Exhortation to Mutual Forbearance, 1-12

14:1 Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions.

Accept him whose faith is weak – ‘To be ‘weak in faith’ in this context does not denote some lack in fundamental Christian belief, but is equivalent to being troubled in conscience. These are people whose grasp of the implications of the gospel is limited, so that their consciences do not allow them to do certain things that are permissible under the new covenant (cf. 1 Cor. 8:7–13).’ (Kruse)

Some argue that to ‘accept’ others in this way is the welcome them into table fellowship.

‘Though forbearance be a great Christian duty, indifference to the distinction between truth and error is not thereby encouraged. The former is, by the tax, made an excuse for the latter. But our apostle, while teaching “the strong” to bear with “the weak,” repeatedly intimates in this chapter where the truth really lay on the points in question, and takes care to call those who took the wrong side “the weak”.’ (Rom 14:1,2,14) (JFB)

Without passing judgment on disputable matters – Whereas some might welcome others in order to set them right on their mistaken beliefs and unnecessary practices, Paul insists that they should be welcomed without such a motivation.

Kruse quotes Augustine: ‘‘Paul says this so that, when something might be done with either good or bad motives, we should leave the judgment to God and not presume to judge the heart of someone else, which we do not see. But when it comes to things which obviously could not have been done with good and innocent intentions, it is not wrong if we pass judgment. So in the matter of food, where it is not known what the motive in eating it is, Paul does not want us to be judges, but God. But in the case of that abominable immorality where a man has taken his stepmother, Paul taught us to judge [1 Cor. 5:1–13]. For that man could not possibly claim that he committed such a gross act of indecency with good intentions. So we must pass judgment on things which are obviously wrong.’

‘The meaning of the injunction seems to be, “Readily admit into fellowship every man who appears to be a sincere believer, though his views may on some points be indistinct, and even incorrect; but let care be taken that neither he be harassed about these opinions, nor the Church harassed by him in reference to them.”‘ (John Brown)

Encouragement for those whose faith is weak

We must distinguish between weakness of faith and no faith. A weak faith is true. The bruised reed is but weak, yet it is such as Christ will not break. Though thy faith be weak, be not discouraged.

1. A weak faith may receive a strong Christ. A weak hand can tie the knot in marriage as well as a strong one; and a weak eye might have seen the brazen serpent. The woman in the gospel did but touch Christ’s garment, and received virtue from him. It was the touch of faith.

2. The promise is not made to strong faith, but to true. The promise says not whosoever has a giant-faith, that can remove mountains, that can stop the mouths of lions, shall be saved; but whosoever believes, be his faith ever so small. Though Christ sometimes chides a weak faith, yet that it may not be discouraged, he makes it a promise. Beati qui esuriunt. Mt 5:3.

3. A weak faith may be fruitful. Weakest things multiply most; the vine is a weak plant, but it is fruitful. Weak Christians may have strong affections. How strong is the first love, which is after the first planting of faith!

4. Weak faith may be growing. Seeds spring up by degrees; first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. Therefore, be not discouraged. God who would have us receive them that are weak in faith, will not himself refuse them. Rom 14:1: A weak believer is a member of Christ; and though Christ will cut off rotten members from his body, he will not cut off weak members.’ (Thomas Watson)

14:2 One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. 14:3 The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Eating and Drinking

‘In Pauline perspective the simple act of eating and drinking is laden with spiritual import, for all of life is illumined and empowered by the Spirit of Jesus. Thus in Rom 14:1-15:13 Paul reveals a number of perspectives on eating and drinking. To be sure, Paul clearly declares that the kingdom of God has to do, not with “food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17) Nonetheless, he surrounds that declaration with a formidable array of specific comments regarding the meaning of eating and drinking. In eating and drinking, one may honor or dishonor the Lord. (Rom 14:6) Eating and drinking are an occasion for the attitude and expression of gratitude to God (14:6). In eating and drinking one lives unto the Lord and dies unto the Lord. (Rom 14:7-9) Eating and drinking can be an instance of walking in love, or not walking in love (Rom 14:15-16) -as well as of living or not living in peace with others, (Rom 14:19) or of edifying or not edifying the other. (Rom 14:19) Of special interest is the section’s concluding appeal to Jesus: (Rom 15:7) “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you.” It is impossible to suppose that Paul, who called believers to follow him in imitating Christ, did not have in mind the common meals in which Jesus participated-often with the rejected ones of contemporary society.

