Disunity has always been a major problem with God’s people. Even the Old Testament records the civil wars and family fights among the people of Israel, and almost every local church mentioned in the New Testament had divisions to contend with. The Corinthians were divided over human leaders, and some of the members were even suing each other (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 6:1-8). The Galatian saints were “biting and devouring” one another (Gal. 5:15), and the saints in Ephesus and Colossae had to be reminded of the importance of Christian unity (Eph. 4:1-3; Col. 2:1-2). In the church at Philippi, two women were at odds with each other and, as a result, were splitting the church (Phil. 4:1-3). No wonder the psalmist wrote, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1).
Some of these problems stemmed from the backgrounds of the believers in the churches. The Jews, for example, were saved out of a strict legalistic background that would be difficult to forget. The Gentiles never had to worry about diets and days. The first church council in history debated the issue of the relationship of the Christian to the Law (Acts 15).
The believers in Rome were divided over special diets and special days. Some of the members thought it was a sin to eat meat, so they ate only vegetables. Other members thought it a sin not to observe the Jewish holy days. If each Christian had kept his convictions to himself, there would have been no problem, but they began to criticize and judge one another. The one group was sure the other group was not at all spiritual.
Unfortunately, we have similar problems today with many “gray areas” of life that are not clearly right or wrong to every believer. Some activities we know are wrong, because the Bible clearly condemns them. Other activities we know are right, because the Bible clearly commands them. But when it comes to areas that are not clearly defined in Scripture, we find ourselves needing some other kind of guidance. Paul gave principles of this guidance. He explained how believers could disagree on nonessentials and still maintain unity in the church. He gave his readers three important admonitions.
As any believer knows, relationships with fellow believers can sometimes be strained. Paul knew that unity and harmony among believers is vital for the strength of the church and the success of its mission.
Paul had already established the equality of Jewish and Gentile believers. In this chapter he continues to discuss how that equality could work out in daily living. Paul focuses on two issues: dietary restrictions and observance of special days. Next to circumcision, diet and calendar were the most sensitive issues that separated Jews from all Gentiles. Now, as Jews and Gentiles attempted to work out their distinctive character as Christians, these issues had to be resolved.
Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans from Corinth, where a similar situation occurred (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). Some believers wondered if eating meat previously offered to idols meant that they had participated in idolatry. Furthermore, some Jewish believers still were concerned about the kosher preparation of food and the observance of special Jewish holidays.
On the other side, some Gentiles were totally unconcerned about special days or the type of food preparation, yet they might worry about whether meat being served had been offered to idols prior to its being sold in the marketplace. If they came out of a pagan background, this would cause them special concern. There were as many potential disagreements over small matters as there were believers in the church. These could develop into impossible divisions. In this chapter, Paul counsels the Roman believers about how to maintain harmony in their very diverse church. In the process of helping the Romans, he also helps believers today maintain unity in our churches. The issues may be different today, but the principles of God’s Word still apply.
We all have our convictions. Sometimes others may wonder about them, and sometimes our convictions may be detrimental to others. Personal convictions are very important to the apostle Paul. Three chapters are devoted to this subject in 1 Corinthians (chapters 8-10) and nearly two chapters to this same subject in Romans (14:1-15:13). In the vitally important application chapters of Romans (12-15), no subject is dealt with in greater detail than our convictions concerning Christian liberties.
The Text in Context
Paul began his argument in the Book of Romans by showing all men to be sinners, deserving of God’s eternal wrath and without hope of attaining righteousness and God’s blessings by human effort (1:18–3:20). After declaring man’s sin and condemnation, Paul explained God’s way of salvation in Romans 3:21–4:25. God has provided forgiveness by sending His Son to die for our sins, bearing our punishment in our place. He offers His righteousness to us, so that we may enter into God’s presence and blessings. We cannot earn this forgiveness and righteousness; we can only receive it as a gift, by faith, by trusting in Jesus as our Savior.
As Christians, we now have hope—the hope of our future blessing and even a hope in the midst of present suffering and distress. We have this hope knowing that all the adverse effects of Adam’s sin have been overruled and overcome by Jesus Christ. Those who are “in Christ” by faith need not fear the condemnation of those who are “in Adam” (Romans 5).
Being saved by faith requires a new lifestyle. We can no longer continue to live in sin as we once did. We must die to sin and live to righteousness, for when we were joined with Christ by faith we died to sin and were raised to newness of life, in Him (Romans 6). Our good intentions do not make us holy. We are just as powerless to be righteous as Christians as we were before our salvation. Our flesh is weak and subject to sin’s power (Romans 7). Our deadness to good deeds is overcome by the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each Christian. By walking in dependence upon Him, and in obedience to God’s Word, we fulfill God’s requirements. As sons of God, we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us. He strengthens and sustains us as we continue to live in this fallen, imperfect world, assuring us of the hope of our full and final deliverance from sin and its effects (Romans 8).
God’s promises to Israel have not been forgotten or forsaken, even though many Gentiles have trusted in Christ and many Jews have rejected Him. God has faithfully preserved a remnant of believing Israelites, preserving the hope of Israel. Because the Jews refused to be a blessing for all nations by their obedience, God has used their disobedience to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. The preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles is not contrary to God’s promise to bless Israel. Rather, it serves to provoke the Jews to jealousy. When God has completed His purpose of saving many Gentiles, He will once again turn to His people, Israel, to bless them with salvation. Then He will have shown mercy to all men (Romans 9-11).
In the meantime, we are to live righteously, not out of fear but out of sincere gratitude for God’s mercy and grace. Our gratitude should be expressed by worshipful service to God. Our worship is expressed by our sacrificial service, performed through our mortal bodies, once dominated by sin and self-interest (Romans 12:1-2).
Our service is divinely empowered. The Holy Spirit has endued each and every Christian with special abilities, spiritual gifts, which we are to employ for the benefit of others.
Christians are to “walk in the Spirit” (8:4) and also to “walk in love” (see 14:15). Love motivates us to flee evil and to pursue what is good. This “good” includes not only our brother in Christ but our enemy (12:9-21). In addition to the inward motivation of love, which inclines us toward good and away from evil, we have the external influence of human government. Human government is God’s divinely ordained means for rewarding those who do good or for punishing evil-doers (13:1-7).
Love and law are not enemies. They are not opposed to each other. Love “fulfills the law” (13:8-10). Far from the worldly definitions of love, Christian love denies fleshly lusts, choosing to live now in the light of eternity (13:11-14).
Love fulfills the law, but it goes beyond the law as well. Love not only prompts us to fulfill the law, it guides and governs us in those areas of conduct not governed by law—the areas we shall call personal convictions. Romans 14:1–15:13 is Paul’s explanation of how love should govern the exercise of our Christian liberties. Where law has no guidance, love does. I have therefore chosen the title “Love and Liberty” for this section.
An Overview of Romans 14:1–15:13
I understand our text to have four major divisions (14:1-12; 14:13-23; 15:1-3; 15:4-13). The first two divisions, in chapter 14, are more negative in nature. The last two, in chapter 15, are positive. This is because love is both negative and positive in its manifestations. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10; see also 13:9). It also seeks to do what is good and “right in the sight of all men” (12:9-21).
In chapter 14, Paul focuses on the negative outworkings of love. Love does not judge others concerning their convictions in the area of Christian liberty (14:1-12). Beyond this, love prevents me from exercising what is, for me, a liberty when this would cause a weaker brother to stumble (14:13-23).
In chapter 15, the positive outworkings of love are described in relationship to Christian liberties. Those who have liberty, who are strong, will employ their strength in serving the weak and in bearing their infirmities, rather than seeking to please themselves (15:1-3). In so doing, Christian unity is practiced and preserved, thereby facilitating the harmonious praise of God (15:4-13).
Four pictures sum up the message of this vitally important section of Scripture. These pictures are like symbolic traffic signs. The first picture is a circle, with a judge’s gavel in the center and a diagonal line passing through it—No judging! The second picture is a circle with three feet in the center. One foot is tripping the other two. There is a diagonal line through this circle—No tripping! We are not to be the cause of our weaker brother’s stumbling.
The third picture is a circle with a crutch in the center. There is no diagonal line. We are to help bear up our weaker brother in his infirmity. Pleasing is required! The fourth picture is a circle with a choir in the center. The faces are those of men and women, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, all singing praises to God in unity and harmony! Harmonious praise is certain, in eternity.
Our Approach in This Lesson
The written exposition of Paul’s teaching on love and liberty will be in two parts. In this first lesson, we will consider Paul’s teaching in Romans 14; the theme of this chapter is “Liberties Love Will Not Take.” In our next lesson, we will study Romans 15:1-13 where the emphasis is positive: “What Love Will Do.”
Defining Personal Convictions
Our Romans text deals with the matter of Christian convictions. Although the term “conviction” is found only once in Romans 14 (verse 22), the expression “personal convictions” best describes the areas of difference among Christians which threaten the unity of the church at Rome. To understand Paul’s teaching in our text, we must first have a general idea of the problem he is addressing; thus we must understand what convictions are. Briefly outlined are some of the characteristics of convictions, especially as they relate to our text.
(1) Convictions are strongly held beliefs. According to Webster a conviction is, “a strong persuasion or belief.” In our text, Paul urges each of his readers to be “fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5). Convictions are beliefs which are held with conviction.
In the overall complex of our belief structure, we need to recognize the place convictions play. Consider the following spectrum or hierarchy of beliefs, as I understand them:
- Prejudices: Men are better drivers than women.
- Opinions: President Bush was right to declare war against Iraq.
- Theories: Taking vitamin C reduces one’s chance of getting sick.
- Convictions: The rapture will come before the great tribulation. As a Christian, I should not drink wine. Or, as a Christian, I am free to drink wine, in moderation.
- Knowledge or Understanding: Area = length times width.
- Biblical Doctrine or Theology: God is omniscient—He knows all.
- Biblical Principles: Whatever is not of faith is sin.
- Biblical Statements: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
- Biblical Commands: “Flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14)
(2) The convictions of which Paul speaks are behavioral beliefs. In Romans and 1 Corinthians, convictions are beliefs which govern our behavior. Convictions here are not as much a decision concerning what is true as a decision about what we should or should not do. Our convictions determine whether we will or will not eat meat, drink wine, or observe certain holidays.
(3) Convictions, by their very nature, are inferential. Convictions are not necessary concerning murder. Murder is sin. It is also against the law, whether God’s Law or man’s. Convictions are conclusions we reach when there are no hard and fast answers, no moral absolutes. Almost always, these convictions are inferential—the extension of certain beliefs we hold to be true and pertinent to a given circumstance or choice.
(4) Christian convictions do not define what is “right” and “wrong.” God’s Word defines what is right and what is wrong. Biblical revelation is not a matter of personal discretion. It is not a conviction to believe that murder is evil or that loving our enemy is good. Convictions take up where biblical revelation and human law leave off. Convictions determine what my conduct should be in those areas not specifically prescribed by Scripture. My convictions draw the line between what I will do and what I will not do as an exercise of Christian liberty.
Convictions reach the conclusions of “should” and “should not.” The question is not so much, “Can I do this or that?” but “Should I do this or that?” In Hebrews, we are told:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).
Further, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Within the category of “all things which are lawful,” there are things which do not contribute to my own spiritual life and growth or that of others. Even though I “could” do some of these things, I may decide I “should” not do them—not because they are evil, but because they do not promote what is good. I believe these decisions fall into the category of my convictions.
(5) Christian convictions are matters of conscience. Convictions are the result of the interaction of several factors. One factor is knowledge—a grasp of biblical teaching and doctrine. Another is that of conscience, our “inner umpire” which causes us to feel either guilt or moral affirmation.
However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7).
(6) Christian convictions are matters of faith. Knowledge and conscience are factors which determine our convictions. Faith also plays a vital role in our convictions. We should only practice those liberties we can do in faith. If we doubt (the opposite of faith), we are condemned by doing what our conscience does not approve.
The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:22-23).
The strength or weakness of our faith greatly influences our convictions (see Romans 14:1-2). Since this may be the measure of faith given by God, there is no indictment of those whose faith is weak nor commendation of those whose faith is strong.
(7) Christian convictions are a reflection of one’s strength or weakness. Christian convictions differ, in part, according to the strength or weakness of the individual who holds them. In Romans 14 and 15, Paul distinguishes between those who are weak in faith (14:1-2) and those who are strong (14:2; 15:1). In 1 Corinthians, Paul refers to the brother whose conscience is weak (8:7).
