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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 14

 

 

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Verse 1

‘But him who is weak in faith receive you, (yet) not to disputes about scruples.’

He calls on the Roman Christians to be ready to receive any who were ‘weak in faith’, but not in order to argue with them about unnecessary scruples. What they were to do was seek to strengthen each other’s faith in Christ, not undermine each other’s faith over secondary matters. And he deals with two matters which were clearly urgent, and which are of some interest to Christians today. The first dealing with the question of what Christians should not eat, and the second dealing with the observance of a special day to the LORD.

‘Weak in faith.’ That is, they were not strong enough to make the complete break from Judaism. They had not yet realised that in His coming the Messiah had replaced the Old Testament rituals by being their fulfilment. The phrase does not mean that the faith of such believers in Christ was weak, only that their cautious approach indicated that they were not as strong as Paul in breaking free from the past. Their faith could not cope with the idea of Messiah’s people being free from the traditions of the past. They themselves still felt themselves as bound by those traditions, and they saw them as binding on others. Some would see them as binding on Jewish Christians. Others would see them as binding on all Christians. Thus their faith in the Messiah, however strong it was, was not sufficient to enable them to recognise that He had delivered them from all these things. And they thus often passed judgment on those who failed to fall into line.


Verses 1-6

2). Christian Freedom And Consideration For The Views Of Others (14:1-15:6).

Having laid down the principles of Christian living, Paul now moves on to what he clearly conceives of as a problem in the Roman church, the problem of disagreement on the question of religious observance. Such disagreement was inevitable. The Roman church was very much a mixture of people from many religious backgrounds, who had brought with them certain ideas about religious observance, and it especially included a large number of Jews and Jewish sympathisers, many of whom were probably still connected with the synagogue. That this latter meant that relationships between Christians and Jews in Rome were reasonably cordial, so that Christians were not necessarily seen as contrary to Judaism, comes out in the fact that later the leading Jewish elders were quite content to meet with Paul on his arrival in Rome so as to hear what he had to say (Acts 28:17-24; Acts 28:29). They still saw Christianity as a sect of Judaism (Acts 28:22). But it did mean that the Jewish Christians conformed to the norms of Judaism with respect to clean and unclean foods, and with respect to the Sabbath and to feasts.

The certain consequence would be that many Roman Christians considered the observance of the Sabbath and the observance of Jewish feasts as binding on them, together with the Jewish food laws in respect of cleanness and uncleanness. It was true that the gathering of leading Jewish Christians in Jerusalem described in Acts 15 had given concessions on these matters to Gentile Christians, but these had not been given to Jewish Christians, and even then for Gentile Christians they had stipulated abstention from eating things sacrificed to idols, from eating blood, and from eating things strangled (Acts 15:29). Thus it appears that in Rome there would be many carrying out Judaistic practises.

That the minority involved in what he is describing were of some considerable size comes out in the importance that Paul places on the subject. He clearly saw it as something that could divide the church. This again points to Jewish practises being in mind. While it is perfectly true that on top of this there might be others, such as Pythagoreans, who had their own reasons for vegetarianism (the avoidance of eating what they saw as having a living soul), and converts from other religions who saw certain days as ‘unlucky’, there can really be no doubt that it was aspects of Judaism which were mainly in mind. They themselves saw the laws of uncleanness and the Sabbath as marks of distinction, distinguishing them from the rest of mankind, and Paul the former Pharisee could hardly have referred to unclean meat and the observance of a special day to a church containing as many Jewish Christians as the Roman church did without either signifying them, or making a careful distinction between them and what he was describing. As he did not do the latter we must assume the former. We should in regard to these things recognise that ‘the church of the Romans’ was, like churches in all the big cities in those days, divided up into groups meeting in various parts of the city. And they would have had many different flavours. Thus that Paul addressed the whole church on the subject in such detail suggests that many in those church groups were affected by the issue, and they would contain many Jewish Christians.

