About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapter 14 

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The Weak And The Strong  (ch. 14:1 Ė 15:13)


It's clear that what Paul is going to say in this chapter is that the community of Christ at Rome were divided over certain doctrinal issues, especially Jewish Gentile issues that was supposed to have been solved in the conference of Acts 15, but we know, even today, this same issue divides the church today.  With more and more Jews coming to Christ these days, the roll of the Jewish Law and tradition has been a point of contention. 


In verse Paul 1 says, "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters."  What are these disputable matters that Paul is talking about in chapter 14 verse 1?  One disputable matter is eating meat.  In verse 2 to 4 Paul says that some eat everything, while others eat only vegetables. 


This dispute over meat would have been a Jewish Gentile dispute.  Jews, from their Old Testament framework would have questioned the meat found in the local markets because they would not have known if the meat was drained properly as the Law of Moses prescribed.  They would also not have known if the meat had been offered to idols.  Therefore, to avoid breaking the Law of Moses they would avoid meats and merely eat vegetables.  The Gentiles would not have had this Old Testament Law as their frame of reference and would not have had a problem with eating meat.


According to Paul, the eating of meat was a disputable matter and thus both sides should accept the other sides view and live in harmony.   


Verse 5 speaks of some people esteeming one day being more sacred than another, while others consider all days alike.  Again, this would have been a Jewish Gentile issue.  The Old Testament Law specified certain days to be sacred and the Jewish Christians wanted to keep these days special while living in Rome.


In verse 21 Paul mentions the drinking of wine to be one of these disputable matters as well.  I am sure that you and I could add all sorts of things to this list of disputable issues.  The idea here is that there are some issues that are not important enough to divide over.  The things that we should divide over are the essentials of the gospel.  That is, the truths that make up the core gospel cannot be compromised.  Paul says this very clearly in Galatians 1:8. "But even if we or an angel from Heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"  These are pretty strong words, but we do not compromise the essential truths of the gospel.  On secondary issues, non essential issues to salvation should not divide the church.  We should keep the unity of the Body of Christ.  You may debate secondary issues with great vigor, but you should not let these issues separate you from your brother. 


The difficulty in todayís world, as well as in the past, is that we have stressed our distinct doctrines to such a degree that we have become exclusive and have separated ourselves from one another in the church.  Yes, I do believe Christians are exclusive and not inclusive.  We are exclusive to the world and to other religions.  We do not compromise the gospel, but, we are inclusive when it comes to others in the Body of Christ who may hold to a different way of thinking in the non essential doctrines.  Once again, essential doctrines are those doctrines that make up the gospel, that which is needed to bring salvation to a person.  Doctrines concerning such things as end time teaching for example are not essential to our salvation.  Believing in a pre-trib rapture, or a post-trib rapture, is not what makes us a Christian. That is, we do not have to believe in a pre-trib rapture in order to be saved.  Whether you are pre-trib or post-trib should not be an issue worth separating over.   


Another aspect to essential doctrines, or those things that are not disputable, are things that Scripture clearly speaks about as being sin.  Such things are, getting drunk, committing adultery, and killing, among other such things. We cannot hold to our own thinking on these matters.  We must believe and do as the Bible teaches.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:9 says that we should not associate ourselves with a brother who is living immorally.  We can divide over such things as these. 


So there appears to be at least two types of indisputable matters, essential doctrines of salvation and clearly worded moral commands of Scripture.  We can, and at times are even told to divide over these issues.  Everything else is disputable, and therefore we cannot divide over.  


Paul says to "accept those who are weak in the faith."  He means, "accept those who have a hard time trusting Jesus" in these issues.  I say this because faith means trust and therefore, weak faith means weak trust.  It is interesting to note who the weak in faith really are.  Verse 2 says, "One manís faith (or trust in Jesus) allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables."  The vegetarian is the one with weak faith.  Paul tells us not to pass judgment on him.  Even if he is a vegetarian, with weak faith, that faith is still directed to the Lord.  So also, the one weak in faith should not condemn the one who eats everything.  Each person will stand or fall in the face of his own Master, who is Jesus (verse 4).  "And he will standĒ, says Paul, ďfor the Lord is able to make him stand".  Paul is saying, trust Jesus for your brother.  Jesus is able to keep him.


Did you ever wonder how a Roman Vegetarian Christian might have felt after hearing these words?  Paul, who tells us not to pass judgment, is making a judgment himself by telling these people they are weak in faith.


