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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Romans 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Paul spoke here to those who, as himself, understood the implications of Christian liberty. The other group, the weak in faith, consisted of those whose faith was not strong enough to enable them to exercise the full liberty they had in Christ. Paul may have coined the designations "weak" and "strong," or these may have been terms with which his Roman readers were already familiar.

"The weakness in faith to which this chapter refers is not weakness in basic Christian faith but weakness in assurance that one"s faith permits one to do certain things ..." [Note: Cranfield, 2:700.]

In view of what Paul wrote about the weak they appear to have been mainly Jewish Christians who refrained from certain foods and observed certain days because they remained loyal to the Mosaic Law. Peter at one time struggled with the extent of his liberty and moved from being weak to being strong in faith ( Acts 10). However in the process of his growth he had a relapse ( Galatians 2:11-12). The weak in faith have an overly sensitive conscience about doing things that are permissible for a Christian. A sensitive conscience is a good thing, but it can sometimes lead a person to restrict his or her freedom unnecessarily. Paul urged the stronger Christian, who appreciated the extent of his freedom, to accept his weaker brother as an equal. Nevertheless he was not to accept him and then condemn him mentally, much less publicly, for his scruples.


Verses 1-12

1. The folly of judging one another14:1-12

The apostle dealt first with the importance of not judging one another. This was a particular temptation to those Christians who believed that they should refrain from some practices that they believed were displeasing to God but which other Christians felt were legitimate. When Paul wrote, the first group included Jewish Christians who, because of their background in Judaism, tended to perpetuate the practices commanded in the Mosaic Code. Some Jewish Christians do this today as well. In our day this group also includes Christians, both Jewish and Gentile, who for one reason or another do not believe certain amoral (non-moral) practices are proper for a believer even though other Christians judge them permissible.

An amoral practice is neither right nor wrong in itself. It does not involve sin and, therefore, morality. Examples include food, drink, recreation, clothing, personal grooming, birth control, schooling, lifestyles, et al, when no sin is involved. Some Christians who have black or white mentalities have difficulty recognizing the existence of amoral activity; to them everything is either right or wrong. However, the Bible teaches that there are many activities that may be right but are unadvisable for any number of reasons. Also, there are actions that are right for some people but not right for others.

"This paragraph divides into three sections: Romans 14:1-12. The divisions between the sections are marked with similar rhetorical questions, each using the second person singular: "Who are you who is judging the servant of another?" ( Romans 14:4 a); "Why are you judging your brother?" ( Romans 14:10 a).... The first ( Romans 14:1-3) and the third ( Romans 14:10-12) state in almost identical language the main point of the paragraph: the "strong" are not to "despise" the "weak"; the "weak" are not to "judge" the "strong" (cf. Romans 14:3 a and10a). In the central section, Romans 14:4-9, Paul provides the theological foundation for these commands: every Christian is a servant of the Lord; and it is to that "master," and not to any other fellow servant, that the believer must answer." [Note: Moo, pp834-35.]


Verses 1-13

D. Conduct within Christian liberty14:1-15:13

In Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:13, Paul gave special attention to the problem of knowing how to live in Christian freedom. This section of Romans deals with Christian conduct when God does not specify exactly what we should do in every situation (cf1Corinthians8). In such cases some Christians will do one thing and others another, both within God"s will. How to handle these situations is the focus of this section.

Paul moved on to discuss a problem that arises as the dedicated Christian seeks to live within God"s will in the body of Christ ( Romans 12:3-21) and in the body politic (ch13). As Christians, the613specific commands of the Mosaic Law no longer govern our conduct ( Romans 7:6; Romans 10:4), but the principles that Jesus Christ and His apostles revealed do (cf. chs12-13). How then should we deal with conflicting applications of these principles? How should we conduct ourselves when our interpretation of God"s will differs from that of another believer? Paul explained how believers can disagree on nonessentials and still maintain unity in the church.

"From speaking of those who were too lax in the indulgence of natural appetites [ Romans 13:11-14], the subject passes mainly to those who are too scrupulous. The object is not to remove these scruples, but to show those who have them and those who have them not how to live in Christian peace." [Note: Stifler, p222.]

The command to accept one another begins ( Romans 14:1) and climaxes this section ( Romans 15:7). Within it Paul also gave three other "one another" references ( Romans 14:13; Romans 14:19; Romans 15:5).


