WE ARE TO SERVE GOD OUR ULTIMATE JUDGE BY ALLOWING FELLOW-BELIEVERS THE FREEDOM TO HOLD DIFFERING PERSONAL CONVICTIONS IN DISPUTABLE MATTERS
Grant Osborne: Paul had already established the equality of Jewish and Gentile believers. In this chapter he continues to discuss how that equality could work out in daily living. Paul focuses on two issues: dietary restrictions and observance of special days. Next to circumcision, diet and calendar were the most sensitive issues that separated Jews from all Gentiles. Now, as Jews and Gentiles attempted to work out their distinctive character as Christians, these issues had to be resolved.
Frank Thielman: As Wilckens comments, “the train of thought” in 14:1 – 15:13 “is quite tight and has no major turning points.” Throughout the section Paul wants to communicate the importance of acting on questions of dietary and calendar observance in ways that are consistent with the impulses of one’s own conscience. He also desires to communicate the importance of not applying social pressure to anyone else to act against these conscientiously held convictions. Paul maintains throughout the section that people can express genuine faith in Christ in both traditional and untraditional ways (at least with respect to the faith’s connection with Judaism). It is crucial, then, for those who have chosen the untraditional path to recognize the vulnerable position of the traditionalists and to protect them against damaging their faith.
Paul provides rhetorical indicators that he treats this single topic in four steps.
- The first step (14:1–12) begins with “now” (δέ) and introduces the thesis of mutual tolerance at common meals on the basis of deferring any judgment of others to God.
- The second step (14:13–23) begins with “therefore” (οὖν) and focuses on the responsibility of the nontraditionalists to avoid behavior that damages the faith of traditionalists and creates division within the community.
- The third step (15:1–6) begins with “now” (δέ) and first summarizes Paul’s exhortation to the strong in 14:13–23 (15:1) and then urges the whole community to work sacrificially for unity with one another from the example of Christ and the teaching of Scripture (15:2–6).
- The fourth step (15:7–13) begins with “therefore” (διό) and sums up both the argument of 14:1 – 15:6 and the important emphasis of the entire letter on the unity of Jews and gentiles who now, because of their common faith in Christ, belong equally to the people of God.
Main Idea: The nontraditionalist who eats anything and considers every day equally special should welcome and not despise the traditionalists who carefully abstain from ritually impure food and observe the Jewish calendar. The traditionalists should, in turn, avoid judging the nontraditionalists. To the extent that either group adopts a contemptuous or judgmental attitude toward the other, that group has tried to usurp God’s role as judge.
Thomas Schreiner: The theory that the weak were primarily Jewish Christians and that the strong were primarily gentile believers is the most plausible, though there were almost certainly weak gentile Christians and strong Jewish Christians. There were probably some Jews, perhaps Prisca/Priscilla and Aquila among them, who shared Paul’s view and adopted the viewpoint of the strong. Conversely, it is likely that a few gentiles, perhaps some God-fearers who were attracted to Judaism, shared the scruples of the weak. On the whole, however, the weak and the strong were mainly composed of Jews and gentiles respectively.
Michael Bird: However, there is no interest on Paul’s part in establishing a school of tradition to provide casuistic law for every possible moral and ritual conundrum. Paul refuses to adjudicate on the rightness or wrongness of contested topics since he regards it as a matter of personal liberty. Paul does not call for uniformity on every practice, and he can accept differences of opinion on matters that might be regarded as being of secondary importance. The issues of food, wine, and sacred days are obviously secondary for him. Origen summed up Paul like so: “To eat or not to eat and to drink or not drink wine is neither bad nor good itself, he teaches; it is neutral and indifferent.” Paul, by taking such a position on “disputable matters,” tries to inoculate the churches from creating an atmosphere of factious rivalry and intellectual competition.
I. (:1-3) ACCEPT FELLOW BELIEVERS DESPITE DIFFERING CONVICTIONS –
Case Study #1 – Eating Meat vs Just Vegetables
A. (:1) Acceptance without Passing Judgment
“Now accept the one”
Douglas Moo: While Paul wants both groups in the church to accept each other, he is clearly most concerned about the attitude of the strong. This probably reflects the fact that the strong, mainly Gentile Christians, are the dominant group in the church. Thus, we should not be surprised that he opens his exhortation by implicitly appealing to the strong: “Accept him whose faith is weak.”
