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Bible Commentaries
Romans 14

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

Martin Luther begins his treatise, "On the Freedom of a Christian Man," with two striking statements: "A Christian man is a most free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian man is a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all" (F.F. Bruce 246). One could hardly expect to find a more concise summary of the apostle’s thought in Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:13. The first sentence captures the essence of the believer’s freedom in Christ. The relational ramifications of his freedom are the focus of Romans 14:1-12.

Luther’s second observation that the "free" Christian is by vocation a "dutiful servant" captures the essence of Romans 14:13-23. In this section Paul establishes how the freedom of the first section is to be regulated. He points out that where God’s word does not legislate, the believer is free to exercise choice; however, his Christian liberty should always aim at those things that do no harm to the spiritual condition of others, that make for peace between fellows, and that help to strengthen one another (14:19). Finally, in Romans 15:1-13, Paul indicates he is addressing both Jews and Gentiles who are among the "strong" or the "weak." He calls for them to remember the example of Jesus and reminds the entire church at Rome that it is only through Christ that both Jews and Gentiles have been brought to enjoyment of God’s salvation.

Verse 1

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations:

To set Paul’s discussion in proper perspective, a few key principles need to be established at the outset. In this first verse, five questions surface that when properly answered make the rest of the discussion much easier to comprehend:

1. What is meant here by the word "faith?" In the scriptures the word faith is used in several ways. First, it is used objectively with reference to the thing to be believed and in this sense is synonymous with terms like: the truth, the gospel, the doctrine, the word of God, the New Testament, or the law of Christ. It encompasses all of the New Testament when it is used in this manner (Ephesians 4:5; Judges 1:3; Romans 1:17, first occurrence). Second, faith is used at least three different ways in the subjective sense. Once it is used to refer only to mental assent (James 2:19). Most often it is used of the belief or faith by which one is saved (Romans 1:17, second and third occurrences: Hebrews 11:6). Here (14:1) faith refers to a person’s belief that what he is doing is right or wrong. It is closely allied to one’s conscience. It refers to one’s belief or trust in his conscience.

In verse 22, Paul says, "Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God." Saving faith is not under consideration, even though the word is used subjectively. Saving faith is not to be kept to oneself. It is to be shared (1 Peter 3:15). Paul continues, "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth." Faith by which one is justified is not a matter to be regulated by what one allows himself but by what God allows.

In verse 23, Paul adds another dimension to the idea of faith. He points out that this faith condemns a person if he performs an action he believes is sinful. Obviously, then, he does not mean saving faith in this verse either; he means belief or lack thereof in one’s conscience. So he instructs the Christian about how he should act when he has doubts. If he has doubts, he should not partake because he violates his conscience and, thus, sins.

In verses 2 and 3, God receives the Christian whose faith is weak. In verse 4, God is able to make him stand. In verse 5, "every man" is to "be fully persuaded in his own mind." These references cannot be about saving faith because one does not have the option of making decisions about the requirements of saving faith. Instead, these references are to the Christian’s belief or trust in his conscience.

2. What is meant by the words "weak" (14:1) and "strong" (15:1)? The word "weak" refers to the believer’s conscience. When Paul refers to the man whose faith is weak, he is not indicting him as a poor or bad Christian or one who has backslidden. The statements already cited from verses 2–5 could not be true if Paul meant a weak Christian (that is, one about to fall away or one who has already done so). According to verses 2-5, a brother whose faith is weak may never eat meat all of his life because of his weak faith and still go to heaven. His conscience is weak—it is unnecessarily scrupulous. The accent is on the word "unnecessarily" here, for all Christians are to be scrupulous. The brother who is weak in the faith has a conscience that is overly sensitive. Plainly, he does not understand his liberties.

By contrast, the brother who is "strong" (15:1) is not necessarily one who is a good Christian or a strong Christian. He is not a holier or more righteous Christian. This brother may eat the meat those who are weak disdain; and he, too, may still go to heaven. The word "strong" refers to his conscience. The strong are scrupulous, too, but they are not unnecessarily so. Their conscience is not overly sensitive. Such a brother understands and allows himself to practice his liberties in Christ.

3. What kinds of issues come under this heading of matters of liberty? Romans 14 is not discussing matters of law. No command, no example, no necessary inference, no principle is a matter of liberty. In verse 3, Paul says, "God hath received" both he that eats all things and he that eats only herbs. In verse 5, he says "every man" is to "be fully persuaded in his own mind" about whether or not to esteem "one day above another." Paul cannot truthfully make either of these statements about any New Testament law or doctrine.

The matters under consideration in this section are matters of liberty or freedom—matters about which each believer is free to choose either to participate or to refrain from participating in. These issues are, in and of themselves, neither matters of obligation nor restraint. They are matters of permission. To establish a matter to be within the parameters of Romans 14, a particular issue must not be a matter of obligation or restraint; and, second, participation in it must not violate any other passage demanding obedience.

