Loving Beyond Differences:
An Exposition on Romans 14:1--15:3
This study is an examination of Romans 14:1--15:3, a passage of Scripture dealing with Christian liberty--the Biblical alternative to legalism. A parallel passage to Romans 14:1-15:3 is I Corinthians chapters 8-10, although this passage will not be examined in this exposition.
Before beginning a brief exposition on these verses and an application for us today, I would like to make some preliminary remarks. Paul only commended the Roman church for their faith. He never commended them for their hope or love.1 The church of Rome was experiencing a lot of contention between its Jewish and Gentile factions. They did not have a proper understanding of the nature of the church--that of a unified body of believers all equal before God regardless of background and ethnic division (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 3:1-6). This Jew/Gentile conflict is witnessed throughout the epistle. The Gentiles were condemning the Jews because they had been rejected by God due to their rejection of the Messiah; God turning to the Gentiles instead. The Jews were claiming superiority over the Gentile believers because God had given them the Law of Moses which was superior revelation to that given the Gentiles, and had made the Jews a chosen people unto Him.
Paul attempted to correct these false views in chapters 1-3 by demonstrating that the Gentiles had come short of God's glory because they did not live up to the general revelation given to them, and the Jews did not live up to the special revelation of the Law either. Both were guilty before God so that God could justify all by faith. In chapters 9-11 Paul declared that the Jews are not going to be cast aside by God forever, but that He still has a future plan for them. The Gentiles are presently enjoying the benefits of the New Covenant because of Israel's unbelief, but there will come a day when the blindness of Israel will be taken away and they will be the head of the nations. Paul, in chapter fourteen, continued to correct and reconcile the differences and contentions between the Jews and Gentiles. This time he addressed the exercising of Christian liberty.
Prefacing what he was about to say concerning the exercise of Christian liberty, Paul made it clear that love is the primary aspect of our walk with God (Romans 13:11-14).. We are to love God and others. Since the coming of the Lord is so near, Christians need to cast off all works of darkness, and make no provisions to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. So then, there are two introductory principles to the discussion at hand: love God/one another, and do not leave any room for oneself to live in a carnal manner.
In Romans 14 Paul turned his attention to Jewish/Gentile infightings over areas of Christian behavior. The Jews thought it wrong to eat meats or drink wine2 (vs. 2-3, 15, 20-21), and thought it necessary to observe certain days as sacred or holy (vs. 5-6). The Gentiles, who were not raised under the Law of Moses and did not have these ideas ingrained into them from childhood, thought this ridiculous. They would not allow the Jews to put this yoke of bondage on them. The Jews, who had been brought up with these ideas from the Law and legalistic groups like the Essenes, knew, and could see no other way of life. They were not easily drawn away from these practices, and they refused to believe others could do participate in them even though the gospel allowed it.
The issue at hand was not the believer's salvation, but his ability or inability to participate in Biblically acceptable behavior due to a strong or weak conscience. Paul showed the Romans that there is room for private conviction and opinion, but not room for fighting over such matters in the body of Christ.
Those who limited themselves in certain areas needed to wait for further revelation and understanding, but while they were waiting for this understanding of their freedom in Christ they needed to keep themselves within the limit of their own knowledge and not allow themselves the liberty before they could embrace it by faith.
Paul never tried to change the minds of the weak brethren. He did not tell the believers they were wrong and needed to change their views and practices. In fact he did just the contrary (vs. 3-6, 22-23). He did not try making the entire church believe and practice one way, but gave them the freedom to follow their conscience as long as they did not hinder the unity of the body of Christ, or wound the faith of any believer.
Verses 1-13a show that all must exercise their liberty before God, knowing that He is our judge and no man. Verses 13b through chapter 15:3 show how we must also exercise our liberty in love and consideration of other brethren, knowing that we must live in righteousness, peace, and joy with the body of Christ.
Finally, Paul condemned and instructed more openly the stronger who could bear it, while indirectly showing the error of the weak.
All verses are quoted from the New International Version.
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.
A literal rendering from the Greek is: "Him that is weak in the faith, receive him, but not for disputes over opinions." Apparently the strong believers were attempting to coerce the Jewish brethren, who thought it wrong to eat meats, drink wines, and not observe certain days, into changing their beliefs. This resulted in contentions and factions.