How is one believer weak and the other strong? How is one weak? How is another strong?” Two areas are suggested. First, one may be weak in his understanding and grasp of the gospel. Second, one may also be weak in the strength of his convictions. The brother who is weak regarding the strength of his convictions is more likely to cave in to peer pressure and to do what his faith does not endorse and his conscience condemns.
The “weaker brother,” then, is not the one who simply disagrees with what I do, or who gets upset by my freedom; the weaker brother is the one who is likely to imitate me in what I do, violating his own conscience and convictions. The weaker brother is the one more likely to sin because he gives in to another’s convictions rather than living by his own.
(8) Christian convictions concern those practices which, in and of themselves, neither contribute to our spirituality nor take away from it. Neither doing nor abstaining from the practices Paul mentions commend us before God. We are not spiritually strengthened by eating meat, but by God’s grace (Hebrews 13:9). Neither does abstinence make us more spiritual (Colossians 2:20-23). Both the legalist and the libertine tend to err here.
(9) In our text, Paul does not talk about convictions in general but of convictions concerning Christian liberties. Christian liberties are those practices the Christian is free to engage in, those practices which are not identified as sin. These are not “gray” matters, but practices God has granted us freedom to enjoy, if we can do so with a clear conscience.
(10) Christian convictions are private and personal. Convictions are those decisions about Christian liberties which each person holds and practices before God. They are private and personal. Our convictions should not be the subject of criticism or debate, nor should we seek to impose our convictions on others (see Romans 14:22 above, also 14:5-9). Nowhere does Paul seek to shape or change the convictions of another. Our convictions may change as we mature, but God is the One who achieves this in the heart of His children through the work of His Spirit.
(11) While the possession of one’s convictions is personal and private, the practice of liberties is not. The exercise of our convictions may be either beneficial or detrimental to others. Therefore, while we are urged to hold our convictions firmly, we are not urged to practice every liberty which our convictions allow.
(12) Christian convictions are necessary because of the grace of God. The grace of God has been an emphasis of Paul’s teaching in Romans. Opposed to the principle of grace is that of works or legalism. Legalism has a rule for every occasion. A study of Judaism in the time of our Lord reveals how the Judaizers distorted the Old Testament Law so that, interpreted and applied by them, the Law became nothing but an intricate system of rules. No decisions had to be made about what was right or wrong; for virtually any situation, there was a rule.
Grace is different. Righteousness is not a matter of external rules nor even of external compliance to them (see Luke 16:15). Grace starts with the heart (see also, Mark 7:14-23). Grace first motivates men to obey God. Grace gives men choices to make out of a desire to please God. Paul would have had no need to write the text we are studying were it not for the grace of God.
No Judging (14:1-12)
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.” So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Verse 1 clearly lays down the point of the paragraph. The weaker brother is to be welcomed into the fellowship of the saints, but not so that he might be harassed about his personal convictions.
In this chapter Paul is dealing with what may have been a temporary and local problem in the Roman Church, but is also one continually confronting the Church and always demanding solution. In the Church at Rome there were apparently two lines of thought. There were some who believed that in Christian liberty the old tabus were gone; they believed that the old food laws were now irrelevant; they believed that Christianity did not consist in the special observance of any one day or days. Paul makes it clear that this in fact is the standpoint of real Christian faith. On the other hand, there were those who were full of scruples; they believed that it was wrong to eat meat; they believed in the rigid observance of the Sabbath tyranny. Paul calls the ultra-scrupulous man the man who is weak in the faith. What does he mean by that?
Such a man is weak in the faith for two reasons.
(i) He has not yet discovered the meaning of Christian freedom; he is at heart still a legalist and sees Christianity as a thing of rules and regulations.
(ii) He has not yet liberated himself from a belief in the efficacy of works. In his heart he believes that he can gain God’s favour by doing certain things and abstaining from others. Basically he is still trying to earn a right relationship with God, and has not yet accepted the way of grace, still thinking more of what he can do for God than of what God has done for him.
Paul bids the stronger brethren to welcome such a person and not to besiege him with continual criticisms.
This problem is not confined to the days of Paul. To this day in the Church there are two points of view. There is the more liberal which sees no harm in many things and is well content that many an innocent pleasure should go on within the Church. And there is the narrower point of view, which is offended at many things in which the liberal person sees no harm.
Paul’s sympathies are all with the broader point of view; but, at the same time, he says that when one of these weaker brethren comes into the Church he must be received with brotherly sympathy. When we are confronted with someone who holds the narrower view there are three attitudes we must avoid.
(i) We must avoid irritation. An impatient annoyance with such a person gets us nowhere. However much we may disagree, we must try to see the other person’s point of view and to understand it.
(ii) We must avoid ridicule. No man remains unwounded when that which he thinks precious is laughed at. It is no small sin to laugh at another man’s beliefs. They may seem prejudices rather than beliefs; but no man has a right to laugh at what some other holds sacred. In any event, laughter will never woo the other man to a wider view; it will only make him withdraw still more determinedly into his rigidity.
(iii) We must avoid contempt. It is very wrong to regard the narrower person as an old-fashioned fool whose views may be treated with contempt. A man’s views are his own and must be treated with respect. It is not even possible to win a man over to our position unless we have a genuine respect for his. Of all attitudes towards our fellow man the most unchristian is contempt.
Before we leave this verse, it should be noted that there is another perfectly possible translation. “Welcome the man who is weak in the faith, but do not introduce him straight away to the discussion of questions which can only raise doubts.” There are some people whose faith is so strong that no amount of debate and questioning will really shake it. But there are others who have a simple faith which is only needlessly disturbed by clever discussion.
It may well be that our own age is overfond of discussion for discussion’s sake. It is fatal to give the impression that Christianity consists of nothing but a series of questions under debate. “We have found,” said G. K. Chesterton, “all the questions that can be found. It is time we stopped looking for questions and started looking for answers.” “Tell me of your certainties,” said Goethe, “I have doubts enough of my own.” There is one good rule which should guide the progress of any discussion, even if it has been a bewildered discussion, and even if it has been discussing questions to which there is no real answer, it should always finish with an affirmation. There may be many questions left unanswered, but there must be some certainty left unshaken.
14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak.NIV The key word is accept (proslambanesthe), which also means “receive” or “welcome.” Believers in the church in Rome came from a wide variety of backgrounds. As we’ve already seen, the major differences were between Jewish believers and Gentile believers. But there were other differences. Some believers were slaves, some were masters; some were wealthy, most were poor. In addition, they were all at different stages of spiritual maturity. Growing in the spirit is like growing physically—everyone grows at different rates as God works in each life. So the first instruction Paul gives the church is to accept, welcome, and love one
|another without judging or condemning—no matter how weak, immature, or unlearned someone’s faith may seem. Acceptance creates room for growth to continue; rejection stunts growth.||In things necessary, unity; in things not necessary, liberty; in all things grace.
Who is weak in faith, and who is strong? Every believer is weak in some areas and strong in others. A person’s faith is strong in an area if he or she can survive contact with sinners without falling into their patterns. The person’s faith is weak in an area if that individual must avoid certain activities, people, or places in order to protect his or her spiritual life.
Without passing judgment on disputable matters.NIV This statement assumes that the church will contain differences of opinion (disputable matters, scruples). These kind of disputes are not about doctrines essential to salvation, but are discussions about differences of life-style. Paul says we are not to quarrel about issues that are matters of opinion. Differences should not be feared or avoided, but accepted and handled with love. We shouldn’t expect everyone, even in the best church, to agree on every subject. Through sharing ideas we can come to a fuller understanding of what the Bible teaches. Our basic approach should be to accept, listen to, and respect others. Differences of opinion need not cause division. They can be a source of learning and richness in our relationships.
|It is important to take self-inventory in order to find out our strengths and weaknesses. Whenever in doubt, we should ask, “Can I do that without sinning? Can I influence others for good, rather than being influenced by them?” But self-inventory alone is not enough. We also need the kind of intimate spiritual relationships with at least a few other believers whom we know will accept us while telling us the truth about the strengths and weaknesses they see in us. In areas of strength, believers should not fear being defiled by the world; rather, we should go and serve God. In areas of weakness, believers need to be cautious.|
We must keep several things in mind as we consider this command.
(1) Paul is speaking to Christians about their relationship to other Christians.
(2) Paul is speaking about personal convictions concerning Christian liberties.
(3) The strong believers have more faith and a greater grasp of grace and Christian liberty. Those who are weak are weak in faith and therefore fail to grasp the full implications of the work of Christ. The weaker saints are inclined to be legalistic. The weaker saints tend to be those who think they cannot do what God’s Word allows.
(4) While the strong and the weak differ over their convictions, both are tempted to think too highly of themselves, looking down upon their brother and passing judgment on his convictions.
(5) Differences in their convictions concerning Christian liberty seems to have created strife and dissension in the church. There seems to be a problem of disunity at Rome, as is evident elsewhere as well, such as in Corinth. Corinth, you will recall, is the city from which Romans was penned.
(6) While differences in personal convictions should never cause Christians to separate from one another, there are a few good reasons for separation. There are times when Christians are to exclude professing Christians from fellowship. Church discipline, due to persistent, willful sin, divisiveness, or false teaching is one such time (see Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Titus 3:9-11; 2 John 7-11). Paul himself calls for separation from those who would call themselves Christians in his closing words in this Epistle to the Romans:
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting (Romans 16:17-18).
When it comes to differences in convictions, Paul would have us know this is not an acceptable basis for excluding a brother from fellowship.
Paul provides two illustrations of differing convictions in verses 1-12 of chapter 14: eating meat (14:2) and the observance of certain holidays (14:5). The meat-eater is the stronger believer while the vegetarian is weaker. Both the strong and the weak are tempted to sin against their brother. The danger for the strong believer is to look upon his weaker brother with contempt: “How could he be so shallow in his grasp of God’s grace and of Christian liberty?” The weaker brother stands in danger of condemning his stronger brother for his liberty in Christ: “How could he be so liberal? Does he not believe in separation?”
Both of these brothers, the strong and the weak, are represented as judging the other. Both are looking down on each other, while at the same time thinking too highly of themselves. Paul offers several reasons why judging our brother concerning his convictions is evil.
First, judging a brother because of his convictions is an offense against God. Judging is wrong because it takes God’s place as the One who is each man’s judge: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls” (14:4). It is also wrong because the man who judges sets himself above God’s Law. Convictions deal with those freedoms which the Law allows. Thus, in judging a man’s convictions, we become judges of the Law, setting standards even the Law refuses to establish (see James 4:11).
In this context, judging our brother goes even further. It either ignores God’s verdict or sets it aside. God, the Judge of all mankind, has accepted every person who comes to Him by faith in Christ. When we refuse to accept a fellow-believer, one whom God has accepted, we act contrary to God Himself. How dare we refuse to accept one whom He has accepted?
God’s acceptance goes beyond this. He who began the good work is also He who will complete it (Philippians 1:6). When we pronounce judgment on a fellow-believer, we are pronouncing his downfall. Paul reminds us that he will surely stand, “for the Lord is able to make him stand” (14:4). Judging our brother concerning his convictions is a most serious error on our part, an act of rebellion against God and His gospel. While the matter over which we differ may be insignificant, the manner in which we differ, judging, is most significant.
Second, judging our brother is wrong because we are distracted from paying attention to our own convictions and conduct before God. In verses 3 and 4, Paul focuses on our sin in judging a fellow-believer, showing that it is not our role to serve as our brother’s judge, but God’s. Now in verses 5-12, Paul places the spotlight where it should be—on our own convictions, not our brother’s. Tending to our brother’s business causes us to neglect our own. Paul clearly teaches us here to mind our own business.
“Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind,” Paul urges. After citing his second example of differing convictions in the first half of verse 5, Paul now urges each Christian to expend his energy in considering his own convictions, rather than those of his brother. If convictions are not a legitimate matter for public scrutiny and debate, they are a most important consideration in our personal walk with God. Convictions are private matters, between each Christian and his God, whether one exercises a liberty or refrains from it:
He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (14:6-8, emphasis mine).
Nothing could be more clear or more emphatic: convictions are not a matter of public scrutiny and debate; they are a private matter between each believer and God. The important thing is not whether we do or do not practice a given liberty, but whether in exercising or refraining from our liberty we do so as to the Lord.