Verse 2

Here is a specific case of disagreement. Paul did not say why the weaker brother chose not to eat meat. This brother"s reasons were immaterial to Paul. The point is that for some reason this Christian believed that he would please God more by not eating meat than by eating it. He was wrong. God has not forbidden Christians from eating any food ( 1 Timothy 4:3-4). Eating food is an amoral matter. It is neither morally good nor morally bad; what we eat does not in itself affect our relationship with God. The contrast with life in Israel is again striking where, to please God, an Israelite had to abstain from certain foods. Under certain circumstances, eating certain food could become a moral issue (cf. Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 11:20-21), but in itself food is non-moral.


Verse 3

The person who eats should not view himself as superior, even though he is right, or look down on his extremely sensitive brother with a condescending attitude. The weaker brother should not judge the more liberal Christian as unacceptable to God either, because God has accepted him.


Verse 4

The weaker brother needs to remember to whom the stronger brother is responsible and leave his judgment to God. Paul assured the weaker brother that the stronger brother would stand approved by God because God approves his liberty. God"s grace provides both the possibility and the power for standing. The first part of this verse sounds very much like Romans 2:1; Romans 2:3, where Paul rebuked the self-satisfied Jew.


Verse 5

Here is a second illustration. In this case the weaker brother does something and the stronger does not ( Romans 14:6). This is the opposite of the situation that Paul pictured in the previous illustration. Again the reason the weaker brother observes the day is immaterial. The point is that he observes the day. When Paul wrote, Sabbath and Jewish feast day observances were matters of disagreement among Christians. The Jewish believers tended to observe these because they were part of their Jewish heritage, but the Gentile believers did not. Today the idea that by observing a certain day we please God more than we would if we did not is quite common. Some Christians believe that we should behave differently on Sunday, during Lent, or on some other "religious" day.


Verse 6

The most important thing is to seek to please the Lord in all that we do. Christians will come to differing conclusions about what this means in practice, but their submission to Jesus Christ"s lordship is primary. Paul meant that one person does not eat meat and another does eat meat, but both give God thanks for what they do eat ( Romans 14:2; cf. 1 Timothy 4:4-5).


Verse 7-8

In Romans 14:7 Paul did not mean that our behavior influences other people. Obviously it does. He meant that no Christian should live to please himself alone but should live to please the Lord. The context makes this clear ( Romans 14:6; Romans 14:8). Really the dedicated Christian"s desire to please the Lord will continue beyond the grave, so Paul could also say that we do not die for ourselves. Our whole existence this side of the grave and the other, in life and in death, should express our commitment to please the Lord ( Romans 8:38-39; cf. Philippians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 5:9). Death does not just mark a transition for the Christian from struggle to rest. Death is also a doorway that leads to new enlarged opportunities for service and worship (cf. Luke 19:11-27). Intimate relationship to the Lord is and remains of primary importance. God controls the events leading to our deaths as He does those governing our lives.


Verse 9

Jesus Christ also lived, died, and lives again. Consequently He is Lord of both those who have died and those who are still alive. Paul"s point was that He is the Judges , and we are not.


Verse 10

Both the critical weaker brother and the scorning stronger brother are guilty of the same offense, namely, judging prematurely and unwarrantedly. Jesus Christ ( Romans 14:9) is the God ( Romans 14:10) who will judge (cf. John 5:22; John 5:27). This then is another reference to the judgment seat (Gr. bema) of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). [Note: See Joe L. Wall, Going for the Gold.]

"The remembrance that all Christians will have to stand before the judgment-seat of God is a powerful dissuasive from all sitting in judgment on one"s fellows." [Note: Cranfield, 2:709.]


Verse 11

Everyone will bow in judgment before the Son of God ( Isaiah 45:23; Isaiah 49:13; cf. Philippians 2:10-11). Christians will do so at the judgment seat of Christ following the Rapture ( Luke 14:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 22:12). Old Testament saints will do so at the Second Coming ( Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2). Unbelievers will do so at the great white throne judgment at the end of the Millennium ( Revelation 20:11-15). Of course, no one judged at the judgment seat of Christ will be an unbeliever. The Lord will judge us to determine our faithfulness to our stewardship during our earthly lives. The judgment we receive will apparently determine our opportunity to serve Him in the future ( Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27).


