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Last week, we looked at how love for our brothers and sisters in Christ governs our Christian liberty. This week, we take a similar, dangerous dive into what constitutes a “disputable matter.”
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. – Romans 14:1, NIV-1978
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. – Romans 14:1, ESV
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. – Romans 14:1, NASB
The question arises regarding what constitutes a “disputable matter,” or an “opinion.” Conceivably, we could argue over anything. Does that mean any matter is disputable? I suspect any of us who is genuinely seeking truth would reject that idea.
The resurrection of Jesus is not a disputable matter. The preeminence of love is not a disputable matter. The inappropriateness of murder is not a disputable matter. But how do we know these things to be true?
The term in question is διαλογισμων – phonetically, dee-ah-log-ees-mown. It is thought, reason, imagination, possibly even doubt. It is the term used in Romans 1:21 to say, “they became futile in their thinking” or 1 Corinthians 3:20 where we read that the Lord “knows the thoughts of the wise.”
In Philippians 2:14, we read that we are to do all things without grumbling or “disputing,” and again, the term is διαλογισμων, just as we read in 1 Timothy 2:8 that men everywhere are to pray, lifting holy hands apart from anger and “dissension.”
We can see from this handful of examples that the term is varied in its usage. It is a term indicating that something has been thought through, pondered, and as a result, has established within the mind of the ponderer, some scruples.
With this understanding, we are to receive the one whose faith is inhibited, but not for the purpose of passing judgment over his or her moral constructs, or scruples. So what is a scruple, and what is a matter that is indisputable? And how do we know the difference?
It is helpful in making this reconciliation to know that Romans chapter 14 and 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10 are parallel passages. If you desire to study this subject in greater depth, you would do well to pause here and read the 1 Corinthians chapters.
Key to chapters 8-10 in 1 Corinthians is a foundation-setting reality found in chapter five where a man is sexually involved with his step-mother. The attitude of the believers in Corinth was 180 degrees out from what it should have been.
Rather than appalled, they were thrilled! Look how progressive and cutting-edge we are! I suspect they saw themselves as the epitome of Christian liberty. Yet, so grotesque is this sin that not even the pagans would do such a thing.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. – 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, ESV
There is no question in the mind of the apostle Paul that this is not a disputable matter. Bear in mind, also, that the man who wrote “expel the immoral brother,” is the same man who wrote Romans 14:1, noting that some matters are disputable.
Further solidifying the principle that some things are indisputably wrong, Paul ramps up his condemnation, saying, “I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.” Not only does this not qualify as a disputable matter, this qualifies as something on which we should pass judgment. And when we must do so, this is not something we get puffed-up about, but rather something that causes us mourning and grief!
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, ESV
When the reader of this letter gets to what we call chapter 8 and starts reading about meat sacrificed to idols, this ugly scenario will still be fresh in his or her mind. It will be plenty clear to them that the immorality of chapter 5 is a completely different matter than the issues of Christian liberty discussed in 8-10. In chapter 5, we are directed to judge and condemn the sinning brother, while just a handful of chapters later, we are commanded not to judge.
There are matters that are explicitly condemned in scripture. Theft, lying, fornication, idolatry, carousing, etc. We can cite specific scriptures that call such behaviors out as sinful. Disputable matters are those that the Word of God does not explicitly condemn, and it is in regard to these matters that we are not to pass judgment on our brothers and sisters in Christ, but rather, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5b, ESV).
When it comes to matters that are not explicitly prohibited by scripture, each of us must rely on the convictions we have in those matters. Part of this challenge is agreeing on what is expressly prohibited or condemned, and sadly, that often becomes the basis of the διαλογισμων. In many cases, believers see clear commands when the reality is, they are making extensions to commands, or are inferring conclusions from a command. Let me offer a few illustrations.
I have already shared with you that Alean and I frequently enjoy a glass of wine together in the evening. Some of you are not able to do so as a matter of conscience. I respect you for that, and would not put that temptation in front of you, because that would not be acting according to love. Likewise, you are not to judge Alean, or me. What is the clear prohibition? Drunkenness. Drunkenness is clearly prohibited, and scripture offers reasons for that prohibition. But to take that prohibition and extend it to a more stringent prohibition of drinking wine altogether is unwarranted and inappropriate.
About a week ago, I was involved in a conversation on Twitter wherein a believer asked if masturbation is a sin. Almost every responder to her question asserted and agreed that it is a sin, and many of those pointed to the sin of lust to support that extension. I did not answer her question one way or the other, but rather pointed out that the group was declaring as sinful something about which the Bible says absolutely nothing. What I can assure you is that for every person in that thread who said it is sinful, for them, it is sinful, because whatever cannot be done in faith is sin (Romans 14:14 ,23).
As recreational marijuana usage is legalized in an increasing number of states (despite the fact that it is still unlawful at the federal level) the question of its use among Christ-followers is increasingly prevalent. As above, this is something scripture does not address directly, and I personally know a number of Christians who make use of it. I, however, cannot do so with a clear conscience. For me, it would be sinful, without question, because in my mind it is analogous to drunkenness, and a violation of Peter’s instruction to be clear-minded and self-controlled so that I can pray.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. – Romans 14:13, ESV
Next week, we will wrap this up by looking at what a stumbling block is (and what it is not).