Just a brief message before you get into the meat of this post. I realize that this one is quite a bit longer and took quite while to be posted. There are two reasons for this:
- This section of Romans is so very important that it cannot be dealt with quickly and in just a few short words.
- In the most important section, vv. 14-23, I went verse by verse and section by section so that you can have a better understanding of the message that Paul is attempting to convey.
Chapter 14 begins Paul’s discussion of what he words as those who are “strong in the faith” and those who are “weak in the faith.” However, a better way to describe the people the Paul is describing, starting in chapter 14, would those who have matured in their faith and those who have not yet reached maturity in their faith. While Paul does side with those who have matured in their faith, he however, admonishes them to not look down on or treat with contempt those who have not yet reached the same level of spiritual maturity that they have.
Chapter 14 can broken down into three sections: vv. 1-4 which serves as an introduction to this section that continues on through Romans 15:13; vv. 5-12 which deals with the fact that we will all give an account of our actions to God; and vv. 13-23 which serves as a conclusion to this first section on the “weak and the strong.” We are going to start with vv. 1-4.
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.—14:1-4
In Romans 14:1-15:13 Paul focuses on the major issue he wants to confront in the Roman church. He has heard about this problem from some of his contacts in Rome (people he knows and goes on to mention in chapter 16). Paul begins by addressing the “strong” (who are given this label later in 15:1 and whom we have already identified as those who have matured in their faith) about their attitude toward the “weak” (whom we have already identified as those who have not yet matured in their faith). The case in Romans 14:2 regards those who eat only vegetables, perhaps because of anxiety that meat has been sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). Paul agrees theologically with the “strong” but is unhappy with their attitude. Orthodoxy (or right teaching) is not enough in the Christian life. Having the right theology does not fulfill the law; as Paul has just said in Romans 13:8-10, love fulfills the law. Both the “weak” and the “strong” are addressed in 14:3: the strong (with their free consciences) should not despise the weak (with their narrower sensitivities), and the weak should not condemn the strong. In other words, the mature should not look down on those who have not yet reached maturity and those who have not yet reached maturity should not force those who have matured to live with the same restrictions they (those who have not yet reached maturity) have imposed on their (those who have not yet reached maturity) lives. Instead, Paul tells both groups that God has accepted both parties (v. 3), and just as in the human sphere an opinion about someone else’s servant is irrelevant, so we should not pass judgement on God’s servants (v. 4). They stand by God’s grace as genuine Christians despite the quibbles of others.
The next section is vv. 5-12, where Paul moves from dealing with the case of eating meat or only vegetables to dealing with the issue of scared days.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.—14:5-12
Paul mentioned in verse 2 the case of eating meat or only vegetables. Here in verses 5-9 the sensitive issue is sacred days. Again, Paul does not force the weak to conform to his own “strong” view (see Colossians 2:16-17 also). For him the unity of the Roman church is more important than petty arguments, so he takes the tolerant view that each believer should be fully convinced in their own mind (Romans 14:5), with a real conviction before God (v. 6). Our lives are, after all, for the Lord. Christ has ascended to the right hand of God as our Lord. He owns us; we are not in possession of ourselves. Judging each other is laughable since we will all face much more fearsome prospect of being judged by Christ (vv. 10-12).
The last section, vv. 13-23, is going to be divided up into three sections: vv. 13-18, vv. 19-21 and vv. 22-23.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.—14:13-18
To better understand what Paul is saying here we are going to pick this section apart verse by verse. Starting with verse 13, which says, “Therefore let’s not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this: not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s or sister’s way” (NASB). The same Greek word translated “judge” (14:3, 10 and 13a) is translated in the second part of this verse as “determine.” In vv. 3, 10 and 13a, the meaning is negative: to condemn. In v. 13b., the meaning is positive: to determine or make a careful decision. The point of Paul’s play on words is that instead of passing judgment on their brothers and sisters, they should use their best judgment to help fellow believers. Paul ends verse 13 by saying, “not to put an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother’s or sister’s way”. And “an obstacle or stumbling block” is anything a believer does—even though Scripture may permit it—that causes another believer to fall into sin (see also 1 Corinthians 8:9).
Moving on to verse 14, which says, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to the one who thinks something is unclean, to that person it is unclean” (NASB). Firstly deal with the first part of the first phrase in verse 14, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus.” What does Paul know and of what is he convinced? He knows and is convinced of the truth. And how does he know this truth and how is he convinced that it is the truth? He is not convinced this truth that he has been writing about for almost 14 chapters through his own thinking or through the teaching of others, because that would not make it truth but mere supposition. But, instead Paul knows the truth and is convinced of the truth through divine revelation. In other words, through his close relationship with God Paul has come to know and even more importantly be convinced of the truth of the Gospel.
Now that we know how Paul knows the truth and is convinced of the truth, let’s deal with the specific truth that Paul is talking about here. And what is that truth? That truth is this: “that nothing is unclean in itself.” The Greek word translated here as “unclean” originally meant “common” but it came to mean “impure” or “evil.” Paul is telling us that inanimate objects, which could be things like: food, drink and/or money, etc., are not “evil” or “impure” in and of themselves but are only made “impure” or “evil” in the way that they are used.
However, Paul finishes verse 14 in this way, “but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Paul is very simply telling us this here: if you as a believer are convinced a certain behavior is sin—even if you assessment is wrong—you should never do it. Because if you do, you will violate your own conscience, experience guilt and perhaps be driven back into deeper legalism instead of moving toward freedom.
