In the last verses of chapter thirteen Paul says that we must love our neighbour. Here Paul shows what we will do if we love our brother. We must love all men, but we must especially love our brethren. There is a problem. He is talking about how we must treat our brothers in Christ when we are faced with this problem.
The problem which Paul talks about is that there are differences between brethren. He calls one “weak” and the other “strong”. In what are they weak or strong? Some are weak in their understanding of the truth concerning some things. They do not properly understand “The Faith”.
I do not believe that they are weak in faith (trust, conviction). They have strong faith in Jesus. But they do not have the knowledge that the strong ones have. Those who do not have the knowledge are the ones Paul calls weak in (the) faith. The ones who have the knowledge are the strong in the faith.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:1). I think Paul wrote this in irony (meaning that NOT all had knowledge, but they only THOUGHT they had knowledge). Later in verse seven of the same chapter he wrote: “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled”. Some did not know that an idol is nothing. Because they did not have this knowledge, when they ate meat which had been sacrificed to the idol they ate it TO the idol. They were not weak in what they believed. They were weak in understanding what the gospel teaches.
Paul writes about eating meat, first where the Christians were Gentiles, and second where the Christians were both Jews and Gentiles. When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 8 and 10), he was writing to a Gentile church. Before they were converted the Christians at Corinth worshiped idols. At Rome the Christians were both Jews and Gentiles. This caused a problem because of the different backgrounds of these people. The law of Moses made it wrong for Jews to eat pork and many other meats. When Jews were converted they had to be taught that the law of Moses was done away and that they could eat any meat. However, because they lived for years under the law, some of them did not want to eat pork. They did not fully understand what the gospel said about eating meat, thus they were weak in the faith. The Gentile Christians did not worry about this because they had always eaten all kinds of meat. It was easy for them to see that the law of Moses did not govern them.
So here is the problem. What must the meat-eaters do with those who do not eat meat? What must those who refuse to eat meat do with the meat-eaters?
It is easy to see that these brethren were not treating one another right. Paul now tells them what to do. Paul tells the strong in the faith to accept the one who is weak in (the) faith. The weak one is a brother. The strong must accept him as a brother and fellowship him completely. The strong must not treat the weak one as a “partial” brother.
But when we accept the weak brother, we must not do this for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. The strong brother knows that the opinions of the weak brother are not correct. But the weak brother must be accepted as he is. It is all right for him to have his opinions.
This shows that the opinions are not matters of faith. We must believe and teach everything which is given in the gospel. We cannot accept people who are believing and teaching against God’s will. If God’s law said that all MUST eat meat, then the weak brother who does not eat meat would be sinning. But God’s law does not say that. It matters not whether a man eats meat or not. Therefore when the brother refuses to eat meat he is not sinning against God. He must be accepted.
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. If we refuse to accept a brother we must show that the brother is disobeying God’s word. We must not refuse to accept him when he does things differently from us unless we can show that God’s word condemns his actions. And the weak must not insist that everyone do things their way. They must show from the Bible that it must be done that way. If they cannot do this, they must accept the brother who does not do things the way they do.
The weak brother is to accept the strong. He must not condemn the strong brother for eating meat. The action of the one does not affect the standing of the other before God. God has accepted him. So when one brother says “I can’t eat meat”, he must not say, “If you eat meat you are sinning and I won’t fellowship you”. And the brother who eats meat must not think that the brother who refuses to eat is stupid, or worthless, or less of a Christian than the meat-eater.
No Christian has the right to look down on another for having a different view on any matter, and especially in matters which do not make any difference. The instructions which Paul gives to the weak toward the strong are based on the fact that God has received him. If God receives someone, no Christian can reject him.
No man has the right to judge the servant of someone else. The Christian is the servant of Jesus. Jesus is the only one who has the right to judge His servants. If I set myself up as a judge, I am actually condemning Jesus!
No matter how much people may condemn a servant of Jesujs, Jesus is able to make him stand. This is a very comforting thought. The Lord shall be our judge. Men may speak against us and reject us, but what they say will not make any difference. Jesus will make His own judgment.
Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). It is also true that many whom men praise shall be humbled, and those whom men humble may be praised in that day when He shall judge the world in righteousness.
Paul does not tell us why some men thought one day was more important than another. We cannot guess why they did. Some think that the important day was the sabbath, and that Paul says that it is right to observe the sabbath. However, in other places Paul shows that it is wrong to observe the Jewish days. He wrote to the Galatians —“You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Galatians 4:10-11). And to the Colossians —“having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. 16 ¶ Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:14-17).
We can see from the verses to the Galatians that the way they observed days was not right. The verses to the Colossians tell us that the law of Moses was taken out of the way, therefore the Jews do not have to keep the days any more. Therefore I do not believe we can use Romans 14:6 to teach that it is right to keep the sabbath.
God made all of the days, and they are all of the same importance. No difference between them can be made unless God makes it. Under the law God made a difference, but God took away this difference when He took away the law. In the New Testament the first day of the week has a special importance. It is the day when the disciples under the teaching of the apostles gathered to break bread (Acts 20:7). When they ate the Lord’s Supper they remembered the death of Jesus. This is the only clear difference between it and any other day of the week.
When we think about the first day of the week we may decide that it has a special meaning because Jesus rose from the dead on that day. We can notice the difference in meaning between the sabbath and the first day of the week. The Jews kept the sabbath remembering that they were delivered from slavery in Egypt; the Christians observe the first day of the week remembering the day on which Jesus arose to die no more. We can also see that the last day of the week looked backward and the first day of the week looks forward to the new life Jesus made possible by His triumph over death.
What days did some Roman Christians consider more important? I do not think we can know. This is a time when we need to consider what Paul has said—that where God has not made a law we should not.
This statement has been used to teach that people depend upon each other, and therefore we need to have good relations with one another. It is true that we depend upon each other, but this verse does not talk about that. This verse tells us about our relationship to the Lord.
We depend upon the Lord completely, and we are always under His will, whether we are living or dead. The Lord’s servants will answer to Him, not to anyone else. We are under the care of Him and we must obey Him. Others do not belong to Jesus. And we do not belong to anyone else! We are under the authority of Jesus in a way we can never be to anyone else. This is why He died, was raised, and now lives. He, and only He, can be the Lord of the dead. Others have authority over people while they live, but they cannot be lords to anyone who dies.
Jesus showed His authority by doing miracles while He lived on the earth. He showed His power over Satan by casting out demons. It is a serious thought that no one can escape His power. We can disobey Him while we are living; but after we die we will have to do what He tells us to do. Even the demons had to obey Jesus. The things which are made out of matter and all spirits obey Jesus. Only man can disobey, and He will pay the price for disobedience!
The first question is for those whom Paul calls “weak”, and the second is for the “strong”. We will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Each one is to live for Christ now, and each one will be judged by GOD! How then can you set yourself up as a judge? God is the judge!
The judgment is certain. When Jesus came forth from the dead He proved that He will judge the world (Acts 17:31). If you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, you must believe that He will judge the world. If you do not believe this, you cannot be a child of God.
When we stand before the Judge in the judgment, we will be judged as individuals. Jesus will not judge congregations. God judges congregations and nations and families now. He sends bad things on them as punishment. But after we die, there will be no more such judgment. Each person will receive punishment or reward for what he does while he is living (2 Corinthians 5:10). We will not be judged by what we do AFTER we die. “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Every Christian should live each day knowing that what he does that day will be brought before the Lord in judgment. If we live that way, we will live a better life day by day.
While we live on the earth we can bow our knee to Jesus and we can confess Him before men to His glory and our salvation. But if we do not obey Him now, we will bow our knee and confess His name at the judgment. “Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God”. The one who refuses to confess Christ in this life will then confess to his shame and damnation.
Paul’s choice was given in these words: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). This should be the choice of all.
When must we not judge one another? This command applies to the things Paul has written about. It is wrong to condemn someone who is not condemned by God. This is the only thing Paul writes about.