Paul was apparently not concerned about abstinence from unclean foods and observance of the Sabbath, as long as such things were not made ‘necessary for salvation’. As long as it did not interfere with their loyalty to Christ he was willing to accept such differences. What he was concerned about, however, was that the church should not be divided over the issue. And he desired not only harmony, but also a position of mutual respect between the parties concerned. It is this that he now goes about enforcing.


Verses 1-23

Christian Freedom To Be Tempered By Consideration For Their Brothers And Sisters With Regard To Food Fetishes And Sabbath Observance (14:1-23).

Paul now deals with the question of whether to observe a special day to the LORD, and what should be their attitude towards foods. Jesus had declared that He was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), and that only what came out of a man (sin) could render him unclean, not what entered into him (Mark 7:15). And Mark had taken this to mean that by it He declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). It would appear that Paul held the same position (Romans 14:14), but did not want to make a big issue out of it. He therefore stresses the need for tolerance.


Verse 2

‘One man has faith to eat all things, but he who is weak eats herbs.’

He posits the case of two men, one of whom ‘has the faith to eat all things’, and the other who eats only vegetables and herbs. The latter case might especially be true for those who wanted to ensure that they did not eat meat sacrificed to idols, or, in the case of those influenced by Judaism, meat from animals that had not been slaughtered in the right manner, and was therefore not ‘kosher’. We can compare the position of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1:8 ff. Paul has nothing against those who hold such positions, indeed he respects their viewpoint, even though he does not hold it himself. And elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 8 he gives detailed instructions about when meat sacrificed to idols should not be eaten simply in the light of how others might take it.

That the Jewish regulations as to cleanness and uncleanness of foods were certainly affecting the early church is brought out by Mark’s comment in Romans 7:19 b (‘and this He said making all foods clean’); by Acts 11:3; and by the coming among the Galatians of Judaising Christians who sought to enforce food laws on Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:11-15). Jewish Christians living in established Jewish communities (and especially those living in Jerusalem and Judaea) would unquestionably observe both food laws and Sabbath, and Paul had no problems with that. He himself could say, ‘to the Jews I became as a Jew that I might gain the Jews’ (1 Corinthians 9:20). There were probably such communities in Rome. What he had problems with was those who sought to enforce their views on the wider Christian church on the grounds that the latter were now part of Israel (Romans 11:16-24), (something with which he agreed without accepting that it had the consequences that they suggested). His stance was that, as with circumcision, Christ’s life and death had rendered such ordinances unnecessary for all, both Jew and Gentile.

The fact that all through Romans we have the contrast between Jew and Gentile drawn out, further serves to confirm that this is mainly a Christian Jew/Christian Gentile controversy, something which is confirmed by Romans 15:8-9, where it is the uniting of Jews and Gentiles as a consequence of the correct approach to the situation that is stressed. It is true that there were Gentile sects which advocated vegetarianism on the grounds, for example, of animals possessing living souls, but there are no grounds for considering that these were affecting the church in any deep way. The enforcing of Judaistic ideas on Christians, however, certainly were. And with regard to abstaining from all meats Josephus specifically informs us that certain Jews in Rome abstained from all meats, fearful lest they be unclean. Among many people Christians were simply seen as a Jewish sect (compare Acts 18:12-16). After all they both looked to the same holy book. And as we have seen the early church saw itself as the continuation of the true Israel.

The only thing in question, therefore, was as to what difference had been made by the coming of the Messiah. And the answer was basically that in Him the Sabbath rest, to which the Sabbath had pointed, had now come (Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 4:9). The Sabbath had fulfilled its purpose of pointing to the coming rest. That is why as the Messiah Jesus was now able to do His Messianic work on the Sabbath along with His Father (John 5:16-18). It was why strict observance of the Sabbath was no longer necessary, because He was the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). Furthermore, in Him the new higher life to which the laws of clean and unclean had pointed (see our commentary on Leviticus), had arrived The pointers were thus no longer required.


