Monday, August 12, 2013

An Exegesis of Romans 14

An Exegesis of Romans 14

1.       Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.

[Receiving one who is weak in the faith is welcoming one who has not yet grown strong enough in his new-found liberty in Christ to feel free to eat all things. His Jewish upbringing, for example, had trained his conscience to avoid certain meats. For example, even after 8-10 years of being a Christian, Peter did not understand that the old-law diet restrictions had been changed. He could not “kill and eat” as the Lord instructed him in Acts 10 because his conscience had not yet understood that God had cleansed those unclean animals and now he was at liberty to kill and eat animals that his conscience had been trained to think of as unclean for a Jew all of his life. His conscience was “weak in the faith”.

Each time a Jew was converted to Christ there was an adjustment period for his conscience.  Until he can grow accustomed to the new liberties, it was not time to force him to violate his conscience.  We are to receive him, but not get into disputes with him over things about which his conscience needs time to adjust to the new liberties. The stronger Christians are not to force his conscience. We are free to gently teach him the truth and encourage him to expand his conscience into full liberty, but do not belittle and antagonize him into doing a thing he does not have to do to please God and that before and without his conscience being fully assured and ready to participate in eating a particular formerly unclean food item. The Amplified Bible speaks this way:

14:1 AS FOR the man who is a weak believer, welcome him [into your fellowship], but not to criticize his opinions or pass judgment on his scruples or perplex him with discussions. AMP

Paul is not speaking of being weak in believing the gospel, but weak in believing in the extent to which he can adjust his conscience to the liberty in Christ. This section is about how to apply love to brethren who struggle with the adjustment of his conscience to the liberty in Christ.  We welcome into our fellowship the newborn babes that do not know what the conscience can allow and should allow. We do not welcome the weak brother with a view to antagonizing them and discouraging them before their conscience has time to grow into the liberty in Christ. The conscience has got to be handled carefully and gently and patiently brought along as a babe is not expected to be able to do what mature people are able to do. Paul will now discuss the particular issues he has in mind.]

2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

[There is a right position and a wrong position here, but there is not a position here that immediately involves one in SIN. The one who believes he may eat all things is actually correct. But, the person who has a problem eating certain foods is not trying to bind that view on others and therefore is not trying to restrict another’s conscience or teach others the doctrines and commandments of men. The more knowledgeable brother (the one with the correct view that we may eat all things) does not need to “despise” a brother for being ignorant on this point and for having a conscience issue on what he feels he can eat.  He may have served God and trained his conscience under the old system where certain meats were restricted. His conscience had been trained to please God this way and now those restrictions no longer apply. Even if a newborn babe in Christ can intellectually absorb that for others in Christ, it does not mean his conscience is emotionally ready to switch into that gear and go that way. 

So, if we know the principle of love and we know this is not an issue of sin, we should know that despising this brother or sister is really the last thing they need from us right now. They are not to be judging the eater, because the eater is not sinning by eating. Thus, the non-eater is not to judge the eater as doing wrong. This also means that the non-eater is not binding his conscience on another or trying to teach the doctrines of men and bind them upon others. Thus, both sides of this issue are not engaging a sin issue whether they eat all things or if they hold a conscience that does not allow one to eat all things.  Freedom to eat all things does not necessitate that we eat all things.  If a conscience is not ready to give itself the freedom, but does not impose his conscience on others, there should be no problem in allowing each to live with their differences within freedom.  If he was “baptized into Christ”(Rom.6:3-5), the master (Jesus) has been able to make him stand right with God.  Which brings us to Paul’s next point.]

4 Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

[Our brethren are not our servants or slaves.  They do not have to please us in every way. They do not have to immediately bow to our consciences just because it is our conscience and we know the truth on the matter.  Each brother has to bring his conscience into conformity with what he has learned and is assured is God’s will. God made Peter to stand even when his conscience did not feel that he could eat the things God let down in a sheet.  He thought some of those animals were “unclean”(Acts 10). His knowledge was wrong and therefore his conscience was wrong, but God was “able to make him stand”. Was Peter in such error as to be out of fellowship with God? No!  When he learned better, he could bring his conscience into a fuller level of liberty, but until then, each must be allowed to grow and expand their knowledge and the liberty of their conscience in time.

