The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Romans 14

Rom 14:1

Rom 14:1-15:13: The strong and the weak: Cp Paul's similar advice in 1Co 8:1-11:1. His treatment in Romans is briefer and given in more general terms, though there are obvious similarities, such as the danger that by his conduct the strong will cause the weak to stumble or fall, and the corresponding danger that the weak will sit in judgment on the strong. The differences are numerous: there is no mention in Rom of idols or food offered to idols; the word "conscience" does not appear; the strong are not described as those who have knowledge. On the other hand, we read in Rom of vegetarians and of those who insist on observing a certain day in contrast to others who look on all days as being alike. Neither of these features appears in 1Co.

"From speaking of those who were too lax in the indulgence of natural appetites [Rom 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" (Stifler).

Vv 1-12: Brethren should refrain from judging one another.

ACCEPT: Gr "proslambano" is capable of conveying the sense of fullness of fellowship and warm wholeheartedness; this is shown by its use in Acts 18:26; 28:2.

HIM WHOSE FAITH IS WEAK: Not "weak in THE faith" (KJV), as though he understood not the first principles of the faith. But rather, weak in his own personal faith. That is, his faith is not strong enough to enable him to perceive the full liberty he has in Christ to partake. He is not troubled by questions of doctrine, but by doubt as to whether it is right for him to eat some foods (cf v 23).

WITHOUT PASSING JUDGMENT ON DISPUTABLE MATTERS: Without trying to decide between various vacillating opinions, or various questionable scruples.

"Precious though the gift of precise thinking may be, it can become unbearably tyrannical if overpressed, and we must beware of the danger of making it seem that salvation, or even fellowship itself, is a matter of competence in logic or consistency in exposition" (CMPA, Xd 109:10).

The form of the Greek verb here means "go on receiving"; the RSV is even more gracious: "Welcome him." Here is no grudging, grumbling acceptance, but open-hearted full Christian fellowship. It is the business of the "strong" (or those who consider themselves so) to "walk the extra mile" in receiving and helping, not "judging", the "weak" (Rom 15:1,2).

"The ecclesia is to receive those who are troubled by these conflicting thoughts and doubts, not however, to judge or condemn them for such, but to help them reach unto a full conviction of faith" (HPM, Log 34:250).

"It is easy to see why Paul so advises. As long as the weak brother with (slightly) off-beat ideas continues in the fellowship of sounder brethren there is some hope that by degrees he will achieve a more balanced point of view. Such things have been known to happen. But the necessary condition must be observed: 'Not to doubtful disputations.' If such a problem individual is to continue to share the blessings of the community, he must be prepared to cease all forms of propagation of the ideas he has espoused. Only on these eminently reasonable terms can his membership in the family of Christ be tolerated" (HAW, Tes 43:344).

Paul's advice in Rom 14 is in direct contrast to the popular "first pure, then peaceable" syndrome, as misapplied by so many. Here is obviously something "impure", in the sense of being doubtful and disputatious, pertaining to the faith, but still Paul counsels the need for peace! While the affected ecclesia is experiencing peace within and a cordial relationship with its sister-ecclesias, then the "body" will be better able to correct the minor annoyance of a doubtful opinion. But just let there be an accusatory letter, a "call to arms" in a remote area where the "problem" has not even reached, a cry for "purity at any cost": and the situation rapidly deteriorates into a full-blown division.

Rom 14:2

ONE MAN'S FAITH ALLOWS HIM TO EAT EVERYTHING, BUT ANOTHER MAN, WHOSE FAITH IS WEAK, EATS ONLY VEGETABLES: 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 to eat any food (1Ti 4:3,4).

Rom 14:3

THE MAN WHO EATS EVERYTHING MUST NOT LOOK DOWN ON HIM WHO DOES NOT, AND THE MAN WHO DOES NOT EAT EVERYTHING MUST NOT CONDEMN THE MAN WHO DOES, FOR GOD HAS ACCEPTED HIM: 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 believer as unacceptable to God either, because God HAS accepted him!

Rom 14:4

WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE SOMEONE ELSE'S SERVANT? TO HIS OWN MASTER HE STANDS OR FALLS. AND HE WILL STAND, FOR THE LORD IS ABLE TO MAKE HIM STAND: 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 Rom 2:1,3, where Paul rebuked the self-satisfied Jew.