We can be guilty of acting as did the Romans, i.e. trying to make everyone believe and do like us. Such an endeavor is not part of Christianity. There is room for opinion. We must realize that man things we believe have nothing to do with morality, or are not based on Biblical teachings, but are mere preferences or ideas which seem right to us, or have been ingrained into us from childhood. Some of these beliefs are misinformed, or based on a misunderstanding of holiness. We must be sure that when we teach holiness to others that we are teaching Biblical holiness, and not our personal opinions on what is holy and what is not holy. Such opinions are disputable, and should not divide the body of Christ.
When the church comes together as brethren it should not be for the purpose of arguing over different holiness issues not addressed in Scripture, but to glorify God and love one another. We need to stress holiness and separation from the world, but not to the point that we fight over it, divide ourselves, and get bitter, refusing to show love and fellowship to our brothers and sisters.
One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, w=ose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
The Bible makes it clear that the NT church is not under any dietary laws or have to observe certain days as being above others (Colossians 2:16). The Law of Moses taught these things, but not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those whom Paul called "weak" are so called because they could not take the Word of God at face value. They had to go beyond Biblical truth by adding their own personal list of "don'ts" to the gospel in order to believe that they were pleasing God. Their consciences were weak. The strong brothers were those who understood that observing these ordinances could not make anyone pleasing to God (see I Corinthians 8:8).
We commonly perceive that the person who has more personal "standards" is holier than he who has less standards, but it may very well be that they have a weaker conscience than other Christians. They have to live in a manner in which their liberty in Christ is restricted by their lack of understanding of what truly pleases and displeases God.
The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.
The strong brother was despising the frailty of the weaker brother. The weak brother was judging the stronger brother because he did not refrain from the same things as did he. Such behavior is unbecoming of Christians. The church is a body which needs every member to function properly (I Corinthians 12:12-27). Our own bodies would not be in good shape if our hand and mouth were always squabbling. If God has accepted the party that believes something is permissible, and the party that believes something is not permissible, then why can we not accept one another?
If we believe a certain thing to be wrong, but our brother believes the same to be acceptable, we should not condemn or despise him who does not have the same understanding of the issue as do we. There is a need to tolerate each other's views. We should not withhold our love and fellowship from someone because they hold to a different view than we do. Instead we can either express our concern to the individual or pray for them. God has received him despite what we might believe concerning him. If God could love us when we were fornicators, adulterers, liars, and lost in sin, can we not love one another beyond such petty, questionable matters?
Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Paul reproved both Jews and Gentiles by using the example of a master's servant. As long as a master is pleased with his servant, it does not matter what anyone else thinks of him. The servant's master is able to make his servant stand. Our master is Jesus. We must be primarily concerned about pleasing Him. It is to God that we will either stand or fall, but God will make sure we are able to stand with Him.3
It is part of our nature to see the world through our eyes. We commonly fight the tendency to force our personal beliefs and opinions on others who disagree. This could be compared to building fences in others' yards. We build fences that suit our fancy in our neighbors' yards, and when they object to our actions we deem them unspiritual or backslidden because they do not like the same style, color, or type of fence we have, or simply are not ready to put up a fence yet. We tend to think everybody needs the same fences we do when in reality they may not. They may not face the same temptations as we do, and therefore do not need protection against them by placing certain restrictions or requirements upon themselves.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Some believed one way, others believed another concerning the observance of days. Paul did not say that all must believe alike. Rather, all must be fully convinced in their own minds! Whatever your persuasion, let it be that what you do, you are doing as unto the Lord, being able to give Him thanks in it.
To do something simply because someone tells us it is right, or to refrain from something simply because someone tells us it is wrong is dangerous, because we end up living a life based upon another's ideas and beliefs, and not our own. We must be persuaded in our own mind that we are living in a manner pleasing to God. It is not possible to walk the middle of the road without understanding why we live the way we do. Eventually we will either let that belief go, or fall into a legalistic understanding of holiness, i.e. following a set of rules without understanding why.
Unexamined beliefs are not worth believing. One must question what they believe if they are ever going to be convinced that what they believe is correct. If we do not question our present beliefs, how could we ever prevent ourselves from being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine? If we do not think through our personal stands on moral issues, how could we ever discern between true holiness/morality and a false sense of righteousness? We have to know what truth is for ourselves. On the judgment day God will hold us responsible for what we believed and what we taught, not for what we were told to believe.
One way to determine if you are fully persuaded in our own minds concerning our moral choices is to imagine a situation in which you are being confronted about your beliefs by an unbeliever. What would you say when a sinner asks you why you live the way you do? Could you give them answers? If not, then you may be living your life in blind obedience to a dogma, rather than living your life in true holiness to the Lord.