We cannot judge every servant of another man.  We would have to know exactly what that servant’s master thinks of that servant.  When we learn what our master expects of us, we adjust our conscience and behavior accordingly.  We simply do not know what we do not know and will have to rely upon the master to correct us and to believe that he will do so when He deems that time to be right. Peter was corrected on the matter of meats by his own master.  If the Lord had no problem with Peter for 8 years remaining ignorant about this issue, a matter involving no sin against his master, then another servant had no business judging Peter and declaring him to not be right with God.  To his own master he stood. A newborn babe is made to stand right with God and he cannot go against his present understanding of what God is pleased for him to do and refrain from doing.  His conscience must be developed as he learns from the Master.]


5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

[Here is a principle of spiritual development. We cannot move into an activity that we are not first “fully convinced” is right. We must not be reckless. We must be careful. There is a right and wrong about this issue, but there is not necessarily a SIN involved in the wrong position.  Esteeming a day, like the Jews who kept the Sabbath Day holy (the seventh day, our Saturday) may not now be the right position, but it may not involve the newly converted Jew in SIN either. Before the newly converted Jew throws it to the wind, he needs to first be “fully convinced” that he can safely do that before his God.  Each conscience is to be carefully trained and that means we should patiently allow each person’s conscience to be adjusted according to the rate of growth in their understanding, knowledge, and conviction.]

6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

[This is not said where ignorance is used to judge others. If a newborn babe tries to bind the Sabbath on others, the others need to speak up and defend their liberty in Christ.  If the newborn babe is trying to bind dietary laws from Leviticus on the Christians, they must speak up and not allow such to be bound. But, where an individual is not binding on others but is simply not sure they can give themselves the liberty that others are engaging, then the charitable thing to do is to allow them the room to develop their own personal conscience since God is the one they are seeking to honor and God has allowed them to stand without perfect knowledge.

But, let us notice the difference between Paul encouraging patience and love in the case of individual conscience and the very different case in Galatians where he is “afraid” for those Galatians who “observe days”(Gal.4:10f).  The difference in the approach in the two cases is that of personal conscience versus the binding of the law upon others for their right standing before God. To brethren who have not tried to teach the false doctrine that we must observe days in order to be right with God, but who merely have a hard time moving their conscience into the full liberty of Christ, Paul urges that we receive them and treat them with love and care for their consciences. But, when brethren begin teaching others the error that God requires the observance of days and of clean and unclean meats, then this is a time to be greatly concerned. It perverts the gospel and endangers the souls of all. We cannot coddle such people. It is no longer an individual conscience matter. It is now a perversion of what is to be taught to others in training THEIR consciences.  The wrong standard cannot be passed along to others.]

7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.

[None of us Christians are living to ourselves. We are living to God, and for the good of others.  We also have to live with the consequences of making those around us miserable. We live and die to God and for the purpose of getting our own conscience in order. That will involve us in the work of loving our neighbor as ourselves. This means that we cannot force our will and conscience upon others. We can tenderly and patiently teach them as they allow us, but we cannot force a growth rate upon them that their conscience is not ready to handle. We live and die among people, and we must be sure we love them and are handling their conscience needs as we would like to be handled. Remember the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.]

 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

[We Christians “live to the Lord” and we “die to the Lord”. This means that we know that life and death is in the Lord’s hands, and we live and die to please the Lord.  If this is truly what we are about, then how can we force people to act against their conscience?  The Lord holds authority over all, and we are to try to teach what the Lord wants and wills for us, but each Christian must live to the Lord to the level of knowledge he/she has acquired and to the extent that their conscience has been properly trained. We are the Lord’s. We belong to Him. Our actions toward one another should reflect that consciousness.]