Rom 14:5

ONE MAN CONSIDERS ONE DAY MORE SACRED THAN ANOTHER; ANOTHER MAN CONSIDERS EVERY DAY ALIKE. EACH ONE SHOULD BE FULLY CONVINCED IN HIS OWN MIND: In this case the weaker brother does something and the stronger does not. 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 and the Gentile believers did not.

The observance of special days such as the Sabbath is a matter of indifference, personal preference. None may impose the keeping of days on another as a requisite to salvation: Gal 4:10,11; 5:1-4; Col 2:13-17.

Rom 14:6

In essential things, unity (Phi 1:27). In doubtful things, liberty (Rom 14:6). In all things, love (1Co 13:1,5).

HE GIVES THANKS TO GOD... AND GIVES THANKS TO GOD: "In other words, whatever stance is taken on the particular matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols, as long as it is done in faith, is acceptable to God. This is true for many matters of walk where the word of God gives us no direct command. If you can thank God for it, it indicates that you have the faith to do it. If you cannot thank God for it, it is sinful to proceed -- for the Bible teaches, 'those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin' (Rom 14:23)" (KT).

Rom 14:7

Vv 7,8: Paul meant that no believer should live to please himself alone but should live to please the Lord. The context makes this clear (vv 6,8). The believer'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, both now and in the age to come, should express our commitment to please the Lord (Rom 8:38,39; cp Phi 1:20; 2Co 5:9).

Rom 14:8

In context, "live" = to enjoy, or indulge oneself (ie to eat everything: v 2; to live to oneself: v 7), and "die" = to deny oneself (to eat only vegetables: v 2; to die to oneself: v 7).

WHETHER WE... DIE, WE BELONG TO THE LORD: In the sense of Luk 20:38.

Rom 14:9

FOR THIS REASON, CHRIST DIED AND RETURNED TO LIFE SO THAT HE MIGHT BE THE LORD OF BOTH THE DEAD AND THE LIVING: 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 Judge, and we are not.

AND RETURNED TO LIFE: Christ was raised from the dead because he was sinless (Acts 2:24); this was for our justification (Rom 4:25). Thus he obtained preeminence (Col 1:15,18) as the "Lord" (Acts 2:36), who has power over the living and the dead (1Th 5:10).

Rom 14:10

YOU, THEN, WHY DO YOU JUDGE YOUR BROTHER? OR WHY DO YOU LOOK DOWN ON YOUR BROTHER?: Both the critical weaker brother and the scorning stronger brother are guilty of the same offense, namely judging prematurely and unwarrantedly.

LOOK DOWN ON: "Despise" (Diag, Roth).

FOR WE WILL ALL STAND BEFORE GOD'S JUDGMENT SEAT: "There is no need for us to associate despondency and despair with the thought of appearing before the Judgment Seat of Christ. True, our sins and our failings are constant reminders of the possibility of our failure there. But Paul's message to us is not intended to paralyze us with fear or to crush us under hopeless remorse; it is rather intended to influence our lives for good, to spur us to greater activity in Christ's service; to mould our characters nearer to the pattern he has left us, that we may win success when Christ appears. Paul desires us to remember the one certainty in our lives, and remembering it, to order our lives accordingly. There is no occasion for despondency and alarm, provided we are in earnest about our standing in the day of Christ. It is true that we fail and we sin; but God 'knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust', and has made merciful provision for our weakness. There is no limit to God's forgiveness if it is sought in accordance with His conditions... Are we such egotists as to imagine that our cases are so unique as to be beyond the saving grace of God?" (FWT 22,23).

GOD'S JUDGMENT SEAT: So in RSV, but AV has "of Christ". This then is another reference to the judgment seat (Gr "bema") of Christ (2Co 5:10; cf 1Co 3:12-15).

Rom 14:11

AS SURELY AS I LIVE... EVERY KNEE WILL BOW BEFORE ME; EVERY TONGUE WILL CONFESS TO GOD: This quotation is a combination of Isa 49:18 and Isa 45:23. In Phi 2:10,11 the same passages from Isaiah are used: it is because the Son of God has humbled himself, even unto death, that the Father will exalt him to receive all power and authority.