Many Christians feel that it is wrong to judge because of this verse and others.  That is not the case.  If we judge others, then we can expect others to judge us back in like fashion.  That is what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:1 to 7.  Judging is not always a negative action.  We judge daily in many small areas of life.  For example, we go to the grocery store to buy onions.  We may squeeze them to make sure none are rotten.  We choose the best ones to buy.  We are making a judgment and decide from that judgment what onions to buy.  This may be what Paul is doing here.  He is surveying the situation and making a neutral judgment, although there is a good chance the Roman Vegetarian Christians did not feel that way after hearing his words.  What Paul tells the strong in faith to do is to not to pass judgment on the weak in faith.  I think Paul is telling the strong in faith not to think less of the man who does not eat meat.  Paul calls the vegetarian weak in faith, but he doesnít think any less of the vegetarian.  He is making a neutral judgment, not a negative judgment.  He loves everyone the same.


Paul would also be telling the vegetarian not to judge or look down on the meat eater.  It's more likely that the Jews were judging the Gentiles for eating meat and not observing holy days.     


We should note that the judging we aren't supposed to do in these verses has to do with someone's faith.  There are many other areas of one's life that we are permitted to judge, immorality being one such example.  Faith, or trust in Jesus is personal to one.  I think this is what Paul is getting at when he says that each man will stand or fall before his Lord.  I do believe we can judge a man with no faith, but little faith we can't, and again, we're talking only about faith here.  


In verse 3 Paul tells us that God accepts both the one who is strong in faith and the one who is weak in faith, and, if you read chapter 14 you might agree with me that Paul believed he was strong in faith.  Paul could eat meat at times and he could refrain from eating meat at times, depending on the circumstances.  It was no big deal to him.  The same applied to holy days.  Depending on the situation he could celebrate a holy day or not celebrate a holy day.  It made no difference to him.        


In verse 5 we see that some men consider one day sacred, while others consider all days sacred.  Paul says that each man must be "fully convinced in his own mind" what is right.  So, there is nothing wrong with being fully convinced, or positively sure, of what you believe is right.  I believe we should study these issues through sufficiently enough to be fully convinced, but most of the church these days doesn't study things through to this extent. 


Paul understands that we will have disputes over these secondary issues.  That being the case, we are not to pass judgment on those who think differently, even though we are fully convinced in our own minds.  There is nothing wrong with being fully convinced.  It is what Paul tells us to be.  Being fully convinced of anything in this day and age is becoming old fashion, especially concerning these secondary issues.  Even in Evangelical circles we tend to not want to be fully convinced in secondary issues. 


We need to remember that Jewish people
had many Sabbaths.  Many Jewish Christians felt it mandatory to keep these Sabbaths or else they would lose their salvation.  You can understand why they would believe this.  Many times in the Old Testament you will see that if Jews did not keep the Sabbath's, they would be cut off from Israel.  One main reason why God had Babylon conquer Israel and destroy Jerusalem was over this very issue.  Israel refused to keep the Sabbaths and God judged them as a result, so it would only be natural for Christian Jews to think that they would lose their salvation if they did not hold to special days.  Paul clearly thought differently, and he was an expert in the Law of Moses as well as the rabbinical laws.  


One thing I should point out at this time is that the dispute over meat or Sabbaths aren't disputes concerning one's salvation.  That is to say, the Jews must not have been basing their salvation on the fact that they did not eat meat or participate in special days.  If they had included these things into their teaching on how one is saved, Paul would have certainly told them that they were in error as he did to the Galatians in his letter to them.  Paul would not have told these people that they had weak faith.  He would have warned them that they are on their way to having no faith. 


In verses 6 through 8 Paul says that whether we do eat meat or drink wine, or whether we don't, we do it to the Lord.  Whether we hold one day as important, or all days the same, we hold our opinions to the Lord.  As Paul says, "If we live, we live to the Lord.  If we die, we die to the Lord ... we belong to the Lord (verse 8)."  That is the key.  Whatever we do, we do in good conscience to the Lord Jesus.  If we drink wine, we thank Jesus for it and drink in His presence.  If we abstain from drinking wine, we thank Jesus for the cup of tea that is in our hand.


Over the years in Evangelical circles the drinking of beer and wine has been frowned upon, even considered a sin.  Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us or command us not to drink beer, wine, or spirits.  Yes, it does tell us about the problems with excess consumption, but it just doesn't tell us not to consume.  Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast.  He did not turn water into grape juice as some Evangelicals claim. The simple fact is that those who drank Jesus' wine were amazed at the quality of the wine.  They would not have been so amazed if they were drinking grape juice.


Verse 7 says that "none of us live to ourselves".  That is certainly the case for those of us who live in the Body of Christ.  In all we do, we musts do it in such a way without brothers, sisters, and even the Lord Jesus Himself in mind.  If a brother is a recovering alcoholic, you don't sit down and drink an alcoholic beverage in front of him.  You do not live unto yourself. Whatever we do, in any given circumstance, others must come first in whatever we do.            