Verse 3

‘Let not him who eats set at nought him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats. For God has received him.’

But the one who eats anything quite confidently, without a religious qualm, must not despise in any way the one who eats only vegetables, or abstains from certain types of meat (e.g. pork). And the one who has qualms over what he eats must not judge the one who eats anything. Each must recognise concerning their opponent that God ‘has received him’. Thus all whom God had received must love one another.

‘God has received him.’ Compare Romans 15:7-9 where they are to receive one another because Christ has ‘received them’ And He has done it in order to unite Jews and Gentiles, with Jews (the circumcision) who believed being confirmed in the promises of God, while the Gentiles glorify God for His mercy by benefiting in the Root of Jesse (Romans 15:12).


Verse 4

‘Who are you who judges the servant of another? To his own lord he stands or falls. Yes, he will be made to stand, for the Lord has power to make him stand.’

And, indeed, if God has received someone, what right has man to pass judgment on him? For just as a servant is answerable only to his master (lord), so also the Lord’s servants are answerable only to Him. In neither case, therefore, is it justifiable for one servant to judge the other, because both are servants of God, and each stands or falls before Him with regard to his own behaviour. It is to Him that they will give account. Furthermore, Paul assures them, each will stand firm in the truth, regardless of their weaknesses, because ‘the LORD’ has the power to make them stand firm. He is watching over them all.

The passage from now on continually refers to ‘the LORD’ without making clear whether it is ‘God the Father’ or ‘the LORD Jesus Christ’ Who is being spoken of. Certainly in Romans 14:9 it is Jesus Christ Who ‘lords it over’ the dead and the living, thus confirming that ‘the LORD’ in Romans 14:8 must be Jesus Christ. And in Romans 14:14 Paul refers to Jesus as ‘the LORD, Jesus’. This would suggest the probability that it is Jesus Christ Who is being referred to in every case (even in the citation). We have seen previously how easily Paul could refer Scriptures which spoke of ‘the Lord’, to the LORD Jesus Christ (e.g. Romans 10:11-13). And this could be seen as confirmed by the fact that Paul’s favourite word in Romans is ‘God’. That being so we might expect him to use it where he could.


Verse 5

‘One man esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind.’

The second dispute was over whether it was necessary to observe a special day as being ‘holy’, that is, as being something to be set apart wholly for God. In view of the make up of the church of the Romans this had necessarily mainly to do with the question of the Sabbath which all Jewish Christians and their adherents would have observed according to custom, but which had no significance for out and out Gentiles. That is not, however, to deny that others may also have observed other days as religiously special or as ‘unlucky’. Some may well have brought some such ideas from religions in which they had been involved. But the main bulk of the problem would lie between those who observed the Sabbath, as well as the first day of the week and those who merely observed the first day of the week, the day of resurrection (John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; compare the Didache Romans 14:1).

Initially the earliest church would certainly have observed both in different ways. The Jewish church living in Jerusalem and Judea would certainly not want to be seen as Sabbath breakers and would thus continue to observe the Sabbath. But gradually emphasis elsewhere turned to the first day of the week. This controversy would go on for hundreds of years, demonstrating how central it was, but it was certainly in mind as early as Ignatius of Antioch (110 AD). Consider his words in his letter to the Magnesians (c. 110 AD), ‘If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope,no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death --’ (Romans 9:1). Consider also the following citation from The Epistle of Barnabas (early 2nd century AD), where he declares. “Further, He says to them, "Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure." You perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens” (Romans 15:9). Thus both saw the Sabbath as being replaced by the first day of the week.

As long as it was not made a condition for salvation Paul did not mind which view Christians took, and certainly slaves who were Christian Jews would not want to lose their privilege under Roman Law, of observing the Sabbath rest. So Paul stresses that each must be left to make up their own mind. One man esteems one day above another. Another esteems every day. Each man must come to his own decision about such matters on the basis of what he believes in his heart.


