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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

Romans 14

Verse 1

[The apostle begins this section with "but," thus marking its connection with the preceding paragraph as setting forth matter in the nature of an exception thereto. He has been exhorting his readers to armed activity and vigilance in the cause of righteousness, and he now enters his caveat lest they should turn this needful and virtuous aggressiveness into a sinful belligerency, so that the strong should devour the weak. The Christian is indeed called upon to wage constant warfare with sin, but as to all things of an immoral or indifferent nature he must suppress this martial spirit and show courteous and affectionate forbearance when dealing with the scruples of those whose consciences are by nature or education legalistic and puritanic. And the weak must show a like mutual consideration toward the liberties of the strong. This section is, as Lard remarks, "pre-eminently a chapter as to duties in regard to things indifferent in themselves." For things not indifferent there is another rule (Galatians 1:6-10; Galatians 1:2). This section is also subordinately connected with the preceding paragraph by continuous reference to the second coming of Christ. (See Romans 14:4; Romans 14:10-12) Verses Romans 14:1-12 are addressed both to the strong and the weak; verses Romans 14:13-23 and Romans 14:1 are addressed to the strong alone, and verses Romans 14:2-13 are addressed both to the strong and the weak.] XIV. But him that is weak in faith receive [a strong word. See Acts 28:2; Romans 15:7; Philemon 1:15-17] ye, yet not for decision of scruples. [Do not by your reception, which ought to be to him a blessing, bring him into the misery of unrest by discussions and contentions which can end only in vain reasonings and valueless conclusions. Do not discuss his doubts and pompously and condescendingly insinuate that he is a fool for having them. The Jew and the Gentile have stood in contrast throughout this book and they are here still in this passage, and it is therefore not necessary to hunt, as does Eichhorn for Pythagorean or other scrupulous Gentiles. The Jew with his qualms sufficiently answers all the calls of the context. Educated under the narrowing, restricting influences of the law, he could not readily and at once comprehend the liberty of the gospel; hence he was weak in comparison with the Gentile who was unhampered by legalistic conceptions of meats, days, etc. (Galatians 5:1-15; Colossians 2:10-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-8). He is said to be "weak in the faith" because his judgment, still bound and tethered by silly scruples and obsolete laws, failed to assert that strength which the liberty of the new faith allowed it. Thus the Jewish conscience still shuddered at acts which the Gentile Christian regarded as wholly innocent and permissible; but, since its "failings leaned to virtue’s side," and were usually capable of correction if patiently handled, it was to be treated with consideration and affectionate kindness. In fact, the apostle, for "is weak," uses a participle and not an adjective, thus indicating that the weakness is not inherent and permanent, but only a temporary defect, liable to be self-corrected at any moment.]

Verse 2

One man hath faith [believes he has the liberty or right] to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs. [We are familiar with the universal Jewish scruples with regard to swine’s flesh and meat offered to idols; but there were some who refined their diet to far greater extremes--to the "mint, anise and cummin" standard. A sect called Therapeutæ had a regimen thus described by Philo: "Wine is not introduced. . . and the table bears nothing which has blood, but there is placed upon it bread food, and salt for seasoning, to which also hyssop is sometimes added as an extra sauce for those who are delicate in their eating." However, the abstinence here mentioned was most widely practiced by all scattered Jews. Knowing that any meat bought in Gentile markets was open to question and liable to be unclean, they, being unable to purchase clean meat as prepared by Jewish butchers, abstained from all meat and ate only those things (classed as herbs by the apostle) which they could trace from natural growth to use on their tables. (See Dan 1; Tobit 1:10, 11.) Josephus’ "Life," Sec. 3, mentions certain priests who fed solely on figs and dates.]

Verse 3

Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. [Eating or not eating was, with Paul, a matter of indifference; but uncharitable conduct toward a Christian brother was not a matter of indifference--it was sin. Hence the apostle interferes, not by way of counsel, but by unequivocal commandment, strictly forbidding the strong to look with disdainful eye upon the temerity of the weak, contemptuously despising him as the victim of narrow prejudice and baseless superstition; and with equal strictures charging the weak not to commit the sin of censorious judgment by ignorantly confounding liberty with license and thus unjustly condemning the strong as libertines and heretics, unscrupulous and irreverent. In modern times controversy over meat sacrificed to idols is unknown, but the principle still applies as to instrumental music, missionary societies, etc. Such matters of indifference are not to be injected into the terms of salvation, or set up as tests of fellowship. As to them there is to be neither contempt on the one part, nor judgment on the other. Baptism, however, is not a matter of indifference, being as much a divinely established term in the plan of salvation as faith itself (Mark 16:16). "It is a notable fact," observes Lard, "that the weak are always more exacting and sensitive than the strong, as well as more ready than they to press their grievances to extremes."]