Verse 9 says, "For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be both Lord of the dead and the living."  Paul is saying that the very reason why Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven was to be our Lord, and that is whether we are alive or dead.  He is our Lord, so whatever we do we due out of reverence for Him, even if our faith in Him is week, we still live life out of reverence and fear of the Lord.  We do those things that we know will please Him. 


In verse 10 Paul asks why we judge or look down on a brother.  Obviously those in the church at Rome  were having these problems.  Again, I must point out that there are times when we must judge.  Jesus Himself told us that in John 7:24.  However, in those times of judgment, we must judge righteously.  On these secondary issues, we must not judge or look down, put down on someone who thinks differently than us.   


In verses 10 and 12 Paul says that there is no use in judging our brother in these matters.  Once again, we are talking about disputable matters.  There is a place for us to judge people, yet in these disputable matters, there is no place for judgment because we will all stand before the Lord one day and give account of our lives.  Paul quotes Isaiah 45:23 to support his thinking in verse 11.  "Every knee will bow, and every tongue confess to God." 


The Isaiah quote says that everyone will bow
their knees before God.  That's everyone in the whole world.
I believe this takes place in two judgments.  The White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20 is where the unsaved dead are judged according to their sins and then thrown into the Lake of Fire.  The judgment seat of Christ, as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 3, is where those of us who are saved will stand before Jesus and give account of ourselves and the work we have done in His service.  Paul says that those works will be judged by fire and only those works that survive the fire, those works done in faith and love for Jesus, will survive and be rewarded for.   


When Paul asserts in verse 12 that each one of us will give account of ourselves to God I believe he is implying that we should actually be judging ourselves to see if we are acting out of love based on truth towards our brother or sister in Christ.  I used the term "love based on truth" because if we divorce the truth of Scripture in an attempt to love, we no longer love.  That is to say, if we join in someone's sin because we think we can love that person better as we sin, we are not demonstrating true love.  Or, if we don't point out a valid sin in a brother's life, then we fail to love him.    


In verse 13 Paul goes on to say that we should not put a stumbling block in the way of our brother.  He is speaking of the unity of the Body of Christ here.  Our unity is based on our common faith and trust we have in Jesus.  It is not based on anything else.  It is definitely not based on non essential doctrines, no matter how convinced we are in our minds of these doctrines.  We want the Body of Christ to be strong.  We don't want to make it weak by causing our brothers to become even weaker in the faith than they already are.  This is what would and does happen when we are over critical of those with weak faith. 


I would like to note that there is a place in the church to be critical and judge of false doctrine.  It is even appropriate to mention the names of those who teach such false doctrine, but, to be critical of a weak brother is another thing altogether.    


In verse 14 Paul says that "He is fully convinced that there is no food that is unclean."  We see here where Paul stands on the eating of meat issue.  He can eat anything; therefore he would say that his faith is strong.  Paul is showing the Roman Christians what he has just told them.  He is showing them that he is strong in his thinking and what he believes.  Everyone knows where Paul stands on these things. 


In verse 14 he goes on to say that "If anyone considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean."  Paul may try to explain his liberty to his weak brother, but he will not condemn him for what he doesnít eat.  This is a matter of conscience.  Someone's conscience may not allow him to eat or drink certain things, so they shouldn't.  That being said, Paul would say, as I believe he is saying in this chapter, that our conscience should sooner or later be lined up with what the Bible says, what the truth of the gospel says.  Once that takes place, your conscience will not bother you when you eat or drink that which you once didn't eat or drink. 


I'm convinced that Paul would explain why those who don't eat meat are entitled to eat meat.  I believe he'd explain the same concerning Sabbaths.  His explanation would be instrumental in helping their weak faith become strong faith. 


Verse 15 says, "If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love."  Paul goes on to say, "Do not destroy your brother for whom Christ died."  The word "destroy" is a strong word here. The whole point is the good spiritual health of your brother in Christ.  Jesus died for him.  That is the important thing, and if you destroy that brother, and if he falls from faith, Jesus died in vain for him.  That is one very sad thing. 


All that being said, in verse 16 Paul says that you should not allow what you consider good to be spoken evil of.  This too is what Paul is talking about in this chapter.  Paul has no problem with eating meat.  Some people were speaking evil of him because of his stand on the issue.  That's partly why he is writing these words.  He is defending himself in what he believes.  He is not allowing others to judge him for his freedom. He doesn't want people judging him for what he believes, and he doesn't want those who believe like him judging those who oppose him.  It's a two way street in this matter of judging.    


