Stick With Acceptance

| Romans 14:1-19

The Point:  Strong relationships are not hindered by differences of opinion.

Refrain from Judging:  Romans 14:1-12.

[1]  As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. [2]  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. [3]  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. [4]  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. [5]  One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. [6]  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. [7]  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. [8]  For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. [9]  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. [10]  Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; [11]  for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." [12]  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.  [ESV]

[1-12]  “The weak in faith are primarily Jewish Christians. But what does it mean to say that they are weak in faith? The standpoint of the weak on foods and days signals a certain deficiency in their faith. It is not the case, though, that the weak believed that abstaining from meat and wine and observing certain days were necessary for salvation. There is no hint that they were attempting to impose these requirements on the strong for the latter’s salvation. It seems likely that they believed that one would be a stronger or better Christian if one observed their prescriptions. Similar debates exist today. Sabbatarian Christians do not usually argue that those who disagree with them are destined for eternal judgment. They merely contend that such observance is important for living the Christian life. Thus the weak in faith believed that God was pleased if believers ate vegetables only [2]. It is crucial to note that Paul omits the verb believes in reference to the weak in verse 2. The strong are exercising faith in eating everything. Paul refuses to use this verb in the case of the weak but simply says that they eat vegetables. The abstention from meat on the part of the weak was tolerable, but it was not a manifestation of faith or trust. Paul insists here that no one should do anything if it does not stem from conviction, for everything done apart from faith is sin. Since the weak could not eat certain foods in faith and trust, they should abstain. Nonetheless, their inability to consume such foods was an indication of the weakness of their faith. Weakness of faith and inadequate understanding go together. The faith of the weak is genuine, but it is weak, precisely because they still believe that the law should be observed in terms of its ritual obligations. Such ritual observance does not nullify the authenticity of their faith, but it does indicate a certain deficiency in it. With this background, we are finally prepared for the main exhortation in this section. The strong are summoned to welcome or accept those who are weak in faith [1]. Genuine acceptance involves both formal admission into the community and informal acceptance in the various circumstances of life. The meaning of the last words of verse 1, but not to quarrel over opinions, is difficult to discern. Paul may be prohibiting quarreling over the scruples of the weak. Or the point may be that the weak are not to be welcomed into the community and then overwhelmed with a barrage of criticism because of their peculiar beliefs. A decision here is difficult, and perhaps it exceeds the evidence to exclude one or the other since criticizing another’s opinions and quarrels over contrary views often go together. Similarly, the strong are exhorted not to despise those who refrain from eating [3], and in verse 10 they are queried as to why they pass judgment on their brothers and sisters. In both of these verses the admonition to resist despising is addressed to the strong. Such an admonition is fitting, for those who are more liberal in their practices are inclined to mock and ridicule those who feel confined. Those who feel free to eat any foods and consider every day the same tend to deride those who believe certain foods are forbidden and some days are holier than others. The person free from constraints finds it difficult to understand the reasons why others bridle themselves. Since it appears irrational to the strong, they are tempted to poke fun at those who are more conservative. We see, then, that accepting the weak involves respecting them and holding them in honor even if there are disagreements over what is permissible. Paul warns the weak against judging the strong [3,10]. Such an admonition is appropriate for the weak because they are inclined to condemn and censure the strong for participating in activities that the weak deem to be improper. If the strong are tempted to ridicule the sensitivities of the weak, the weak tend to pass judgment on the strong. It is important to see, therefore, that the second half of verse 3 is addressed only to the weak. Their censuring of the strong should cease since God has welcomed (the same verb as verse 1) them. By judging the strong the weak have taken over God’s prerogative. The challenge to the weak for their condemnation of the strong continues in verse 4. Paul asks, Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? Since the strong are God’s servants, they are answerable to Him for their actions and beliefs, not to the weak. Paul assures the weak that the strong will stand since the Lord is the one who determines if they will do so. By taking on themselves the role of judge the weak are acting as if they are the ones who determine if the strong are saved on the day of judgment. Whether one stands (i.e., is saved) on the final judgment is decided by the Lord, not by other human beings. Paul inserts here the promise that the strong will stand. They will not stand by virtue of their own strength or ability but because the Lord is able to make them stand. God promises that those whom He has called to salvation will persevere to the end since the Lord will complete what He has started in us. How can Paul tolerate such diversity in the community? Verse 6 provides a clue as to why Paul tolerated both the weak and the strong. Those who assign significance to certain days do so in honor of the Lord. Those who feel free to eat any and all foods eat in honor of the Lord. Conversely, those who refrain from eating are said to abstain in honor of the Lord. What matters to Paul, since no absolute moral norm is involved in the issues at hand, are not the specific behaviors practiced but the motivation that informs the behavior. Those who set aside special days do so in order to please the Lord. Those who eat all things do so to please the Lord. That they eat in honor of the Lord is demonstrated by the fact that they give thanks to God when they partake of the food [6]. Praising and thanking God for food indicates that it is eaten in honor of the Lord, and such eating cannot be labeled secular or sinful [1 Tim. 4:4-5]. Yet the one who refrains from eating food abstains in order to please the Lord as well. Interestingly, the central concern of Paul’s theology emerges in these verses. The very heart of idolatry is to refrain from glorifying and thanking God [Rom. 1:21]. Paul can tolerate diverse practices, which do not violate any biblical or moral norm, as long as they are motivated by the glory of God. It is crucial to see that in verses 7-9, the theological basis for this section, Paul picks up on this notion of doing all things to the Lord and elaborates on it. These verses impress on us the root issue that concerned Paul. The link with verse 6 is obvious, for verse 7 says that no one lives or dies to himself. Rather, we both live and die to the Lord [8]. The believer’s goal is to please God in all things and to thank Him for His gifts. Verse 8 constitutes an explanation of verse 7 (note for), and it shows that the statement that believers do not live or die to themselves means that believers consciously, whether in life or in death, live to please the Lord. In all of life and even at the hour of death the believer’s aim is to please the Lord, to bring praise and honor to His name. Even at death believers resign themselves to God’s will, and endeavor to please Him in the way they die. This conscious submission to the Lord is based on the lordship of Christ. Both life and death are not under our control but are in the hands of the Lord, who is sovereign over both [8]. In verse 9 the lordship of Christ is established on the basis of the two great events in His life. Christ is the Lord of both the dead and the living by virtue of His death and resurrection. We know that He is Lord of life and death because He has conquered death through His resurrection. In the concluding verses [10-12] Paul draws the implications from the lordship of Christ. Since Christ is Lord and judge, it is totally inappropriate for some believers to judge or despise other believers [10]. All believers will stand before God’s judgment seat. The Old Testament citation in verse 11 supports the claim in verse 10 that all must stand before God’s judgment seat. The idea conveyed in verse 11 is restated in verse 12. Each person will give an account of his or her life to God. Since He will pass judgment on the lives of the weak and the strong, they have no business judging fellow servants.”  [Schreiner, pp. 711-725].