Verse 4

Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand. [We must avoid the sacrilegious presumption which condemns where God hath not condemned. Whether our brother in Christ stands in favor, so that his daily life and service are accepted of God, or whether he falls from grace, so that his labors are rejected, is a matter for the Master, and does not pertain to us servants. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:12; 1 Corinthians 16:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:8; Romans 8:33-34; Romans 11:22) A kindly, affectionate concern is commendable, but a censorious condemnation is forbidden. Moreover, the latter is useless and idle, for it is the duty of each disciple to please his Master, not his fellow-servant, and the Master is able to justify and will justify without consulting human accusers (Romans 8:33), or paying respect to man-made technicalities about indifferent things. Christ’s ability to justify extends to even positive, inexcusable sin (Romans 3:26; John 8:11). If we could only learn that the consciences of others, though different, are as active and as exacting as our own, we would judge less and love more. Acting by contrary rule, if we find that any man’s conscience varies from our own, we straightway conclude that he has no conscience at all, and hence is a proper subject for our condemnation, a culprit well within the bounds of our jurisdiction.]

Verse 5

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. [Jewish Christians generally continued to reverence and observe the sabbath, new moons and festival days commanded by the law of Moses, but which are no part of the Christian system (Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:15-16); while the Gentile Christian regarded all days as equally holy, and to be spent in the fear and service of God.] Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. [About indifferent matters God has given no command, hence each must follow his own judgment and conscience, and none is required to adjust his conduct to satisfy the conscience, much less the scruples of another, though he must show charity and forbearance toward his brother’s conscience.]

Verse 6

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. [The conduct of each was equally commendable, as the object of each was the same; that is, to serve God. The one who rested and the one who labored each sought to please God in his act. One gave thanks for meat and all, and the other gave thanks for all, less meat. "This so remarkable saying of the apostle furnishes us," says Godet, "with the true means of deciding all those questions of casuistry which so often arise in Christian life, and cause the believer so much embarrassment. May I allow myself this or that pleasure? Yes, if I can enjoy it to the Lord, and while giving him thanks for it; no, if I can not receive it as a gift from his hand, and bless him for it. This mode of solution respects at once the rights of the Lord and those of individual liberty." The passage indicates that grace before meals was the universal practice of Christians in Paul’s day. It probably rested on the habit of Jesus-- Luke 9:16; Luke 22:17-19; Luke 24:30-35]

Verse 7

For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself.

Verse 8

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. [As we are Christ’s by right of redemption and purchase (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19), 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. Whether, therefore, a man regard any particular act, food or pleasure as a thing permissible--a thing wherein he may, figuratively speaking, live; or whether he regards it as an affair wherein he must deny himself, and so, figuratively, die, in either case he must take more than himself into account, for he must include the Lord and others. Comp. 2 Corinthians 5:15; Romans 12:1; Philippians 1:21-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-9]

Verse 9

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. [We are here told to what lengths Christ went to obtain the important right to rule over us in both spheres of being, or as literally living and dead. A right so dearly bought is not readily abandoned, and, moreover, if Christ rules over us in the literal, his rule also, of course, governs us in all lesser or figurative realms. He became purchaser of us by death (Acts 20:28), and ruler by his resurrection-- Acts 2:30-36; Acts 17:31; Romans 1:4]

Verse 10

But thou [O weak one], why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou again [O strong one], why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God. [The fact that each is so great a sinner that Christ must needs die for him, should prevent the one from judging and the other from despising. Since Christ, having died, is able to justify whom he will, what folly is it to attempt to usurp Christ’s office so as to condemn any who trust in him? The believer is not even judged of Christ, but is called into judgment that he may be justified-- 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 8:33]

Verse 11

For it is written [and hence was an already established doctrine, and not one just now promulgated by Paul], As I live, saith the Lord, to me every knee shall bow, And every tongue shall confess to God. [The quotation gives the sense of Isaiah 45:23 . Comp. Philippians 2:10-11]

Verse 12

So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. [God judges all, hence it is superfluous for the Christian to judge any. Why gather stones of condemnation and judgment when, after all, Jesus renders us powerless to throw them? (John 8:7) Since, then, our judgments are futile and worthless, affecting no one but ourselves, let us refrain from them, and cultivate charity, remembering the rule which metes unto us as we measure to others (Matthew 7:1-2). We should be glad that we escape the responsibility of judging, since Jesus himself expressed no eagerness to assume the burden. Comp. John 5:22; John 5:27; John 5:30; John 5:45; John 3:17-19; John 8:15-16; John 12:47; Luke 12:13-14]