4. To whom is Paul speaking in this pericope (14:1-15:13)? Four groups of people come under Paul’s purview in this section—two are right in their view, and two are wrong. There are two groups of brethren with strong consciences. There are those whose consciences are strong but who also respect the weak consciences of their brethren. There are others who are strong—that is, they understand their liberties—but who also insist on their "rights" regardless of the damage done to their brethren with weaker consciences. These brethren are wrong.

By the same token, there are two groups of brethren whose consciences are weak—that is, unnecessarily scrupulous or overly sensitive. There are those whose consciences are weak but who permit their brethren with strong consciences to exercise their freedoms. There are also those weak brethren who condemn the freedoms of their stronger brethren. The former group is right, and the latter wrong in outlook.

The matter is further compounded by the fact that both Jews and Gentiles are under consideration. When this fact is entered into the equation, we realize that actually eight different groups are under consideration (15:7-12).

Contrary to popular belief two things are evident: (1) not everybody is a strong brother, and (2) no one is strong in every matter of permission. It is vitally important that every believer be able to assess accurately his own conscience in these matters so that he can adopt the right attitude in whichever state he finds himself. Only when we recognize the strength or weakness of our conscience in a particular issue of permission can we make the right decision for ourselves and adopt the right attitude toward our fellows who might make a different decision relative to the same matter of permission.

5. How are strong and weak-conscienced brethren supposed to receive one another? First, it is a fact that brethren are to receive one another. Second, they are to do so "but not to doubtful disputations." They are to receive one another without passing judgment on disputable matters—that is, matters of liberty or permission. It is wrong to regard a brother as a liberal because he chooses to engage in a matter of liberty. It is equally wrong to judge a brother as conservative because he does not engage in the same liberty. Such judgments as these pertain properly to areas of law or doctrine and not to liberties (John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 5:12-13).

The primary truth of this section is that matters of liberty are not to be disputed. The apostle teaches that Christians are not to argue about whether one is right or wrong or to engage in these matters of permission or even try to evangelize others to accept one’s view.

Verse 2

For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.

Paul illustrates what he means when he points out that the strong must receive the weak without disputing over matters of liberty. Some brethren, both Jews and Gentiles, understood that:

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).

These strong-conscienced brethren are not afraid of purchasing meat in the shambles, though it might have been offered to an idol. They understand "meat commendeth us not to God" (1 Corinthians 8:8). They know that in eating they are not participating in idolatry. The Jews among these brethren recognize that with the removal of Moses’ law (Ephesians 2:14-16, Colossians 2:14-16, 2 Corinthians 3:5-14; Hebrews 7:12; Hebrews 8:1-13; Hebrews 9:1-28; Hebrews 10:1-18), the arbitrary laws concerning clean and unclean foods by which they were bound before Jesus died on the cross are no longer regulatory, for in Christ all foods are clean "if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4 b, 5). The Gentiles among these brethren have come out of idolatry and know an idol is nothing. When they buy meat in the shambles, they know they are not participating in idolatry; so they can buy the meat with a clear conscience.

On the other hand, some brethren, both Jews and Gentiles, believe to eat meat purchased in the shambles is somehow to participate in idolatry. At least, such a practice might cause others to assume that one upheld idolatrous practices; therefore, to maintain a clear conscience and "give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully," they abstain from eating meat and eat only herbs (vegetables). The consciences of these brethren are weak—their consciences are unnecessarily scrupulous. They are overly sensitive. It would not have been wrong for them to eat meat (1 Corinthian 8:8). But, it would have been wrong for them to violate their consciences (14:23).

The question to be resolved is how should these brethren interrelate with one another since their views are so disparate and so strongly held? Is one side entitled to impose its will on the other? The answer is in the succeeding two verses.

Verses 3-4

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

The word "despise" (e)couqenei/tw) means "to make of no account…to regard as nothing, to despise utterly, to treat with contempt. This is usually translated to set at nought" (Vine, Vol. I 300). "Despise" is set over against "judge." The word "judge" (krine/tw) means "to pass judgment upon (and thereby seek to influence) the lives and actions of other people— … especially to pass unfavorable judgment upon, criticize, find fault with, condemn" (BDAG 567).

Paul says those brethren whose consciences are strong and who, therefore, allow themselves to eat meat, are not to set at nought, make light of, treat with contempt, or scorn those brethren whose consciences are weak in this matter. And, in perfect balance, he tells those whose consciences are unnecessarily scrupulous they must not pass an unfavorable judgment upon, criticize, find fault with, or condemn their brethren who eat meat.

This issue is a matter of liberty. All brethren are free to choose, but they are not free to quarrel about such matters. They may not impose their wills upon one another. The last phrase of verse 3, "for God hath received him," applies equally to both the strong and the weak; those who eat and those who do not. Eating or not eating is not the issue, for both actions are correct. The issue is over disputing between brethren about such matters. It is unacceptable and sinful.