We must judge between good and evil. As we grow in Christ we are able to do a better job of this. Hebrews 5:14 describes the mature Christian in this way: “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil”. We must be very careful to judge what is good and what is evil.
When we do that, we judge the person who does good or evil. We must do that. We must know who are the false prophets if we are going to avoid them. We must test the false teachers (1 John 4:1). We must turn away from those who cause division contrary to the true teaching (Romans 16:17). We must not encourage those who go beyond the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9-11).
But in matters where there is no sin, let us not judge one another anymore. Instead, we must determine this not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. It is a terrible thing to cause a brother to sin! When we condemn a brother for something which is not wrong, we are putting temptation in his way. Instead of that, we should be careful never to put a stumbling block in a brother’s way. We have the right to eat meat. But this right does not give us permission to ruin our brother.
Paul says that the “strong” ones are right. All meat is clean; all meat can be eaten by the Christian. It is clean because the law of Moses which made some meat unclean is no longer the law we must follow. We follow the gospel of Christ. The gospel of Christ allows us to eat all meat (1 Timothy 4:4-5).
However, to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. This man is weak in the faith. He thinks meat is unclean. If he eats it while he believes it is unclean, he sins! Because he believes it is a sin to eat, when he sees a brother eating the meat he is hurt. This does not mean that his feelings are hurt. It means that he may eat the meat he thinks is unclean. He sees his brother eating it, so he eats it. But because he thinks it is unclean, he sins. The strong brother who eats meat can cause his weak brother to be lost!
Paul uses strong language when he writes to the strong. He says, “you are no longer walking according to love”. When they eat meat when it can “hurt” the weak one, they are not thinking about that brother. They are only thinking about their stomachs! Romans 13:10 says: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law”. Our love must be so strong that we will do without things which it is lawful for us to have. We will love our brother too much to cause him to stumble. We will understand that he is one for whom Christ died.
Brethren, when we consider the things of the church we must be careful. We must not push for what we want if it causes the consciences of our brothers to be hurt. We must not force them to do what they think is wrong. We love them. We do not want them to sin.
This is an important matter. The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking. This is why it does not matter whether a person eats meat or not. God has left us free in eating. There is no law which makes it a matter for the kingdom of God.
Note that Paul talks about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is here. Those who are in the church are in the kingdom. When we obey the gospel we are translated into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). We are born into the kingdom (John 3:3-5).
Clinton Hamilton comments:
“Basically, the kingdom of God consists of those persons who have responded to the gospel summons or call and in whose hearts God and Christ rule through their obedience to the gospel. The emphasis in the idea of kingdom is the rule of God. Consequently, the kingdom of God is not food and drink. Rather, it is wholly spiritual in nature, not material. However, the members of this kingdom live in the material world and need food and drink. In the exercise of their liberties with reference to the use of the material world, Christians must be ruled by the gospel as to what they may do under a given set of circumstances. But that which pertains to the kingdom is spiritual, i.e. righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”—The Book of Romans, pp. 770-771.
What gives character, direction and accomplishment to the kingdom of God? It is first righteousness. We become righteous when we listen to the gospel, believe it, repent of our sins, confess Christ and are baptised for the forgiveness of our sins. We are then saved (1 Peter 3:21), born again (John 3:3-5), raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-6). When we become citizens of the kingdom, we must live righteously.
When we live righteously, we will have peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us through the New Testament. When we listen and obey, we become righteous, and we have peace and joy. The kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of peace, for He is the Prince of Peace. If we destroy the peace in the kingdom we commit a serious sin. Woe to those who do this. We must always try to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). When we cause division we destroy unity and peace, and we take away the joys that come with that peace. Many times men have brought into the church things which Christ did not authorise. This has caused division and destroyed peace between brethren.
Those who are in the kingdom should want to do one thing—that is to serve Christ. When we do that we are acceptable to God. How do I know that God approves my service? The only way is for Him to tell me. He does this in the New Testament. When I do what the gospel tells me to do, I know that I am acceptable to God.