With these words, Paul redirects our focus. Cease from judging your brother, and concentrate on examining yourself. Jesus is Lord, Lord of both “the dead and of the living” (14:9). Whether by living or by dying, we should do so as to the Lord. Paul was not speaking in purely theoretical terms. Shortly, he would be informed that going to Jerusalem would mean “bonds and afflictions” for him (see Acts 20:22-24). Later, when Paul was imprisoned and awaiting the outcome of his trial before Caesar, death was a very real possibility. Listen to Paul’s words to the Philippians which exemplify the attitude he calls for in our text in Romans:
For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:19-21).
Why this emphasis on life and death, living and dying (see verses 7-9)? Because this makes Paul’s teaching all-encompassing. Life and death circumscribe the whole of life—nothing lies outside these boundaries. Therefore, nothing we do, or choose not to do, lies outside the realm of our service to God.
Further, I am not convinced that when Paul speaks of “living” and “dying” his words are intended to be restricted to literal life and death. Paul has made much of our death to sin, in Christ, and our new way of life as Christians, in Him (see Romans 6). The deeds of the flesh must be mortified, put to death, and we must live so as to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (see Romans 13:11-14).
Judging our brother in the matter of his personal convictions is wrong. It condemns the one God has justified; it refuses to receive the one God has accepted; it doubts the survival and sanctification of a brother whose ultimate standing has been accomplished and assured by God. Yet one more blow must be struck against a judgmental spirit in the church stemming from differing convictions. This blow is dealt in verses 10-12: we who would judge a brother should not overlook that full and final judgment comes when each of us stands before God, where we must give account for our own convictions and conduct.
Paul rebukes both the “strong” and the “weak” in verse 10 for judging his brother. The “strong” looks on the “weak” with contempt. The “weak” condemns the “strong” for the exercise of liberties he cannot accept. Both need to be reminded that God is the Judge, and before Him each of us will stand and give account.
Isaiah 45:23 is cited in verse 11. To those familiar with Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (Philippians 2:10-11), these words are not new. They are a solemn reminder of the account each of us must give to God for our attitudes and actions. How could we be so preoccupied with judging others, which is not our task or calling, when we will all have to stand before God as our judge? Since we must each give account of ourselves, let us take heed to our own convictions, and cease judging our brother.
No Tripping 14:2 Some believe in eating anything.NRSV Eating anything may refer to freedom from certain Jewish dietary restrictions. When Jews became Christians, many still would be concerned about the proper preparation of food according to their laws. Such restrictions made it impossible for Jewish and Gentile believers to even sit down at a meal together. On the other side, meat that had been offered to idols could pose a problem for Gentile believers—not to mention Jewish Christians.
|While the weak eat only vegetables.nrsv The person weaker in the faith eats only vegetables and refuses to eat meat for fear that it had been improperly prepared or that it had been offered to idols.||It is foolish to judge those who will be judged by Christ. But also be careful in order that you who judge may not be judged yourself by God.
How could Christians end up eating meat that had been offered to idols? An ancient sacrificial system was at the center of religious, social, and domestic life in the Roman world. After a sacrifice was presented to a god in a pagan temple, only part of it was burned. Often the remainder was sent to the market to be sold. Thus a Christian might easily, even unknowingly, buy such meat in the marketplace or eat it at the home of a friend. Should a Christian question the source of his meat?
Some thought there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been offered to idols because idols were worthless and phony. Others carefully checked the source of their meat or gave up meat altogether to avoid a guilty conscience. This problem was especially acute for Christians who had once been idol worshipers. For them, such a strong reminder of their former paganism might weaken their newfound faith (see also 1 Corinthians 8).
Paul is speaking about immature faith that has not yet developed the strength it needs to stand against external pressures. For example, if a person who once worshiped idols were to become a Christian, he might understand perfectly well that Christ saved him through faith and that idols have no real power. Still, because of his past associations, he might be badly shaken if he knowingly ate meat that had been used as part of a pagan ritual. The same would be true for a Jew whose strict observance to the law would cause him to be concerned about the preparation of the meat.
|It was very difficult for Jews to get kosher meat (from animals killed under the supervision of a rabbi), so many Jews chose to eat only vegetables. Jewish Christians had an additional problem: it was nearly impossible to tell whether meat had come from animals sacrificed to idols (and was later sold in the common meat market). So they ate vegetables to avoid the problem. For some Jews, strict adherence had become a badge portraying loyalty to Judaism. We should not take elements of conduct beyond the scope of Scripture and make them badges of loyalty to Christianity. To do so would be to create a new legalism.|
14:3 Must not look down on . . . must not condemn.NIV When believers differ over scruples or matters of opinion, they should not look down on or condemn each other. The Greek for look down on means “despise” (see nrsv) or “reject with contempt.” The stronger one faces the temptation to despise the weaker brother or sister. The weaker one is in danger of condemning the stronger brother or sister. Neither attitude is acceptable. Believers should not despise or condemn, because God does not; instead, God has accepted them both. (The Greek word for accepted here is the same word used in verse 1, where Paul explains what we must do.) They all need to remember, first of all, their corporate status as believers, forgiven and saved by God. God accepts people who some of us might feel are unacceptable because of their beliefs or practices.
Paul responds to both brothers in love. Both are acting according to their consciences, but their honest scruples do not need to be made into rules for the church. Our principle should be: In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in everything, love.
14:4 Who are you to judge?NKJV Every believer will be judged by God alone (14:10); therefore, believers have no right to judge one another. Each believer is someone else’s servantNIV—that is, God’s servant. And before God, he or she stands or falls.NKJV Each person is accountable to Christ, not to others (see also Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:37, 41-42; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). While the church must be uncompromising in its stand against activities that are expressly forbidden by Scripture (such as adultery, homosexuality, murder, theft), it should not create additional rules and regulations and give them equal standing with God’s law. Often Christians base their moral judgments on opinion, personal dislikes, or cultural bias, rather than on the Word of God. When they do this, they show that their own faith is weak, and they demonstrate that they do
|not think God is powerful enough to guide each of his children. When we stand before God’s judgment seat (14:10), we won’t be worried about what our Christian neighbor has done (see 2 Corinthians 5:10).||A Christian is a most free lord of all, subject to none . . . A Christian is a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
He will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.NIV No matter what one believer thinks of another believer’s scruples in some matters, the Lord, as Judge, will defend each person. What matters is each believer’s individual accountability before God.
14:5 One person esteems one day above another.NKJV For Jews, this would have probably been the Sabbath; for Christians, the Lord’s day (Sunday). The believers had differing opinions about the sacredness of certain days. For example, if a Jew who once worshiped God on the required Jewish holy days were to become a Christian, he might well know that Christ saved him through faith, not through his keeping of the law. Still, when the feast days came, he might feel empty and unfaithful if he didn’t dedicate those days to God. Other believers might not have any concern about that and might consider every day alikeNKJV—in other words, every day is holy to the Lord. (See also Colossians 2:16-17.)
The position of each is no matter to Paul, but he does add that each one should be fully convinced in his own mindNIV—through prayer and careful thought examining whether that action is what he or she believes God wants him or her to do. People must decide for themselves before God and be convinced of the rightness of their position, even if it means disagreeing with other believers. Believers can disagree on some points and can still be acceptable to God.
14:6 Does so to the Lord.NIV This puts limits on what is acceptable and not acceptable. When it comes to differences of opinion between believers on matters of conscience, each believer should respond to the Lord, doing as his or her conscience dictates. It is his or her own personal conscience and accountability to God that matters, not what everyone else thinks. Acceptability should be defined by what we determine God is saying. God desires obedience, and the range of what obedience requires varies greatly in matters of tradition, ritual, or conduct.
This great principle of freedom should guide us: we are to dedicate our actions, attitudes, and habits to the Lord. The questions that others ask us about our convictions should cause us to ask, “Am I doing this out of respect for God?” Jesus repeatedly confronted the extreme religious observance of the Sabbath in his day. “Remembering the Sabbath” had become a tool of religious tyranny. Jesus did not legislate the details or method for keeping the Sabbath. He was concerned for the attitude of keeping the Sabbath in its proper place as a gift from God for the rest and spiritual renewal of people (Mark 2:23-28).
14:7 We do not live to ourselves.NRSV We do not live in a vacuum; everything we do affects others. We need to consider our responsibility to others. We can demand freedom for ourselves, but we must also allow other believers that same freedom. If demonstrating our freedom causes us to act in an uncaring, hurtful way towards other believers, we are not yet free.
14:8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.NIV Our lives are ultimately for Christ alone. Our entire life, from beginning to end, belongs to the Lord. We live to him and die to him. Our relationship with the Lord is more important than life or death, and life and death are more important than religious observances. So all our discussions must never interfere with our relationship to Christ, who is our Lord.
Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.NIV It is the Lord’s judgment that matters. With respect to the way we treat other believers, we ought to consider the question, “Am I treating people as though they also belong to the Lord?”
14:9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life.NIV Christ died to free us and to deliver us from judgment. He alone is our judge. For any believer to claim to have the authority to tell others how they should think or act in matters of opinion is to usurp the position that Christ alone holds.
14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?NRSV Believers are not to judge one another, because all of us will be judged by Christ. We will all stand before God’s judgment seat (niv) to give an accounting of our actions. This is not where God judges the eternal destiny of all people, but where believers’ lives will be judged for what they have done (see also Matthew 12:36; 1 Peter 4:5).
|Jesus has been given the authority to judge all the earth. Although his judgment is already working in our lives, there will be a future, final judgment when Christ returns (Matthew 25:31-46) and everyone’s life is reviewed and evaluated. This will not be confined to unbelievers; Christians, too, will face a judgment. Their eternal destiny is secure, but Jesus will look at how they handled gifts, opportunities, and responsibilities in order to determine their heavenly rewards. On judgment day, God will deliver the righteous and condemn the wicked. But it is not for us to judge others’ salvation; that is God’s work.|
14:11 It is written. Quoting from Isaiah 45:23, Paul explains that a time of judgment will come. Isaiah referred to the day when all the nations (or Gentiles) would bow before God. It was God’s original intention to bring all the peoples to himself through Abraham, but the Jews had discarded God’s message to the Gentiles. We must never participate in rejecting those whom God has accepted. We must be convinced that we will be held responsible for our own lives before God. Each person will give an account for himself or herself (14:12; Matthew 12:36). We are to confront one another in love, concern, and truth, but not in judgment.
14:12 Each of us will be accountable to God.NRSV Each believer will answer for himself or herself alone. Each of us will have enough to explain without also adding condemning or mocking attitudes toward other believers. We need each other, so we simply cannot afford to be undercutting each other. If anything, we ought to be busy helping ourselves and our fellow believers so that we can give a good account of ourselves to God. In the front lines of a battle, all the soldiers on your side look good.
14:13 Stop passing judgment.NIV Believers are to not judge one another regarding their convictions on matters of opinion. Here Paul directs his words to the “strong” believers, explaining that they need to be sensitive about how their convictions affect other believers. Each believer, though free to have his or her own convictions, must also be careful that those convictions don’t hinder the spiritual growth of other believers. And if they do, then those freedoms must be reevaluated.
|Not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.niv Both “strong” and “weak” Christians can cause their brothers and sisters to stumble. A stumbling block or obstacle refers to something that might cause someone to trip or fall into sin. The strong but insensitive Christian may flaunt his or her||Scruples . . . serve as purgatives—very active ones sometimes—to a soul which has just risen from sin. They are useful to him for some time, and inspire him with fear and aversion as regards even the shadow of sin.
freedom, be a harmful example, and thus offend others’ consciences. The scrupulous but weak Christian may try to fence others in with petty rules and regulations, thus causing dissension. Paul wants his readers to be both strong in the faith and sensitive to others’ needs. Because we are all strong in certain areas and weak in others, we constantly need to monitor the effects of our behavior on others (see also 1 Corinthians 8:9).
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 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 man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Verse 13 brings a distinct shift in focus. In verses 1-12, Paul calls for Christians to give up pronouncing judgment on the convictions of their brother, because such judgment is wrong. In verses 13-23, he calls for the obedient Christian to give up the practice of any liberty which would be detrimental to a brother. Paul thus moves from “no judging” to “no tripping.”