In verse 4, Paul asks an obviously rhetorical question: "Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?" He emphatically points out that in matters of liberty (matters about which God’s word does not legislate and the practice of or abstention from which does not violate any other legislation) neither the strong nor the weak has a right to condemn his fellow. His brother, whether strong or weak-conscienced, is "another man’s servant." He is under the reign of someone else. And each servant stands or falls to his own master. Such matters are matters of permission wherein one is free to participate or refrain from participation.

Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand: Lest anyone conclude that some might in fact fall before God for engaging in their liberties or for refusing to, Paul quickly adds "he shall be holden up." In the exercise of matters of liberty, each must answer to God; and no brother has a right to impose his will upon another. But God is able to hold him up and by implication will do so. God will hold up the brother, Jew or Gentile, whose conscience is strong and the brother, Jew or Gentile, whose conscience is weak.

Brethren, whether Jew or Gentile or strong or weak, who presume to take God’s place and despise or judge their brethren in these matters of liberty will fall to their own Master, who is God.

Verse 5

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike: Paul gives here a second example of a matter of indifference to God. Some brethren regard one day above another; some regard every day the same. Both views are acceptable to God, and it is wrong for brethren to argue with one another over such a matter. Neither decision is holier than the other. Lard makes some noteworthy comments:

The person here alluded to has been assumed by many to be the Christian Jew, and the days to be Jewish sabbaths and other sacred days. The Christian Jew is certainly referred to, but it will not do to say that he is exclusively referred to. Nor will it do to say that the word "day" includes only Jewish sacred days. Such limitations are without warrant either from the nature of the case or anything else. The term "one" includes every Christian, whether Jew or Gentile, who esteemed one day better than another; while "day" includes every day so esteemed, whether it be a Jewish or Gentile day. At the time when Paul wrote, it was customary for certain Christians to esteem one day above another. This they had, and they still have an absolute right to do, whether the day were a Jewish sacred day or a Gentile sacred day, a sabbath or a first day of the week, a Wednesday or a Thursday; and no one was at liberty to pronounce them wrong, or in any way to interfere with them. And what was then the liberty of Christians is their liberty still. Had we Jewish Christians among us now, and did they choose to esteem and treat the ancient sabbath as better than any other day, no one among us would have the right to move a lip against them. Only in keeping their days, they could not be allowed to do anything violative of the law of Christ.

Another esteems all days alike. The person here alluded to, and placed over against the other, was either a Gentile or a very enlightened Jew who knew and conceded that the whole Jewish ritual worship and service had been set aside for the gospel. But no matter who he was or what his nationality, he esteemed and with the sanction of both God and Christ, all days alike…. he was just as certainly right as the one who esteemed one day above another. Both were right and neither wrong. And so it is, so far as the New Testament is concerned, even now (416-417).

The comments are so accurate and to the point that they are preserved here in this lengthy quotation; however, in view of what Lard says (with which I agree completely), a question arises as to how these verses (5-6) shall be reconciled to passages like Galatians 4:10-11: "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain" (see also Colossians 2:16).

The reconciliation of these passages is not as difficult as might first be supposed. In Galatians, Paul writes to counter Judaizing teachers who were trying to force the churches in Galatia to adopt the practices required by Moses’ law as a part of the worship of the New Testament church (Galatians 2:15-21; Galatians 3:1-5; Galatians 3:10-14; Galatians 3:18-29; Galatians 5:1-6; Galatians 5:10-13). These Judaizers were attempting to tie the observance of Jewish holy days to the public work and worship of the church. Paul states unequivocally that such an action is sinful.

In Romans 14, Paul is arguing that one as an individual may privately determine to regard one day above another. He may do so whether he is a Jew or a Gentile. Of course, he may not esteem the day in some manner that is contrary to God’s word in and of itself. In other words, he could not worship an idol as a part of his regard for the day; however, privately he can otherwise observe whatever day he chooses to observe. But such an action becomes sinful when he moves to impose observance on others or to connect his "regard" to the public worship of the church.

Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind: Paul can make this statement only if the "esteeming" of days is purely a matter of choice for Christians and a matter of indifference to God. Obviously, it is not wrong for a Christian, whether Jew or Gentile, to observe a day above other days. Whiteside observes:

"Let each man be fully assured in his own mind" as to whether he will or will not devote any other day (any other than the Lord’s day—AWB) to study, meditation, and prayer. Concerning this the Lord has bound no one, and concerning such matters no one should seek to bind his notion on others. It is therefore evident that the leaders of a church could not adopt these Jewish holidays and demand that all members observe them…(Galatians 4:10-11). If the leaders should set any such days to be observed by the church, the members should not submit to such an arrangement… (Colossians 2:16) (269).