This service will also be approved by men. Paul does not mean that all men will be happy with what we do. Worldly men will be very unhappy and will certainly not approve. But men who understand and love God’s ways will approve when we do what God says.
We must pursue (run after, always look for) the things which make for peace. We do this when we do the will of God and do not do the things which men command. This is the peace which is the fruit of righteousness, not the peace of the world. It is not “peace at any price”. It is the peace which God loves.
We must also pursue the building up of one another. We all need the help of brethren to build us up. It is not a building up of the things of human wisdom and worldly riches. It is a building up in a greater and deeper knowledge of and respect for the word of God.
Here are two sets of values—the work of God and food. We cannot compare the two! One is eternal and the other is unimportant. Since food is not the important thing, do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. We tear down the work of God when we eat meat and cause our brother to sin.
We have the right to eat meat and to drink wine, when no ill-effects come to our brother. But when we eat meat or drink wine and that causes my brother to stumble in his walk with God, my eating or drinking is evil! Why would I do that? I do it only if I do not love my brother as I should. I think my eating is worth more than his soul. How very tragic.
A soul is worth more than the whole world. If I eat and drink and do not think about the soul of my brother, I am acting foolishly and selfishly. It is better not to eat or drink those things. The soul of my brother is worth more than the food!
When might drinking wine cause my brother to stumble? With today’s highly intoxicating wines, to drink even a little may cause my brother to drink too much! Then I have caused him to sin. It is better never to drink wine.
How can we apply these principles to the church today? I believe that the principles of Paul’s teachings apply to many situations. Suppose I see nothing wrong with the practice of the congregation. If I insist on that practice when others are convinced it is sinful, I can cause great harm. Whatever good I think that practice will do is overcome by the harm which I do to my brethren.
The faith of this verse is one’s own personal persuasion. But since the things Paul is writing about are not commanded nor are they forbidden, it makes no difference whether one’s “faith” approves or disapproves of these things. Others do not have to believe what you believe. Therefore have it as your own conviction before God. It is not your duty to convert others to your conviction.
This shows that what Paul writes about are not matters of the will of God. We must teach others the will of God, and we must teach all of it (Acts 20:26-27). The spirit of faith is, “I believe, therefore, I speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13). The faith of these verses does not have that spirit.
How can a man condemn himself in what he approves? He must first believe that what he is doing is right. But if when he does this he causes his brother to sin, he is condemned by God.
In recent years those who pressed new things on the church over the conscientious objections of godly men and women condemned themselves in what they approve. When they brought instrumental music into the worship, or orphan homes supported by the church, or sponsoring churches to run Bible schools, they caused division in the church. They did not believe these things were necessary. God can be worshiped and served without any of them. But they loved these things so much that they let division and bitterness come while they insisted that these things be put into the church. If these things were matters of indifference, which those who introduced them said, then their actions were condemned by what Paul writes in Romans 14. Of course, these things are not authorised in the New Testament and those who introduced them are condemned doubly. They did not care for the souls of those who objected to these introductions, and the things they brought in are condemned by God’s word.
He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. Here is an important principle. It is not wrong to eat meat. But if a man thinks it is wrong, and if he eats when he believes it is wrong, he has sinned! A right action becomes sinful if the one who does it believes it is sin.
Why is it sin? The act is right. The sin is in the heart of the person who eats. He believes it is wrong, yet he does it anyway. He has sinned against his conscience.
Suppose he believes that something is right when it is really wrong. The principle does not work in reverse. Whatever is wrong is sin, even when we believe it is not sin. Saul of Tarsus thought in his heart that persecuting disciples of Christ was pleasing to God. But he was sinning by doing that (1 Timothy 1:12-16).
We must always be careful to do what our conscience approves. Yet we must be sure to listen to God’s word so that we will truly do right.
SUMMARIZING THIS CHAPTER: Those who were weak in the faith needed to educate themselves concerning the eating of meats and observing days, so that they would not remain weak in the faith, or lacking in their knowledge of the truth. Those who were the strong in the faith, knowing the truth concerning these practices, were under obligation to love their weaker brethren, and to be forbearing with them in their ignorance.