Thus, at his coming and the judgment, all responsible will acknowledge his lordship: Luk 14;14; 1Th 4:13-17; 1Co 4:5; 2Ti 4:8; Rev 22:12; Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2.

Rom 14:12

SO THEN, EACH OF US WILL GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF TO GOD: In this summary statement Paul identified the personal responsibility of every believer to give account of himself or herself to God, through Christ. We will not have to answer for our fellow believers or anyone else, but we will have to account for our own deeds: "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb 4:13).

Rom 14:13

Vv 13-23: Brethren must avoid offending one another: The strong brother is warned that his example may have a disastrous effect on the one who is weak, by leading him to do something that might damage his weak conscience.

LET US STOP PASSING JUDGMENT ON ONE ANOTHER: "Do not judge. Rather, try to understand, and make an effort to help. Most people need your patience more than your criticism. Leave the judging to God, unless absolutely necessary in faithfulness to the Truth. He has guaranteed He will take care of all the judging that is necessary, at the proper time. If someone annoys or offends us, the trouble is most likely in our own pride and vanity or small-mindedness or touchiness. Thin skin is a miserable disease. If we were large-minded enough, or less self-centered, we would feel sympathy and compassion, rather than offense. The command not to judge is a broad scriptural principle. It is not, however, to be wrongly used to undermine the specific (and equally important) command to keep Faith and Fellowship sound. When we face a required decision, then we must judge and act -- very carefully and prayerfully: very gently if it means censure of others: very sorrowfully if it means separation -- but always firmly and faithfully. There is a time when it is a sin, and dereliction of duty, not to 'judge righteous judgment'. But let us cure ourselves of judging and criticizing as a habit and a hobby. This is purely of the flesh" (GVG).

INSTEAD, MAKE UP YOUR MIND...: By a neat use of language, Paul employs the same verb "judge" (Gr "krino") in a somewhat different sense ("make up your mind"). He is calling for a determination to adopt a course of action that will not hurt another brother, a decision once for all to avoid whatever might impede his progress in the faith or cause him to fall. In other word, Paul says, 'Do NOT judge your brother, but DO judge yourself, and your motives, and your actions!'

STUMBLING BLOCK: The Gr "proskomma" is literally something against which one may strike his foot, causing him to stumble or even fall. Sw 1Co 8:9.

OBSTACLE: The Gr "skandalon" presents a different picture, that of a trap designed to ensnare a victim. It is used of something that constitutes a temptation to sin. Sw 1Co 8:13. Jesus applied this word to Peter when that disciple sought to deter him from going to the cross (Mat 16:23). Here it could be taken as a stern warning against deliberately enticing a brother to do what for him would be sinful (cp v 23).

Rom 14:14

NO FOOD IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF: Elsewhere Paul affirms in a similar context that everything God created is good (1Ti 4:4), an observation that rests on the record of creation (Gen 1:31). In this passage Paul seems to be referring to the words of Jesus in Mark 7:15-23, where the Master declares that one is not rendered unclean by what goes into him but rather by what comes out of him, from his inner life. Mark adds the comment that in this pronouncement Jesus declared all foods "clean."

BUT IF ANYONE REGARDS SOMETHING AS UNCLEAN, FOR HIM IT IS UNCLEAN: But not everyone understands this issue, and if one is convinced in his heart that some foods are unclean (eg, in terms of the Mosaic food laws), for him such foods remain unclean. Until or unless he is convinced otherwise, it would violate his conscience to partake of them. Even the apostle Peter, who had been with Jesus and had heard his teaching, did not understand this point until some time after Pentecost (Acts 10:9-15). Even today there are many Christians -- Seventh Day Adventists, for example -- who believe that they are required to observe the dietary restrictions of the Law of Moses.

Rom 14:15

IF YOUR BROTHER IS DISTRESSED BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU EAT, YOU ARE NO LONGER ACTING IN LOVE: Even if the strong brother does not try to convince the weak to change his habits, his own practice, since it is known, can be a stumbling block to the other, causing distress. This distress may be viewed as reaction to the callous indifference of the strong brother.