Verse 6

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Whatever decision a Christian makes regarding whether or not to esteem a day above other days or whether or not to eat meat, he should either take action or refrain, but in any case he should give thanks and recognition to God. The same attitude should be evident in all matters of liberty regardless of whether one is strong or weak in conscience in relation to the issue at hand and regardless of whether he participates or refrains.

Verses 7-9

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

This passage hinges on two points:

1. Whatever decision a Christian makes about a matter of liberty, whether to engage in it or to refrain, he must recognize his dependence upon God and Christ. No longer is the believer his own master—living and dying to himself. And thankfully so, for he certainly had made a sinful mess of things before he was redeemed. Whatever he does, he must "give God thanks."

2. Furthermore, in matters of liberty, the redeemed believer must not judge or despise his fellows in Christ when their decisions are different from his in such matters (verses 3- 4, 10-13a).

Paul’s teaching in these verses, therefore, harks back to what has been said as well as providing transition to the succeeding statements.

Once a person has obeyed the gospel, he has yielded his will to the sovereignty of God’s will as it has been expressed by the Lord. Therefore, in all things we live unto the Lord. Whether we eat meat and observe a day or whether we refrain from both we are subject to the will of the Lord. Having become Christians by our baptism into Christ (6:3-4, 17-18; Galatians 3:25-27; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16 et. al.), we are the Lord’s possession (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Pendleton says:

As we are Christ’s by right of redemption and purchase…we are not our own, but the rights of Christ overshadow all our individual rights, whether exercised in asserting our liberty or indulging our spirit of censoriousness. To live to self is forbidden; we must live with a view to our Lord and his interest in others… (2 Corinthians 5:15; Romans 12:1; Philippians 1:21-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-9) (528).

In verse 9, Paul establishes the ground by which Christ has obtained the authority to rule over all believers—weak and strong in conscience. Christ Jesus the Lord gave His life for us on the cross. There He paid the penalty of our sins (3:21-26; 1 Peter 2:24-25; 1 Timothy 2:4-6). As a result, when any person accepts and obeys the gospel, he is forgiven of his sins and declared righteous by God who is just (in that sin was punished through the sacrifice and shed blood of Christ) and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus (3:21-26). Therefore, Jesus is now the Lord of believers, both the dead and the living. He purchased us in His death and has become our Ruler by His resurrection (Acts 2:30-36; Acts 17:31; Romans 1:2-4). Believers are all subject to Christ and, as we shall see, have no right whatsoever to judge or despise one another in any matter of permission about which God has given no legislation in His word either requiring or prohibiting a certain action and the practice or abstention from which violates no positive divine law that has been given in God’s word.

Verse 10

But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother: These questions are not quite rhetorical, but they have already been answered by Paul in verse 3; however, Paul reiterates them apparently to make his argument of verses 10-12 more forceful. The brethren who are judging or condemning (kri/nei$ - same word as in verse 3) their fellows are those whose consciences being weak would not eat meat and regarded every day alike. These brethren do not understand or accept their liberties and are attempting to impose their weak consciences upon their brethren. Those who are setting at nought (despising— e)couqenei=$—same word as in verse 3) their brethren are those whose consciences being strong recognized their liberties to eat meat and observe days (privately and individually) and demand their right to do so. These brethren, likewise, are attempting to impose their strong consciences on their weaker-conscienced brethren. When either group is unsuccessful, the results are judgment or condemnation on the one hand and setting at nought (contemptuous despising) on the other. Paul says both of these views are sinful.

This problem is not a surprising development among a people devoted to obeying the Lord and demanding a "thus saith the Lord" in faith and practice. Christians face similar problems today. The solution Paul requires is sometimes difficult to implement in any modern cultural milieu, just as it was in the first century church. Nevertheless, for the sake of peace and unity (verse 19), the church must attend to the task. In matters of doctrine, law, or divine legislation, the believer’s obligation is to obey and to insist that all of his brethren do likewise; however, in matters of liberty or permission—matters about which God’s word does not require or prohibit a certain action but allows it and the practice of which violates no other legislation—Christians must allow each member to make up his own mind and act as he sees fit. It is wrong to demand sameness of mind when the Bible does not demand it. It is wrong for brethren to impose their conscience, whether weak or strong, on their brethren in Christ in any matter of liberty.

for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ: It is Jesus who is the judge (John 5:22). It is to Him that we must give account and not to our brethren. Those brethren who try to impose their conscience (wills), whether weak or strong, upon others will be required to account for their sinful judging and despising that are contrary to God’s will. Their behavior endangers the peace and harmony of the Lord’s church, and Christ will not look upon it lightly. All Christians would do well in such matters to take heed to themselves and work to keep peace in the church. Concerning such matters Paul tells the Corinthians:

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Lard comments:

Let us then refrain from both judging and despising. In assuming to do the former, we usurp the prerogative of Christ; and in venturing on the latter we do what even he himself does not. Let us then attempt neither (420).

