It is better not to . . . do anything . . . that will cause your brother or sister to fall. Romans 14:21
Most young Samoan boys receive a tattoo signaling their responsibility to their people and their chief. Naturally, then, the marks cover the arms of the Samoan men’s rugby team members. Traveling to Japan where tattoos can carry negative connotations, the teammates realized their symbols presented a problem for their hosts. In a generous act of friendship, the Samoans wore skin-colored sleeves covering the designs. “We’re respectful and mindful to . . . the Japanese way,” the team captain explained. “We’ll be making sure that what we’re showing will be okay.”
In an age emphasizing individual expression, it’s remarkable to encounter self-limitation—a concept Paul wrote about in the book of Romans. He told us that love sometimes requires us to lay down our rights for others. Rather than pushing our freedom to the boundaries, sometimes love reins us in. The apostle explained how some people in the church believed they were free “to eat anything,” but others ate “only vegetables” (Romans 14:2). While this might seem like a minor issue, in the first century, adherence to Old Testament dietary laws was controversial. Paul instructed everyone to “stop passing judgment on one another” (v. 13), before concluding with particular words for those who ate freely. “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (v. 21).
At times, loving another means limiting our own freedoms. We don’t have to always do everything we’re free to do. Sometimes love reins us in.
When have you seen people limit their freedom for the sake of other believers in Jesus? What was that like? What’s difficult about those situations where love reins us in?
God, help me to see where I need to encourage others to experience freedom and how I need to limit how I use my own freedoms.
Paul’s normal pattern for his church letters was to present a section of teaching (doctrine) followed by a section on living out one’s faith (practice). As one pastor put it, what we believe prepares the way for how we behave. If Romans 1–11 provide the doctrine—Paul’s careful explanation of the truth that the gospel is a message of grace freely offered to us by our gracious God—it should come as no surprise that in the practical portion of the letter (such as today’s text), he would call us to extend and live out that grace in our relationships with one another.