‘It is significant that all these “meanings” of Christian eating and drinking are otherwise closely associated with the Spirit in Paul (love, peace, edification, gratitude and honoring the Lord). Other Pauline passages, most notably significant elements of 1 Cor 9-11 where the Lord’s Supper and common meals are conjoined, offer parallel instruction. In all eating and drinking, the Christian believer is called to be “spiritual,” not “unspiritual,” (1 Cor 2:14-16) instructed in the mind of Christ.’ (1 Cor 2:16) (DPL)

It is clear from this that Scripture does not either command or forbid vegetarianism.

And sex, too?

It is sometimes argued that if Paul wished to allow people to ‘agree to disagree’ about food laws, he would also had said something similar about differences in sexual ethics.

This argument is flawed, however, for

  1. In Roman 1 and 1 Cor 5-6 Paul clearly affirms key aspects of Jewish sexual ethics, and he links this affirmation to the Christian gospel and people’s response to it.
  2. According to Mk 7:14-23, Jesus explicitly ‘declared all foods clean’, while declaring that ‘sexual immoralities’ (almost certainly a reference to the prohibitions of the ‘Holiness Code’ in Lev 17-22) are among the things which ‘defile’ a person.  The former go into the stomach; the latter come out from the heart: the difference is profound.
  3. The NT teaching on sexual ethics is consistently traced back to the creation narratives, which set out marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  The food laws, however, come later, and are not linked to God’s creational intent.

See this, by Ian Paul.

14:5 One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind. 14:6 The one who observes the day does it for the Lord. The one who eats, eats for the Lord because he gives thanks to God, and the one who abstains from eating abstains for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God. 14:7 For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself. 14:8 If we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 14:9 For this reason Christ died and returned to life, so that he may be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
14:10 But you who eat vegetables only—why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything—why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 14:11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” 14:12 Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat – ‘The judgment seat is the bēma, or tribunal. There is no difference between this tribunal and the ‘judgment seat of Christ’ (2 Cor. 5:10).’ (Bruce)

‘It is not clear whether the warning against judging others is because those who judge will themselves face judgment in due course (cf. Matt. 7:1; Luke 6:37) or whether Paul means that the brother who is the object of this “judgment” will in due course be judged by God (not by his fellows).’ (Morris)

‘It may be significant that he refers to it both in 2 Corinthians and here in Romans, a letter written from Corinth, for according to Acts. 18:12 it was in Corinth in the time when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia that Paul was brought before his judgment seat. The experience of having to do so may have provided Paul with a strong reminder that one day all believers must stand before the ‘judgment seat’ of Christ.’ (Kruse)

In what sense will believers stand before God’s judgment seat?  Certainly, Paul is very clear that there is ‘no condemnation’ for them (Rom 8:1).  They have already passed from death to life (Jn 5:24).  Nevertheless, we must face the searchlight of Christ’s gaze, and give an account of how we have spent our days, and used our opportunities, for him.  This being the case (Paul’s argues here) how can we stand in judgment against our Christian brother?  Will our works withstand the scrutiny of the last day (1 Cor 3:10-15)?  ‘It may be’ (Writes Richard Bewes) ‘that the greatest “reward” is that of knowing that we pleased Christ.  Perhaps the greatest “loss” is the knowledge that so much of what was achieved was a waste of time and self-effort.’ (The Top 100 Questions, p271)