Verse 12

In this summary statement Paul identified the personal responsibility of every Christian to give account of himself or herself to God. We will not have to answer for our fellow Christians or anyone else, but we will have to account for our own deeds.

"We stand before God in the awful loneliness of our own souls; to God we can take nothing but the self and the character which in life we have been building up." [Note: Barclay, p205.]

In this pericope ( Romans 14:1-12) the apostle stressed the folly of judging our fellow Christians who relate to amoral practices differently from the way we do. There is a strong emphasis on recognizing Jesus" lordship in our lives in these verses (cf. Romans 12:1-2). The word "Lord" occurs seven times in Romans 14:5-9.


Verse 13

The Greek word translated "obstacle" (NASB) or "stumbling block" (NIV proskomma) refers to an object on a path against which someone strikes his foot and consequently stumbles or falls (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:9). The stronger brother"s liberty might retard the weaker brother"s progress as he walks the Christian path. It might set him back temporarily or even do permanent damage to his sensitive conscience (cf. Matthew 18:6-7; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:1-2).

Another Greek word translated "stumbling block" (NASB) or "obstacle" (NIV skandalon) describes a snare used to catch an animal or victim as it walks by (cf. Matthew 16:23; 1 Corinthians 8:13). The stronger brother"s liberty might even constitute a temptation for the weaker brother to sin. It might tempt him to go beyond his stronger brother"s behavior and cast off restraint in moral as well as amoral (Gr. adiaphora, indifferent) matters.

"Here now is indeed a field for judging! and it is ourselves, not our brother, which we are to judge!" [Note: Newell, p510.]


Verses 13-23

2. The evil of offending one another14:13-23

In the previous section Paul addressed both the "weak" and the "strong" Christians, but he spoke mainly about the weaker brother"s temptation to condemn the stronger believer. In this section he dealt more with the temptation that the stronger brother faces. Paul structured his argument in a chiasm. [Note: Moo, p850.]

A Warning about stumbling blocks (13b)

B Nothing is "unclean" in itself (14a)

C Warning about destroying one for whom Christ died (15b)

C" Warning about tearing down the work of God (20a)

B" All things are "clean" in themselves (20b)

A" Warning about causing another believer to stumble (21)


Verse 14

The Lord Jesus taught that the distinction between ceremonially clean and unclean food had ended ( Mark 7:15-23). Nevertheless not all Christians had grasped this teaching (e.g, Acts 10:9-15). Many still regarded the Jewish dietary laws as God"s will for them (e.g. Seventh-Day Adventists and other sabbatarian groups). Is it any wonder that many Christians even today mistakenly think that the Mosaic Code constitutes their rule of life? Defilement springs from the mind, not material objects (cf. Matthew 12:34-35; Matthew 15:18-19; Titus 1:15).


Verse 15

The words "grieved" and "destroy" describe two different stages. When one person sees another doing what his own conscience condemns, it grieves him or causes him pain. When he then proceeds to do what his conscience condemns, he commits sin and ultimately experiences moral destruction.

The apostle"s point was this. If your behavior regarding amoral things is creating spiritual problems for another Christian, your conduct is not loving (cf. Romans 12:10). The welfare of a brother should obviously take precedence over our liberty to do something amoral (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13). The stronger brother"s conduct could destroy the weaker brother"s walk with God permanently or just temporarily. It would be terrible for a Christian to destroy someone whom our Lord has saved!


Verse 16

The good thing refers to the liberty to eat meat or to do anything amoral. People could legitimately speak of it as evil if it resulted in the fall of a brother.


Verse 17

The kingdom of God here refers to the sphere over which God rules and in which all believers live and operate.

"[The "kingdom of God" is] an echo of our Lord"s teaching. The phrase is used normally in St. Paul of that Messianic kingdom which is to be the reward and goal of the Christian life ... Hence it comes to mean the principles or ideas on which that kingdom is founded, and which are already exhibited in this world (cf. I Cor. iv20)." [Note: Sanday and Headlam, p391. See also Robert L. Saucy, "The Presence of the Kingdom and the Life of the Church," Bibliotheca Sacra145:577 (January-March1988):42.]