10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.   11 For it is written:


"As I live, says the LORD,

Every knee shall bow to Me,

And every tongue shall confess to God."  


12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.

[Judging our brother is condemning him/her for not acting according to our conscience.  Showing contempt for a brother shows a problem with our own maturity in Christ.  There are times to show righteous indignation, but it is not because a person whom we know has been baptized into Christ has not grown to our level of liberty in conscience.  If a person is simply hesitant to do something, such as eat a particular meat because his conscience does not feel right about it, it is not a situation that calls for condemnation and contempt.  We will give account to God for how we treat those with a weaker conscience.  If a brother is confessing Jesus but does not feel free to engage a particular liberty yet, we must be careful that we do not put a stumbling block in the way.  When a person acts contrary to what they are convinced is right, they are not acting by faith and they are doing damage to their conscience.

Giving account of ourselves will involve how we treated a brother.  Jesus said “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you did it to me”(Matt.25:33ff).  A brother that is doing his best to understand and do the will of God is precious in the eyes of God. In a matter of liberty where it is not required that all conform to the common things performed together in the assembly, there is room to let the individual conscience develop at the pace that each can handle.  In some things there is no hurry and there is no need to press a brother into an action in which his conscience is not yet ready.  A person must first be fully convinced in his own mind that it is right with God before he acts. Paul will now state the truth of the issue at hand.]

14, I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

[Paul is making the point that his knowing and being convinced that he can eat all things and that there is nothing unclean of itself does not necessarily translate into a brother knowing and being convinced of the same. When a person “tests all things” and come to knowledge and conviction, then they can adjust their conscience accordingly. Until then, there has to be respect for a man struggling to do the right thing but needing some space to retrain his conscience.  The food that Paul feels free to eat is still food that a brother feels is unclean.  What does Paul think God wants him to do toward this brother?]


15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

[The “grieving” here is not so much because you feel that you have the liberty to eat this particular food, but that you knew he was having a problem with this issue and yet you decided to serve it to him anyway. You cannot destroy with food unless you served it to them against their conscience. You cannot destroy a brother by eating your food away from him. It is only possible to destroy a brother with your food if you serve it to him and expect him to eat it against his conscience.  Vincent’s NT Word Studies says of this word, “grieved”:  It is a "hurt" to conscience, which, while not necessarily fatal, may lead to violation or hardening of conscience, and finally to fall. Compare 1 Cor. 8:9-12.-Unquote!

We do not hurt his conscience by our own private eating. We hurt his conscience when we bring pressure for him to go against his own conscience. We do that by serving food to him that he feels is unclean. Now, he is in the dilemma of feeling he must either insult his host by not eating what is served, or go ahead and eat what he feels is unclean. We did not give him another option, and our good (showing hospitality) can now be spoken of as evil.]

16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.

[The kingdom of God is about “serving Christ” the King of all kings, and His kingdom is “not of this world”(John 18:26). It has a primary mission of promoting righteousness, peace, and joy “in the Holy Spirit”.  When food becomes more important than those things, we have quit serving Christ and have begun again to serve our own desires and appetites.  When you pressure a man to do what he is not convinced himself is right, your good in the kingdom can be spoken of as evil.  You have forgotten that the kingdom of God is about doing the right thing, peace among ourselves and within ourselves, and it is about joy in Christ, not making a brother or sister miserable.  Let us keep in mind that eating all things is not a matter of righteousness, though it is a correct position to hold.  Let us also keep in mind that a brother may be wrong about whether a certain food is unclean, but he is not sinning by refraining from eating such, and he is right to protect his conscience until he can educate it and then adjust it.

By judging, ridiculing, and despising a weaker conscience and trying to belittle them and pressure them into conformity with our own practice, we are not promoting righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Remember, we are not being forced against our own conscience to be compassionate and understanding toward the weaker conscience. We are not compromising the truth of the gospel by allowing a soul to grow into the knowledge of the new freedoms in Christ. We are not allowing a false teacher to force the traditions of men upon the church.  We are merely allowing a conscience room to grow and be at peace while doing so.]