Each one of us needs to be fully persuaded in our own minds, but our persuasion does not mean there is no other way! The message of this passage shows that there are other ways, but we must be sure that in our particular persuasion we are pleasing God.
The danger of an unexamined moral system is that people will obey the "rules" without ever understanding why. They never establish personal convictions for themselves, but only follow other people's convictions. When this happens a person fails to develop their own personal relationship with the Lord in respect to holiness.
For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
Each individual life is God's, so we should live our life as unto Him. We belong to God whether we are dead or alive. We are subject to and bound to the will of Christ. All Christians are directly subject to Jesus and have the liberty to follow their own consciences in areas the Bible is silent or unclear on.
VERSES TEN-THIRTEEN A
You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.
Because each believer lives and dies to God alone, Paul posed the question of how and why the believers could judge and condemn one another. How could someone judge another when the other is not under his authority, but Christ's? Since every believer will give account of himself before the judgment seat of Christ, there is no reason for any believer to think he can sit on a judgment seat and condemn his brother now. It is the Lord who bought the individual with the price of His blood, so it is the individual's responsibility to work out his salvation before God with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:13-14). It is the individual who will answer to God as to whether or not he did his duty to live his life as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Paul utilized the term "brother" to help the Romans see that they would only be condemning their own family, a member of their own body.
Sometimes we tend to think that others should give accounts of their walk with God to us. We feel the need to approve of their behavior and choices. If we do not like them, we conclude they must be wrong and must change their behavior to conform to our beliefs and opinions. These verses teach us, however, that since it is Jesus who will ultimately judge our practices, we have no right nor need to judge others now. We are not talking about Scriptural commandments such as drunkenness, adultery, and lying.. We are talking about non-moral and gray issues which the Scripture does not plainly speak of.
The question remains as to how we can determine what is moral and non-moral? This can be a relative concept to different individuals. Let's take the example of Christmas trees. Some people believe that having a Christmas tree is wrong. The belief is based off of a misunderstanding of Jeremiah 10:3-5.4 This passage is not referring to Christmas trees, but to the carving of an idol out of a tree and decorating it with gold to worship it. The only way it would be wrong to have a Christmas tree is if we were actually worshipping the tree itself. Those who understand this believe it is alright to have a Christmas tree; those who do not understand this often declare it is a sin to have a Christmas tree. The point I want to make is that the anti-Christmas tree group believes it is a moral issue, while the pro-Christmas tree group believes it is not (This parallels the examples that Paul uses of eating meats, drinking certain types of beverages, and observing certain days. To those who held to these things, they were moral issues, but to those who had understanding they were not.). The two groups view the issue in two different ways. So it can be difficult to even determine what the moral and non-moral issues are.
As humans we tend to believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong who does not agree with us. Benjamin Franklin once used this illustration to show that nobody is 100% right in how they believe: When one is standing in a patch of fog, they can look all around them and see everybody in the distance surrounded by fog. When that individual looks at the perimeter around himself, it appears as though he is in the clear. In reality he is just as much in the fog as those he views from a distance. It just depends on the perspective one is looking from. When a man who is standing afar off looks at the one who thought he was in the clear, he is in the fog, and he himself in the clear. We are all in the fog. Nobody is right on everything; however, the fog is always thicker in some places more than in others.
VERSES THIRTEEN B-SIXTEEN
Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.
We are not to judge one another, but ourselves so as to not do anything that might put another brother in danger of backsliding or losing faith in Christ. But just because some things might cause one to backslide does not mean that they are wrong in and of themselves. They are only wrong to him who thinks they are wrong. It is by knowledge that one will determine whether or not something is wrong. Knowledge works alongside the conscience, both of which can be misinformed. Even if someone's knowledge and conscience was misinformed, it did not change the fact that Paul wanted them to be persuaded one way or the other. They would be violating their consciences if they acted contrary to their present level of knowledge (vs. 22-23).
First, the believer must be assured that their behavior and beliefs are approved by God, and then judge whether or not their behavior will hinder other brothers in the body of Christ... Concerning the stronger brother, Paul asked if he was acting in love if he ate meat in front of his brother even if it might make him stumble. The answer to this rhetorical question was, of course, no. We cannot destroy another brother with our personal liberty. Even if it may seem good to us and God, we are not to let others speak evil of it. That would not be profitable.
