The greatest way that we can fall short of making Jesus the main thing in our lives is when we get so caught up in our own personal convictions that we cause other people to stumble in their faith. The struggles around eating in Romans 14 are all tied up in the Jewish theology that certain foods are clean and certain foods are unclean. Paul is saying that in Christ, everything is clean, so it is of no consequence what people eat. That’s a preference. If the preference becomes so strong that it supersedes the importance of Jesus, then there is a stumbling block in place.
Paul is calling the Roman church to pursue peace and mutual upbuilding, maintaining true faith without condemning others. What does this actually look like in practice, though? During my time at Highland Park Pres in Dallas, I got to spend a lot of time watching Bryan Dunagan lead. He was very intentional about listening to people’s concerns and turning those concerns back into clarifying questions. Asking questions was disarming and often ended up deescalating conflict so that Jesus could be the main thing. Leadership often came with conflict, and he was not afraid of that conflict, but he engaged in it with a Christ-centered approach.
There was a time where I got left out of a meeting I felt that I should have been part of. I went to Bryan and confronted him about it (respectfully, I hope). He sat there, listened to what I was upset about, and then started asking me questions. As silly as it sounds, I realized as we were talking that I didn’t need to be in that meeting in the first place, and my pride was getting in the way, becoming a stumbling block that inhibited me from living into the grace and humility of Christ.
Bryan could have told me that I was being young and stupid. Instead, he didn’t condemn me; he loved me where I was, just like Jesus does. He lifted me up and pursued peace, and because he did so, I learned.
How often do we let little things supersede making Jesus the main thing? Those little things, small as they might appear, can become big stumbling blocks to our faith and to the faith of others. We are not called to condemn others for their choices, personality, or any other piece of who they are. Confrontation is necessary sometimes, but when we approach it through peace and mutual upbuilding, and without condemnation, we can help others grow by keeping Jesus the main thing. I truly believe that if we let Jesus lead us to live this way, the world will be changed by people feeling loved and like someone believes in them.