Verses 11-12

For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

The sense of Paul’s quotation is written in Isaiah 45:23. Paul reminds his readers that what he has been saying about Christ’s being the judge is not new doctrine. It is something they should know. God is the judge of all; consequently, it is not the prerogative of Christians to judge each other in these matters of liberty. Pendleton inquires, "Why gather stones of condemnation and judgment when after all, Jesus renders us powerless to throw them?" (529). When Christians presume to judge in the areas under consideration, they only endanger their own souls by doing what the Holy Spirit has forbidden them to do. Such judgments are futile and affect no one but themselves. Therefore, let all Christians leave off such judging and practice the love that yields "righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" (verse 17). It is at this juncture that every Christian should call to mind that "with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:2).

It is well to note here that Paul’s indictment against those practicing such judging must be confined to the limits of the context—that is, matters of liberty or matters of permission. Elsewhere Christians are commanded to judge others—even their brethren. As Whiteside observes:

How could anyone beware of false prophets, unless we first judge them to be false prophets? (Matthew 7:15). And we must judge a man to be an evil worker, or we could not obey the command to "beware of evil workers" (Philippians 3:2). Neither could we obey Paul’s injunction in Romans 16:17-18 without judging which men belong to the class he mentions. And how could a church withdraw from the disorderly without first judging a man to be disorderly? (271).

In matters of doctrine, law, or divine legislation requiring or prohibiting an action, Jesus commands to "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24)—that is, to judge according to the true facts of the case as they are yielded by the investigation of the scriptures as well as the event(s) under consideration. Paul teaches the Corinthians that in matters involving moral charges of sin against a believer they are to "judge them that are within" the body (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). That concept is normative for all churches in all places and at all times. Thus, the judging condemned here involves judging matters of liberty—matters about which Christians are given permission to decide whether to participate or to refrain from participating—and is no limitation against proper areas of judgment in matters of doctrine and behavior that violate the law of Christ.

The last point Paul makes in this first section of Romans 14, which reveals the believer’s freedom in Christ, is a most sobering one. Each Christian will have his hands full preparing himself for the judgment, for we must all stand before God and give account of ourselves—not our brethren. Elsewhere Paul says, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV).

This somber and thought-provoking conclusion to the first section provides a perfect transition to the next section. For now we shall learn that the Christian who "is a most free lord of all, subject to none" is also "a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all" (Bruce 246). In the next verses of this chapter, Paul establishes how the freedom detailed in the first twelve verses is to be regulated or limited.

Verse 13

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: Paul’s parting admonition on the first section is the imperative admonition reiterating the commands of verse 3. Do not judge one another in matters of liberty. The weak are prohibited from judging the strong, and the strong are equally prohibited from judging the weak. It is a sin to pass judgment on brethren in matters of liberty. It is absolutely forbidden.

but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way: What is to be condemned by all brethren, the weak and the strong, is the placing of stumblingblocks in the path of their fellows. The Christian man, who has been described in verses 1–12 as a free man subject to no one in all bona fide matters of liberty, now must begin to recognize the divine limitations placed on his freedoms. He is, in fact, to be the dutiful servant of his brethren, subject to all of them. Here is recorded the first regulation of matters of liberty. In exercising his liberties, no brother is entitled to so behave as to entrap his fellows in sin. The instructions from this verse through Romans 15:4 are directed at those brethren who are strong in the faith. While it is clearly a sin for either the weak or the strong to attempt to impose their wills upon each other in matters of liberty, the strong have the added responsibility to see that no stumblingblock is placed in the paths of their weaker brethren.

They must guard against luring their weaker fellows into sin by insisting on their rights and ignoring the weak consciences of their brethren.

"A stumblingblock" (pro/skomma) refers to "an opportunity to experience inward pain (take offense) or make a misstep, cause for offense, cause for making a misstep. Literally of things against which one can stumble or that can cause one to lose his footing, obstacle, hindrance of a rough road…. Figuratively… give a member an occasion to experience inward pain or offense, put an obstacle in a member’s way" (BDAG 882).

"An occasion to fall (ska/ndalon) is "a device for catching something alive, trap" or "an action or circumstance that leads one to act contrary to a proper course of action or set of beliefs, temptation to sin, enticement to apostasy, false belief, etc." (BDAG 926). Paul writes:

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend (1 Corinthians 8:9-13).

To cast a stumbling block or to set a trap for a brother is to insist on your right to engage in a matter of liberty knowing your participation will likely entice your weaker-conscienced brother to be emboldened to participate as well; however, when the weaker brother participates, he violates his conscience and thus sins. The strong brother who leads his weaker fellow into such a trap sins as well by wounding his brother’s weak conscience. Christians must determine (judge) rather not to cause such offenses. The strong brother’s right to participate in a particular liberty should never be important enough to warrant setting a booby trap for his brother to fall into.

