Romans 14-15: United or United?
by Bob Young
Text: Romans 14:1-15:7
We have been discussing the tension between truth and unity in our adult Bible classes. These are two great pillars of faith. Faith demands commitment to truth. Faith demands commitment to unity. We are torn between two biblical principles.
We are not the first people to experience this tension.
Today's lesson has only two parts: we begin with a Bible study and conclude with applications.
I. Bible Study
A. The Text. The text sppears in the context of a section of exhortations (hortatory). The purpose is practical applications. The subject isoften summarized as brotherly love, although it contains other materials as well.
B. The Results
- v. 1, transition: now, but. What follow is not permission to make plans for fulfilling fleshly desires and passions (13:14). The context is one of disagreement, opinions, disputes. There will be differences between Christians. There will be disputable matters. What are these? Some say there are things that do not matter, but that cannot really be true. These are things that are important to some, not to others. These are choices that reflect how we put principles in priority order (Shulam). Both sides are principle driven.
Some are weak-faithed. The strong are to receive those who are weak-faithed, and in receiving them do not be condescending about things disputed, on things about which dialog is essential. And those being received, do not condemn regarding the things disputed. Two groups.
- v.2, further explanation or definition
1. One believes it is permissible to eat all things
2. Another being weak eats only herbs.
3. Here we see that the one with a narrow permissibility is the weak, the one with the wider permissibility is the one addressed (the strong, although text has not used that word thus far).
- v. 3, two admonitions
1. The one eating (all things) must not despise, look down on the one not eating, the one with limited eating.
2. The one not eating must not judge/condemn the one eating.
- v. 3b, the reason--God has accepted him. Ambiguous. Him who? Possibly him both.
- Vs. 4, Who has the right to judge/condemn another's servant, for a servant stands or falls in the sight of his own lord. He will stand (or fall), but Paul considers that he stands, because the Lord decides it, and the Lord is able to make him stand, wants to make him stand. Possible that in vs. 4, the verb suggests a special application to the weak non-eater, non-participator, because he is the one who has been warned about judging/condemning.
- Vs. 5--This is about more than what we eat. This is about days--one person thinks one day about another, another person considers all days equal. Each must be fully persuaded in his own mind.
- Vs. 6--regardless of the "day" position, both are loyal to the Lord. Specifically, the one esteeming the day, does so to God. The one eating, does so to the Lord, and demonstrates that by giving thanks to God. Who gives thanks to God before engaging in illicit behavior?
On the other hand, the one not eating also eats to the Lord, and he also gives thanks.
- Vs. 7--Conclusion: no one lives solely to self, we are not islands, we do not have luxury of making decisions only for self. First, we must consider the Lord.
- vs. 8, this honors the priority of Christ in our lives, Lord of all.
- Vs. 10, more applications
1. Why do you judge/condemn your brother (to the restictor)?
2. Why do you despise/look down on your brother (to the libertarian)?
3. All stand ultimately before God. This is not about doctrines, not excuses for passion, but is about "dialoging things." But what if you think it set in stone and I think it a matter of freedom? That is problem in Rom. 14. And Rom 14 answers this. All will bow knee and tongue confess the Lord. All will give their own account.
Therefore....No longer let us judge/condemn one another (is this written to the restrictor?), but rather judge not to put stumbling blocks or cause of offense.
We usually think of stronger not causing weaker to offend, following example. Raise question here, is it possible for a weaker, restrictive brother to offend, cause stumbling for the libertarian? Must at least consider that possibility. Veto power can run people out of the church. Entirety of burden not one-sided, as we will see in ultimate conclusion to passage.
C. The Reality
Here is the reality. Paul, nothing is common/unclean by itself, but if one reckons it so, it is to that one. If your brother is grieved by your food, you do not walk in love. To both? To your food--too much, too little. But how can you ask that the one whose conscience is making restrictive demands to loosen those demands? One cannot, should not. But can one whose conscience is such recognize that his conscience is not to be bound on everyone else? Do not destroy that other brother for food questions, because Christ died for him. Do not let your good be blasphemed.
The kingdom is not about such things as eating and drinking, but is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. One serving in these things pleases God and is approved by men. Seek peace, edify one another, build one another up. Do not undo God's work for the sake of food.
V. 20--obvious application, the man eating when he thinks he should not stumbles and does evil. It is good to forbid things to self, if these things make brother stumble. Do not read weak (that is interpretive insertion).
Keep what you believe about these things to yourself. Between you and God. Good advice. Blessed is the one who judges self in what he approves. And to the doubter, he has judged/condemned self if he partakes. All actions must be of faith. All not of faith is sin.
Must go on into chapter 15--the strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the ones not strong, and not merely to please self. Remember who are strong, not strong. Let each one please his neighbor for edifying and good. This is what Jesus did. He carried our reproaches, and the OT also suggests this principles since those things are for our learning and admonition. May we think in this way toward one another, for such glorifies God in our togetherness.
D. The Wrap-Up
Let us receive one another (both sides), as Christ received us to the glory of God.
Great danger here, but let me suggest some things that may be in view in our contemporary world, as we seek to apply these principles. Cannot apply this to basic items--where function is intimately tied to form. This is not about deity of Christ, this is not about whether everyone is a Christian irrespective of obedience to gospel. The items here are not of the doctrinal, non-dialoguing type. We have no small task to discern these as we consider our relationships to our religious friends and neighbors.
But my application today is for us. Within body of Christ as we know it. Do we ignore this passage? Do we judge and look down to our own harm, and to the harm of the kingdom? From my own personal observation and experience, suggesting things I have seen as divisive, from own reading of Scripture, things that seem worthy of dialog to me. On some of these, I am on the weak, on some on the strong. Not going to tell you which is which.
Tie at table, men praying with hat on, attire at worship, men's hair length, earrings, tattoos, whether we can clap in worship in America, whether we can clap in worship in Africa, whether we can alter our body positions in prayer (kneeling), whether we can alter our hand positions in prayer (or in song), whether we have to have a sermon to have biblical worship, whether we can sing during the supper, whether we can sing a prayer, whether we can take anyone out of the assembly without violating the together command, whether a widow can marry a non-Christian, whether any Christian should marry a non-Christian, what authorization do two Christians have for divorcing one another, the list goes on and on. I have my opinions, based on my study and understanding. Can I allow you any freedom when I am restrictive? I have learned that I can, without offending my conscience or denying the doctrine of Christ.
God did not send me to police others, but to police self. Judge if you please. I do not ask that you agree with me on every item, nor even on this understanding of Rom. 14-15. I do ask that you study it at least one more time before you tell me you know immediately when we conclude this assembly that I am wrong and you are right.
Such is the entire point of the passage. Can we follow this passage? Can we be church? Can we glorify God in our diversities? Which ones? How much?
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Last updated November 23, 2014