Verse 6

‘He who regards the day, regards it unto the Lord, and he who eats, eats unto the Lord, for he gives God thanks, and he who does not eat, does not eat unto the Lord, and gives God thanks.’

What matters is not whether men observe a certain day, or whether they eat a certain food. What matters is that they do whatever they do ‘to the LORD’. What matters is that they look on themselves as His servants, and obey Him in accordance with what they believe. That it is Jesus Who is in mind in the mention of ‘the LORD’ is specifically indicated in Romans 14:9. But even if it had not been made clear there it would have had to be assumed on the basis of what has gone before in Romans. Thus he recognises that Christian Jews who observe the Sabbath now observe it ‘to the LORD, Jesus Christ’.

It should be noted that what is Paul’s main concern is not whether Christians observe one day above another, or otherwise, or whether they abstain from certain foods, or otherwise, but whether they give thanks to God for all His provision. Each is responsible to God.

Sabbatarians who insist that all should be Sabbatarians, must necessarily exclude the Sabbath from Paul’s argument here, but there can be no grounds for doing so. Had he meant to exclude the well known Sabbath he would have made it quite plain. He was no fool. Who better than Paul knew that both the Christian Jews and the Christian Gentiles in Rome would assume that he was talking about the Sabbath, unless he said otherwise? And besides, one of the reasons why there would have been much concern about such observance among Christians was that while Jews, including Jewish slaves, had, by order of the state, the right to observe the Sabbath according to the custom of their fathers, Gentile Christians did not. No Gentile Christian slave could demand of his master the right to observe the Sabbath, while Christian Jews could by order of the Emperor. Many a Gentile Christian slave, urged on by Christian Jews, must have agonised over the question of the Sabbath, while aware all the time that his circumstances prevented its observance. Christian writers would have been inexcusable in not dealing with the question. And in fact Paul is doing so here. He is giving assurance that such need not be concerned.

That this was the generally held position comes out in that none of the New Testament letter writers ever urge observance of the Sabbath, something inconceivable if the observance of the Sabbath had been seen as essential, if only because the question would have been such a burning issue for Gentile Christian slaves, who were a sizeable minority in the church. Nor did they anywhere give any instruction to such Gentile Christian slaves on how to deal with the question. The only explanation for that must be that it was not seen as an issue, and that things were simply dealt with on the basis that Paul has described.

But the emphasis here is on not despising those who do feel, for conscience’ sake, that they should observe, among other days, the Sabbath. Such people, however, had no thought that Sabbath observance was necessary for salvation, for where such cases did arise Paul had no hesitation in condemning such teaching (Colossians 2:16).


Verse 7

‘For none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself.’

The underlying reason for his judgment in this case is now given. It lies in the fact that we do not live and die to ourselves. What Paul is signifying by this is indicated by what follows. We rather live and die to the LORD. This is a reminder that our lives should be wholly lived as in His sight. Our lives are no longer our own, whether in life or death. We are rather responsible in all things to the LORD. That being so guidance and judgment on these issues can be left to Him.


Verse 8

‘For whether we live, we live to the Lord, or whether we die, we die to the Lord. Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.’

The meaning of the previous verse is here made clear. It is to the LORD that we live, and to the LORD that we die, for now that He is our LORD (Romans 10:9) our lives and deaths are in His hands. To live to the LORD must here mean living ‘as under His Lordship and as He determines’. To die to the LORD must in context mean dying ‘as under His Lordship and as the LORD determines’. Thus whether we live or die we are the LORD’s and are therefore solely His responsibility and accountable to Him.


Verse 9

‘ For to this end Christ died and lived (again), that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.’

Indeed, this was one of the reasons why Christ died and lived again. It was in order thereby to become the LORD of death, which He conquered (‘I have the keys of Hades and of death’ - Revelation 1:18), and the LORD of Life, which He gives (‘he who has the Son has life’ - 1 John 5:12). In other words He died and lived again in order that He might exercise Lordship over both the dead and the living, as the LORD of death and the LORD of life. Notice the interesting expression ‘lived again’. Paul put it in this way in order to turn attention on Him, not so much as the resurrected LORD, but as the LORD of life.