How Love Responds to a Weaker Brother (14:13-18)
14:13 Stop passing judgment.NIV Believers are to not judge one another regarding their convictions on matters of opinion. Here Paul directs his words to the “strong” believers, explaining that they need to be sensitive about how their convictions affect other believers. Each believer, though free to have his or her own convictions, must also be careful that those convictions don’t hinder the spiritual growth of other believers. And if they do, then those freedoms must be reevaluated.
|Not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.niv Both “strong” and “weak” Christians can cause their brothers and sisters to stumble. A stumbling block or obstacle refers to something that might cause someone to trip or fall into sin. The strong but insensitive Christian may flaunt his or her||Scruples . . . serve as purgatives—very active ones sometimes—to a soul which has just risen from sin. They are useful to him for some time, and inspire him with fear and aversion as regards even the shadow of sin.
freedom, be a harmful example, and thus offend others’ consciences. The scrupulous but weak Christian may try to fence others in with petty rules and regulations, thus causing dissension. Paul wants his readers to be both strong in the faith and sensitive to others’ needs. Because we are all strong in certain areas and weak in others, we constantly need to monitor the effects of our behavior on others (see also 1 Corinthians 8:9).
14:14 No food is unclean in itself.NIV Referring back to the issue of food (14:2-3, 6), Paul states his own conviction. But not all believers felt the same way. At the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), for example, the Jewish church in Jerusalem asked the Gentile church in Antioch not to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul accepted this request, not because he felt that eating such meat was wrong in itself, but because this practice would deeply offend many Jewish believers. Paul did not think the issue was worth dividing the church over; his desire was to promote unity. So, he concludes, it is unclean for anyone who thinks it uncleanNRSV (see also Mark 7:14-23). Paul’s practice was to honor, as far as possible, the convictions of others.
Believers are called to accept one another without judging our varied opinions. However, when the situation has to be faced, how should we deal with those who disagree with us? Paul’s response is that all believers should act in love so as to maintain peace in the church.
14:15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.NIV If one believer has no scruples about where meat comes from or how it is prepared, but flaunts his or her belief in order to cause one who is concerned to be distressed, then the stronger individual is not acting in love. The conduct of stronger believers is not to be decided by what they feel is their better insight into the Scriptures, or what they feel would “strengthen!’ those weaker ones. Rather, it is to be decided by love and sensitivity.
Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. The stronger believer must not let what he or she wants to do, when it is a minor matter such as whether to eat meat or not, become a stumbling block that could destroy a weaker brother or sister. The Greek verb apollue often means “to bring about destruction.” It could also mean a “ruin” of one’s conscience if the weaker believer goes against his or her scruples. We are to act in love. That other person, no matter how much we may disagree with him or her, is still someone for whom Christ died.. If Christ gave his life for that person, surely no believer has the option to ruin him or her because of food!
Mature Christians shouldn’t flaunt their freedom. They should be sensitive to younger converts whose faith can be destroyed by such freedom. For example, a young Christian addicted to gambling may be damaged by our freedom to play cards. Some activities may be alright in and of themselves, but not around weaker new converts.
14:16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.NIV When believers persist in flaunting their freedom in certain areas, this could result in that very freedom being slandered because of their unloving attitude. This has no place in Christian congregations and would be a poor advertisement of Christianity to unbelievers.
This verse also indicates that honesty must be part of our communication with other believers. Convictions are our feelings about actions that we consider good. Whether abstaining from meat or enjoying meat, both parties were free to speak their mind. But they were not to insist theirs was the only possible exercise of freedom. In disputable matters, believers are free to partake or abstain.
14:17 The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking.NIV After all, says Paul, if we let those little scruples become major points of contention, we have forgotten what the kingdom of God is all about. It has nothing to do with what we eat or drink (Matthew 6:31, 33). Instead, it is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Arguing over scruples does not contribute to righteousness (a right relationship with God), peace (unity with fellow Christians), or joy (spiritual contentment) in the churches. The believers need to concern themselves with doing what is right in the essentials, maintaining harmony, and sharing God’s joy, not in forcing their scruples and life-styles on others.
14:18 Anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.NIV Those who serve Christ by doing right before God, maintaining peace among the believers, and sharing joy with others are the ones who will accomplish the acceptable service to Christ—they will please both God and people.
Paul begins verse 13 by underscoring the main thrust of the first 12 verses. Stop judging your brother. Ceasing from this practice is not enough. Paul presses his reader to replace this detrimental practice with a beneficial one. We are to “determine not to put an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother’s way.”
We dare not contribute to the downfall of a brother in Christ. What does Paul mean by “putting an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (verse 13)? He means we are not to exercise any liberty which encourages a weaker Christian to sin by following our example and thereby violating his own conscience.
Paul has chosen his words carefully, and rightly so. Some Christians may disagree with our convictions. They may very well be upset that we have acted as we have. But unless these Christians are so weak that they follow our example, and thus violate their own convictions, they are not the “weaker brother” to whom Paul is referring. If I am fully convinced it is right to eat meat, and I do so in front of some believers, they might be upset by my actions, but they will not do as I have done. A weaker brother is one who thinks it is wrong to eat meat, but who does so because he has seen me do so, thus violating his own convictions. When the exercise of my liberty causes a weaker brother to stumble, I have sinned in exercising my liberty, even though it is consistent with my own convictions.
In verse 14 Paul pauses to clarify why the exercise of my Christian liberty is sinful for me if it causes a brother to stumble. It is not because of any uncleanness in the act itself. Christian liberties are clean. There is no defilement in their exercise. But to the one whose conscience forbids the practice of a certain liberty, this practice becomes evil. It becomes evil only because he thinks it is evil, and thus it is something he cannot do in faith.
Be sure to note that what Paul says one way, he does not reverse. If we think a certain matter of liberty is wrong, then for us it is wrong—because we cannot do so in faith. Merely thinking something is right does not make it right. Committing adultery is always wrong, no matter whether I think it is right or not. Thinking something is right does not make it right, but thinking something is wrong does make it wrong, for me.
In verse 15, Paul lays down two powerful arguments which support his teaching that one should surrender any liberty when it harms a brother. Two standards are set down to govern our conduct. The first is the standard of love. Love, as Paul has already said, “does no wrong to a neighbor” (13:10). Walking in love does not allow me to harm my brother by letting my liberty be the cause of his stumbling.
The second standard is that set by our Lord Himself at Calvary: We dare not allow our liberty to destroy a brother whom Christ died to save. Paul sets before us the dramatic contrast between the outcome of our self-indulgence and that of Christ’s ultimate self-sacrifice. By demanding to exercise my liberty to eat meat, I could destroy a brother. My brother could be destroyed by my self-indulgence, by my eating one T-bone steak. How could I even conceive of exercising this liberty when my Lord gave His very life, His all, on the cross of Calvary to save my brother—and me! If Christ gave His all to save my brother, surely I can sacrifice eating meat, so as not to destroy him.
Verses 16-18 sum up the essence of the matter. What is “good” for me should not bring about “evil” for another (verse 16). Eating meat, or not eating it, is not where true life is for the Christian. For the unbeliever, who has no hope for eternity, life consists of “eating, drinking, and being merry” (1 Corinthians 15:32). For the Christian, “the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (verse 17). In the light of these blessings, whether or not there is meat on our plate should be seen as a matter of no great gain or loss.
Love does not take liberties; it surrenders them for the benefit of a brother. To surrender a liberty for the benefit of a brother is to serve the Lord and to gain approval by men (see also Romans 12:17). Surrendering our liberties offers each of us great benefit for ourselves and for others, at very little cost. Demanding our liberties threatens great damage and promises little benefit to us. Surrendering our liberty is a great investment; spending them is a dangerous form of self-indulgence.
From Principle to Practice (14:19-23)
So then let us 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 man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Paul shifts gears in the transitional verses of 19-23 and moves from a negative to a positive emphasis. He moves from what we should stop doing to what we should pursue. We must stop judging one another (verses 1-12), and cease from exercising any liberty which causes your brother to stumble (verses 13-23). Instead, we should “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (verse 19). Pursue those things which promote the kingdom of God, and put aside those things which hinder it.
14:19 Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.NKJV Christian fellowship should be characterized by peace and building up one another (see also 1 Thessalonians 5:11). False believers and immature Christians have been known to use the “weaker brother argument” to support their own opinions, prejudices, or standards. “You must live by these standards,” they say, “or you will be offending the weaker brother.” In truth, the person would often be offending no one but the speaker. While Paul urges us to be sensitive to those whose faith may be harmed by our actions, we should not sacrifice our liberty in Christ just to satisfy the selfish motives of those who are trying to force their opinions on us. Strong believers need not judge their own liberty by the troubled consciences of the weak. Each believer is to follow Christ.
14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.NKJV Food and our feelings about it, or any scruples that are not specifically condemned in scripture, are not worth arguing about, flaunting, or judging—these should never be allowed to tear down other believers or tear apart the church.
It is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat.NRSV It is wrong for one believer to insist on his or her freedom when it causes others’ faith to falter. If it causes someone else to fall, then put it aside for the other’s sake. Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth: “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others . . . So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31-32 niv).
|Sin is not just a private matter. Everything we do affects others, and we have to consider the impact of what we do. God created us to be interdependent, not independent. We who are strong in our faith must, without pride or condescension, treat others with love, patience, and self-restraint. Nothing like food should be so important to us that we insist on having it even at the risk of harming another.|
The matter of personal convictions among believers is sometimes complicated by the variety of audiences who watch our behavior. An example of this can be seen in the life of Eric Liddell, who died while interned in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. He was a missionary in China when he was taken captive.
In his earlier years Eric demonstrated an unusual ability to run. He was a world-class sprinter in the longer distances. He postponed his intended departure for China for what he saw as an immediate opportunity to serve God in some way by representing the British empire in the 1924 Olympics. When Eric discovered that the qualifying heat for the 100 meters (his speciality) was scheduled for Sunday, he withdrew because of his personal convictions. He was forced to weigh the effect that ignoring his convictions could have on many believers who were watching him against the effect of disappointing multitudes of his countrymen whose hopes for victory were riding on him. He held to his convictions, was replaced by another runner, and eventually ran in a longer race that did not involve the same complication. Eric won that race, much to the delight of everyone.
But even that second opportunity was not as valuable as the indelible lesson he demonstrated to the world about the importance of having convictions and standing firmly by them.
14:21 Better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.NIV Paul followed his own advice, for he had told the Corinthians, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13 niv). Truly strong believers can restrict their freedoms for the sake of others.
14:22 Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.NIV In those areas of disagreement, Paul counsels the believers to keep their beliefs between themselves and God. The brother or sister who believes in certain freedoms should not be trying to influence others with scruples to “loosen up.” Those bothered by some actions should not be judging or condemning those with freedom, nor should they be trying to force their scruples on the entire church. Instead all believers should seek a clear conscience before God. The believer who does so is blessed (niv) and does not condemn himself in what he approves.NKJV This person has a good, but not insensitive, conscience.
14:23 Those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith.NRSV If a believer does something that he or she is not sure is right or wrong, that action will bring condemnation.
Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.NRSV We try to steer clear of actions forbidden by Scripture, of course, but sometimes Scripture is silent. Then we should follow our conscience. To go against a conviction will leave a person with a guilty or uneasy conscience. When God shows us that something is wrong for us, we should avoid it. But we should not look down on other Christians who exercise their freedom in those areas.
Christians are in the building business—not in the demolition business. Judging others and demanding the right to exercise our liberty, regardless of its affect on others, tears others down. In the abstract, all things are clean for the one whose faith is strong and whose conscience is clean concerning their exercise. Yet these “good” things become “evil” for the strong if and when they cause another to stumble.
How quickly and easily sin corrupts! For those who are strong in their faith, every Christian liberty is clean. But the moment my “good” causes “evil” for another, it becomes evil for me also. Any liberty I exercise at the expense of a brother becomes a sin for me (verse 20). Therefore, it is “not good” for me to exercise any liberty (here, Paul illustrates with eating meat and drinking wine) by which my brother stumbles (verse 21).
The strong Christian then is left with two principle concerns. He must first be certain of his own convictions. The first danger is that he might exercise a liberty to the detriment of a weaker brother (verse 21). The second danger is that he might be tempted to approve that which God does not—to press his liberty too far. To him, Paul says, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (verse 22).
The weaker Christian is left with one exhortation: “Don’t act out of doubt, but only out of faith.” The principle governing his actions is simple: “Whatever is not from faith is sin” (verse 23). Doubt is the opposite of faith. Actions which proceed from doubt are not of faith, and thus are sin.
The willful weak? Who is that? It is the person who has had adequate time (often months or even years) to realie that something is now wrong to God and they can leave their ‘strong stance’ that causes them to have the weak conscience. The sad thing? They choose to remain weak on some issues that have become ‘hobby issues’ to them, often to manipulate others to ‘agree with them.’ The choose to remain weak when they have all the information they want to become stronger.
