Week of May 31, 2020

The Point:  Don’t let differences of opinion damage your relationships.

Walking in Love:  Romans 14:1-4, 13-19.

[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. [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]

“Weak in Faith [14:1-4]. If someone spends a lot of time talking about a particular subject, it is usually because the person is interested in it and thinks it’s important. So apparently Paul is very interested in the way Christians treat other Christians, since he writes on this subject at length. Romans 14 begins a new section [14:1-15:13], and it is one of the book’s longest parts. Why does Paul give so much space to discussing why Christians need to accept those with whom they disagree on less than essential matters? What is the Issue? The first verse of chapter 14 is a thematic statement. There has been a great deal of debate over what Paul is specifically concerned about in this verse and those following. He is talking about people who are “weak” and those who are “strong.” But who are these weak and strong people? Paul does not spell out exactly who they are, nor why the views of the one party are weak or weaker than the other. Paul is not thinking of any one area of action or belief specifically, though he throws out suggestions, but rather that he is intentionally being quite general. To use our common expression, the problem is that Christians are always dumping on one another. Instead of getting on with living their own lives as best they can to the glory of God, or, which is also necessary, living so as to win nonbelievers to Christ, they are wasting their time trying to find fault with one another. They do not trust what God is doing in the other Christian. We have to stop that behavior, Paul says. We must accept and support one another if we are to hear and heed what Paul is saying in this last major section of the letter. Another matter we need to think about as we begin to get into this section is that when we are thinking about accepting other Christians as they are we need to grapple with the issues that are dividing believers today and not those that troubled Christians yesterday. But Paul issues two general commands in verse 1 for dealing with these type issues. Welcome him (the one who is weak in faith). This means that we are to accept other Christians as Christians. Welcome is a strong word, because it is used of God’s acceptance of us in verse 3 and of Christ’s acceptance of us in 15:7. If God has welcomed the other person, who are you not to welcome him? The second command is not to quarrel over opinions. Recognize that some standards of right conduct are unclear and that other matters really do not matter. In those areas, let the matter drop and get on with things that do matter. Above all, accept the other believer for what he or she has to offer to the whole body of Christ. And do your own part too! Tell someone about Jesus. Certainly you have better things to do than to hunt out the speck in the eye of your fellow Christian while overlooking the plank in your own. [2-4] Christians tend to place chasms between themselves and other Christians, either judging them not to be Christians at all because of some offensive detail of their conduct or else regarding them as Christians but as those with whom they should have no contact. That is wrong. It is what Paul is denouncing in Romans 14:1. There is a true chasm, of course, and it is a frightening one. It is between those who are Christians and those who are not, between those who have been made spiritually alive and those who remain spiritually dead. That chasm can only be bridged by God through the utterly supernatural and spiritual work of regeneration. The chasm is not to be placed between any who truly believe on Jesus Christ as their Savior. Christians have plenty of problems with the world. The world has a different master, pursues different goals, and lives according to a different set of rules. We are not part of it. But the worst problems we face are on this side of the chasm, between Christians who all confess Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior but who look at some things differently. God made us very different, and as a result we inevitably act differently and also think differently about the things we do. What do we do when we encounter Christians who behave differently from us? Paul highlights two wrong responses in these verses. First, those who consider themselves to be strong in faith frequently look down on or despise the weak – they despise. On the other hand, the weak usually condemn the strong – they pass judgment. Paul gives two examples of what he has in mind. The first is the matter of eating or not eating certain foods. The second is observing or not observing special days. What are we to do about matters of eating or drinking, or not eating or not drinking, or similar matters? The important thing about Romans is that Paul is not even dealing with this issue as one to be resolved, but rather with the attitude that either scorns or condemns the other Christian. That is the issue! Not the eating or not eating. In other words, what you eat or do not eat or drink or do not drink does not matter, so stop arguing about it, and stop letting it determine with whom you will associate or with whom you will work in Christ’s service. How do we get over our natural but destructive tendency to scorn or judge believers who do not behave exactly like we do? In these verses Paul gives several truths about which to start. 1. The other Christian does not answer to you but to God. Paul teaches this when he asks the self-styled “strong” believer, Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? Why is it so hard for us to realize this? I do not mean by this that we should not have a mutual concern for one another. We have to pray for them, help them, urge them on, and do everything possible to see that they do well and succeed as Christians. But this does not include scorning them or judging them if in Jesus’ service they see things differently and act differently than you do. This is because they do not answer to you. They answer to Jesus. Therefore, leave it with him. And remember that Jesus cares about them and is more concerned that they live an upright, strong, and spiritual profitable life than you are. 2. God has already accepted the other Christian as he or she is. We know this by definition since a Christian is one who stands before God not on the basis of his or her own righteousness but because of the work of Jesus Christ. Since the other believer has been accepted and not rejected by Jesus, you should accept him or her too. This does not mean that everything the other Christian does is right any more than everything you do is right. But it means that the Christian is accepted because of Christ’s death on his or her behalf and the gift of Christ’s righteousness to such a one by God. In other words, the basis of his or her acceptance is not works. If you are making the other person’s acceptance depend on what he or she is doing, you are operating on the basis of salvation by works and are denying the gospel. You do not have to agree that everything the other person is doing is right, any more than he has to agree that everything you are doing is right. But it does mean that you have to accept the person as a believer with whom you must be in fellowship, because God has himself accepted him, just as he has accepted you. Since we are accepted by grace apart from our works, obviously we need to accept other believers on the same basis. 3. The other Christian stands by the grace of God, just as you do. Let’s remember that it is also by grace that we stand and function in the Christian life. Paul indicates this when he says, and he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand [4]. If Jesus feels that the other believer needs to change something about how he is living in order to accomplish the work he has ordained for him to do, Jesus will see to the change. You can’t bring it about by yourself anyway. But if in the meantime Jesus does not bother to change that conduct, then it does not matter to him and is not hurting what he has appointed the other one to do. As a matter of fact, it is possible that what you are so concerned about does not matter under any circumstances – simply because you and I tend to get hung up on things that do not matter while we overlook the things that do. 4. You too are accountable to God. Finally, we need to remember that it is not only the other Christian who is going to give an account to God, but you will have to do it too. In one place Jesus said that you will have to give an account even of every careless word you have spoken [Matt. 12:36]. If that is true, don’t you think you have enough to be concerned about without trying to straighten out the other Christian? Let Jesus worry about straightening the other Christian out, especially in those areas that probably don’t really matter anyway. In the meantime, worry about your own accountability and determine that, regardless of the case of others, when you stand before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ you will hear him say of you, Well done, good and faithful servant [Matt. 25:21,23].” [Boice, pp. 1723-1737].