Moving on, verse 15 says, “For if because of food your brother or sister is hurt, you are no longer walking in accordance with love. Do not destroy with your choice of food that person for whom Christ died” (NASB). There are three important words in this verse: “hurt”, “love” and “destroy”. The word translated here as “hurt” is the Greek word that refers to causing pain or distress. So when Paul writes, “For if because of food your brother or sister is hurt,” he is saying that a weak believer may be hurt when they see a fellow believer do something that they believe is sinful. But still worse, the strong believer may cause their weaker brother or sister to violate their own conscience.
When Paul writes, “you are no longer walking in accordance with love,” he is referring to “agape-love” that he gives a very clear description of in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. The love that Paul describes their is a love that will ensure that the strong Christian is sensitive and understanding of their fellow believers weaknesses. Paul finishes this verse by writing these words, “Do not destroy with your choice of food that person for whom Christ died.” The word “destroy” in this last sentence refers to complete devastation. In the New Testament, the word “destroy” is softened used to indicate eternal damnation. However, in this context it refers to a serious devastation of one’s spiritual growth. The phrase “that person for whom Christ died” refers to any and all Christians. To sum up what Paul is saying here is that when we choose to let our own personal beliefs become the most important thing we hurt our fellow believers and that is not in accordance with the love that we are to show others. And more importantly it could and most probably will lead to the destruction of one for whom Christ died.
Moving on, we come to verses 16-18, “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by other people” (NASB). The “good thing” that Paul is speaking of in verse is the rightful exercise of one’s Christian liberty. And the phrase “be spoken of as evil” refers to blaspheme. So we when we put this all together here is what Paul is telling us in verse 16: when unbelievers see a strong Christian abusing their freedom in Christ and harming a weaker believer, they will include that Christianity is filled with unloving people, which reflects badly on God’s reputation.
In verse 17, which says, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” Paul refers to the “kingdom of God,” “righteousness,” “peace” and “joy”. When Paul refers to the “kingdom of God” he obviously is referring to the sphere of salvation where God rules in the hearts of those He has saved. So when Paul says “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking,” he is saying that the “kingdom of God” is not non-essentials and external observances. However, if the “kingdom of God” is not non-essential and external observances, then what is the “kingdom of God”?
Paul says that “kingdom of God” is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” When Paul is talking about “righteousness” here he is talking about holy, obedient living. When Paul talks about “peace” is talking about loving tranquility, produced by the Spirit, that should characterize believers’ relationships with God and one another. And finally when Paul talks about “joy in the Holy Spirit” he is once again referring to another part of the Spirit’s fruit. However, this part of Spirit’s fruit describes an abiding attitude of praise and thanksgiving regardless of circumstances, which flows from one’s confidence in God’s sovereignty.
Concludes this section in verse 18 with these words, “For the one who serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by other people.” Paul here is talking about approving something after a careful examination. A good example of this is a jeweler, who inspects a stone to determine its quality and value. Therefore, Paul is telling us that as Christians we are under the microscope of a skeptical world that is assessing how we live with and treat one another.
Moving on now to verses 19-21, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the person who eats and causes offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother or sister stumbles” (NASB). Paul in verse 19 is telling us that we are to pursue those things that make for “peace and the building up of one another.” Paul goes to build on this theme in verse 20, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the person who eats and causes offense.”
The first part of verse 20 says, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food.” The “work of God” is a fellow Christian who has been redeemed by the efforts of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not by their own efforts. In essence Paul here is saying once again what he has said throughout chapter 14 that we are not to let trivial things like what another person eats or drinks be the cause of a falling out. He goes on to say, “All things are indeed clean.” Paul here is talking about the discretionary liberties which God has given to believers and are good in themselves. Paul finishes verse 20 with these words, “but they are evil for the person who eats and causes offense.” Paul here is talking about one who uses those God-given liberties carelessly and selfishly, offending the weaker believer. Paul closes this three verse section with this reminder, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother or sister stumbles.”
Now, we come to the last two verses of chapter 14 verses 22-23, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is the one who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But the one who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (NASB). Paul in these two verses is telling us that: the strongest Christian can bring harm to themselves in the area of Christian liberty by denouncing or belittling the freedom God has given them (Galatians 5:1), or by carelessly flaunting their liberty without regard fro how that might affect others. However, Paul ends chapter 14 with a word of warning to those whose faith has not matured with these words, “But the one who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” Paul in this warning is telling those whose faith has not matured that when they violate their conscience, they sin. In other words anything that our conscience, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, tells us is wrong and we do it anyway we are not acting of faith, but are in fact sinning.
In conclusion, Paul is expressing his own view in verses 14 and 20, siding with the “strong,” though in both verses he immediately adds a “but.” Christians should not do anything that hinders a believer’s progress in faith (v. 13). Causing unnecessary distress, however theologically accurate the point being made, is not loving (vv. 15 and 20). This does not mean all distress or offense is unloving (2 Corinthians 7:10-11), but unnecessary offense can be not only inconsiderate but destructive (Romans 14:15, 20). Rather than acting in a potentially destructive way, it is better to abstain and keep one’s opinion on a controversial matter private if it would provoke futile division (v. 22a). The strong will be condemned if they insist in a destructive manner on their rights (v. 22b), and the weak are in peril if they act against their consciences (v. 23). Paul’s main point is directed against the strong: we should make no effort to insist on our rights (1 Corinthians 6:12). We should do what leads to peace and mutual edification. And that is where we will pick up next time as we move in chapter 15.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Jeremiah 23:21-25:38, 2 Thessalonians 2, Psalm 84:1-12 and Proverbs 25:15
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