Romans 14: Living Together -- by Faith

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Today's Bible Reading: Romans 14

Selected Biblical Text
For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:15-23 ESV)

Reflecting and Thinking
The application of Romans 14 has often challenged the church. What is strong faith and what is weak faith? Who is the weaker brother and who is the stronger brother? Are the "disputable" matters mentioned in this chapter doctrinal questions or mere incidentals? And how does one answer that question when one side says "doctrine" and the other says "optional?" Our understanding of the text is helped by recognizing several truths. First, Paul does not use the Greek word that would be translated "opinion" even though he had access to that word. He uses a word that means thoughts or reasonings, often with an element of doubt. Second, considering the two examples, Paul is not talking about doctrinal matters. Third, Paul basically describes those who can and those who cannot do certain things, based on their own consciences. This may be a more helpful description than asking who is strong and who is weak. Two key words that appear repeatedly in the chapter are not translated consistently in every version. The words are "condemn" (judge) -- the attitude of the weaker (the one who cannot) toward the stronger, and "look down on" or despise -- the attitude of the stronger (the one who can) toward the weaker. In the church at Rome, it appears that both sides were behaving badly. The question is about faith. How does one live by faith? What should we do when your faith and my faith arrive at different understandings? How do we live out God's righteousness by faith when we do not understand everything alike? These instructions from Paul suggest that it is not easy, but it is necessary if we are to be the people God has called us to be.

What topics have you heard included in discussions of Romans 14? Which topics do you think belong, which do not belong? Why? Based on verse 22, "keep these things between you and God," what challenges does the church face in those actions that are by their very nature public and visible?

Dear God, help us to love one another as much as you love us. Help us to love one another enough to get self out of the way, especially in matters such as those described in this chapter. Give us insight, wisdom and understanding so that we will know how to apply these words and how to build one another up in faith without judging or arrogance, with placing undue limitations or stumbling blocks. Always we pray in Jesus' name, seeking his authority and will, Amen.

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Last updated January 16, 2019