Even if we are persuaded that a particular thing is permissible to do before God for ourselves, we must consider what the consequences of our actions would be to others who do not have the same understanding we do. If we know that another brother's faith could be injured by what we do, it is not love that would say, "Oh well!" Christ died for this individual's salvation as much as he did for our own. We cannot play around with his faith in Christ because we have more understanding. Let us walk in love and care more about what might hinder others than what might please us. This does not negate the weaker brother's responsibility to quit condemning the stronger, but the stronger brother has the greater responsibility to keep peace in the body of Christ.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
The kingdom of God does not consist of such petty things as what one drinks or eats, but consists of having a right standing, peace, and joy with both God. If we would spend our time and energy making sure we share all of these elements with Jesus (righteousness, peace, and joy) we will be approved by men also. Proverbs 16:7 says if a man's ways please God, even his enemies will be at peace with him.. If this is the case, then let us follow after the things which will bring peace and edification to one another, not the things which will cause contentions and be spoken evil of.
It is amazing how insignificant some of the issue are that people will argue over. Those things that have minimal importance we place utmost importance on, and those things which are extremely important we put on the back-burner. There is a lost world who needs to hear the gospel and a God in heaven who wants glory! Billy Cole once said, "Let's focus on what God focused on. We won't let a man get in our pulpit with a short sleeve on, but we'll let him get up there with envy, strife, and sedition in his heart."5 There are weightier matters which must not be left undone.
T.F. Tenny also said, "I don't want to be like Israel. God called them to be a kingdom of priests to evangelize the world. He said, 'You're going to be a kingdom of priests.' They never became it.... But you know what? God gave 'em ten commandments and they wrote 365 more trying to describe the ten. And they got more centered on their consecration than on their mission. Nothing was wrong with their consecration, but they got to talking about it and arguing about it, more about their consecration than their mission.. And before it was over with they lost 'em both. Jesus died for one thing, and that was to save the lost. Nothing takes precedent over that."6 We must not fight among ourselves over areas of application to Biblical principles of holiness. The world is not waiting for us to decide whether or not this and that is acceptable, but they are waiting for us to tell them about the gospel.
Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.
Personal opinions should not overthrow (the literal meaning of "destroy" in the Greek) the work of God in individual believers and in the church as a whole, but this is what will happen if everyone contends for their own beliefs. Paul reaffirmed that all things are permissible (non-moral things), but not so for the man who thinks they are evil, but participates in them regardless. One's behavior should conform to their convictions; however, we cannot condemn others who differ in their convictions.
We must not hinder the work of God because we insist on contending for our views. This is an insult to Calvary. Brother fighting against brother over matters that will never be settled because the Bible never addresses them hinders the work of God. Let us fulfill the great commission, not our own mission to prove that our view is the correct one. Let us love one another, walking in unity to save our world!
VERSES TWENTY-ONE - TWENTY-THREE
It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
In consideration of all Paul previously said, he declared that it is not good to do anything that would cause a brother to become weak, offended in Christ, or stumble. Paul gave us some advice on how to deal with these situations. If one has faith to exercise his liberty before God without his conscience condemning him, then he should do it, but only before God. He needs to practice his liberty where none will be destroyed because of it. If one can not participate in a certain activity without feeling condemnation from his conscience, then he should not do it. For if he does it anyway, he will be missing the mark7 he has set for himself and consequently will experience condemnation. If an individual feels that doing a particular thing is evil in the sight of God he should not do it. This individual would experience condemnation just as though it was truly wrong. A person suffering from condemnation is not able to enjoy their relationship with God to its fullest extent, even if it is unmerited self-condemnation. Jay Adams, in his book Competent to Counsel, gives the example of a woman he calls "Sue," who was taught wearing make-up was a sin, but began doing so later in life. Dealing with the incorrectness of her actions, and their consequences, Adams wrote:
'How could Sue be guilty for wearing lipstick?' She could, if Sue had come from a home where she had been taught that wearing lipstick was sin. Now, if in college she has begun to wear lipstick in order not to look peculiar, but is doing so against her standards, she will be guilty of sin, and her guilt will be real. Even if wearing lipstick is not sinful in itself, Sue's act is sinful because it did not proceed 'from faith' (Romans 14:21-23). When Sue used lipstick, she thought her act was (or might have been) a sin against God, and yet she did it anyway. It is this rebellion against God for which she is guilty and about which her conscience rightly condemns her. Sue must confess her sin to find forgiveness and relief, and must not be told that her guilt is false. Later, if it is important to do so, the matter of whether Sue's standard is biblical may be discussed; but these are two distinct questions. Yet they have been confused consistently.8
Are there certain things that others may not feel are right, but you are able to partake of without feeling condemnation, or vice-versa? Then do it, or do not do it as unto the Lord. Whatever the issue may be, if one is going to partake of their Christian liberty before the Lord, they should do so with, or where others view the issue as do they. If no known person views the issue as does the individual, it would be wise to partake of that liberty before God alone. We are not to flaunt our liberties. Such behavior only leads to division and contention.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN VERSES ONE-THREE
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me."