‘This will be a judgment based on works (cf. Matt 16:27; Rom 2:6; Rev 22:12). In the long run the validity of faith is established by the quality of life it produces. What people do is the most accurate indicator of what they really believe.’ (Mounce)

‘Paul may be warning the believers that they stand in danger of suffering God’s judgment for their sinful criticism of one another. But, in light of vv. 7–9, we think it more likely that he is reminding them that it is God, and not other Christians, to whom each believer is answerable.’ (Moo)

‘We should not judge, because we are going to be judged. There seems to be an allusion to the word of Jesus: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”‘ (Stott, quoting Mt 7:1)

See Acts 20:35 n

‘On that day all pretense will be dispelled, all moral judgments and altruistic pronouncements will be exploded as self-serving masks of pride, all gifts and sacrifices will be seen in the light of their real motives, all strivings and hopes and goals will be judged only from the perspective of whatever faith and love inspired them.’ (Edwards)

Exhortation for the Strong not to Destroy the Weak, 13-23

14:13 Therefore we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister. 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean in itself; still, it is unclean to the one who considers it unclean. 14:15 For if your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy by your food someone for whom Christ died. 14:16 Therefore do not let what you consider good be spoken of as evil. 14:17 For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 14:18 For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people.

v17 ‘We should be rightly suspicious of forms of theology that place all the emphasis on coherent systems of thought that demand faith, allegiance, and obedience, but do not engage the affections, let alone foster an active sense of the presence of God. If the kingdom of God has to do with “right”]eousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” we must not reduce it to righteousness and systems of thought. The Spirit whom Jesus bequeathed to his followers is the Spirit announced as part of the newness of the new covenant, Eze 36/John 3; Joel 2/Acts 2: not only does he convict the world, Jn 16, he loves in believers, Rom 8:9, leading them, v14 and testifying with their spirit that they are God’s children, v16.’ (Carson, The Gagging of God, 567)

14:19 So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another. 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. For although all things are clean, it is wrong to cause anyone to stumble by what you eat. 14:21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 14:22 The faith you have, keep to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who does not judge himself by what he approves. 14:23 But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Everything that does not come from faith is sin – Tomlinson, (The Post-Evangelical, 137) says that by this Paul ‘means that it is probably more important that we are true to our convictions than whether our convictions ultimately prove to be correct or not’.  While not completely untrue, this is misleading, given that Paul’s whole discussion in this chapter is centred on ‘disputable matters’, v1.

‘This epigram ‘exalts the significance of our conscience. Although…it is not infallible, it is nevertheless sacrosanct, so that to go against it (to act not from faith) is to sin. At the same time, alongside this explicit instruction not to violate our conscience, there is an implicit requirement to educate it.’ (Stott)

‘Paul has advice for the man who is weak in the faith, the man with the scrupulous conscience. It may be that this may disobey or silence his scruples. He may sometimes do something because everyone else is doing it. He may do it because he does not wish to stand in a minority of one. He may do it because he does not wish to be different. He may do it because he does not wish to court ridicule or unpopularity. Paul’s answer is that if, for any of these reasons, a man defies his conscience he is guilty of sin. If a man in his heart of hearts believes a thing to be wrong, if he cannot rid himself of the ineradicable feeling that it is forbidden, then, if he does it, for him it is sin. A neutral thing only becomes a right thing when it is done out of faith, out of the real, reasoned conviction that it is the right thing to do. The only motive for doing anything is that a man believes it to be right. When a thing is done out of social convention, out of fear of unpopularity, to please men, then it is wrong.’ (Cranfield)

R. Kent Hughes summarises: ‘The wise Apostle Paul has detailed four “dos” if we are to build unity amidst our diversity. First, we must determine never to be a source of stumbling. Second, we must live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, concentrating on the eternals rather than the externals. Third, we must actively pursue that which benefits other believers. Fourth, we must do all that we do with a clear conscience.’