Don't Stumble Your Brother - Romans 14
3) Much of the book of Romans seems devoted to resolving disputes between the Jews in Rome and the Gentiles in Rome would become part of the church. The Jews had been kicked out of Rome by the Emperor Claudius somewhere around AD 41 for a period of somewhere between eight and 12 years and were now returning. The Jews in Rome apparently were coming into the church with their Jewish practices and Jewish ways and expecting the Gentiles to behave in a Jewish fashion. This is like the Judaizers that Paul was writing to the Galatians about. These people were telling people that to be a real Christian event to first become Jewish or at least behave as the Jews did, keeping the law and the festivals. Paul spends pretty much the first three chapters explaining to the Jewish Christians in Rome that not only is this not necessary, it’s not helpful. There are some today who are modern-day Judaizers they are called the Hebrew roots movement. These are people are saying that we ought to keep the law and the Jewish calendar of festivals and holidays and sabbaths because after all if we are more Jewish will be more acceptable God. This chapter in particular seems to be addressing the opposite side of the question. It’s addressing those Gentiles who are criticizing the Jews for keeping the law.
4) 1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
a. Paul is saying here that we shouldn’t criticize someone whose faith keeps them from eating everything. If you remember when Peter was on the house top God showed him things to eat and he complained that he had never eaten anything unclean. And God told him not to call something unclean which he had cleansed.
b. For the Jewish mind the idea of eating just any meat was repulsive. It was important that meat be kosher. It was important that it not be sacrificed to idols, that it be killed in a certain manner, with the blood drained from it, etc. For those Jews to eat just any meat would’ve taken great faith. Some then would only eat vegetables in those circumstances where they couldn’t be sure of the origin of the meat. There were no vegetables that weren’t safe to eat.
c. Those who were of the pagan religions also sacrificed animals to their idols just as the Jews did. In the case of the Jewish temple the priests could never eat all of the meat that was sacrificed so they sold it to make money for the temple. The pagans did the same thing. Because of this it was often uncertain in pagan lands what the source of the meat was.
d. It is always the person of weaker faith who operates in legalism. When a person’s faith is shaky and they are uncertain about their standing with God they tend to be more careful. When you have a high level of confidence about your standing with God then you concern yourself less that a small thing will separate you from him. Just a few chapters ago in Chapter 8 and verses 38-39 Paul said “38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created” It seems to me that this would include a dietary restriction.
5) 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
a. Paul is saying to accept the one with the weak faith. Not to condemn them or to try and convert them to doing something different.
b. So if you have a freer attitude about these things than another Christian, Paul is telling you not to treat them with contempt. God has accepted them so let Him be the judge. Who are we to reject someone God has accepted?
c. This is one of the causes of denominationalism. There are over 40,000 denominations. Each of which is founded on the weak faith of one individual or another. Someone who decided that they can’t abide the practices of another believer or group of believers.
d. Yet there are very few cases where people would say that the church they “had to split from” doesn’t consist of believing Christians. This means that the old church was a church that God accepted. I’m sure they don’t think of it this way, but the people who are starting a new denomination are basically saying that they have better judgment than God does about who to accept.
e. Now there are certainly times when it might be important to separate from a group. The key is in verse 1, disputable matters. There are commands of God that are direct and clear. Some are clear prohibitions. These are not disputable matters. For example if a church decides that drunkenness or adultery or LGBTQ behavior is just fine we have a problem. The argument goes that since God loves them, we should too. God does love them, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t heartbroken by some behaviors or approving of them. Whereas these issues of what to eat are in fact “disputable matters”. We are not to be approving of things where God has issued a direct command.
f. In my own church this is a controversy that is brewing and I find myself in a position where I may in fact need to find a new church. There is a prominent family in the church whose daughter has decided that she is supposed to be a man and is in the “transition” process. There have been two camps set up now, those who think we should accept this change and those who think we should not. I’m of the mind that we should accept anyone who wants to be part of our church with any sins they may be entrapped in so long as they are fighting those sins. For example, if someone comes in with a drug or alcohol problem and they’ve not yet gained mastery over these things, as long as they are fighting it, we should accept them and pray with them for victory over their sin. But if they have an unrepentant attitude where they say then plan to continue drinking or using drugs and they want us to endorse their behavior, then they make a mockery of our community of believers. Church is for the believer who wants to be subject to Christ, not for those who would shake their fist at God in disobedience. Now some of these people may in fact be believers in Jesus and be counting on him for their salvation, but to be a community of Jesus followers means to not endorse sinful behavior.
g. We have an example of this in first Corinthians chapter 5
i. It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
ii. There was a man in the church who was sleeping with his mother or step-mother. The church was proud of their liberality for being “inclusive” of this man. Paul says “your glorying is not good” and to “purge out the old leaven”. Leaven, yeast, permeates the whole thing. Paul doesn’t want this sinful behavior’s acceptance to infect the righteousness of the body of believers.
iii. He continues even more strongly in verses 9-11 9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.”