Pursue Peace and Mutual Upbuilding:  Romans 14:13-19.

[13]  Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. [14]  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. [15]  For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. [16]  So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. [17]  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [18]  Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. [19]  So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.  [ESV]

[13-19]  “There are five different issues to be explored in these verses: (1) the nature of the conflict between the weak and strong, (2) Paul’s fundamental agreement with the strong, (3) what Paul means when he speaks of a stumbling block for the weak, (4) an explanation of how the strong’s behavior could lead the weak to fall, and (5) the theological rationale given to the strong in verses 16-19. First, the nature of the conflict. The weak are grieved over food, and the strong should beware because the former could even come to ruin over such food. That food and drink are the subject of debate is confirmed by verse 17: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking. What is most instructive is that the weak’s refusal to eat certain foods stems from Old Testament prohibitions. This is clarified by the use of the words unclean [14] and clean [20], which stem from Judaism. It is likely that they considered foods to be unclean because they followed the prohibitions of the Old Testament law that taught that some foods were ritually defiled. In addition, the reference to food and the observance of certain days suggests that the weak believed that the Old Testament ritual law should be practiced. Second, we see that Paul fundamentally agreed with the strong, even though the weak believed in abstaining from certain foods and drinks because of the Old Testament law. It is interesting to observe that Paul, who was raised as a Jew and a member of the Pharisaic sect, which strictly observed purity laws, now believed that the purity laws were passé. This conviction is expressed in a strikingly emphatic and forceful way in verse 14. Paul communicates his certainty by using two verbs, I know and am persuaded. This assurance is not self-authenticating or self-originating. He received this conviction in the Lord Jesus, that is, from the teaching of the historical Jesus in the Gospel tradition [Matt. 15:11; Mark 17:20]. The words of Jesus Himself, when rightly interpreted, indicate that foods can no longer defile one. Nothing is intrinsically unclean. Of course, this statement, nothing is unclean in itself [14] and the statement in verse 20, everything is indeed clean, cannot be universalized but must be read in context. Both of these statements relate to the issue of unclean food and drink. The idea is that no food or drink is inherently defiled or impure. The main point being advanced with reference to verse 14 is that the strong are correct in seeing food laws as nonbinding. Paul himself has no doubts that all foods are clean. Never does Paul assign faith to the idiosyncrasies of the weak. Precisely because of their hesitancy to eat certain foods they are weak in faith [1]. By contrast, the position of the strong is congruent with faith [22]. Paul merely asks that they do not flaunt their faith before the weak. This brings us to the third issue in the text. Paul’s primary exhortation is that the strong should abstain from eating and drinking that would damage the weak. From verse 15 love should motivate the strong to relinquish their rights. What Paul summons the strong to do, then, harmonizes with the central theme of his ethic that was capsulated in Romans 13:8-10: loving others. The goal here is to understand specifically what damage is done to the weak. The following words are used with reference to the injury that the weak could suffer: stumbling block or hindrance [13], grieved … destroy [15], mutual upbuilding [19], destroy … stumble [20], stumble [21], and is condemned [23]. These terms reveal that the danger spoken of here is nothing less than eschatological judgment. Paul almost invariably uses the term destroy of eschatological destruction [Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 1:18,19; 10:9,10; 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:10]. The grief inflicted on the weak is not merely a general feeling of sorrow or injury. The grief causes one to go astray in the faith and experience ruin. The danger here is that the weak will come to ruin via the strong’s behavior. The very salvation of the weak was at stake. If Christ dies to secure their salvation, then surely the strong should abstain from meat and wine to preserve it. How do we