Let us reflect on some important principles Paul has underscored in this passage of Scripture as we conclude this lesson.
(1) Convictions concerning Christian liberties are necessary and important. For the sake of conscience, and for the sake of our walk before God, we need to carefully consider our convictions. In Paul’s words, we need to be “fully convinced in our own mind” (verse 5). We need to be careful that we do not approve that which God does not approve (verse 22). Each of us will stand before God and give account of our lives. One thing for which we will give account is our convictions and how we have lived by them.
(2) We need to recognize our convictions as convictions. Convictions should be beliefs we have thought through carefully and hold firmly. As strongly as we may hold them, true convictions are not the test of true piety. And the convictions which we hold are not the fundamentals of our faith. Rather, they are the outworking, the implications, of our faith. We dare not confuse convictions with truth, with God’s commands, or with fundamentals of the faith.
(3) We must recognize that our convictions are a private matter, between us and God. The convictions which we hold are to be held privately. We are not to seek to impose them on others. Neither are we to judge a brother regarding his convictions. “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God” (Romans 14:22).
(4) We must also recognize that the exercise of our convictions is a public matter, between us, others, and God. The convictions we hold are a matter between us and God. The practice of those liberties which our convictions allow are not private, but public. My practice sets a precedent and an example for others. Those who are weak in faith may be influenced by my example and encouraged to violate their own convictions by doing that which their conscience condemns. Thus, while the convictions I hold are a private matter, the convictions I practice are not. I am therefore free to believe as my faith and my conscience dictate, concerning Christian liberties. But I am not free to behave only in accordance with my faith and conscience. My behavior is governed by love as I consider the effect my conduct will have on others, and as I surrender my liberties for the good of my brother.
(5) In our text, Christian love is defined in a way that is distinct from the “love” of those who do not know Jesus Christ. How vastly different Christian love is from all other “loves.” Christian love does not take liberties when doing so is detrimental to others. Christian love surrenders liberties, for the good of others. Christian love does not indulge the flesh, but denies fleshly desires and appetites (such as the desire for meat, or wine) when the enjoyment of such things comes at the expense of others. How different Christian love is from the “love” of this world, which seeks pleasure at the expense of another and knows nothing of self-control and self-sacrifice.
May each of us give serious thought to our convictions. May we each be fully convinced in our own minds. And may the practice or setting aside of our Christian liberties be done as to the Lord.
The Unity of Strong and Weak Christians–part 1: Receive One Another with Understanding (Romans 14:1-12)
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. (14:1-12)
A major theme of the New Testament is that of sin’s power to destroy the spiritual and moral health of the church as well as of the individuals who commit the sins. The epistles are filled with commands and injunctions regarding the need to continually eradicate sin in the church. That is the purpose of both church discipline and self-discipline. Regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper not only helps us remember Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf but is a time for each Christian to “examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:28), to take stock of his life and to confess, renounce, and ask forgiveness for his sin.
Jesus commanded, “If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer” (Matt. 18:15-17).
Paul gave similar counsel to the church at Corinth regarding self-discipline: “Clean out the old leaven [of sin], that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:7-8). In his second letter to that church he pled, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
But outright sin is not the only danger to a church’s spiritual health and unity. Although they are not sin in themselves, certain attitudes and behavior can destroy fellowship and fruitfulness and have crippled the work, the witness, and the unity of countless congregations throughout church history. These problems are caused by differences between Christians over matters that are neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. They are matters of personal preference and historic tradition, which, when imposed on others, inevitably cause confusion, strife, ill will, abused consciences, and disharmony.
Even in small churches, there often are considerable differences in age, education, maturity, personalities, and cultural and religious backgrounds. Some members may come from a long line of evangelicals. Some of those families may have a heritage of strict legalism, while others have one of considerable openness and freedom. Some members may have been accustomed to highly liturgical worship, others to worship that is largely unstructured and spontaneous. Some may have heard the gospel and been exposed to biblical teaching for many years, while others may have heard the true gospel only recently and understand only its bare essentials. Some may have been converted out of paganism, a cult, liberal Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, atheistic humanism, or simply religious indifference.
As mentioned in an earlier chapter of this commentary volume, contrary to what some church growth leaders maintain, such diversity can strengthen a local congregation, reminding the church itself and witnessing to the world around them of the power of Jesus Christ to bind together dissimilar people in a fellowship of genuine and profound unity. The Lord did not plan for his church to be divided into a hundred varieties, based on distinctives of personal preference and traditions that have no ground in Scripture. But for obvious reasons, diversity within a congregation can easily be used by the unredeemed flesh and by Satan to create division and discord, even hatred and animosity.
It was Paul’s abiding concern that every Christian have a deep desire for preserving “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) and for putting “on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:14). Our Lord expressed that same desire in His “new commandment… that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). It is the concern He voiced in His high priestly prayer to His Father on behalf of those who belong to Him by faith, “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:20-21).
The particular danger to unity that Paul addresses in Romans 14:1-15:13 is the conflict that easily arises between those to whom he refers as strong and weak believers, those who are mature in the faith and those who are immature, those who understand and enjoy freedom in Christ and those who still feel either shackled or threatened by certain religious and cultural taboos and practices that were deeply ingrained parts of their lives before coming to Christ.
In the early church, many Jews who came to faith in Christ could not bring themselves to discard the ceremonial laws and practices in which they had been steeped since early childhood, especially the rites and prohibitions the Lord Himself had instituted under the Old Covenant. They still felt compelled, for example, to comply with Mosaic dietary laws, to strictly observe the Sabbath, and even to offer sacrifices in the Temple because they were given by the true God.
On the other hand, many converted Gentiles had been just as strongly steeped in pagan rituals and customs from false gods, and they felt repulsed by anything remotely connected with such evils. Many Gentiles, for example, could not bring themselves to eat meat that had been offered to a pagan deity and then was sold in the marketplace.
Other believers, both Jewish and Gentile, understood and exercised their freedom in Christ. Mature Jewish believers realized that, under the New Covenant in Christ, the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic law were no longer valid. Mature believing Gentiles understood that idolatry was a spiritual evil and had no effect on anything physical, such as meat, that may have been used in idolatrous worship.
Those who were still strongly influenced, favorably or unfavorably, by their former religious beliefs and practices were weak in the faith because they did not understand their freedom in Christ.
I once met an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania who was a recent convert to Christ. Contrary to the Amish tradition of not using modern appliances and motor-powered vehicles, this man owned a radio, which he secretly listened to, and an automobile, which he kept hidden in the barn most of the time and rarely drove in the daytime. He knew in his mind that using these things was not sinful or unbiblical, but he still had difficulty expressing this freedom openly, especially before his Amish friends and neighbors.
On the other hand, those who are strong are often faced with the temptation to push their freedom in Christ to the limits, to live on the outer edge of moral propriety, to see how far they can go without actually committing a sin. Those who are weak are tempted in the opposite way. They are so afraid of committing some religious offense that they surround themselves with self-imposed restrictions.
The liberated believer is tempted to look upon his legalistic brother as being too rigid and restricted to be of any use to the Lord. The legalist, on the other hand, is tempted to think of his liberated brother as being too free-wheeling and undisciplined to serve Christ effectively. This is the root of the disunity.
In the present passage (Rom. 14:1-12), the apostle speaks to both types of believers and both attitudes, but his first counsel is directed to strong believers, for the very reason that they are stronger in the faith. Of the two groups, they are the better equipped both to understand and to be understanding. He therefore says to them, Accept the one who is weak in faith.
Proslambanō (accept) is a compound verb, the prefix pros being a preposition that intensifies the basic verb, making it a command. In other words, Paul was not simply suggesting, but commanding, that strong believers accept weak believers.
In the New Testament, proslambanō is always used in the Greek middle voice, which gives it the connotation of personal and willing acceptance of another person. This meaning is clearly seen in Acts 28:2, where Paul uses the verb to describe the gracious hospitality of the Malta natives, who “kindled a fire and received us all” (emphasis added). This meaning is also clear in Romans 15:7, where Paul uses the verb twice, first regarding Christians’ accepting one another and then of Christ’s accepting “us [that is, all believers] to the glory of God.”
Is weak translates a Greek present participle, suggesting a temporary condition. The Greek text also has the definite article (the) before faith, indicating that Paul was not speaking of spiritual trust or faithfulness but of understanding the full truth of the gospel message. A better rendering, therefore, might be: one who is weak in the faith. That is clearly the apostle’s meaning when he admonished the Colossians to “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast” (Col. 1:23, emphasis added; cf. Titus 1:4).
As noted above, Paul was not speaking of doctrinal or moral compromise. In that regard, he sternly warned the Galatians that “even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). He was not speaking, for example, about Judaizers, Jews who infiltrated the church and then insisted that a Gentile could not come to Christ without being circumcised and that both Jewish and Gentile believers had to observe the Mosaic law (see Acts 15:5). He was speaking of believers, Jew or Gentile, who are weak in their understanding of and living out their true faith in Jesus Christ.
Such believers are to be fully and lovingly accepted by those who are spiritually mature. It is not that the believer’s freedom in Christ should never be discussed with Christians who are still under bondage to some type of religious compulsion or restraint, but that such discussion should never be for the purpose of passing judgment on undeveloped but sincere opinions.
One of Jesus’ most somber warnings was against anyone who “causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble.” It would be “better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matt. 18:6-7). The Lord noted that opposition (“stumbling blocks”) from the world against God’s people is inevitable and to be expected. But on that occasion, Jesus was speaking largely, if not entirely, of and to “the disciples” (v. 1), probably only the Twelve (see Mark 9:30-50; Luke 9:43-48). In verse 14 He calls His hearers sons “of your Father who is in heaven.” In the following verses (15-17), He plainly is speaking about church discipline, giving instruction for dealing with a “brother,” that is, a fellow believer, who sins. The Lord is therefore speaking both to and about genuine Christians when He says in the intervening verses,
If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into the fiery hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 18:8-10)
This hyperbolic truism was meant to say that sin must be dealt with severely, in the case of an unbeliever who faced hell. But the principle still applies to a believer who has been delivered from hell. Sin is serious and calls for whatever action is necessary to stop it.
Paul warned the churches in Galatia, which had experienced considerable trouble from legalistic Judaizers, “You were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:13-15).
The apostle reminded the elders from Ephesus: “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35). To mature believers in the churches of Galatia he gave an admonition and a caution. The admonition was, “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual [the strong], restore such a one [the weak] in a spirit of gentleness.” The caution was, “each one [look] to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). In other words, those who are presently strong are not invulnerable to attitudes that can make them weak. In slightly different words, he gave the same advice to believers in Corinth: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Whatever spiritual strength we have, we have in and from the Lord. And when we become proud and self-satisfied, the Lord may see fit to withdraw some of His strength and blessing in order to remind us of how weak every believer is in himself.
The apostle urged the church at Thessalonica on the one hand to “admonish the unruly,” that is, to warn believers who think they are strong and who continually take their freedom to its limits, not in order to serve and please the Lord but to serve and please themselves. In the same verse he then urges those who are genuinely strong to “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men” (1 Thess. 5:14), that is, to use their freedom to serve the Lord by serving His people who are in special need of help.
Spiritual maturity is a continuum of growth that is meant to progress until the Lord takes us to be with Himself. In his first letter, John commends believers at various levels of spiritual maturity, referring to them as fathers, young men, and children. He reminds all of them that their spiritual strength comes from their knowing God and from His Word abiding in them (1 John 2:13-14).
It is important to note that the interchangeable use of titles and names of God in this passage present one of the clearest teachings of the deity of Christ. In verse 3 Paul speaks of God, in verse 4 of the Lord, in verse 6 of both the Lord (three times) and God (twice), in verse 8 of the Lord (three times), and in verse 9 nine specifically of Christ as being Lord.
In Romans 14:2-12, Paul gives four reasons why all believers (both strong and weak) should receive all other believers. They should receive each other because God receives them (vv. 2-3), because the Lord sustains each believer (v. 4), because the Lord is sovereign to each believer (vv. 5-9), and because the Lord alone will judge each believer (vv. 10-12).
God Receives Them
One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. (14:1-3)
The first reason all believers should receive all other believers is that God receives them.
The one man who has faith that he may eat all things obviously refers to the stronger, more mature Christian who appreciates and exercises his freedom in Christ. The first example of freedom is that of the Christian’s right to eat all things.