- Contrast: Weak in Faith vs. Strong
“who is weak in faith,”
Grant Osborne: Who is weak in faith, and who is strong? Every believer is weak in some areas and strong in others. A person’s faith is strong in an area if he or she can survive contact with sinners without falling into their patterns. The person’s faith is weak in an area if that individual must avoid certain activities, people, or places in order to protect his or her spiritual life.
Frank Thielman: “The weak” — describe people who believe the gospel but who, nevertheless, do not “believe” (πιστεύω, Rom 14:2; cf. 14:22–23) or are not “persuaded” (πέπεισμαι, 14:14), that some element of personal conduct actually permitted to followers of Christ is, in fact, permissible. . .
“The strong” (οἱ δυνατοί) were strong primarily because their convictions about diet and food corresponded to what was true theologically, and this theological truth had freed them from feeling any necessity to express their faith through dietary restrictions or the observance of certain days as special (Rom 14:5–6, 14).
Thomas Schreiner: The standpoint of the weak on foods and days, therefore, signals a certain deficiency in their faith. It is not the case, though, that the weak believed that abstaining from meat and wine and observing certain days were necessary for salvation. There is no hint that they were trying to impose these requirements on the strong for the latter’s salvation. It seems likely that they believed that one would be a stronger or better Christian if one observed their prescriptions (cf. here the comments of Barclay 2013: 201). As Wright (2002: 733) says, the weak were genuinely believers, but they had not “worked out the full implications of that faith,” and “they are people whose faith, though real, has not matured to the point where they understand its full implications.” Similar debates exist today. For instance, Sabbatarian Christians don’t usually argue that those who disagree with them are destined for eternal judgment. They merely contend that such observance is important for living the Christian life.
“but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”
Grant Osborne: This statement assumes that the church will contain differences of opinion (disputable matters, scruples). These kinds of disputes are not about doctrines essential to salvation, but are discussions about differences of lifestyle. Paul says we are not to quarrel about issues that are matters of opinion. Differences should not be feared or avoided, but accepted and handled with love. We shouldn’t expect everyone, even in the best church, to agree on every subject. Through sharing ideas we can come to a fuller understanding of what the Bible teaches. Our basic approach should be to accept, listen to, and respect others. Differences of opinion need not cause division. They can be a source of learning and richness in our relationships.
B. (:2) Application to Specific Cultural Issue = Dietary Convictions
- Conviction of the Strong in Faith
“One man has faith that he may eat all things,”
- Conviction of the Weak in Faith
“but he who is weak eats vegetables only.”
C. (:3) Analysis
- Counsel to the Strong in Faith – Don’t Despise (Regard with Contempt)
“Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat,”
Thomas Schreiner: The admonition to resist despising is addressed to the strong. Such an admonition is fitting because those who are more liberal in their practices are inclined to mock and ridicule those who feel confined and restricted. Those who feel free to eat any foods and consider every day the same tend to deride those who believe certain foods are forbidden and who think some days are holier than others. The person free from constraints finds it difficult to understand the reasons why others bridle themselves. Since it appears irrational to the strong, they are tempted to poke fun at and mock those who are more conservative. We see, then, that accepting the weak involves respecting them and holding them in honor even if there are disagreements over what is permissible.
- Counsel to the Weak in Faith – Don’t Condemn
“and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats,
for God has accepted him.”
Frank Thielman: Paul’s final sentence is not directed at both groups. The continuation of concern with those who observe the law and “judge” others in 14:4 shows that Paul intends 14:3c as an admonition to the traditionalists. They need to be reminded that the one whom God “has welcomed” (προσελάβετο, cf. 14:1), no one else should condemn.
Thomas Schreiner: If the strong are tempted to ridicule the sensitivities of the weak, the weak tend to pass judgment on the strong, because they are convinced that the strong are sinning.
II. (:4-12) ALLOW FELLOW BELIEVERS THE FREEDOM TO BE ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD AND NOT TO US –
Case Study #2 – Observing Special Days
A. (:4) Live in Light of Personal Accountability
“Who are you to judge the servant of another?
To his own master he stands or falls;
and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
B. (:5-9) Live in Light of Conscience, Thanksgiving and Submission
- (:5) Act Consistent with Your Conscience and Convictions
“One man regards one day above another,
another regards every day alike.
Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.”
Frank Thielman: “Weak” believers among the Roman Christians observed the Sabbath and probably other special days in the Jewish calendar also because of religious conviction. They were convinced this was the right way to honor the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 14:5c–6). Paul is not concerned with the absolute correctness of this position or its opposite, although he would agree with “the strong” that distinguishing between days is unnecessary (cf. 14:14; Gal 4:10; Col 2:16). Rather, he admonishes both weak and strong to be sure that their practice with respect to the calendar is a heartfelt expression of their faith in Christ (νοῒ πληροφορείσθω; cf. Rom 4:21).