The strong brethren are to bear the weaknesses of the weak brethren, and not do as they please. They are not to be selfish or fight for their own personal liberties, but rather please their neighbor, doing that which is good for him to his edification. Even Jesus Christ did not please Himself, but suffered reproach from the mouths of men for our sakes.
When we take the attitude that it does not matter what anyone else believes, insisting on exercising our own liberty, we do not have the love and attitude of Christ. We should bear those whose consciences are weak. If we do not we are not acting in love toward our brother. The strong brethren are not the only ones who bear responsibility. Those whose consciences are weak also have the responsibility to tolerate those who do not, but the greater responsibility rests on the stronger brethren.
Paul emphasized in this passage that loving one another, having peace among ourselves, and edifying one another is the most important thing the church can do. We should not let differences of opinion over petty things divide us. First of all, we must make sure that our manner of living is pleasing in the sight of God, and then also that we are right with the brethren. The weak brothers need to quit condemning those who do not see things as do they; the strong brothers need to quit looking down on those who lack understanding, as being ignorant. If both parties would follow the instructions and principles found in this passage, many contentions in the body of Christ would be eliminated.
Put yourself in this passage today. Plug in your own personal issues and see how you measure up. Are we really obeying Paul's teaching today as the body of Christ? It is time we move past arguing over doubtful matters and love one another instead. It is time we focus on what matters most-- loving one another, loving beyond differences!
1. It appears that Paul judged the maturity of the collective church of a city by three things: faith, hope, and love (I Corinthians 13:13). Whatever area(s) he did not commend them for, he would spend the rest of the letter trying to correct it, or them. A good example is the two letters to the Thessalonians. In the first letter Paul commended them for their faith, hope, and love (I Thessalonians 1:3). In the second letter Paul only commended them for their faith and love. Why was this? We read (in 2:1-2) that somebody had written a letter to the Thessalonians claiming Paul's authorship, and said that the rapture of the church had passed. This caused the Thessalonians to lose their hope. Paul wrote to them, therefore, to restore their hope. This pattern can be seen in Paul's other epistles also. <back>
2. The word translated "wine" is the Greek word oinos. This word is a generic word that can either refer to fermented or unfermented wine. The only way to tell which type of wine is intended is by the context in which the word is used. When we look at the context of this chapter, and how the Scripture speaks of fermented beverages elsewhere, we could conclude that the wine in view here is unfermented (grape-juice). There were Jews, such as the Essenes, who believed that any juice from the grape should not be drank. This could be what Paul had in view here. It should also be noted that when the King James Version was written, the word "wine" was a generic term that could refer to either fermented or unfermented wine. It would be like us today calling Welch's Grape-Juice "Welch's Wine." <back>
3. The idea of standing and falling has to do with being guilty or innocent. <back>
4. The passage is talking about cutting down a tree and then carving out of it an idol. The idol was then decked with gold and silver. They think the passage is talking about decking a tree with gold and silver which is similar to our custom in the U.S. of decorating trees at Christmas time. With this they reason that it is wrong because it is associated with paganism. This is clearly not the meaning of the passage. <back>
5. Spoken at a Wisconsin camp-meeting. <back>
6. Quoted from T.F. Tenny's message Three Days From Nowhere at the "Because of the Times" conference at Alexandria, Louisiana, 1996. <back>
7. This is the meaning of the Greek word hamartia, which is translated "sin" in most places in the New Testament. It doesn't necessarily have to mean you have missed God's mark, but you have missed the mark you set for yourself. In context and from other passages in the New Testament, we know that we can eat meats, drink grape-juice, and that we need not observe any certain days. Paul, however, tells the Romans that if you believe you can't eat meat, drink grape-juice, and that you have to observe certain days, you should hold to your convictions. If they didn't they would be missing the mark (translated "sin"). We know that it can't mean they have sinned against God (missed His mark), because He made it clear in His Word that to do these things is not sin, but is acceptable in His sight. The word translated "damned" in verse twenty-three is not referring to eternal damnation to the lake of fire, but is speaking of condemnation. <back>
8. Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1970), 14. <back>
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