The gospel of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ includes no ceremonial or dietary restrictions, Mosaic or otherwise. In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle writes, “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:1-3).
Several years after he began his apostolic ministry, Peter was still afraid to eat animals that were declared ceremonially unclean under Old Testament law. It took three repeated declarations by the Lord in a vision to convince Peter that “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15-16). The greater teaching of the vision was that Peter “should not call any man [that is, Gentiles] unholy or unclean” (v. 28).
As noted earlier, some Gentile believers, like some Jews, were troubled by the eating of certain foods, but for different reasons. Because of the idolatry and immorality related to their former religions, they could not bring themselves to eat meat or any other food that had been used as an offering to a pagan deity. Like Peter, they were still spiritually weak in regard to such things. Consequently, some Christian Jews and Gentiles would eat vegetables only, taking no chance of eating meat they considered to be defiled by idols.
Although Paul mentions only eating in verses 2-3 and 6, his comments in verses 17 and 21 suggest that some believers had similar concerns about drinking. If so, the reference probably applied primarily to Gentiles who had participated in or were familiar with pagan festivals such as the Roman bacchanalia, which were characterized by sexual orgies and drunkenness.
In verse 3 Paul gives a double injunction. The first is to the strong, to whom he says, Let not him who eats regard with contempt him [the weak] who does not eat. Exoutheneō (regard with contempt) is a strong term that carries the idea of looking on someone as totally worthless, as being nothing or less than nothing. It does not connote simply dislike or disrespect, but utter disdain and abhorrence. Many Jews of that day regarded all Gentiles with contempt, and many Greeks and Romans had the similar regard for those they referred to as barbarians.
It seems unlikely that many genuine Christians in the early church, at Rome or elsewhere, looked down on certain other believers with contempt in its most extreme sense. But it takes only one extremist to damage an entire congregation. Throughout the ages, churches have been plagued by those who proudly consider themselves to be spiritually superior.
Paul’s next injunction is to the weak: and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats. Like regard with contempt, the term judge translates a strong Greek verb (krinō), which has the basic meaning of separating and isolating. In a legal sense it referred to finding an accused person guilty of a crime.
In this verse, regard with contempt and judge are essentially synonymous. In both cases, one type of person disdains the other, and both are wrong. The strong member contemptibly considers the weak member to be legalistic and self-righteous, and the weak member judges the strong member to be irresponsible at best and profligate at worst.
Although the phrase God has accepted him directly follows him who eats (the strong), the context makes clear that divine acceptance applies both to the strong and to the weak, to the one who eats freely and to the one who does not. Paul’s point is that, if God Himself does not make an issue of such things, what right does one of His children have to do so? If the strong and the weak have equal acceptance by and fellowship with the Lord, it is sinful arrogance for those two kinds of believers not to accept each other.
The Lord Sustains Each Believer
Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (14:4)
The second reason every Christian should accept every other Christian is that the Lord sustains them all. A believer who is “strong” about matters that are not doctrinal or moral, and that are neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture, is just as much in need of God’s strength as the one who is “weak.” We are all weak in the sense that everything good and righteous we possess is a gift of God, never the product of our own wisdom or efforts.
But the remaining influence of the flesh often tempts liberated believers to think legalists are so rigid and self-righteous that they sacrifice not only much personal joy but also limit their usefulness to the Lord. On the other hand, the same fleshly influence tempts legalists to believe that liberated believers are self-centered and loose-living and therefore cannot serve the Lord effectively.
Being well aware of those tendencies, Paul confronts both groups with the stinging rhetorical question, Who are you to judge the servant of another? What right do any of you, mature or immature, well taught or poorly taught, have to judge the servant of another, especially a fellow servant of Jesus Christ? A believer’s personal assessment of other believers does not in the least affect their standing before the Lord.
Perhaps referring to critics in the church at Corinth, Paul wrote, “To me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God” (1 Cor. 4:3-5).
It is to his own master, namely, Jesus Christ, that each believer stands or falls. And as far as matters of religious tradition and preference are concerned, every believer, strong and weak, will pass divine judgment, because the Lord does not take such things into account. Stand he will, Paul says of every believer, because the Lord is able, and obviously willing, to make him stand.
Earlier in the letter Paul posed a similar rhetorical question. “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” He asks. “God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:33-34). “For I am convinced,” he continues a few verses later, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38-39).
Jesus Himself assures those who belong to Him: “I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28). The closing benediction of Jude’s brief epistle reflects that promise, reminding believers of “Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).
The writer of Hebrews confirms that Christ “is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25). Paul proclaimed his confidence “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6), and Peter his assurance that we “are protected by the power of God through faith” (1 Pet. 1:5).
Many centuries before the coming of Christ, the Messiah, the psalmist declared with equal confidence that “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty,” that “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark,” and that “He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:1, 4, 11). Truly, the Lord sustains His own.
The Lord Is Sovereign to Each Believer
One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (14:5-9)
The third reason every Christian should accept every other Christian is that the Lord Jesus Christ is sovereign to each believer. Whether strong or weak, a sincere believer feels free or not free to do certain things out of the same motive: to please his Lord. Neither one is more or less spiritual or faithful because of his convictions about practices such as those discussed above. Being “strong” in this sense is not synonymous with being spiritual, and being “weak” is not synonymous with being carnal. The problem in the church at Rome, as in many churches since that day, was that some believers of both persuasions thought themselves to be more spiritual and the others to be more carnal. Paul’s whole purpose in these verses, and in the larger context of 14:1-15:13, was to disabuse believers of those false, divisive, and destructive notions.
His first example has to do with the religious significance and observance of certain days. He continues to address both strong and weak believers, noting that one man (the weak) regards one day above another, whereas another (the strong) regards every day alike.
For Jews, the Sabbath referred not only to the seventh day of the week, the day of rest and worship, but to a number of other days and periods that were venerated and specially observed. Some pagan religions also venerated certain days or seasons.
As with the eating of certain foods, the weak Jewish Christian remained strongly attached to the special days of Judaism and felt compelled to observe them. The weak Gentile, on the other hand, wanted to separate himself as far as possible from the special days of his former paganism because of their idolatrous and immoral character.
Paul admonished believers in Colossae: “Let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16). He did not advise either the forsaking or the following of such customs, but rather reminded his readers of their unimportance. Those were “things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:17).
The apostle’s words to the Galatian churches in that regard was much harsher, because some believers were returning to customs and rituals from which they had once considered themselves liberated. “How is it,” he asked, “that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years” (Gal. 4:9-10).
“There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” Gentiles as well as Jews, the writer of Hebrews assures us (Heb. 4:9). But it is a future Sabbath, which we will enjoy and celebrate only when we are in heaven. As far as our present earthly life is concerned, Paul insists that each man be fully convinced in his own mind about observing or not observing the Sabbath or any other day.
In this context, mind obviously includes the heart and conscience, our deepest convictions and motives. Before God, it is not a matter of observance or nonobservance but of intent. The sincere weaker brother who observes the day, observes it for the Lord. The sincere stronger brother who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God. And again, the weaker believer who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
In matters that are not specifically commanded or forbidden in Scripture, it is always wrong to go against conscience, because our conscience represents what we actually believe to be right. To go against our conscience, therefore, is to do that which we believe is wrong. And although an act or practice in itself may not be sinful, it is treated as sinful for those who are convinced in their own minds that it is wrong, and produces guilt.
It is also sinful, however, to try to impose our personal convictions on others, because, in doing so, we are tempting them to go against their own consciences. Paul is therefore giving a two-fold command: Do not compromise your own conscience in order to conform to the conscience of another believer and do not attempt to lead another believer to compromise his conscience to conform to yours.
As already noted, the greater responsibility is on the strong believer, for the very reason that he is better informed in the Word and more mature in his understanding. Paul therefore sternly warns the strong Christian: “Take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ” (1 Cor. 8:9-12). Speaking for himself, he continues, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13).
Standing before the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council in Jerusalem, Paul declared, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts 23:1). In light of the passage from 1 Corinthians just cited, and of many others he had written, Paul not only was confessing that he was guiltless of compromising his own conscience but that he also was guiltless of having caused other believers to compromise their consciences.
That is the principle he emphasizes next in our present text: For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. In all of Scripture, there is no greater call for holy living and for submission to the sovereign and unconditional lordship of Jesus Christ.
Neither the strong nor the weak lives for himself or dies for himself, and for the same reason—both of them live for the Lord and both of them die for the Lord. What we do for other believers, we do not only for their sakes but for our Lord’s sake, because, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. Christ is our mutual Lord, our mutual sovereign; and therefore everything we do, even in our dying, should be to please and to glorify our sovereign Savior and Lord.
We belong wholly to Christ because we “have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; cf. 7:23) that He Himself paid with His own blood for our redemption (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). Paul charged the Ephesian elders to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
We are the Lord’s in the fullest possible sense, and to this end Christ died and lived again, Paul declares unequivocally, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. To deny the lordship of Jesus Christ in the life of any believer is to subvert the full work, power, and purpose of His crucifixion and resurrection.
It seems inconceivable that genuine believers who love and serve the Lord and are well taught in His Word can maintain, as some do, that it is possible for a person to receive Jesus Christ as Savior but not as Lord. He died not only to save us but to own us, not only to free us from sin but to enslave us to Himself. Although the early church fully appreciated and praised Christ for His saviorhood, their earliest and most common confession was, “Jesus is Lord.”
“Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,” Paul already has exulted in and declared in this letter, “and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness… But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life” (Rom. 6:17-18, 22, emphasis added).
Only when He returns will Christ be universally acknowledged as sovereign Lord, at which time “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11; cf. Rev. 17:14; 19:16). But He will not become Lord at that time. He already is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15), and His people recognize Him as such.
The Lord Alone Will Judge Each Believer
But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. (14:10-12)
The fourth reason Paul gives for every Christian’s accepting every other Christian is that the Lord alone will judge each believer. If each believer belongs to the Lord alone, and if “Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (vv. 8-9), Paul asks, why do you (the weak, see v. 3b) judge your brother? Or you again, why do you (the strong, see v. 3a) regard your brother with contempt?
It is a terrible thing for men “to play God,” as it is often phrased. It is particularly inexcusable for God’s own people to intimate that presumption by judging and despising each other.
The work of Christians is to serve the Lord, not to usurp His lordship by self-righteously judging fellow believers. Our concern, rather, should be for being judged ourselves by the Lord, For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.
When we, along with all other believers, stand before the Lord on His judgment seat, His divine bēma, “each man’s work will become evident, for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:13-15).
As cited earlier, the apostle said of himself,
Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. (1 Cor. 4:1-5)
Reinforcing his argument for believer’s judgment with a quotation from Isaiah 45:23, Paul reminds his readers that it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God” (cf. Phil. 2:10-11).
Our responsibility is not to judge, to despise, to criticize, or in any way to belittle our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will not be called on by our Lord to give an account of the sins and shortcomings of others, but rather each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
The Unity of Strong and Weak Christians–part 2: Build Up One Another Without Offending (Romans 14:13-23)
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 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 he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us 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 man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (14:13-23)
In His New Covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ has granted marvelous freedom to those who belong to Him by faith. Most importantly, we are freed from the penalty of sin, from spiritual death and eternal damnation. But Christians also are freed from the encumbrances of the ceremonial law and dietary restrictions of the Old Covenant. Apart from sin, we are completely free to enjoy all the good gifts that God has so graciously bestowed on those who trust in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
But although we are permitted to enjoy that freedom, we are not commanded to do so. We are not obligated to exercise every freedom we have in Christ. In fact, the greater our love and spiritual maturity, the less important those freedoms will be to us and the more willing we will be to relinquish them for the sake of best serving the Lord and others, especially other believers. Most especially, our concern should be for fellow Christians whom Paul describes as weak, those who are still shackled in some way by the external requirements and restrictions under which they formerly lived. The issue for the strong, mature Christian is not whether or not he possesses freedom but how he should exercise or waive that freedom on the basis of how it will affect others.
But as Paul emphasizes throughout 14:1-15:13, and as was discussed in the previous chapter, all responsibility does not fall on the stronger brother. Strong and weak believers have a mutual responsibility to love and fellowship with each other and to refrain from judging the other’s convictions in regard to issues that the New Testament neither commands nor condemns.
Most churches include dedicated, faithful believers whose consciences do not allow them to participate in or approve of certain practices. When stronger believers, out of love for those brothers and sisters in the Lord, voluntarily restrict their own lives to conform to the stricter standards of the weaker believers, they build closer relationships with each other and the church as a whole is strengthened and unified. And in that loving environment, the weaker believers are helped to become stronger.