Verse 14

I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: Paul speaks authoritatively as an apostle of Christ—that is, one who has received the word of the Lord Jesus by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; John 16:13-15). He speaks with such emphatic authority because he does not want the actual truth of whether or not one may eat meat that may have been offered to an idol to be lost in the tension between the consciences of the weak and the strong. In the argument of "whether" one may eat as opposed to "should" one eat under the circumstances, Paul wants the actual facts of the matter to be clear. It is not wrong to eat meat. Paul says, "But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse" (1 Corinthians 8:8).

Murray comments:

The apostle sets forth the biblical principle that nothing is unclean of itself, that, as he says elsewhere, "every creature of God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:4). It is the truth affirmed by our Lord (cf. Mark 7:15). What is significant about Paul’s enunciation of this principle is the way in which he expresses it: "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus." No form of words could express more fully the certitude of his conviction than "I know and am persuaded" and no sanction could certify the rightness of this conviction more than to add, "in the Lord Jesus." The latter formula should not be taken as a mere appeal to the teaching of Christ in the days of his flesh (cf. Mark 7:19), although this teaching is relevant. Paul refers here to union and fellowship with Christ, and "in Christ Jesus" means that the conviction springs from, is consistent with, and is certified by the union and communion with Christ which, for the apostle, is the most characteristic way of defining his relationship to the Savior (Vol. 2 188).

that there is nothing unclean of itself: As has been noted, contextually the word "nothing" refers to food. Obviously many things in the world are unclean in and of themselves, but here the reference is to meat sold in the shambles that may have been offered to an idol (1 Corinthians 10:25-26). Verse 15 specifies that Paul has food under consideration.

but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean: The issue is no longer whether or not the food is acceptable to eat, for it unquestionably is. The point is a Christian must not violate his conscience (verse 23). The conscience is the inner witness to a man’s moral responsibility. It is the human capacity to distinguish between good and evil (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:7-11). It is the guide to decision-making and points to its moral dimension. When violated, it becomes somewhat less acute with each episode in "accusing or else excusing" one’s behavior. When it is systemically violated, people eventually reach the extremity of those unbelievers "who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Ephesians 4:19). On the other hand, when the conscience is educated by God’s word and strictly observed, it serves as the spirit’s warning system of evil and as its rewarder of good. It works as a kind of spiritual barometer measuring the behavior of man.

When the Christian does that which makes him feel guilty, he has sinned in violating his conscience, even if the action involved would not otherwise have been wrong; thus, he endangers his soul’s salvation.

Verse 15

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably: The opening phrase of this verse "But if on account of food" (ei gar dia brw=ma) clearly is directly connected to verse 13. As Whiteside notes: "Verse 14 is parenthetical. Verse 15 connects directly to verse 13" (272). Paul means that "grieving" your brother with your food entails more than simply disappointing him or hurting his feelings. In verse 13, the warning is against offending the weaker brother. To offend someone means to do something that leads him to participate in an activity that violates his conscience. It is to entrap him so that he becomes guilty of sin. The next sentence in this verse stresses the same fact, for it says the strong brother is not to "destroy" his weaker brother by demanding his rights to participate in a matter of liberty. We must remember that Christ died for those with weak consciences as well as those with strong consciences. Pendleton believes the strong could bring the weak to grief and destroy him in two ways:

"Grieved" may express either a lapse into Judaism on the part of the weak because of the apparent worldliness of the strong, or it may indicate that the weak, tempted by the conduct of the strong, do things which are contrary to conscience and hence come to grief…. It is likely that the latter danger was most prominent to the apostle’s mind. (Comp. v. 20 and 1 Corinthians 8:10). The context containing the words "destroy" and "overthrow" (v. 20), shows that grief is more than mere fraternal disappointment at another’s laxity (530).

Whiteside corroborates the testimony of Pendleton’s observation that more is at stake in this matter than simply a warning against hurting someone’s feelings by participating in a liberty.

The connection shows clearly that the warning against doing anything whereby a brother is grieved means more than simply a warning against doing anything to hurt his feelings; for the next sentence says, "Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died," that is, do not destroy him as a Christian. You do not destroy a Christian by violating his prejudices or notions (272).

Verse 16

Let not then your good be evil spoken of:

This verse means do not let your right action in participating in a matter of liberty be spoken against as evil because in insisting on your right to participate you caused your weak brother to stumble and fall into sin. Some action, good in itself, can under certain circumstances result in leading another to violate his conscience by following suit in such action. Consequently, the strong brother’s Christian influence would be greatly impaired. As Pendleton observes, "A bad name has no power in God’s kingdom" (530). Or as Lard puts it, "It is better to seem not free than that our freedom should lead to mischief" (425).

Verses 17-18

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.

The kingdom of God here clearly refers to the church. The point is one of priority. The exchanges between the strong and the weak in matters of choice often become intense. The strong feel their freedom in Christ is unduly restrained by the weak consciences of their brethren. The weak fancy themselves as holding the line against worldliness. If brethren are not careful, such confrontations lead to strife or even division—all over matters about which every believer is free to choose. Paul thus restores perspective to such matters in these verses.