Verse 10-11

‘But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you set at nought your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment-seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God.”

Thus as both we and our brothers and sisters in Christ are under His Lordship both in death and in life, we are responsible to Him for ourselves but are in no position to judge how another reveals his response to his LORD. It is the LORD’s responsibility to take account of that. It should be noted that this is in respect of how each responds to Jesus as LORD, and of how he demonstrates his loyalty to Him as LORD, in things which are morally neutral. We can certainly ‘pass judgments’ concerning those who refuse to submit to His Lordship, and on actions which the LORD has specifically forbidden, for it is then not we who pass those judgments but the LORD.

Even worse is it to set at nought and despise those who are the LORD’s because we consider them not to have appreciated the freedom that we have in the LORD. By doing so we despise the LORD Himself, for they are His, and it is He Who has allowed them to continue in this way. All such judgments should therefore be left to Him. And this in the light of the fact that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Each and every one of us as Christians will have to give account of ourselves to God. We must therefore be concerned to ensure that we ourselves have lived obediently in accordance with what we believe to be right from our study of the Scriptures, rather than concerning ourselves with how others consider that they should respond to the LORD.

The word for judgment-seat here is bema, which was the word used to describe the seat where a justice would sit in order to pass judgment. It is used of the judgment-seat of Pilate, of Herod’s throne, and of Caesar’s judgment-throne (Matthew 27:19; John 19:13; Acts 12:21; Acts 18:12; Acts 18:16-17; Acts 25:6; Acts 25:10; Acts 25:17). It is not differentiating it from other descriptions of the judgment seat, such as the ‘great white throne’, which could also have been called a bema.

Paul then supports the idea of the judgment-seat of God from Scripture. “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God.” In these words we have the magnificent picture, taken from scenes when men were gathered together to pay fealty to earthly kings, of the whole world bending the knee to God and to Christ, and owning the Lordship of the living God. There will be no unbelievers then, but for many it will be too late. They are there to be judged, not to be received with favour.

‘As I live, says the LORD’ is possibly taken from Isaiah 49:18 (although occurring in various places). ‘Every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God’ is taken from Isaiah 45:23 LXX (‘to me every knee will bow, and every tongue will swear by God’) ,and introduced by the words ‘I have sworn by Myself --’. In context the former phrase would appear to be introduced so as to link the citation with Christ as the One ‘Who lived’ and as the ‘LORD of -- the living’ (Romans 14:9). It is on this basis that He can judge. The remaining words are applied to Jesus in Philippians 2:10-11. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul refers to this judgment-seat as ‘the judgment-seat of Christ’. Paul saw no difficulty in interrelating ‘Christ’, ‘LORD’, and ‘God’.


Verse 12

‘So then each one of us will give account of himself to God.’

And at that awful judgment seat ‘each one of us will give account of himself to God’. The full transcripts of every moment of our lives will be opened, and we will be called to account. But those who are His will have One Who will confess their name before the Father, and Whose righteousness will be their covering. They do not fear condemnation. Their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 20:15). They will, however, receive both reward and reprimand for what they have done.


Verse 13

‘Let us not therefore be judging one another any more, but rather judge you this, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.’

In view of this coming judgment-seat, we should not therefore any more ourselves sit in judgment on each other in regard to the detail of our response to the LORD. Rather our judgment should be that we should not put a stumbling-block or occasion for falling in the way of our brother or sister. We should not be looking for faults, but looking as to how we can help. Our aim at all times should be to assist one another so that we none of us stumble. This will be what is the most glorifying to Christ. Paul then relates this principle to the question in hand.


Verse 14

‘I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself, except that to him who accounts anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.’