Our Christian liberty is vertical, before the Lord. But the exercise of that liberty is horizontal, because it is seen by and affects others. To rightly understand and use our freedom in Christ brings great satisfaction. But that satisfaction is multiplied when we willingly surrender the exercise of a liberty for the sake of other believers. More importantly, it greatly pleases our Lord and promotes harmony in His church.
The New Testament places considerable restraints on the use of our liberty in Christ. It is not, for example, to be used self-deceptively to justify an evil or excess in our life. “Act as free men,” Peter declares, “and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Pet. 2:16).
Nor does the Lord grant us liberty to cause self-destruction or self-bondage. What Paul said of himself should be true of every believer. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). Later in the same epistle, he added, “All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (10:23). A habit or practice that may not be sinful in itself can easily become sinful by gaining control over and injuring the person who engages in it. What is begun as an exercise of legitimate freedom can turn into a form of bondage and self-destruction. Careless and selfish exercise of a God-given freedom often results in loss of freedom, in our becoming “mastered,” as Paul said, by the very thing we are freely using—a danger the apostle himself was determined to avoid. Instead of serving and honoring the One who gives it, freedom that is carelessly used can undermine the work of God, dishonor His name, and wreak havoc among His people.
Christian liberty is not meant to bring spiritual self-retardation, as its misuse invariably does. Far more than any other age in history, ours is besieged with a seemingly limitless array of things that can consume our time, energy, and finances. Many of those things are flagrantly immoral and ungodly. But even inherently innocent things are so pervasive and accessible that they easily can undermine our devotion to the Lord and to His people, retard our spiritual growth, and reduce our spiritual usefulness.
Paul’s supreme purpose was to “do all things for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:23). To illustrate his pursuit of that purpose he used the figure of the Isthmian games, which were held at Corinth and therefore well-known to Paul’s readers. Those games were one of the two famous Greek athletic festivals, the other being the Olympics. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?” Paul asks. Therefore, “run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Paul used his Christian liberty, and every other gift and blessing he possessed, for but one purpose: to attain the righteousness “which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:9-11). He went on to confess with humility: “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:11-14).
In Romans 14:13-23 Paul continues his teaching about Christian liberty and the mutual obligation of strong and weak believers to accept each other in Christ without being judgmental or causing offense. In these eleven verses, the apostle mentions a number of principles, each given in negative form, that serve as guidelines for all Christians. The principles are closely related and sometimes overlap, but they seem to fall into six general categories: Our liberty should never cause a brother to stumble (v. 13), to grieve (vv. 14-15a), or to be devastated (v. 15b); and it should never forfeit our witness for Christ (vv. 16-19), tear down His work (vv. 20-21), or be either denounced or flaunted (vv. 22-23).
Don’t Cause Your Brother to Stumble
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. (14:13)
Therefore refers back to verses 10-12, in which Paul reminds his readers that God alone is qualified and has the authority to judge the minds and hearts of His people, who will all stand before His judgment seat (v. 10) and give account of themselves to Him (v. 12; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). Judgment is God’s exclusive prerogative.
Consequently, we must not judge one another (cf. Matt. 7:1-5). It is the unloving attitude of contemptuous superiority by strong believers and the equally unloving attitude of self-righteousness by weak believers (v. 3) by which they judge one another. From Paul’s day to ours, those wrongful judgments have been major causes of disrespect, disharmony, and disunity in the church.
As reflected in the text of the New American Standard Bible (used here), Paul uses the same Greek verb (krinō) with two different connotations in verse 13. In the first phrase, let us not judge one another, the verb carries the idea of condemnation, as it does in verses 3, 4, and 10. But in the following phrase, the same verb is translated determine, which refers to making a decision. Those two connotations are also found in the English word judge. “Being judgmental” carries the negative idea of denunciation, whereas “using your best judgment” refers to making a careful decision, with no negative connotation.
Paul’s play on words demands that we should never be judgmental of fellow believers but instead should use our best judgment to help them. In relation to the second meaning, we should determine… not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. He gives the same warning in his first letter to Corinth, saying, “Take care lest this liberty of yours [the strong] somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9). This carries the idea of stumbling into sin.
For example, although the New Testament does not forbid the drinking of alcoholic beverages, there are many good reasons for Christians to abstain. One of the most important is the detrimental effect it can have on a former alcoholic. Our drinking, even in moderation, could easily place a stumbling block in that brother’s way and cause him to fall back into his former addiction.
The same principle applies to any activity or practice that is not inherently sinful. Problem areas vary from society to society and from person to person, but the principle never changes. The loving, caring, strong Christian will determine in his mind and heart to be sensitive to any weakness in a fellow believer and avoid doing anything, including what is innocent in itself and otherwise permissible, that might cause him to morally or spiritually stumble.
Don’t Grieve Your Brother
I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. (14:14-15a)
A second way to build up fellow believers without offending them is to be careful not to say or do anything that might cause them to be spiritually grieved or hurt.
As far as nonsinful things are concerned, the apostle says, I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. He was not stating a personal opinion or preference about such things but was convinced in the Lord Jesus; that is, he knew by divine revelation.
Having been a Pharisee, Paul doubtless had been extremely careful about what he ate and did not eat. But he now understood with absolute certainty the truth which the Lord declared to Peter three times in a vision: “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). That divine cleansing referred directly to the multitude of animals Peter was commanded to eat that were ceremonially unclean according to Mosaic law (vv. 12-13). Indirectly, and in an even more important way, it referred to God’s full and impartial acceptance of believing Gentiles into the church (vv. 28, 34).
Jesus declared that “there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him” (Mark 7:15). Paul assured Timothy that “God has created [all foods] to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:3-5). He informed Titus that “to the pure, all things are pure” (Titus 1:15).
The strong Christian is therefore entirely right in his conviction that he is at liberty to enjoy anything the Lord does not declare to be sinful. The weak Christian, on the other hand, is wrong in his understanding about some of those things. But he is not wrong in the sense of being heretical or immoral. He is wrong in the sense of not having complete and mature understanding, which causes his conscience to be unnecessarily sensitive. For that reason, to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean in his mind.
Concerning the same problem, Paul gave the following explanation to the church at Corinth:
Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. (1 Cor. 8:4-7)
It is likely that every Christian has a weak spot of some sort in his conscience. Paul himself probably had one or more. He did not claim to be free of every spiritual deficiency, but he testified before the Roman governor that he did his “best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16).
For various reasons, there are certain things that we know are not sinful but that we do not feel comfortable in doing or even being near. And as long as we feel discomfort about any such thing, we should avoid doing it—even if it would not cause offense to other believers. If we ourselves consider anything to be unclean, then to us it is unclean. And if we persist in violating our conscience, that conscience will become more and more insensitive until it is “seared… as with a branding iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). It then is no longer as sensitive as it needs to be to protect us from sin.
But Paul’s major emphasis in this passage is on how our words and actions affect the spiritual welfare of fellow Christians. Therefore, if because of food, or any other issue, our brother is hurt, we are no longer walking according to love.
Is hurt translates lupeō, which has the basic meaning of causing pain, distress, or grief. It is used by John to describe Peter’s reaction when Jesus asked “him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?'” and “Peter was grieved” (John 21:17). It is even used of the Holy Spirit, who is grieved when we sin (Eph. 4:30).
It is lamentable when Christians are harmed by unbelievers. But it is tragic when Christians hurt a brother Christian, particularly over matters that are not inherently wrong. A weak Christian can be hurt or distressed from watching another Christian say or do something he considers sinful. The hurt is deeper if the offending believer is admired and respected by the weaker one. A weak Christian also can be hurt when, by word or example, he is led by a stronger brother to go against the convictions of his own conscience. That is by far the greater offense. Being upset over what another Christian does can certainly hurt, but that hurt is not nearly so severe and damaging as the hurt of a believer’s conscience over what he himself has done. He suffers feelings of guilt, and forfeits much of his peace of mind, his joy, his witness, and perhaps even his assurance of salvation. A Christian whose careless use of his liberty causes such hurt to other believers is no longer walking according to love.
After the caution cited above from 1 Corinthians 8, Paul goes on to say that a strong believer who causes a weaker brother to stumble by going against his conscience not only is unloving but commits sin against that brother and against the Lord Himself. “Food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care,” he warns, “lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ” (1 Cor. 8:8-12).
Paul is not, of course, speaking of “ruined” in the sense of damnation, because that is what believers are eternally saved from. He is speaking of the loss of such things as those already mentioned—peace of mind, joy, witness, and assurance of salvation. The best safeguard against grieving another believer’s conscience is to determine to do the opposite of what the insensitive and unloving person does: to always walk according to love.
Don’t Devastate Your Brother
Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. (14:15b)
A third principle for building up rather than harming weaker believers is not to spiritually devastate them. As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, the six principles or guidelines in verses 13-23 overlap and are not completely distinct or separable. While this third warning is much like the second, it is considerably stronger.
Apollumi (destroy) refers to utter devastation. But as the noted Greek scholar W. E. Vine explains, “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words [Westwood, N.J.: Revel, 1940]). The term is often used in the New Testament to indicate eternal damnation (see, e.g., Matt. 10:28; Luke 13:3; John 3:16; Rom. 2:12), which applies to unbelievers. But even with that meaning the word does not connote extinction, as annihilationists claim, but rather spiritual calamity that will continue forever.
To destroy… him for whom Christ died, is not to cause his damnation but to seriously devastate his spiritual growth. When Jesus said, “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish [apollumi]” (Matt. 18:14), the context makes clear that “these little ones” are believers. They have been “converted and become like children” (v. 3) and “believe in Me” (v. 6). Jesus was not concerned about their loss of salvation but about their loss of spiritual well-being, which, although not an eternal loss, is a injury the Lord considers to be extremely grave. Even to “despise one of those little ones” (v. 10) for whom Christ died is a great offense to God.
It is also important to note that the phrase for whom Christ died is here used to describe believers. This is commonly called limited atonement, or particular redemption, the idea that Christ sacrificed His life on the cross only on behalf of the elect who come to faith.
Certainly the atonement in its ultimate and full sense is limited to the elect, but the New Testament is replete with declarations that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to cover the sin of every human being. In the following quotations, italics have been added for emphasis of that truth. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus said of Himself “that whoever believes may in Him [the Son of Man] have eternal life,” and that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15-16).”I am the living bread that came down out of heaven,” Jesus said; and “if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51).
Paul already has made clear in Romans that “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13). Elsewhere he says with equal unambiguity, that “the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died” (2 Cor. 5:14), “God our Savior,… desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:3-6), and that “we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers” (1 Tim. 4:10).
Peter warned against “false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Pet. 2:1). In other words, the Lord paid a price sufficient to save even those unbelievers who corrupt His Word and blaspheme His name.
In his first letter, John wrote that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2), and that “we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (4:14).
God’s provision of an atonement without limit is prefigured in the Old Testament. When the high priest once a year made a sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, he made it on behalf of “all the people of the assembly,” that is, all Israelites (Lev. 16:33). The scope of the sacrifice was unlimited in its sufficiency, but limited in its application. That act did not cleanse the sins even of believing Jews, but it prefigured God’s future offering of atonement by the supreme High Priest, Jesus Christ, who would sacrifice Himself for the sins of the entire world and apply it to the elect.
Don’t Forfeit Your Witness
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 he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (14:16-19)
A fourth purpose for building up rather than injuring weaker believers is to avoid forfeiting our witness before the rest of the world.
It is possible to so abuse our liberty in Christ in regard to fellow believers that we create conflicts within the church that give the world cause to criticize and condemn those who claim to hold brotherly love in such high esteem. Therefore, Paul says, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.
Although it brings much blessing and enjoyment to those who understand and exercise it properly, Christian liberty is not simply for our own benefit and certainly not for our selfish abuse. It is a gracious gift from God and a wonderfully good thing. But like every other divine blessing, it can be misused in ways that are outside of, and often contrary to, God’s purposes. This good thing of liberty is to be used carefully, with loving concern for our weaker brethren and with concern for its witness to the unbelieving world. It should not cause those brothers to stumble, be grieved, or harmed in any way; and it should never give the watching world an excuse for it to be spoken of as evil.