The emphasis in this reference is on the authority of God over His own. The primary issues in the lives of dedicated Christians should not be external amoral practices but the great spiritual qualities that the Holy Spirit seeks to produce in them. These qualities include right conduct (cf. Romans 6:13; Romans 6:16; Romans 6:18), peace with God (cf. Philippians 4:7), and joy (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). Paul wanted his readers to keep their priorities in perspective.


Verse 18

Acceptance with God for Christians involves the stressing of these great kingdom graces rather than whether or not we engage in some amoral practice. This emphasis also wins the approval of other people since they realize what is more and less important.

"Let us ask ourselves, Does my walk please God? Is it approved in the hearts of men?" [Note: Newell, pp513-14.]


Verse 19

The things that make for peace in the context refer to practices that do not cause others to stumble and attitudes that are non-judgmental. Peace between the strong and the weak is in view primarily. Rather than tearing down, we should do things that build one another up ( 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). For the strong this might be foregoing some legitimate amoral practice. For the weak it could be refraining from verbal criticism and judgmental thinking.


Verse 20

"Christian history, alas, shows numerous examples of people utterly earnest about nonessentials, who have felt at liberty to break the unity of the Church for the sake of their particular fetish." [Note: Hunter, p121.]

Even though God permits the eating of all foods, for example, He does not sanction eating a food if a Christian causes spiritual problems for someone else by eating it. This destroys the work that God is doing in building His church.

"While freedom is a right, it is not a guide for conduct. Love serves that purpose. Rights are to be laid aside in the interest of love." [Note: Mounce, pp257-58.]


Verse 21

It is interesting that the apostle mentioned drinking wine since that is one of the most problematic amoral practices in American evangelicalism. Paul himself was willing to forego any particular food or drink to avoid causing spiritual growth problems for a brother ( 1 Corinthians 8:13; cf. Mark 9:42). Certainly we should be willing to do the same. We willingly alter our pace of walking while leading a small child by the hand so he or she will not stumble. How much more should we be willing to alter our Christian walk for the benefit of a weaker brother or sister in Christ whom we are leading.

". . . modern Christians who . . . abstain from all alcoholic beverages do so not because they fear ritual contamination. Some abstain because they are leery of a product that has had such a sad history of "enslaving" those who partake (see the principle of 1 Corinthians 6:12 b). Many others do not drink because they do not want to set a bad example for others who might not be able to handle alcohol. Abstinence on these grounds may be a laudable course of action; but it has little basis in Paul"s argument in these chapters. For the "weak" here are not those who cannot control their drinking. They are people who are not convinced that their faith in Christ allows them to do a particular thing. They are not "weak" in respect to handling alcohol; they are "weak" in respect to their faith ( Romans 14:1). And Paul urges the "strong" to abstain, not because their example might lead the "weak" to drink to excess but because their example might lead the "weak" to drink and so to violate their conscience ( Romans 14:22-23)." [Note: Moo, p881.]


Verse 22

Paul evidently wrote this verse with the strong in view primarily (cf. Romans 14:23). He did not want his readers to force their convictions ("faith") about amoral practices on others. The strong believer can be happy in his private enjoyment of amoral practices because he knows that he is neither violating the will of God nor the conscience of a weak brother.


Verse 23

This verse, in contrast to Romans 14:22, seems addressed particularly to the weak. The weak brother who eats something that he believes he should not eat stands condemned by his own conscience and by God (cf. Galatians 2:11). His action is contrary to what he believes is right. "Faith" here, as in Romans 14:1; Romans 14:22, does not refer to the teachings of Christianity but to what a person believes to be the will of God for him. [Note: See Cranfield, 2:729.] If a person does what he believes to be wrong, even though it is not wrong in itself, it becomes sin for him. He has violated what he believes to be God"s will. His action has become an act of rebellion against God for him. Perhaps "he who creates divisions" would be a better translation of diakrinomenos than "he who doubts." [Note: David DeGraaf, "Some Doubts about Doubt: The New Testament Use of Diakrino," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society48:8 (December2005):733-55.]

"Whatever is done without the conviction that God has approved it is by definition sin. God has called us to a life of faith. Trust is the willingness to put all of life before God for his approval. Any doubt concerning an action automatically removes that action from the category of that which is acceptable." [Note: Mounce, pp258-59.]

"For a Christian not a single decision and action can be good which he does not think he can justify on the ground of his Christian conviction and his liberty before God in Christ." [Note: H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p291.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 14:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/romans-14.html. 2012.

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