Paul states his own position quite clearly. He knows in his heart, and is persuaded as a result of his experience with the LORD, Jesus, that there is nothing that is ritually unclean of itself. On the other hand he stresses that where someone does believe in ritual uncleanness, then to him such things as he ‘believes are unclean’, are unclean. In other words they are such that if he ate of them he would be sinning, simply because he would be doing what he saw as wrong.

‘And am persuaded in (by) the Lord Jesus.’ Paul may here have in mind the teaching of Jesus as recorded in Mark 7:14-19. On the other hand he may simply be indicating that in consequence of his closeness to the LORD Jesus he had become convinced of it.


Verse 15

‘For if because of meat your brother is grieved, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your meat him for whom Christ died.’

Thus if the brother or sister who believed it to be wrong ate such meat they would be ‘grieved’, (we might say, conscience-stricken and filled with a sense of having sinned). And if it was of our persuasion, because they were eating with us, possibly at ‘the love feast’ or in a private gathering, then it would indicate that we were no longer walking in love. For we would be destroying them spiritually. So Paul exhorts them, ‘Do not destroy with your meat him for whom Christ died’. For us to do so would be for us to harm Christ Himself, for we would be harming one who was ‘in Christ’, one for whom Christ sacrificed Himself. This, of course, applies not only to participating in unclean food, but to any way in which we might cause Christians to stumble. That those for whom Christ died can suffer God’s judgment while still being ‘saved’ is made clear in 1 Corinthians 11:30-32.


Verse 16

‘Do not then let your good be evil spoken of,’

Thus we are not to let our good (our knowledge that nothing in itself is unclean) become something that is evilly spoken of because of the harm it does as a result of our insisting that others believe as we do.


Verse 17

‘For the Kingly Rule of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’

However, in the ancient world eating and drinking were seen as very much a part of worship and celebration, and the popularity of much worship resulted from the fact of its religious feasts which were seen as in some way uniting the worshippers with their gods. Thus this may have been very much in mind here. Even the coming Messianic kingdom had been seen in terms of a Messianic feast (e.g. Isaiah 25:6), although never in Scripture as anything other than a joyous celebration. For most people feasting was the main source of enjoyment in the past. That makes this an important statement in a wider sense, for it indicates that the Messiah had come, but not in order to satisfy the outward man and provide him with physical luxuries (the belief of many Jews). Rather it was in order to feed men’s hearts (compare Isaiah 55:1-3) and fulfil what was in their inner beings.

This definition of the Kingly Rule of God as consisting in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit mirrors the earlier part of Romans. There righteousness is underlined in Romans 3:24-5:25; Romans 5:15-21, whilst in Romans 5:1 it is our being accounted as righteous by faith which results in peace. And this in turn results in joy (Romans 5:2) and all the consequence of the work of the Holy Spirit (in Romans 5:2-5), while later on practical righteousness is required Romans 6:16; Romans 6:18-19. These are thus the things on which we should concentrate our attention, trying to ensure that they are enjoyed by all. So ‘righteousness, peace and joy’ are to be seen as the hallmark of the Kingly Rule of God because such a Kingly Rule is concerned with man’s inner spirit, not with outward forms. Whether or not we eat and drink certain things has nothing at all to contribute towards the Kingly Rule of God one way or the other (even if some think that it has). On the other hand arguments about it may destroy the righteousness, peace and joy of the weaker brother or sister. Thus we must walk with great care. A similar contrast comes out in Ephesians 5:18-20, ‘Do not be drunk with wine in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the LORD, giving thanks always for all things ---.’


Verse 18

‘For he who in this serves Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men.’

So the one who serves Christ in this way, by having a regard for the tender consciences of others, is well pleasing to God. And he is also approved of by men because he does not persuade people to act against their consciences.

Some see ‘in this’ as referring back to the righteousness, peace and joy which result from being under the Kingly Rule of God, indicating that this is what pleases God. But while that thought may be true, it would be to ignore the context, which continues to emphasise the need for us to be concerned about each other.


Verse 19

‘So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may edify one another.’