In verse 17 Paul states what the important things are in these matters.  They are righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  By righteousness Paul means to live a holy life.  By peace he is speaking of peace in the Body of Christ.  By joy in the Holy Spirit he is speaking of a life full of the Spirit that produces an attractive joy for all to see.  


In verse 18 Paul says that if you serve God in this way, you will please God and man as well.  What way is Paul speaking of here?  Paul is simply saying that if you seek, righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit, and don't judge your brothers in secondary issues, that will please God.  It will obviously also please your brothers in Christ because it will lesson the conflict you might have with him.  


Verse 19 is somewhat of a conclusion as well as an admonition.  Paul says to do our best to keep peace with all men.  I think that is a rule to live by, but there is one caution.  Striving for peace should not include compromising the primary truths of Scripture.  Some things are worth separating over.  We see that throughout the New Testament.  We don't compromise Jesus in order to maintain peace.  Jesus Himself said that at times we will have enemies because of our association with Him.   


In the 1970's the Ecumenical Movement attempted to unite people from all denominations.  Now I believe some union between some denominations would be fine, but that being said, union with certain liberal denominations isn't fine.  You do not unite with a group who no longer believes in the Divinity of Christ.  Now, in the 21st century certain denominations are attempting to unite themselves with other religions, such as Islam.  This is just not right.  The God of the Christian is not the same God that Muslims worship.  It's a sad fact when I see Evangelicals embracing such a union.  In today's terms, the union of Christianity and Islam has been called "Chrislam".             


The context of Paul's statement concerning living in peace with others is in the Body of Christ, the church.  The context does not include living in peace with other religions.  Now I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to live in peace with those of other religions, I'm simply saying, as I did in the last paragraph, that you can't compromise the truth of the gospel in the process of maintaining peace.  Again, the whole context here tells us that we should strive for unity in the church.         


In verse 20 Paul says, "Do not destroy the work of God" over such secondary issues as eating certain meat, but that is what we've done in the church for centuries.  We're always destroying the church, the work of the Lord by arguing and splitting over these kinds of issues.  No wonder we aren't attractive to the world.             


In verse 20 Paul also makes clear that all
food can be eaten.  All food is clean.  Again, this would have been unsettling to Jewish Christians who had been raised not to eat certain foods.  We need to think about Paul's statement here.  Picture the setting.  You have two groups in the local community of Christ in Rome.  One group who Paul says has weak faith because they don't eat meat and another group that Paul says has strong faith because they eat meat.  Paul also says that these groups should not judge each other on the position they take, but, Paul himself makes a judgment by calling one group weak in faith and the other group strong in faith.  This judgment in itself might well have been a stumbling block for some.  Imagine how you might feel if someone in a public forum told everyone that you had weak faith.  Then, on top of that, Paul asserts in verse 20 that all food is clean.  Paul is clearly taking an open side in this debate and by doing so; he is pointing a finger at those who do not eat meat.  Once again, this would cause some in the church to be upset with Paul and maybe even cause them to stumble, something Paul warned against.  The truth must always be said.  You try not to cause someone to stumble, but that can't always be helped.          


In verse 21 Paul just says that if eating certain foods
will cause a brother to fall then don't eat the food.  I suggest what Paul is saying here is that we shouldn't eat the food in front of the weak brother.  The context clearly shows that Paul would eat the food if the brother was not around.


Before going further I need to define with more clarity what weak in faith means.  Paul is speaking about peopleís consciences in this chapter.  If your conscience tells you that you should not drink wine, then Paul says that you are weak in faith, because your conscience is not lining up totally with what the gospel teaches.  If a person does not drink wine because he is a recovering alcoholic, his choice not to drink has nothing to do with his conscience. This manís choice has everything to do with living a healthy lifestyle for himself.  Therefore he should not be considered weak in faith.  This man is most likely very strong in faith.  The whole idea of weakness here is all about oneís conscience, and nothing else. 


Let me make another point concerning wine.  If you donít drink wine because you donít like the taste, or simply choose not to, this does not mean you are weak in faith either.  Your choice in this situation is not based on conscience. It is based on likes and dislikes.  You may also choose to be a vegetarian for reasons not based on conscience.  In this case, you too would not be classified as weak in faith.


Paul is using there three examples, eating meat, drinking wine, and Sabbath days because they were issues in his day.  We may have other issues in our day that could easily fall into this discussion. That being said, we should note here that the disputable matters Paul is talking about concern the Law of Moses.  It was the same old problem, that is, the lack of unity between Jewish believers and non-Jewish believers that was supposed to have been settled in Acts 15, but apparently wasn't.  The debate here boils down to legalism, which seems to be a problem in almost every generation of the church.    