What is of importance in the church is not whether or not a brother is allowed to indulge himself in a certain liberty. Neither is it about whether or not a brother is restrained from practicing such liberties. In the scheme of redemption, all such matters are relatively unimportant. Whether or not one buys meat or drink that may have been offered to an idol is inconsequential in comparison to "the weightier matters" of the kingdom.

What is of importance in the church is righteousness: righteousness in the sense of the system by which sinful men are declared righteous by God on account of their obedient faith; and the righteousness or just and fair treatment extended toward all, but especially the brethren by those who are thus called Christians. Peace is important: the peace that justified believers have with God and the peace they afford to one another by fair and considerate action taken toward one another in Christ. Joy is important: the joy we have in Christ because of the forgiveness of our sins and the joy Christians share working together in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Whiteside observes:

Righteousness has to do primarily with our treatment of others; it is doing right by others. You do not treat your fellow Christian right, if in the exercise of your supposed freedom you lead him to do wrong. And peace in this connection refers to peace among members of the church. In a church where all the members treat one another right and are at peace among themselves, there is joy in the Holy Spirit (273).

Both God and man approve the qualities of character that promote righteousness, peace, and joy. God, who looks on the heart of man, is pleased with the believer’s denial of self in his willingness either to refrain from indulging in his liberty or to refrain from imposing his weak conscience upon his brethren. Man, who looks upon the outward conduct, is pleased by the right conduct, peaceful nature, and joyful countenance of his brother. In such attitudes and behaviors, the kingdom of Christ is edified. Notice how Paul subtly reminds his readers that all Christians are the servants (slaves) of Christ.

Murray observes that when brethren argue and fight over matters of liberty the damage done goes far beyond the damage to the local church:

We may not rigidly restrict the approval in view to those who are of the household of faith. The damage which befalls the church by inconsiderate conduct on the part of strong believers has its repercussions in the judgment of those outside and the good name of the church as the community of love and concord should be maintained so that adversaries may not have occasion to speak reproachfully (cf. 2:24; 1 Timothy 3:7; 1 Timothy 6:1) (Vol. 2 195).

Verse 19

Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

Obviously, the believer’s obligation, whether he is strong or weak, is to endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). The teaching here, however, is primarily directed toward those whose consciences are strong. They must not insist on their rights to the point of disrupting the peace of the congregation. Every believer’s focus must be on maintaining the harmony and peace of the church by exhibiting the proper behavior in such matters. He must focus not on his rights but on building up the congregation. As Paul says in another connection, "Let all things be done unto edifying" (1 Corinthians 14:26 b). Whiteside says, "Confusion does not edify anyone; it builds up nothing but strife and parties in the church" (274). Let us therefore behave in a manner that promotes peace and harmony.

Verse 20

For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.

For meat destroy not the work of God: The "work of God" here is a figure for the weak brother in Christ. "For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10). Do not, for the sake of your liberty, overthrow or undo the work of God. To destroy your weaker brother by insisting on your right to participate in a matter of liberty, like eating meat, is the antithesis of edifying or building up one another (verse 19). Murray comments: "God is building up. Loveless brandishing of liberty breaks down. How antithetical!" (Vol. 2 195). This is a reiteration of verse 15b.

All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence: All foods are clean (1 Timothy 4:4-5). The dietary laws of the Old Testament were arbitrary amoral divine laws intended by God to last only as long as the law of Moses was in effect. When Christ died, nailing the law to His cross (Colossians 2:14-16), the sway of these limitations was removed. Furthermore, the meats sold in the shambles, though they may have been offered to an idol, were permissible to eat under most circumstances (1 Corinthians 8:8-9; 1 Corinthians 10:25-29); however, if a brother with a weak conscience partook of these and violated his conscience, he sinned. Therefore, those who were strong must scrupulously avoid leading their weaker brethren into such a trap. Pendleton explains it this way:

Do not for a trifling indulgence destroy a man, the noblest work and likeness of God. Look not at your act alone, but consider also its consequences. True, indeed, that your weak brother, in following your example, will not be harmed by the food itself, yet he will surely do evil if he offends his conscience in eating. Therefore, your proper course is abstinence that your brother may not be tempted (531).