iv. The exhortation here is that we can’t help but be with such people “in the world” but that we should not have them in the church. That those who claim the name of Jesus are held to a higher standard and we are not to keep company with them or even eat with them. This is where excommunication comes from. In those days where Christianity was an outlaw religion and even through much of the church prior to the reformation, to be cut off from the church was a really bid deal. This being put out of the church put pressure on the person to get their act together and become repentant so that they could be welcomed back to the church. Today the situation is simply that if the person is put out of the church it doesn’t matter much. For the simple reason that to way too many people the church is nothing more than a social club and if you don’t like one church, you can just go to another one that is more to your liking. In the case of the LGBTQ movement you just go find a “gender affirming” church and there seems to be no shortage of those these days. As I said, even my own church appears to be moving in that direction and if this becomes an official position of the church or it's leadership, I will be the one to leave.
h. In the last few chapters Paul has addressed Christian living in some detail. He had a lot to say about how we are to love one another and yet even in his time Christians were figuring out how to not get along.
6) 5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
a. There are those who feel very strongly about keeping the Sabbath, others feel strongly about keeping the Jewish holidays and festivals and still others (self included) who feel that every day belongs to the Lord and no day should be different than any other. I’m supposed to be devoted to God and loving him as a response to the cross every day of my life. I’m such a radical on this that I don’t even care what day of the week church is held. I think that it’s traditional because the apostles did it to worship on Sunday, but I don’t see it as compulsory. I do see the believers gathering as compulsory.
b. Paul says that each should be fully convinced in his own mind. He doesn’t say that you need to have other peoples minds convinced about your own convictions. We should be giving liberty to people to exercise whatever commitments they feel they are supposed to make to God. We also should expect the same from them. If you remember Paul says And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-2. The idea here being that if we are all committed to Jesus and following him that this should be sufficient for fellowship.
c. While I can’t see the reasons that some people abstain from certain foods or feel a need to observe certain days I don’t feel any need to make them eat those foods or not observe those days. I’m just fine with it.
d. It’s usually the person who has, as Paul described it, the “weaker” faith who is the legalist insisting on compliance from others.
e. Verse eight ties things up nicely, if we live or die as a believer we belong to the Lord.
7) 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
a. Paul says that Christ is the Lord of both the living and the dead. Jesus is Lord of the Living, those of us who are here, alive but also having been dead and raising himself back to life, he is Lord over death and so Lord of all, the living and the dead.
b. Paul is arguing against this poor treatment of each other on no better basis than quibbling over things that will not be consequential in the end. Back in chapter 9 in verses nine and 10, Paul said “if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart”. He didn’t say “if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart and keep the Sabbath and don’t eat” you shall be saved.
c. None of these are salvation issues and as such Christians to elevate them in importance are elevating them to a place where they don’t belong.
d. This idea of giving account to God is a serious thing though. We should understand that whatever side of these things we fall on we should be aware that we will account to God for what we have decided. He will be the judge of whether we have done well or not. I believe that a huge part of this judgement may not be on the actual behavior but on whether or not you willfully violate your own conscience about these things.
8) 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.
a. My sister and her husband don’t eat pork or shellfish. They believe in keeping the Jewish dietary laws. When we have them to our house for holidays, we don’t serve pork or shellfish as the only option. We always have a beef or poultry option for them to eat. They are not tempted by ham, so sometimes we serve that along with the other option, but if they were even lightly tempted, and they assure me they are not, or if they were offended, we wouldn’t serve that at all.
b. I have a Muslim friend that I’m meeting with and discussing the things of God in hopes of helping him see who Jesus really is. When we meet for breakfast I don’t eat pork. In this case, it would not be a temptation for him, but he would be disgusted by it. Furthermore during Ramadan we didn’t meet in a restaurant at all so that he wouldn’t be tempted by the food during his fast.
c. In both cases I’m fully convinced that they have the liberty before God to eat anything but out of love for them I modify my behavior and don’t expect them to modify their own.
9) 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.
a. Whether or not things are clean or unclean is not the point. The point is that if someone thinks something is unclean, then it is in their case. God has given us a conscience in which each of us may have different sensitivities. You can’t always follow your conscience but you can never safely ignore it either.
b. It’s simply unloving to cause someone pain by your behavior. Even if you think their sensitivity is unnecessary, you should respect it anyway.
10) 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
a. The kingdom of God is not one based on any given set of behaviors as though compliance is all that is needed. I’m quite certain it’s possible to comply without having your heart be oriented toward God. The converse is also true. Your heart can be oriented toward God and you may even do the wrong thing because you didn’t understand things correctly and still be in the kingdom.
b. That said, if your behavior in any of these things causes someone to speak evil of you or of the kingdom of God, you have made a mistake.
11) 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
a. We are supposed to be building each other up. While you may have your individual convictions about dietary things, these are not to be imposed on another or to be used as cause for division between believers.
b. Your job is to do “what leads to peace and to mutual edification”. We are to be about building each other up in a peaceful fashion.
12) 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
a. Keep it between you and God. Don’t let your behavior be different than your own convictions but also don’t demand compliance or be judgmental toward those with differing convictions.
b. If you eat something with doubt about it, then you are eating to your own condemnation because you a violating your own conscience. You are not acting from your faith, but from your doubt. The opposite of faith is doubt and whenever you violate your own conscience you are sinning.