19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.

[Since the kingdom of God is about righteousness, and this issue is not a matter of moral right or wrong, and since the kingdom of God is about peace within ourselves and among ourselves, then here is a good way to handle a difference between us. We want peace and edification between us. Pursue the things that make for peace. One of the things we can do is to be careful not to force a brother to violate his conscience. Give him room to grow.  As edification and learning takes root, he may in time learn that he can indeed consider that there are no foods that God characterizes as unclean in the kingdom.  But, as long as he thinks he should refrain from some foods, then don’t tempt him to harm his own conscience.]

20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.

[The man with a weaker conscience is still “the work of God”. He is “created in Christ Jesus for good works”. He has much potential. We all grow and develop our consciences.  Let others grow their consciences in matters that you know are liberties, not moral or congregational essentials. When a man eats “with offense”, he is eating while his conscience hurts.  We cause a man to stumble when we pressure a man to violate his conscious conviction before he has had time to study, come to new conviction and thus retrain his conscience.  Do not be the reason a man “eats with offense” for such may send him to disillusionment and then to a destruction of his faith in Jesus and His people. For the sake of optional food, would we take such a careless approach to someone that God has “created in Christ Jesus for good works”?]

21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.

[Your brother can stumble, be offended, or be made weak and be destroyed, thus he can fall from grace. If we pressure a brother to go against his conscience, we can do damage of an eternal nature. It would be far better to abstain from the meat or wine or anything that can influence another in the wrong way. Perhaps they think you are not taking sin seriously and so neither should they. We can refrain from some liberties if it will encourage people to take sin seriously.]


22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.

[If we have faith that no meats are unclean, that is good to have to yourself. But, when you are involving others and bearing an influence upon others, be careful that you are not condemning yourself by being careless about how you are affecting people around you.  It is not all about your rights. It is also about your influence on others.]

23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.   NKJV

[If a person has doubts about whether it is right before God to eat certain meats, he is acting sinfully if he eats. There is an important principle here.  If we cannot prove something is right to our own conscience by the word of God we cannot act until we remove the doubt and have confidence that it is right. Silence is not permission. Silence creates doubt. If we cannot be sure that something is right, we cannot do it by faith.  Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom.10:17).  God’s word is the corrector of the conscience. Until our conscience has removed the doubt by the assurance of God’s word, then we cannot act.  Whatever is not of faith is sin.

Now a word about the misuse of this text and context.  Be careful of brethren who try to conveniently throw every issue into a Romans 14 matter.  Every issue was not handled the same way as instructed here. For example the same issues are handled differently in Galatians.  Every issue is not the same as a liberty. The man who had his father’s wife at Corinth (1 Cor.5) was not to be coddled as you patiently wait for his conscience to learn better.  Some things are actually sinful, not liberties. They must be handled with urgency.  

Some issues are divisive and a brother needs to be marked and avoided (Rom.16:17). So, even in Romans we can see that all issues are not to be handled the same way. We must be careful to weigh each issue on the merits of the issue and whether sin is clearly involved, or if it is a matter of individual liberty and conscience. 

There may be some principles that we can use to deal with issues like the covering of 1 Corinthians 11, but we must exercise great caution and care before we use Romans 14 as a cure-all for all divisions.  There are times when we must take a stand on the merits of the issue.  One thing that we must keep in mind is that Romans 14 is about liberties that are not matters of sin. Neither side of the issue is sinning in practice though attitudes can become sinful and careless. Colossians 2 also warns about allowing someone to bind the doctrines of men upon the church. We cannot allow ourselves to become tolerant of anything and everything.  Personal conscience is to be handled with care and love. Let us determine to study each issue out with care and love and without compromise of the truth. – Terry W. Benton