 “Responsible Christianity [14:13-19]. The way to move forward in the Christian life is not for one group of believers to lay down a set of rules for other Christians. How those who know the nature of true Christian freedom are to use their liberty is precisely what Paul discusses in this section of Romans. The key concept is responsibility. We are free as Christians, but we must use our freedom in a way that supports, helps or builds up the other person, not in a way that harms him or tears him down. The Basic Principle [13]. Verse 13 is a restatement of the principle Paul has been explaining from the start – we must stop passing judgment on one another. It is something he has been saying to both the weak and the strong. The “weak” brother or sister is the one who is bothered by scruples over things that should not matter. The person he calls “strong” is the one who knows that in principle what one does in these areas really doesn’t matter. Scripture does not give us merely negative commands, but also gives us positive injunctions, which is the case here. In the Greek text of verse 13 the word judge is used twice. In the first case, the verse tells us to stop judging other people. In the second, it tells us to start judging ourselves. When Paul says, Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, he is speaking to both the weak and the strong believer. The weak are not to judge the strong by considering them unspiritual, and the strong are not to judge the weak by considering them immature. At this point, however, Paul becomes more directive, speaking to those who considered themselves to be strong, saying, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. In fact, from this point on nearly everything he writes is to them. The strong believer has more latitude in these matters and can accommodate the weaker brother, while the weaker brother cannot accommodate him. The weak brother can only abstain from what he believes to be wrong. The strong Christian can either abstain or not abstain. Therefore, he has it within his power to accommodate the other person, which is what Paul tells him to do. The Underlying Truth [14]. The second verse of this section is a parenthesis. For although Paul will say that the strong believer should forgo what his principles would otherwise permit for the sake of the weaker brother, the underlying truth nevertheless is that the strong believer is right: No food is unclean of itself. Nevertheless, Paul adds that for the one who thinks something is unclean it truly is. Therefore, for his sake the strong believer should be willing to forgo many things that he would otherwise be able to enjoy because of his own sense of spiritual freedom. The Strong’s Responsibility [15-16]. This brings us to the main point of this passage, but at the same time also to something that must be handled very carefully. To see why we only have to ask this question: Do the strong in faith have to forgo anything about which some weaker believer might object? In a world with so much variety there is hardly anything you or I might do that will not be objected to by some other believer. But these two verses supply forceful reasons why the advice not to do anything to harm the other believer should be heeded. There are three of them. This is the way John Calvin expresses them in his commentary. (1) Love is violated if our brother is made to grieve for so slight a reason, for it is contrary to love to cause anyone distress. If the truth of the gospel was at stake, Paul would fight to the last ditch to defend it. But if it is not a matter of God’s grace in saving sinners, it is clear that the demands of love should override one’s personal freedom in peripheral matters. We will not harm our Christian brothers or sisters for so slight a matter as what we eat or drink. To insist on our own way at this point would be selfish at best and most likely be wicked. (2) The price of the blood of Christ is wasted when a weak conscience is wounded, for the most contemptible brother has been redeemed by the blood of Christ. In verse 15, Paul uses a strong word when he says that we are not to destroy the brother for whom Christ died. He does not mean that we might cause our brother to perish eternally by some sin. He means that sin is destructive and that if your actions cause the other person to do what he or she believes to be sinful, then you are harming that person because for him that behavior is wrong. How can you do that if you understand, as you should, that the other person is one for whom Christ died? Jesus gave his life for that other believer. How can you refuse to give up a merely questionable practice? In this area comparison with our Lord would put most of us to shame. (3) If the liberty which Christ has attained for us is good, we ought to see that men do not slander it and rightly disparage it when we abuse the gifts of God. The good of this verse is not the disputed