Verse 21

It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

It is good neither to eat flesh: When the strong sacrifice their liberties to charity on behalf of the consciences of their weaker brethren, nothing but what is honorable is the result. Abstaining from one’s liberty yields no evil or humiliating effect. Rather such self-denial is good for the weaker brother because he is not led into temptation or sin. Furthermore, it is good for the stronger brother because it does him no harm, and it protects the peace and harmony of the church.

nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak: Concerning the last clause of verse 21, there is some textual uncertainty. The question is over whether or not the last two verbs "or is offended or is made weak" were part of the original text. Alexandrian texts and translations that derive from them omit the last two verbs and end with "to fall" (NIV) or some equivalent. However, at least three uncials (B, D, and G) and the majority of cursives and several early versions contain them as the King James Version does. Godet remarks on the doctrinal significance of these facts:

Of the three verbs which the T.R. (Textus Receptus—AWB) reads, the first refers to the wounding of the heart caused to our neighbor by conduct which he disapproves; the second, to the sin which he would be led to commit by being drawn away to do what his conscience condemns; the third, to the want of regard for the scruples with which he is affected through weakness of faith. So: to make him judge ill of you; to make him do what he condemns, or to do in his presence something which raises a scruple in him….As to the omission of the last two verbs in the Alex. text, it is probably the effect of an oversight; for the verb [prosko/ptei], to be offended, would not completely sum up the warning given to the strong (463).

nor to drink wine: The wine here referred to is wine offered to idols. Sometimes it is erroneously taught that one reason that calls for total abstinence among Christians concerning alcoholic drinks is found in this chapter and verse. The Christian, it is said, should not drink alcoholic beverages at all because some among his fellows might be tempted to drink excessively and become drunk. Usually this argument is the last one stacked on a number of arguments against drinking. It goes something like this: "And if for no other reason, Christians should avoid social drinking because some might be tempted to drink more than is moderate and become drunk. Therefore, Christians should not place such a stumblingblock in the paths of their brethren." This argument is both dangerous and false for, at least, the following four reasons:

1. The drinking of wine contemplated here by Paul has nothing to do with what is absurdly called "social drinking" or any "recreational" consumption of alcohol. The reference is to wine offered in sacrifice to idols.

2. It is impossible to assert on the basis of this context that alcoholic wine is even intended. The word oi‚non (wine) is generic and refers to any drink deriving from grapes from grape juice to vinegar.

3. Such an argument falsely but necessarily implies that if one can find the right group of Christians (that is, a group containing no brethren with weak consciences) and is absolutely sure that his "moderate" drinking would not be offensive to anyone, then he would be at liberty to drink moderately. Such reasoning is incorrect. The consumption of alcoholic beverages for any reason (other than medicine—1 Timothy 5:23) and in any amount is sinful. It results in drunkenness.

4. "Drunkenness" (me/qh), a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), is a noun which derives from a verb (mequ/skw) which "signifies to make drunk, or to grow drunk (an inceptive verb, marking the process of the state expressed…) or to become intoxicated, Luke 12:45; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:7 a" (Vine, Vol. I 341). In practical terms, drunkenness is not a point one reaches after the consumption of a certain amount of alcohol. It is rather a process that begins with the first drink. Even our own legislators recognize this fact. For example, in many states the blood-alcohol level used to determine whether or not a person may safely operate an automobile is 0.08% (only a few years ago it was 0.10%). For commercial airline pilots the limit is reduced to 0.05%. For teenagers in California, the limit is as low as 0.01%. Clearly, even people of the world recognize that drunkenness is a process that begins with the first drink and steadily grows worse. It is not a point that one reaches by drinking a little more than is moderate.

What is prohibited here is the purchase and/or consumption of wine (grape juice) in the marketplace which may have been offered to idols. It is the same injunction as that regarding meat offered to idols. It is not wrong per se to purchase or eat the meat (1 Corinthians 8:8). The same would be true concerning the purchase and/or drinking of grape juice. It is wrong, however, for those with strong consciences to impose their rights or liberties upon their brethren with weaker consciences.

Verse 22

Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.

Do you have a strong-conscienced faith in a matter of liberty (that is, one about which no legislation from God has been given—either to do or to refrain from doing; and one which violates no other legislation given)? Do you believe that in participating in that liberty you will be doing what is right and acceptable to God? Then, do it if you so desire. But do not try to compel others to do it. Do not try to evangelize others to accept your view. Just do it and do not discuss it. Blessed (approved of God) is the believer who does not condemn himself when he participates in a matter of liberty. Happy is he when he indulges in his freedom and does not feel guilty.

Verse 23

And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

He who doubts is he who is weak in conscience. His conscience is unnecessarily scrupulous; and, consequently, he doubts that a particular action is right to engage in. He is of two minds. Part of his mind desires to participate; yet, another part tells him not to join in. For this weak brother to give in and eat the meat, all the while doubting in his mind the rightness of his actions, is a sin. He sins because he violates his conscience and to violate one’s conscience is condemned by God. "Faith" is used here as it has been throughout the chapter—belief in one’s conscience. It is the belief (or the lack thereof) that one is doing the right thing. Of course, the only matters to which such teaching applies are those matters of liberty or indifference, like eating meats that may have been offered to idols or esteeming one day above another as an individual—in other words, matters of permission. As we noted in verse 1, matters about which God’s word has legislated—either to require an action or to prohibit it—must simply be obeyed. Such matters do not come under the purview of Paul in this chapter at all.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Romans 14". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/romans-14.html. 1993-2022.
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