Verse 13

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge [decide] ye this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling. [This warning is addressed both to the weak and to the strong. Each censorious judgment tempts the strong to a reactionary and excessive assertion of liberty, and each despising of the weak tends to decrease his faith in the power of God and the influence of the Holy Spirit to regenerate and sanctify men. Hence each is warned to show charity, and thus avoid placing stumbling-blocks in his brother’s way. At this point Paul ceases to address both parties, and turns his remarks exclusively to the strong, since the weak have less control over their actions than the strong, and hence are mercifully spared the imposition of burdens too heavy for their strength.]

Verse 14

I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus [I am convinced in my apostolic capacity, as enlightened by the Holy Spirit sent of the Lord Jesus (John 14:26; John 16:13-15). Paul’s teachings in this entire section are contrary to his education and prejudice as a Jew. He is speaking as one freed and enlightened in Christ], that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. [See Matthew 15:11; Mark 7:18; Acts 10:14-28; 1 Timothy 4:4 . In the gospel all ceremonial uncleanness is abolished, so that no food is any longer unclean, but if a man acts contrary to his conscience, he defiles it: hence food, clean of itself, may work sad havoc in his spiritual nature who eats contrary to his conscience-- 1 Corinthians 8:7-13]

Verse 15

For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. ["For" looks back to verse 13. Recklessness as to the welfare or safety of others is not loving. "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 (Matthew 27:3-5). It is likely that the latter danger was most prominent to the apostle’s mind. (Comp. Romans 14:20; and 1 Corinthians 8:10) The context, containing the words "destroy" and "overthrow" (Romans 14:20), shows that the grief is more than mere fraternal disappointment at another’s laxity.] Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died. [This is the strongest possible appeal. What pleasure of liberty can be so sweet as to justify us in destroying our brother’s life, and frustrating the agony and sacrifice of the Master in his behalf? Shall we set a higher value on our meat than Christ did on his divine life? How shall we look our Lord in the face if we have wantonly done such a thing!]

Verse 16

Let not then your good be evil spoken of [Do not so use your liberty--the good you enjoy--as to provoke blame or censure, for by so doing you lose your power to influence others for good, whether they be weak or strong. A bad name has no power in God’s kingdom-- 1 Timothy 3:7; Matthew 5:16; Acts 22:22]:

Verse 17

for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Verse 18

For he that herein serveth Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men.

Verse 19

So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another. [Humanly prescribed and wholly external ordinances neither usher us into the kingdom nor increase its power within us, nor does the failure to observe them exclude us from it. Its blessings are not linked to sumptuary liberties, but are found in graces socially applied; in righteousness toward God; justice toward our neighbor; peace, or concord and harmony, with all; joy, or expressions of loving happiness prompted in us by the Holy Spirit, the source of all grace: these are the things which work the advance and glorification of the kingdom both within us and about us. These, then, are the habits of life which please both God who reads the heart, and man who looks upon the outward conduct, and, moreover, build up the kingdom.]

Verse 20

Overthrow not for meat’s sake the work of God. All things indeed are clean; howbeit it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.

Verse 21

It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth. [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. Though Paul’s reference is to the contamination of the wine of idolatry, yet the principle applies equally well to the wine of intemperance.]

Verse 22

The faith which thou hast, have thou to thyself before God. [The faith or conviction of liberty which thou hast need not be abandoned; but it should be held or preserved in the heart before God, and should not be hauntingly paraded in the sight of the weak.] Happy is he that judgeth not himself in that which he approveth.

Verse 23

But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin. [The apostle here presents the contrast between the strong and the weak. The former is blest indeed in that he has liberty without the sense of inward disapproval, while the other, not sure of his ground, plunges recklessly on, and, acting contrary to his convictions, and hence to that respect and reverence which is due to God, sins. His eating is sinful because not of faith (faith is here used in the abstract sense, and means grounded, undoubting conviction that God approves), for whatever is done without such settled conviction is sinful recklessness, and must not be done at all, for to act contrary to the will of God is to destroy his work in us. Diakrenesthai, translated "doubteth," means to be divided into two persons, one of whom says "yes," and the other "no." In the case of the weak the flesh says "yes," and conscience cries "no."]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Romans 14". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/romans-14.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.