Paul says in verse 20 that all food is clean.  There is no food that is unclean.  In the same context he affirms that drinking wine is not a sin.  If we do either, or anything else that causes a man to stumble or fall away from the Lord, we're doing wrong.  At this point we need to understand what the word "stumble" really means.  If I believe in drinking wine and another Christian is merely upset because I drink wine, is his being upset stumbling?  I donít think so.  Many Christians are fully convinced that drinking wine is a horrible sin.  That is fine, according to what Paul is saying here in Romans 14.  Yet I can be equally convinced that drinking wine is okay.  That too is fine according to this chapter.  So if a strong Christian who doesnít drink wine gets upset with me and doesnít fall from the Lord, I donít believe I have caused him to stumble.  I donít need to stop drinking wine just because someone gets upset with me.  Simply being upset or maybe even indignant is not ďstumblingĒ. 


On the other hand if I drink wine in front of a recovering alcoholic and he decides to drink, and as a result falls back into his alcoholism and in turn falls away from the Lord; I am causing that man to stumble.  This is wrong, and this is what Paul says not to do.


Let me explain the process of stumbling. Our conscience plays an important role in the stumbling process.  Part of Christian growth is lining our conscience up with the Word of God.  This is a process and we are all in different places on this path.  Sometimes our conscience can make us feel as if we are doing wrong when in reality we arenít.  For example, I have crossed the U.S Canada border many times.  The first number of times I felt guilty when talking with the immigration inspectors, even though I had nothing to feel guilty about.  The very presence of these people and the situation made me feel guilty.  That feeling went away after crossing the border a few times.  Our conscience is not always a true measure of what is right and what is wrong.  Therefore as time goes on in our lives as Christians, we need to align our conscience to Godís Word. 


In the opposite way our conscience can be misleading as well.  For example, someone might steal something and their conscience doesnít condemn them for it.  Paul says that some people's conscienceís is seared, as with a hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:2)  Here too, the conscience needs to fall in line with Godís Word.


Paul is saying that a man who is weak, who doesnít eat meat, if forced to eat meat, is going against his conscience.  When someone goes against their conscience, this presents a problem within them.  This can easily lead to confusion, misunderstanding and discouragement that could cause them to fall from faith.  Paul is saying that we should not put a brother in such a position as this.  Yet on the other hand Paul makes it very clear that there is nothing wrong with eating meat as he says in verse 14.  Paul would in quiet humility try to explain and even encourage the vegetarian that it is okay to eat meat.  But Paul would not force him to do so.  He would not push him in this matter.  Conscience plays an important part in the stumbling process.       


Paul clearly says that all things are pure and clean when it comes to food.  He also says in verse 22 to have this liberty between yourself and God.  Paul is not telling us to stop drinking wine, nor is he telling us to be vegetarians.  He is saying not to make a public display of it in such a way that it would affect someone to fall away from the Lord.  The important thing is unity, and not destroying a man, or the work of God.  


The Greek word translated as "destroy" in the NIV is

"katalyo".  This word means to "completely tear down". 

We're talking about a total destruction here, not a simply stumble or a misstep.

In verse 22 Paul says "Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself for the things he approves."  If we drink wine, and our drinking does not cause someone to stumble, then we are blessed, yet on the other hand, if you doubt while you drink your wine, then youíre drinking is not in faith.  Be fully convinced that what you are doing is right.   


It's important to remember that the things we approve here are disputable matters pertaining to the Law of Moses.  Paul is not talking about approving sin.   


A key verse that I have mentioned before is the latter half of verse 23,  "And whatever is not done in faith is sin."  You can drink wine in full confidence that you are doing right and not sinning.  If you drink wine but are full of doubt, you are doing wrong and Paul calls that sin.  This can apply to anything, not just eating and drinking.  Everything we do should be done from our faith in Jesus, our trust and reliance on Him.  Anything that is not done from faith is sin.  Remember, faith is simply trusting in Jesus.  All our actions should be based on our trust in Jesus, based on the relationship we have with Him.  That is why I say; you can teach Sunday school and be sinning.  If you are not trusting Jesus as you teach, but depending on your own self effort, then that is sin.  This definitely broadens our definition of sin.  Using this definition, no one can escape.  We all have sinned.  We are all presently sinning in one way or another.  We pray as time goes by that this will change, and all that we do will be a result of our trust in Jesus, and not our own human effort.  


Understanding the Biblical definition of sin is important.  There is a wide range of definition of sin in the church that are not based on the Bible. 


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