- (:6) Act Consistent with Giving Thanks to the Lord
“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.”
Frank Thielman: Paul now explains further the reason why he advocated tolerance on the observance or nonobservance of the Mosaic law in 14:5. As long as each group uses their approach to the Mosaic law to express their trust in the Lord, and does so with full conviction (14:5) and no misgivings (14:22–23), then each group should feel free to continue the pattern of life they have adopted.
Thomas Schreiner: Interestingly, the central concern of Paul’s theology emerges in these verses. The very heart of idolatry is to refrain from glorifying and thanking God (Rom. 1:21). Paul can tolerate diverse practices that do not violate any biblical or moral norm, as long as they are motivated by the glory of God. This same theme emerges in 1 Cor. 10:31 after a long discussion (8:1 – 10:30) on food offered to idols. Whether eating or drinking, one must do so in order to glorify God (cf. Calvin 1960: 294). In Col. 3:17 the same thought is put another way. One must do all things “in the name of Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” “Doing all things in the name of Jesus” means that one does everything for his honor and praise. The text in Colossians indicates that thanksgiving to the Father is one indication that all things are being done in Jesus’s name. The connection to Rom. 14 is illuminating, for here thanksgiving indicates whether the actions practiced are “to the Lord.”
- (:7-9) Act Consistent with Submitting to the Lordship of Christ
a. (:7) Negatively: Don’t Live for Yourself
“For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;”
Grant Osborne: We do not live in a vacuum; everything we do affects others. We need to consider our responsibility to others. We can demand freedom for ourselves, but we must also allow other believers that same freedom. If demonstrating our freedom causes us to act in an uncaring, hurtful way towards other believers, we are not yet free.
b. (:8) Positively: Live for the Lord
“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.”
c. (:9) Foundation for the Lordship of Christ
“For to this end Christ died and lived again,
that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
Frank Thielman: Paul’s point in 14:7–9, then, is that the believer faces every facet of existence in reference to the Lord (τῷ κυρίῳ), from the mundane question of whether to eat meat at a common meal to the momentous question of how to face death. If that is true, then it is possible to live as one who belongs to the Lord (τοῦ κυρίου ἐσμέν) and is under the Lord’s authority (ἵνα καὶ νεκρῶν καὶ ζώντων κυριεύσῃ) in various ways. The critical thing is to observe Jewish customs, or remain free from them, as an expression of devotion to the Lord.
Thomas Schreiner: In all of life and even at the hour of death, the believer’s aim is to please the Lord, to bring praise and honor to his name. Even at death believers resign themselves to God’s will and endeavor to please him in the way they die. This conscious submission to the Lord is based on the lordship of Christ. Both life and death are not under our control but are in the hands of the Lord, who is sovereign over both. As Schlatter (1995: 255) says, “We live ‘to the Lord’ because his judgment determines the course of life and because fulfilling his will is the purpose and goal of our life.” Calvin (1960: 294) makes a similar remark: “It follows from this that He has power over our life and death.” God’s sovereignty over our lives is communicated in verse 8: “Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” Here the genitive κυρίου (Lord) denotes possession. The οὖν (oun, therefore) connects verse 8b with verses 7–8a. The logical relationship is as follows: since believers are under the lordship of Christ whether they live or die (v. 8b), we live to please and honor him in both life and death. In verse 9 the lordship of Christ is established on the basis of the two great events in his life (cf. Acts 2:36; Rom. 1:3–4; Phil. 2:9–11). Christ is the Lord of both the dead and living by virtue of his death and resurrection. We know that he is Lord of life and death because he has conquered death through his resurrection.
C. (:10-12) Live in Light of Ultimate Accountability
- (:10) Accountability before God Is Inevitable
“But you, why do you judge your brother?
Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?
For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
Frank Thielman: Because both weak and strong are believers, every area of their existence, whether life or death, is lived before Christ and so he alone is their judge.
- (:11) Accountability before God Is Universal
“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) Accountability before God Is Personal
“So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
Thomas Schreiner: In the concluding verses (Rom. 14:10–12) Paul draws the implications from the lordship of Christ. Since Christ is Lord and judge, it is unsuitable for believers to judge or despise other believers (v. 10). All believers will stand before God’s judgment seat.