Reflections From ROMANS 14: “HOW CAN BELIEVERS LIVE IN COMMUNITY WHEN OUR DIFFERENCES ARE SO DEAR TO US?”


ROMANS

For Paul, God’s mercies in the Gospel, is the source of transformation that propels how we live personally and corporately.  Be it before believers, the non-believing world or ruling authorities, the one thread holding righteous action together is our submission to the God of creation, the impetus of which is love for Him and our neighbor.

After addressing the delicate matter of submitting to rulers and what that entails contextually because God is ultimate and they are not, Paul ends chapter 13 with:  14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  Immediately Paul follows this command that referred back to what was previously said to what now follows in chapter 14:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

Paul seems to be addressing Jewish and Gentile relations and how to live within that milieu when disagreements arise as to what is or is not an essential to the Gospel, and how we are to live.  It seems clear that Paul leaves room for some kind of relativism for issues known as adiaphora from the Greek ἀδιάφορα “indifferent things”[1], things of which believers have disputed historically and have tended to make them “deal-breakers” concerning the faith.  This means that believers have broken fellowship over issues not central to the faith.

Now what does Paul mean in verse 1 by: “Now accept… but not for the purpose of passing judgment”?

The NIV reads, “Accept the one… without quarreling over disputable matters”, whereas

The ESV says, “As for the one… welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”  Still another rendering[2] says: “Receive the one…not (entering into) the judging of reasoned views”, while still another[3] source reads, “Welcome, but not for the purpose of getting into quarrels about opinions”.

From these renditions of the text, Paul seems to be admonishing believers to accept one another even as God has accepted them (v.3) by not trying to “fix” the others views (i.e., their doctrine) about issues that are dear to them but still not central to the Gospel.  Rather than (i.e., a Gentile) having as a goal, the correction of his brother (i.e., a Jew’s) dietary views, Paul admonishes fellowship.  Instead of having a superiority complex toward those that don’t understand certain freedoms Christ purchased for them, Paul commands tender understanding rooted in love.   Consider the text:

One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one 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 he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”   

According to Paul the weak are those who can only eat vegetables because of their conscience, not because God in the Gospel demands it.  What the Gospel does demand however is walking in love with our neighbor, especially other believers.  This issue has to do with foods that are clean or unclean which Jesus declared to be clean (See Mk.7:1-13), for food never makes one clean or polluted before God, sin does, thus the need for the Gospel (Rom.1:18-32).  Note that both the weak and the strong are challenged by love’s demand for acceptance for God has accepted them.

This text among other things does not say that we are never to judge the actions of another to see whether or not they are sinful and thus contra to the Gospel (See: Mt.7; Rom.12), but rather it is pointing out that God accepts His people because of His Son while they still have issues they get wrongly.  Nevertheless, because they are not essential to the Gospel, a sort of relativism is permitted by the all-wise God and believers need to learn to walk wisely in such circumstances.  Paul develops the same argument:

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must 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. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? 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 give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 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. 

The following is clear; first, because we are the Lord’s (weak and strong), our motives in how we live are to be God-centered—we are to live in light of His Lordship (vv.5-9); second, the issues at hand are foods and days (non-essentials to the Gospel) not blatant sin which is contradictory living under Christ’s Lordship (e.g., Rom.1:20-30: homosexual activity, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slander, haters of God, etc.); third, believers are never to separate because of non-essential issues (v.10); fourth, we are reminded that salvation is only found in Christ the Lord (vv.11-12; Phil.2:9-11) who not only rescued believers but will also be their judge.  Thus, because Christ has rescued and accepted every believer (servant), every believer is to do likewise for judgement awaits us all (God will judge His children’s works).  Lastly, an attitude of protection is to depict our interaction within the Christian community.  That is, we should be deeply concerned that our lives and freedoms (we can rightly enjoy in Christ) are not an occasion for hurting another believers’ walk with God. In light of the aforesaid, Paul says:

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 we 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.

To remove a stumbling block entails not partaking in what the weaker brother rejects (i.e., eating meat or worshiping on a specific day) and doing so is acceptable before God (v.18).  So God accepts both weak and strong in that which is not essential to the Gospel, believers are likewise to be accepting of one another (both weak and strong), and if the strong are not considerate of their weaker brother, that is unacceptable to God.

Paul’s concern here is the edification of the church rather than its destruction and warns against a cavalier attitude in these matters.  Walking in love with one another means that non-essential issues like diet and Days observed, are never to be the reason why we break fellowship.  Rather, we are called to live for the good of another through the Gospel realities so that Christ may be honored and the nations may be reached with such glorious news.

Are movies, drinking alcohol, dancing, music, home-schooling, political preference (Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc.) or a host of other things non-essential to the Gospel?  Yes, and yet our views concerning such matters often leads to unrighteousness that does not edify the church.  Are there gray areas in life?  Absolutely; so may we as lovers of God and neighbor ask for divine wisdom in these matters in order to live a life that’s honoring to God, the Church and the watching World, for our lives are not our own, Christ has purchased us through His blood which is why exhorts believers in Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”            

 (SDG

[1] https://www.google.com/?ion=1&espv=2#q=adiaphora%20definition (Accessed 6/23/2016)

[2] D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, pg. 684

[3] Reinecker, pg.379

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