matter that might be spoken of as evil by the weaker brother. It is the strong believer’s liberty, and the point is that our freedom must not be thought by unbelievers to be merely an excuse for Christian license. We are responsible to God, first of all, but also to our weaker brethren and to the watching world. This is a short life. Its pleasures are passing and will be vastly overshadowed by the far greater pleasures and joys of heaven. Should we not willingly give up a little more here for the sake of that which is eternal, and that others might be saved? God’s Kingdom [17]. Paul has been writing about the demands of Christian love and the obligation each believer has to protect and edify his Christian brother or sister. But now, suddenly in the midst of all this, there comes a definition of the kingdom of God that is almost a thunderbolt in view of some Christians’ forceful and repeated attempts to impose their earthly wills on other people. Verse 17 is a key verse for any biblical study of the true nature of the church, yet this is the only time in Romans that Paul employs the word kingdom, and he uses it only sixteen times in all his writings. It is, however, a common and important term in the gospels. God’s kingdom is difficult to define because it is so important and so extensive. Perhaps the most important thing to be said about the kingdom of God is that it is God’s kingdom. It is the realm in which God rules. Moreover, because it is a case of God ruling, his kingdom must by definition be over and above any of the kingdoms of men and be infinitely superior to them. The kingdom of God is forever. In a sense the whole world is God’s kingdom; he is sovereign over his entire creation. At the same time, the rule of God describes his relationship to those who acknowledge his rule – that is, to those into whom he has entered by his Holy Spirit. This means that the kingdom of God is present in this important spiritual sense whenever individuals come to acknowledge God’s rule and reflect his character. How is that expressed? That is the question Paul answers in verse 17. Paul is saying that the kingdom of God is present and is seen in whatever God does in the lives of Christians. And what God does is bestow righteousness, grant peace, and bring joy in the Holy Spirit. Approved by God and Man [18]. Paul is promoting a right way of Christian thinking and behaving – knowing that the kingdom of God does not consist in eating and drinking or other nonessential matters but is rather something else entirely: the righteousness of Christ imputed to the sinner, which the believer will want to make known to other people; peace with God achieved by the work of Christ on his or her behalf; and joy, which is a mark of the Holy Spirit of God in the regenerated person’s life. In other words, the person who serves Christ will do it by living out a truly vital faith and not by trying to sustain a false, judgmental, and barren legalism. God is looking for a living, vital faith, not legalism. Legalism contributes to the pride of the flesh, because whenever we measure up to some moral code of our own or some other person’s devising we think of ourselves as being better than people who do not measure up to it. Jesus is not served in that way or with that kind of thinking. He is served when we understand that we are accepted by God through the work of Jesus Christ alone and are therefore able joyfully to accept and love all others for whom Jesus died. These other believers may be wrong in many respects, in our opinion. But we will know that we are all nevertheless part of one spiritual body, the body of Christ, and that we belong together with all other Christians as together we seek to live for Christ and bear a strong witness for him in this world.” [Boice, pp. 1763-1786].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What two general commands does Paul give us in verse 1? What does Paul mean by weak in faith? 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? What guidelines does Paul give us concerning how Christians should treat one another? (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. 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? What basic principle does Paul give in verse 13? What is the “strong” believer’s responsibility?
  4. Boice quotes Calvin on how the “strong” should act in 14:15-16. What three instructions does Calvin give? How can you put these into practice in your relationship with other believers?
  5. What does Paul write concerning the true nature of the church in 14:17-19? Seek to make these things the focus of your life in your church.


Romans, vol. 4, James Boice, Baker.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, InterVarsity.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, ECNT, Baker.

Romans, John Stott, InterVarsity.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.

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