DO NOT BY YOUR EATING DESTROY YOUR BROTHER: "Destroy" here is a far greater calamity than the "distress" of the earlier phrase. How might the weaker brother be "destroyed"? Perhaps by following the example of the stronger brother, despite his own weak conscience. Thereby he may find himself doing what he still believes to be wrong, and he will have started down a slippery slope -- being led now to do yet other things which he regards as wrong, because it just doesn't matter!

An analogous situation might be the "strong brother" who sees no harm, and himself is not harmed, by occasionally indulging in strong drink. But the "weaker brother", who is a recovering alcoholic, is perhaps encouraged to do the same -- to his own destruction.

Thus, a selfish insistence on liberty by the stronger one may tear down and destroy the weaker one. But love, when it is exercised, will invariably build up (1Co 8:1).

FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED: Christ laid down his life for the weak as well as the strong, but -- perhaps more to the point here -- he also subjugated his own WILL ("Not my will, but yours be done!") on behalf of others. If even the Lord Jesus Christ did not "please himself", then surely neither should we (Rom 15:3)!

Rom 14:16

DO NOT ALLOW WHAT YOU CONSIDER GOOD TO BE SPOKEN OF AS EVIL: The good thing refers to the liberty to eat meat or to do anything which is not specifically forbidden. But people could legitimately speak of it as evil if it resulted in the fall of a brother.

Rom 14:17

THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NOT A MATTER OF EATING AND DRINKING: With keen spiritual insight, Paul lifts the entire discussion to a higher level than mere eating and drinking. His readers, all of them, are the loyal subjects of Christ's coming kingdom. In that sphere the real concerns are not externals such as diet but the spiritual realities motivating life and shaping conduct. Surely the strong will agree that if their insistence on Christian liberty endangers the spiritual development of the ecclesia as a whole, or of individual believers, then they should be willing to forgo that liberty.

BUT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS: In this context "righteousness" ("dikaiosune") is not justification or the imputation of righteousness through faith in the grace of God, as discussed in depth earlier in the letter, but rather the right conduct to which the believer is called in obedience to the will of God (cf Rom 6:13,16,18).

PEACE AND JOY IN THE HOLY SPIRIT: Peace (which includes reconciliation with God: Rom 5:1) and joy [all through Philippians!] are fruits of the Spirit, and manifestations of the love which is taught by God (Gal 5:22,23; cp Rom 12:9,10).

However, it must not be lost sight of that the kingdom of God IS (or rather, WILL BE) a tangible, physical, material force in the earth, which will break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms (eg, Dan 2:44).

Rom 14:18

ANYONE WHO SERVES CHRIST IN THIS WAY IS PLEASING TO GOD AND APPROVED BY MEN: Acceptance with God involves the stressing of these great principles of Christian life, rather than whether or not we engage in some permissible practice. This emphasis also wins the approval of other people since they realize what is more important, and who see these Christian principles in operation and experience its benefits.

Rom 14:19

Peace and edification are always desirable. Bitterness, strife, and division are never desirable.

PEACE: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Mat 5:9).

EDIFICATION: It will be recalled that "edification" (Gr "oikodome", to build up, as of an edifice: cp Eph 2:21; Heb 3:6; 1Pe 2:4-10) was Paul's key word in dealing with the problems created by the manifestation of Holy Spirit gifts in Corinth (1Co 14:5,12,26). Mutual edification implies that the strong, despite their tendency to look down on the weak, may actually learn something from them. It may be that they will come to appreciate loyalty to a tender conscience and begin to search their own hearts to discover that they have cared more about maintaining their position than about loving the weaker brethren. Through the fresh manifestation of love by the strong the weak will be lifted in spirit and renewed in faith and life.

"The ecclesia was intended to be a shelter -- a respite -- from the chaos that is the world. The ecclesia is ordered by God's word. Principles guide the conduct of the members to create order and peace. How destructive it is when this peace is violated such that those who seek shelter from the world find this sanctuary defiled. We can imagine finding ourselves in a violent storm. The lightning strikes all around us. The wind tosses us to and fro. The rain hits with such force as to sting. Yet, we see in the distance a refuge -- a safe harbor from the storm. We fight the elements with all our being to reach this shelter, only to find a hollowed out shell of what was once a building fitly framed together. The once solid building now provides no shelter, no comfort and no peace for the weary traveler. Such is the pity of a disharmonious ecclesia to the weary traveler along life's road.