As reported in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council strongly denounced the Judaizers’ insistence that “It is necessary to circumcise [Gentile believers], and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (v. 5). But it also was decided that care should be taken not to offend the consciences either of Jewish or Gentile believers who were weak. Consequently, the group sent a letter to the churches advising “that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well” (Acts 15:29). Fornication apparently was a moral problem in many of the churches and was forbidden because it is outright sin. But the other three prohibitions had to do with religious law and ceremony, both Jewish and pagan.
As mentioned before, many Gentile believers could not bring themselves to eat meat that had been used in a pagan ritual. Paul carefully dealt with that problem in his first letter to Corinth, which, as one would imagine, included many Gentile converts who continued to have social contact with unbelieving Gentiles as well as with fellow believers. The apostle therefore advised them:
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone should say to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God. (1 Cor. 10:23-32)
The situation was this: A strong and a weak Christian sometimes would go to dinner at the house of an unbelieving Gentile. When the host served the meal, he might mention that the meat had been used in a pagan sacrifice. The weak believer would be immediately disturbed and tell the other believer that he could not in good conscience eat such meat. Out of love for his weaker brother, the strong Christian would join in refusing to eat the meat, understanding that it is better to offend an unbeliever than a fellow believer. Although that unusual and selfless act of love might temporarily offend the unbelieving host, it might also be used of the Spirit to show the depth of Christian love and draw him to the gospel.
Paul’s dual message was, in effect, “Don’t apologize for or renounce your freedom in Christ, and don’t let your own conscience be bothered. Take advantage of your liberty with joy and gratitude, because it is a precious gift from God. But, on the other hand, be willing at any time to forfeit the exercise of your freedom if it might cause spiritual harm to a believer or become an unnecessary offense to an unbeliever. Before the church and before the world, it is much more important to demonstrate our love than our freedom.” He told the Corinthian church, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more” (1 Cor. 9:19).
Many Jewish Christians, because of the Mosaic restrictions under which they had been raised, could not bring themselves to eat meat that still contained blood nor could they eat meat from an animal that had been killed by strangulation. When a weak Jewish believer found himself at a meal where such meat was being served, any stronger believer who was present should, out of love for his brother, also refuse to eat it.
Such careful exercise of Christian liberty is vital to the unity of the church and to the church’s witness before and to the unbelieving world. Forsaking a freedom is a small concession to make for the sake of both believers and potential believers, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
When those three attributes characterize individual Christians and the local church in which they worship and through which they serve, the work of Christ is advanced and blessed in the Holy Spirit.
Righteousness in our daily living should always be more precious to us than the exercise of our liberties. Even though those liberties are God-given, we should seek continually to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11) and to always be wearing “the breastplate of righteousness” (Eph. 6:14).
Peace in the church—the loving, tranquil relationship of believers who are more interested in serving others than in pleasing themselves—is also more important than individual liberties and is a powerful witness to the unbelieving world. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). God’s people are called to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (Rom. 12:10-13; cf. James 3:17). Those are marks of genuine peace.
Like peace, the joy of believers is a product of righteousness. It is both a mystery and a strong attraction to the world and is often used by the Holy Spirit to draw men and women to Christ. Also like peace, joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Even in the midst of hardship and persecution, we are able to have, and should always seek, “the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6).
The loving and selfless Christian who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Dokimos (approved) refers to acceptance after careful examination, as when a jeweler carefully inspects a gem under a magnifying glass to determine its genuineness and value. When we serve Christ selflessly, we prove ourselves “to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).
Paul himself exemplified the selfless principles he commends in this passage. He acknowledged, for example, his right to have a wife and to be paid for his ministry (1 Cor. 9:5-6). Nevertheless, “we did not use this right,” he explained, “but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ” (v. 12).
So then, Paul continues, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Humility, selfless love, and compassion for the needs of others are among the things which make for peace. In the closing remarks of his second letter to Corinth, Paul said, “Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). An indispensable part of faithful witnessing is “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Those virtues, along with the willingness to forsake our liberties for the sake of fellow believers, also assure the building up of one another in Christian fellowship.
Don’t Pull Down the Work of God
Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. (14:20-21)
A fifth reason for building up rather than injuring weaker believers is not to tear down the work of God for the sake of food.
Do not tear down translates the present imperative of kataluō, suggesting that Paul was commanding certain believers in Rome to discontinue something they were already doing.
As we have seen, in the days of the early church many offenses against the consciences of weak brothers involved food. For Jews it related to eating food that was declared ceremonial unclean under the Mosaic law. For Gentiles, it related to eating food, most commonly meat, that had been used in a pagan sacrifice. But in the broader context of Romans 14 and 15, Paul’s warnings about food and drink relate to anything not sinful in itself that might be said or done that would cause a weaker Christian to be offended and spiritually harmed.
Also in this context, the work of God clearly refers to believers, all of whom “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10). It is therefore not only a serious offense against a weaker brother to cause him to stumble but a serious offense against the purposes of God.
We would consider it an appalling crime for someone to deface a Rembrandt painting, to shatter a sculpture by Michelangelo, or to smash a Stradivarius violin. How infinitely worse it is to tear down a work of God, a man “for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15).
“By sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ,” Paul wrote as he chastised the immature and self-indulgent believers at Corinth. “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble,” he said of himself, “I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:12-13).
The apostle reminds us again that he is not speaking about sinful and unholy things, but about discretionary liberties that are good gifts from God. All such things indeed are clean and good in themselves (cf. vv. 14, 16). The danger is that, when they are exercised selfishly and carelessly by strong Christians, those very blessings can become evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
Therefore, it is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, which are in themselves good, or to do anything else that is good in itself, by which your brother stumbles, because such stumbling hinders the work of God in and through that believer. God is endeavoring to build that believer up (Eph. 4:11-15) while we are tearing him down. That is unthinkable!
As noted previously, Paul is not prohibiting all drinking of alcoholic beverages, which neither the Old nor New Testament forbids. It should also be noted that the common wine drunk by Jews of that day was highly diluted with water and had a low alcohol content. But, if Paul considered the drinking of wine to be sinful in itself, it would not make sense to use it as an illustration of discretionary, nonsinful practices. (For a more detailed discussion of this matter, see the author’s Ephesians in this commentary series, pp. 229-44.)
The issue concerns doing anything at all by which your brother stumbles. The pleasure of eating offensive food or drink, or the pleasure of doing anything else our liberty allows us to do, is absolutely trivial compared to the spiritual welfare of a brother or sister in Christ. It is worse than trivial. It becomes actually sinful if we have reason to believe it might cause one of the little ones for whom Christ died to stumble.
Don’t Denounce or Flaunt Your Liberty
The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (14:22-23)
The sixth and final reason for exercising our liberty with great care is that we can harm even ourselves when we do not view our liberty from God’s perspective. We lose that divine perspective when we denounce or belittle good things He has given us or when, at the other extreme, we lovelessly flaunt our liberty without caring about how we affect others.
Verse 22 obviously is directed to the strong Christian, the one who understands and appreciates his freedom. Paul’s counsel to him is simple and direct: The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. When by sincere faith and a correct understanding of Scripture we have a conviction before God that a custom, a practice, or an activity is worthwhile and good, we dare not denounce it as sinful. Nor should we allow our conscience to condemn us for exercising it—with Paul’s repeated stipulation that we gladly relinquish that freedom for the sake of a brother or sister in Christ.
Verse 23 just as obviously is directed to the weak Christian, the one whose conscience is still offended by certain religious carryovers from his former life. And the apostle’s counsel to him is just as simple and direct: He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. The corresponding stipulation is that, just as the strong believer commits sin by causing a weak brother to go against his own conscience, the weak brother sins, is condemned, when, contrary to the convictions of his own faith, he succumbs to that which his con science condemns.
 Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1965), p. 183.
 I do not think that all convictions fall within this category of behavior, however. There are other categories as well. For example, Christians must reach certain doctrinal convictions. Convictions are required wherever the Scriptures are not quite specific or dogmatic on a given point of theology. Wherever there is a lack of clarity or certainty, convictions are necessary. For example, in the theological category of eschatology (the doctrine of future things), some Christians are pre-tribulational; others hold to a mid-tribulation rapture, and others are post-tribulational. Each of these positions is, in my opinion, a theological conviction. Many of the differences between Christians fall in this area of theological or doctrinal convictions.
 The pro-abortion movement persists in trying to persuade us that abortion is a matter of personal convictions. To do so, they must reject and ignore biblical revelation—the Bible.
 This is necessary since right and wrong are matters of revelation, not reason. Note Paul’s words on this matter in Romans 7:7.
 It is interesting to compare this with Romans 8:28. God employs those things which ultimately work for our good. We should do likewise, considering whether the exercise of a particular liberty promotes what is good, for us and for others.
 The term conscience does not appear in Romans 14 or 15, but in a related passage in 1 Corinthians 8-10, the term occurs five times in those three chapters (8:7, 10, 12; 10:29 2x). I would define “conscience” as man’s internal moral referee, which condemns us for doing that which we believe to be wrong, and commends us for doing that which is right. All men possess a conscience (Romans 2:14-15). One’s conscience may rightly discern “good” and “evil” even without God’s Law (Romans 2:14-16). Our conscience should conform to the definitions of “good” and “evil” as defined by God’s Law and biblical teaching (see 1 Timothy 1:5ff.) and the laws of the land (Romans 13:5). Our consciences are cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:9, 14; 10:22; see also 1 Peter 3:21). The verdict of our conscience can be confirmed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 9:1). It can be trained and sensitized by obedience (Hebrews 5:12-13) and desensitized and corrupted by sin (1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:15). One’s conscience can also be weak (1 Corinthians 8:7) and susceptible to wounding by another (1 Corinthians 8:12). The ideal for the Christian is to have a conscience that is clear before both God and man (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Corinthians 1:12). In this way we are free to serve God (Hebrews 9:14). When Paul taught, he addressed himself to the conscience of those he taught (2 Corinthians 4:2). His goal in teaching was to inspire love, which could only occur in those whose consciences were pure and undefiled (see 1 Timothy 1:5).
 See Romans 12:3; 2 Corinthians 10:13; Ephesians 4:7; 1 Peter 4:11.
 “Their ‘weakness’ is expressed in a number of abstentions which will be noted in detail below; it attests a failure to grasp the fundamental principle, which page after page of this epistle emphasizes, that men are justified by faith alone—or, better, by God’s own free electing grace, faith being man’s recognition that all is dependent not upon himself but God. So strong is this emphasis that it comes as a surprise to find that Paul recognizes that both strong and weak have a place in the Church, and that both can stand before God and be accepted by him.” C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957), pp. 256-257.
 In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged this pharisaical system of interpreting and applying the Old Testament as inconsistent with the meaning and use of the Law of Moses as given by God. There were rules, do’s and don’ts, but these were intended to teach us principles, and it was by these principles that men were to be guided. A study of the entire sermon reveals how much Jesus challenged His audience to think. Legalism does the opposite. You do not have to think as a legalist; you only have to find the right rule and keep it. Legalism therefore has no category labeled, “convictions.” It needs none.
 This will change in Romans 15:2, where the application widens from one’s brother to one’s neighbor.
 If the translation of this verse in the NASB is correct—with emphasis on praise and not just confession—then Paul is making an additional point. Not only will we stand before God to give account for our own convictions and how we have used them, but we will also give praise to God as the one who alone deserves praise. While we are liable for our sins, we are not worthy of praise for any of our good deeds. If we sin in the area of convictions, we will give account to God. But there is no merit in this area of convictions for which we will take any credit. When we stand before God, only He will be praised, for in the final analysis, any good done through us is that good which God has accomplished in us (see Romans 15:17-19).
 It is only unclean to him, not to others. Thus, we dare not impose our conviction on another.
 The expression, “let us not judge one another any more” clearly implies that passing judgment was a wide-spread practice at the time. This is not some hypothetical evil which was to be avoided. It was an evil practice which was to be abandoned.
 The word “determine” found in the NASB is a translation of the term which is derived from the same root rendered “judge” earlier in this verse. Paul employs a deliberate play on words. He urges us not to “judge” our brother but to come to the “judgment,” the verdict, that we will not do anything which will cause our brother to stumble.
 Paul’s use of the terms “clean” and “unclean” give us the hint of some Jewish involvement here. The terms are seldom used apart from a Jewish context.
 My self-indulgence could be the cause of a brother’s destruction. Self-discipline is often the key. Self-discipline enables me to “just say no” to my fleshly appetites when exercising my liberty might destroy a brother. This matter of self-indulgence and self-discipline is spelled out much more fully in 1 Corinthians 9:24–10:13.