1 - 6 Accept One Another
1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, [but] not for [the purpose of] passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables [only]. 3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day [alike]. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
V1. This begins a new section of the letter. It runs from Romans 14:1-15:7. What these verses are about is shown by the first and last verse. Both verses say that we have to accept one another. This is important because you know that all Christians do not think the same about a number of things. To make the differences clear, Paul presents two believers. The one is called weak and the other is called strong.
The way faith is experienced doesn’t determine whether someone is strong or weak in the faith. And it isn’t the difference between living fleshly and spiritually either. If so, then in this case, the strong would be living spiritually and weak would be living fleshly. What we have here is the influences from the past that may be playing a role in the Christian’s life. Most notably, this points to converted Jews who still adhered to certain Old Testament ordinances.
V2-6. For examples, to eat or not to eat certain food and observing days as being more important than other days are mentioned. In these things, Christians can be weak.
Those Christians are weak who are of the opinion they must still adhere to ordinances concerning food as given to Israel. In addition the weak are those Christians who feel they must observe certain sacred days as Israel knew them and also think of the so-called Christian feasts. Some think in all sincerity that we must observe these days. So, the weak one in the faith is not the negligent or unfaithful Christian, but rather a Christian who is very meticulous in his Christian walk.
In contrast, the strong one in the faith knows he can eat anything, except the things mentioned in Acts 15:29. And he knows the only day that is distinguished from other days for the Christian is the first day of the week. In Revelation 1 this day is called “the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10), that is, the day which belongs to the Lord.
How you look at certain sacred days depends on your knowledge of your position in Christ. One who knows he is a new creation in Christ will not make an issue of things like food and days. He knows how to deal with them.
But that’s not the end of the subject. The importance of this portion is nog how to deal with food and days, but how to deal with one another. If another has a viewpoint different from mine, do I despise him (when I belong to the strong ones) or do I denounce him (when I belong to the weak ones)? We must accept one another, keeping in mind that the other one is doing it for the Lord. This is the motive. We should occasionally ask ourselves (and one another) the question: ‘Am I doing (or not doing) this for the Lord?’ Then we will reach a certain conclusion for ourselves while others may reach a different conclusion. Everyone must be fully convinced in his own mind.
If this is accepted by us, there will not arise a dispute when we talk with each other about these differences. Everyone is personally responsible to the Lord. Did you notice how often the Lord is mentioned in this passage? The other one is under His authority and not under yours or mine; he is the servant of Another and subject to Him.
We should be happy that debatable questions are dealt with in this manner. Our inclination is to give out prescriptions and to try to fix everything. This would leave nothing as an exercise of conscience. We need to be kept standing by God. Knowing this will keep us from an arrogant attitude. In addition, we will gain the joyful experience that the Lord is able to make us stand.
Isn’t the aim of what we do, that the Lord will receive the honor due Him? This finds its expression in verse 6, saying that both the one and the other “gives thank to God”. Our hearts will go out to Him and we will stay together in His presence.
Now read Romans 14:1-6 again.
Reflection: Are you weak or strong?
7 - 14 Everything for the Lord
7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
V7-8. We are to “live for the Lord” and to “die for the Lord”. Everything is for the Lord. Today and tomorrow. When you gave your life to the Lord and started listening to His commands, was He oppressive? No, it was liberating when you made the choice to surrender to the Lord Jesus. From the moment you surrendered to Him, you became completely His.
V9. Once it appeared as if you were your own boss, but in fact you were a slave of sin. Therefore, it can only be liberating to belong to Someone who has died and become alive again.
The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus have been spoken of extensively in Romans. The Lord Jesus rules over the living and dead now, and that includes you too.
V10-11. Because of that fact, you can’t enter into the rights of the Lord by judging or despising your brother. I don’t say this is what you’re doing, but these verses aren’t put here for nothing. God knows how we can talk about one another. Every Christian is able to make these two mistakes. Denying this means you don’t know yourself. And self-knowledge is an important weapon to guard you against these dangers.
Even more important than seeing these dangers is thinking of God’s judgment-seat. We all will stand before it once. This is a compelling thought. A judgment-seat, not one on which an earthly and fallible judge will sit, but a Judge Who has perfect knowledge of all we have said and done. He will review all our motives. He knows exactly why we did or didn’t eat some food. He knows exactly why we observed certain days as sacred or why all days were the same to us. He will make it perfectly clear on which points we have judged or despised our brother. And He will show us that the other was living for Him too.
As a reminder, these verses are not about wrong and sinful things such as immoral conduct and wrong doctrine. If we see something wrong in someone else, we must say something about it to them. We do this because of other verses in the Bible. Here we have our personal consciences. The conscience is not a perfect guideline for our lives; only the Word of God is such, but God will take the conscience into account. And this is what we must do in dealing with others as well.
V12. The fact that a moment is coming when each of us will render a personal account to God, will have a positive effect upon us today. When I’m thinking of God’s judgment-seat before which I’ll have to stand, I want to live now as if I’m already now standing before it. Therefore I want to give a daily account to God.
