God." Romans 14:12 (NIV) In other words, if you have freedom in Christ to eat meat that was sacrificed to idols, then it is not a sin for you. And if your brother has freedom to eat meat, but you do not, you should stop judging him. Romans 14:13 says, "let us stop passing judgment on one another." (NIV)
At the same time these verses clearly show that we are to stop putting a stumbling block in our brothers' way. In other words, if you eat meat and know that it will cause your weaker brother to stumble, for the sake of love, even though you have freedom in Christ to eat meat, you should do nothing that will cause your brother to fall.
We can sum up the lesson of Romans 14 in the following three points:
- Let your heart and your conscience before God alone tell you what is right and wrong on matters that are not clear in the Bible. Do you have freedom in Christ and a clear conscience before the Lord to do whatever is in question? Or, does the area weaken your Christian walk?
- Don't pass judgment on your brother or sister if they have freedom that you don't have in an area.
- If you are strong in an area and have freedom in Christ in that area, never let your freedoms cause a weaker brother to stumble.
I want to be careful to stress that some areas are expressly clear and forbidden in Scripture. We are not talking about issues such as adultery, murder and theft. But on matters that are not clear, this chapter shows that we should avoid making rules and regulations as though they have equal standing with God's laws.
Many times Christians base their moral judgments on opinions and personal dislikes, rather than the Word of God. It is better to let our relationship with Christ and his Word regulate our convictions.
The chapter ends with these words in verse 23, "…and everything that does not come from faith is sin." (NIV) So, that makes it pretty clear. Let faith and your conscience convict you, and tell you what to do in these matters.