explain the eternal destruction of the weak in this situation? It seems strange at first glance that the weak would be separated from Christ simply by eating meat and drinking wine. Some hints are provided in the text, though not enough to answer this question definitely. To begin with it is imperative to grasp firmly the danger to which the weak are exposed. The weak are grieved or stumble if they imitate the behavior of the strong without having the same faith as the strong. What damages the weak, then, is to engage in behavior that is contrary to their faith and conscience. In the community they hide their convictions and partake of food that they consider defiled. This hypocrisy injures their conscience and plunges them toward ruin. Thus Paul argues in verse 14 that even though all foods are clean, they are unclean if anyone thinks they are defiled. In other words, it is wrong for the weak to eat the foods at issue and drink wine because they are convinced that this eating and drinking are forbidden by God. They are grieved, then, because they are persuaded that they have violated a divine norm. It is understandable that one’s faith would be destroyed if he or she began to engage in behaviors that violated what was understood to be the moral norms of the faith. Faith cannot survive if people consistently flout what they consider to be its moral absolutes. An even more fundamental answer emerges in verse 23. Those who doubt are condemned when eating. The reason for condemnation is that doubt is incompatible with faith. Paul concluded verse 23 with a maxim: For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. The weak are destroyed and condemned if they eat because when eating they do not rely on God. Instead, their hearts are filled with doubts, and they believe that eating is displeasing to God. Verse 17 explains why the good news of salvation should not be brought into disrepute by the behavior of the strong. The kingdom of God does not consist in the right to eat and drink what one pleases. What one consumes is ultimately trivial. The kingdom consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The strong should heartily consent in foregoing their rights because of the scruples of the weak. The link between verses 18 and 19 is especially important. Those who live under the power of the kingdom are filled with righteousness, peace, and joy and do not consider food and drink to be crucial. They are willing to forego such trivialities to advance the kingdom. Those who are so transformed reveal that they have a new master, Christ, whom they serve. The righteousness of the kingdom does not leave people untouched but presses them into the service of Christ. Such service reveals that they are acceptable to God. To be pleasing to God means that they will be vindicated and saved at the final judgment. What is pleasing to God is also approved by men. It is difficult to know whether men here refers to believers, unbelievers, or both. Verse 19 forms the conclusion to verses 16-19. The word peace in verse 19 forms a link with the peace of the kingdom in verse 17. Verse 18 asserts that those who are truly part of the kingdom of God will serve Christ by doing what is pleasing to God and approved in the sight of men. In verse 19 Paul assumes that the strong are genuine members of the kingdom since they have experienced its saving power, peace, and joy. Thus they should pursue what leads to peace in the church and the building of other believers. The word mutual upbuilding or ‘edification’ here specifies what kind of peace is envisioned; it is a piece that strengthens brothers and sisters in the faith.”  [Schreiner, pp. 726-744].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Paul mean by weak in faith? In verse 2, why does Paul use the word believes only with the strong and not the weak person? Why does weakness of faith and inadequate understanding go together?

2.         In these verses, what does Paul say is the responsibilities of the strong; of the weak? How does Paul tolerate such diversity in the church? (Note that Paul is not dealing here with absolute moral norms that are given in God’s Word. Therefore Paul accepts diversity as long as both sides are motivated by the desire to bring honor to the Lord).

3.         Paul gives the theological basis for this section in verses 7-9. What is the key theological principle for Paul? What is the believer’s goal in all of life?

4.         What conclusions does Paul draw in verses 13-19 (Therefore [13]; So then [19])? What does Paul mean by a stumbling block for the weak?

References:

The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, Baker.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.