Paul makes a strong case for forbearance in this chapter and it just warms my heart. The concept of limiting our freedoms in order to be sensitive to others new in the faith brings a depth with it that makes me want to lean more deeply into it. Ultimately, it’s not about the drinking of the wine or not drinking the wine, eating the meat or not eating the meat, mowing the lawn on Sundays or not mowing the lawn on Sundays. Our higher concern needs to be creating an environment of love, knowing as we do that we are all under the sovereign rule of God.
The word ‘caustic’ seems descriptive to me of the underlying message in this chapter and it has two meanings. One, its sarcasm such as “making caustic remarks” about the way someone dresses, for example. A second definition is “able to burn or corrode organic tissue through chemical action”, i.e., corrosive. Making a big deal out of things that don’t matter is not walking in love. In fact, Paul says in verse 19 that it “destroys the work of God”.
When we who are mature exalt things of lesser importance, we violate the greater law of love and potentially cause someone new in the faith to stumble. I recall a young woman who started coming to a church I attended many years ago. Church was a completely new experience for her and she had not yet had time to learn how to dress more modestly. Rather than call her attention to what she was wearing, the congregation just surrounded her with love and care, turning a blind eye to the lesser matter of her clothing. Eventually, she changed on the inside and this showed up in her choice of clothing as well.
By following Proverbs 19:11, “A man’s insight gives him patience, and his virtue is to overlook an offense” we help create a hospitable environment for people in their walk with us and with God. After all, every one of us is a work in progress and whatever the offense, “this is what some of you (us) were. But you (we) were washed…sanctified…justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11) From this perspective, it’s much easier to walk with others – and even to prefer others - as co-recipients of the undeserved grace of God.