"In ecclesial battles, history has shown that the protagonists are seldom the casualties. More times than not, those slaughtered are the babes in Christ. The Bible mentions several times the horrendous ancient practice of killing infants by smashing their young heads against a wall. We can see, in our mind's eye, this sickening practice. A soldier takes an infant by the feet. Despite the pleading of the watching mother, he swings the child with all his force until the child's head smashes into the nearby wall. Anyone with a shred of sanity left is sickened by the thought of such a display. Yet, how many times have brethren, enraged by some perceived slight or misspoken word, lashed out at another -- destroying the peace and, in so doing, spiritually speaking, destroying a babe in the family of Christ? In modern military parlance, we speak of the deaths of innocents and non-combatants as 'collateral damage.' The world was horrified when Timothy McVey described those young children in the day care facility in Oklahoma City -- murdered by his bomb -- as 'collateral damage'.

"We too can dismiss ecclesial casualties as collateral damage when in fact we should remember the words of Jesus: 'It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.'

"Too often we paint ecclesial strife as a necessary evil to maintain purity of doctrine or walk. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is not. It is amazing how often, in an attempt to bring supposed order to an ecclesia, divisive and inappropriate actions are taken. We all too often forget that 'hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy' are all works of the flesh of which the Bible clearly states: 'I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.' Our focus verse taken from Rom 14 is not about critical doctrine or walk. It is about nonessential doctrine -- the eating of meat sacrificed to idols.

"There are times when decisive action needs to be taken to maintain order in an ecclesia. When the ecclesias in Crete were falling apart from the destructive doctrine of the Judaizers, Paul sent Titus to 'set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city.' The decisive actions of Titus -- coupled with his training of spiritually mature brethren to do the same (which Paul takes great pains to define for him in Titus 1:6-9) --were intended to fix these problems and bring peace. The whole letter of Paul to Titus is concerned with how to bring peace to a contentious ecclesia and is well worth our time in study. 'Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you' (Phi 4:8,9)" (KT).

Rom 14:20

DO NOT DESTROY THE WORK OF GOD FOR THE SAKE OF FOOD: The individual brother, weak though he be, is the creative work of God. We must get our priorities straight: individual preference, even if it is legitimate and permissible, should not take precedence over the needs of the weaker members of the body.

Rom 14:21

IT IS BETTER NOT TO EAT MEAT OR DRINK WINE OR TO DO ANYTHING ELSE THAT WILL CAUSE YOUR BROTHER TO FALL: The "better" (literally, noble or praiseworthy) course is to do without meat under the circumstances and to refrain from drinking wine, if partaking would be a stumbling block to anyone. Paul extends the principle to include ANYTHING that might have this effect. For the first time in the discussion wine is mentioned, suggesting that a measure of asceticism may be in view here. (The apostle may have anticipated this item by referring to drinking in v 17.) In view of his strong stand taken in connection with a similar question involving the Corinthians (1Co 8:13), his counsel here is not something new: "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall." Paul is simply commending to others what has for some time been the rule for himself.

Rom 14:22

WHATEVER YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THESE THINGS KEEP BETWEEN YOURSELF AND GOD: The strong believer can be happy in his private enjoyment of permissible practices because he knows that he is neither violating the will of God nor the conscience of a weak brother.

Rom 14:23

BUT THE MAN WHO HAS DOUBTS IS CONDEMNED IF HE EATS, BECAUSE HIS EATING IS NOT FROM FAITH: This verse, in contrast to v 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 Gal 2:11). His action is contrary to what he believes is right.

ANYTHING THAT DOES NOT COME FROM FAITH IS SIN: "Faith" here as in vv 1,22 does not refer to the teachings of THE faith, but to what a person believes to be the will of God for himself personally. 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, and his conscience is thereby weakened. His action has become, for him at least, an act of rebellion against God -- making the next act of rebellion that much easier to take.

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