V13. This thought then will bring us to the conclusion that we shouldn’t judge each other. We’ll leave that to God. Everyone will personally bow before God and recognize Him as God. This makes us realize how small we are.
This also makes us very careful in expressing our criticism of what a brother or sister feels he or she must do before the Lord. In our attitude, we’ll be careful in what we think we should or should not do before the Lord. It is possible too that our behavior is a stumbling block for spiritual growth to our brother who is a recent convert or who has little knowledge of his position in Christ. If you say you’d like to serve the Lord, everything you do has a considerable influence on those who want to serve as well, while having a different understanding of certain matters of personal conscience.
V14. You may be convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Here it’s not the uncleanness found in the world, but certain Old Testament regulations. For example, in those days someone could become unclean by touching or eating something that was declared unclean by God.
This is no longer the case. God looks at every Christian in connection with Christ’s work. Someone who still thinks some things are unclean, shows he has not appropriated the full freedom in Christ.
Keep it always in your mind that here we have the personal conscience and the differences that can result in living the life of faith. The following verses make it clear how you should deal with this.
Now read Romans 14:8-14 again.
Reflection: What is your reaction when you think of God’s judgment-seat?
15 - 23 Don’t Be a Stumbling Block
15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this [way] serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or [to do anything] by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because [his eating is] not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
V15. If I were to ask if you wanted to make a brother sad, you would say: ‘No!’ And yet you can cause your brother to be sad by something you do when you are not walking according to love, even though you may be perfectly right in what you’re doing. As to yourself, you see no trouble at all. With regard to the Lord, everything is all right, but this is not the whole story. You must also consider your brother or sister. And if they are saddened by something you do, you’re not being led by love. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom 13:10).
You can even spiritually destroy someone (damage his spiritual well-being) for whom Christ has died with your eating (that is, making use of your liberty). This would be a very undesirable effect from the use of the liberty you now have.
V16. Therefore, live so that what is good for you, no evil can be spoken of. That means that you are not guided by what is good for you, by your freedom, but that you take into account the conscience of your brother.
V17. To make things clear as to what your attitude should be regarding your brothers, Paul speaks about the kingdom of God. You and your brother were part of God’s kingdom when you accepted the Lord Jesus. In the kingdom of God it’s not eating and drinking that count. What counts is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.
Just as with the kingdoms of this world, you find a King and His subjects in the kingdom of God. Only the kingdom of God is not a visible kingdom with a visible king, but today, a hidden kingdom with a hidden King. The Lord Jesus is the King. The Lord’s name expresses the authority He exercises over His subjects. The Lord Jesus exercises this authority.
His government is from heaven where He now is. In your life you can show He has authority over you by letting the Holy Spirit work in you. If you do this, it will have the following results:
1. You’ll be righteous in your interactions with others.
2. You would not want to disturb the peace by pursuing your interests regardless of the conscience of others.
3. If you deal in such a way with your brother, your fellow-subject in the same kingdom, then there will be joy in your heart.
V18. This is really serving Christ. This is pleasing to God, and people around you will notice you are guided by different rules than the ones common to them and to the world around them.
V19-21. You’re exhorted to “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another”. You must work at this. It will not happen automatically. Peace and the building up of one another are more important than food. Physical needs aren’t wrong. God wants to supply those needs, but they are subject to His work. They should not cause you to do things that make your brother stumble.
For example, I know a brother from an African country. In that country eating eggs is connected with idolatry. He is not yet free of this thought in connection with eggs. Now, suppose I usually eat an egg every day. Nothing wrong with that! But if this brother is having breakfast with me and I offer him an egg, this could cause him to fall. Or I might try to convince him there’s nothing wrong in eating an egg. But if I urge him to do so, this could bring him into a serious problem with his conscience. If I am aware of this, it would be far better not to eat an egg at that moment. This may be applied in all kinds of ways.
V22. Your faith in God and in the work of the Lord Jesus is a personal faith. It’s not said you shouldn’t witness of it. That faith has freed you from all kinds of traditions and habits that have nothing to do with serving God. You’re even called “happy” if you enjoy this freedom in Christ without constraint and without subjecting yourself to all sorts of rules that men may make. It doesn’t matter if they are so-called Christian rules or if they are rules that people in the world adhere to. What is important is that in everyday practical life you are led by your faith and not by your feelings. Faith is centered in God and in His Word.
V23. If you have doubts about something, don’t do it. Live by your faith. Faith is not an expression of uncertainty, which is how the word is often used. People say: ‘I don’t believe it’s wrong.’ They mean: ‘I don’t think it’s wrong, but I’m not sure.’ But God has revealed His will to us. Everything we do, without having asked for His will, is sin! This is a strong statement of God’s Word, isn’t it?
Now read Romans 14:15-23 again.
Reflection: What does the kingdom of God mean to you?