In consequence of this, says Paul, let us follow after the things which make for peace and harmony, and most importantly, the things by which we can edify each other and build each other up. For these things should be our prime concern. The important lesson for us all to gain from this is the great attention we should pay with regard to one another’s problems, so that all might be built up.


Verse 20-21

‘Do not overthrow for meat’s sake the work of God. All things indeed are clean, however it is evil for that man who eats with offence. It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor (anything) in which your brother stumbles.’

In contrast to the building up of one another up by our loving concern for one another, is the possibility of throwing down the work of God (destroying the weak believer), and doing it simply over arguments about meat. For while all things are indeed ritually clean, they are nevertheless unclean to the one who believes them to be so (Romans 14:14), and thus to such a person partaking of them would be evil. It would be to sin against conscience. And as a result they would stumble. As Christians we should therefore be concerned to so live that we do not cause others to stumble.

Alternately by the one who commits evil by eating Paul may have in mind the strong believer, when as a result of it he causes offence (a means of stumbling) to weaker believers. The context may be seen as indicating that this is the more likely meaning. This thus results in the situation whereby the eating becomes an evil for such a person, not because it is wrong in itself, but because it demonstrates his lack of regard for others.

So the guiding principle to the Christian must be that he should not partake of things in the presence of ‘weaker brethren’, which would cause such a brother or sister to stumble. The ‘drinking of wine’, first drawn attention to in Romans 14:17, may well refer to abstention from wine on the basis that its source might be ritually unclean. This would again underline that Jewish concerns are in mind. But it may equally well have in mind that excess of wine drags men down (Ephesians 5:18; compare Proverbs 20:1).

The abstention from wine in the presence of others is a good principle to observe when we think of how, especially in this present generation, so many young people are dragged down by drink. If our example causes others to go astray we will not be able to defend ourselves by claiming ‘it was not our fault’, for we should have known perfectly well what our example could lead to. In days when much water in towns was impure (Ephesus was noted for the vileness of its water which caused many stomach problems), the drinking of mild wines was a necessity (1 Timothy 5:23), and it is questionable how far the forbidding of ‘wine and strong drink’ (Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 31:4; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 28:7; note also Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; Judges 13:4; etc.) was intended to exclude mild wines. But it not a question of nicety of argument. The point at issue is that we should abstain from all which, as a consequence of our example, might lead to the downfall of others.


Verse 22

‘The faith which you have, have you to yourself before God. Happy is he does not judge himself in what he approves.’

So Paul completes his argument by urging the strong believers to have their faith which allows them to eat or drink anything in the presence of God as something to be enjoyed in private, and thus not when in wider company when ‘weaker brothers and sisters’ may be present. The assumption appears to be that such weaker brothers and sisters would be present at love feasts in most church groups.

‘Happy is he does not judge himself in what he approves.’ This is a general principle which holds good in all circumstances. Whatever we approve of should not have a shadow cast upon it by it being something that we would judge as wrong if we thought about it. For if it is the latter it will destroy our happiness. Thus the strong believer will not approve of acts which cause harm to other people. Otherwise he will in the end have to pass judgment on himself for his action. In contrast such thoughtfulness towards others will certainly contribute towards his own happiness. Thus in order to be happy it is necessary to have consideration towards others.


Verse 23

‘But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because (it is) not of faith, and whatever is not of faith is sin.’

But if someone who wavers over whether it is right to eat meat, on the grounds that it may be unclean, does eat of such meat, he brings himself into condemnation. And the reason why he does so is because his act is not one carried out in joyous faith, but is one carried out fearing that it might be sinful. He is doing what he fears might be wrong. Indeed, anything that we do fearing that it might be wrong is sin, for ‘whatever is not of faith is sin.’ So important is ‘not sinning’ that the Christian says, ‘if I am not sure it is right I must not do it. I must only do what I know to be right’, and this because of his hatred of sin and his fear lest he be defiled by it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 14:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/romans-14.html. 2013.

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