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Romans 14

November 20th, 2011 by Vic

November 20, 2011

Romans 14

“Balancing Liberty with Mutual Respect”

 

In the church in Rome the majority group was the liberal Christians, usually Gentiles and the minority group was the conservative Christians, usually Jews.  According to Paul the weak in faith are the conservative.  The strong in faith are the liberals.  But we are all one family in Christ.

 

Paul expresses his desire that there be no hierarchy for Christians.  He believes the church should be without factions, non-denominational.  The traditional identification markers for the Jews were food and festivals.  Paul talks about these distinctives that were causing problems in the church in Rome.  It was hard for many Jews to accept all food as a gift from God and all days as equally holy.  In Christ every day is a holiday and every meal is a feast.  To live by faith in Christ alone left them feeling awkward, like somehow they were not pleasing God fully.  They felt like they were not doing enough.  Maybe you were raised Pentecostal, and you feel you really need to use your prayer language.  Maybe you were raised a tea-totaler like me.  You would feel awkward drinking beer.  Paul calls us the weak in faith.

 

We need to be careful.  We are like the Christian Jews who had a temptation of looking down their noses at the Christian Gentiles.  To the Jews these law-free Gentile Christians were ignoring the OT.  Paul gives us some guidelines for a healthy church.  We need to limit our liberty with love.  There needs to be respect for one another and sensitivity when traditions come in conflict with less traditional expressions of the gospel.

It seems to me that Paul’s underlying principles for this discussion are in verse 8 and 17.  The 2 paragraphs in this chapter can be summarized by these 2 principles: we are servants of God and our lives are not fulfilled by externals.

 

14:1-12  “We are the Lord’s”  (8)

1. Who has a weak faith?  In 2 Cor 4 Paul says God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.  That is encouraging.  Weakness is not a fatal flaw.  The weakness here is in faith.  To be weak in faith is to fail to trust God completely.  Maybe I trust some food or festival ritual more than God’s promise.  Maybe I trust church attendance or my performance more than God’s promise.  I like worshiping on Sunday.  I think we should have Christmas on December 25th.  Paul calls my faith weak.

 

Those who consider themselves strong in faith are to accept the weak.  You are not to accept them so you can change them to think like you think.  You don’t accept them so you can force them to act like you.  The majority opinion should not try to change the minority, but love and accept them where they are on their spiritual journey as a Christian brother or sister.  This is the mistake I made while teaching spiritual gift classes.  I wanted everyone to see Paul’s teaching as I understood it.  We do not have to resolve divergent views.

 

A healthy church should be able to sustain a diversity of opinion and lifestyle.  A healthy church will have weak and strong, mature and immature.

 

2. In Romans 12:3, Paul said when we became a Christian we received a measure of faith from God.  God knew just what we needed.  Hebrews 12:2 tells us we are to fix our eyes on Jesus.  He is the Perfector of our faith.  We were not given complete faith in God.  We grow from faith to faith.

 

Notice that the one eating vegetables has a weak faith regarding food.  This is not a criticism of vegetarians.  This is about those who avoid eating meat because it was not prepared properly, or it is the wrong kind of meat, or they suspect the meat was dedicated to idols.  These people were being very careful not to defile themselves.  Paul says the one who trusts God regarding food can eat everything.  They can eat the meat dedicated to idols and sold by the temple priests.  It was usually the best meat in town.

 

Some Christian Jews living in Rome did not feel right eating this meat.  They paid extra for kosher food and wine.  They wanted to please God and keep all His commands.  But if they insisted on proper slaughter techniques, they may draw the attention of Government spies to themselves.  It was easier to just eat vegetables.

 

3. I think Paul is building toward his summary statement in vs. 8, “we are the Lord’s”.  Respect one another.  If meat is just meat to you, don’t hold in contempt a fellow Christian who can’t eat.  Don’t talk him into eating what you are eating.  It may go against his conscience and be sin to him.

 

If on the other hand God has directed you to limit your diet, don’t condemn your fellow Christian who eats all food.  Accept one another because God has accepted both of you.  God accepts people and practices that are not like yours.  We all belong to God.

 

The liberal is in danger of despising the conservative/traditionalist and the conservative is in danger of condemning the liberal.  The one who considers himself more liberated may too quickly despise the conservative.  The traditionalist feels the liberal has abandoned too many important rituals.

 

One solution to the problem would be to start a conservative church and a liberal church.  Paul does not give that option.  He thinks we can all get along in Christ and we will be better for it.

 

4. It is not proper for me to judge someone else’s servant.  We are both servants of God.  As servants we are answerable only to our Master.  I have no right to meddle in someone else’s affairs.  The Master’s approval or disapproval is what counts.  My judgment concerning these externals is irrelevant to your relationship with God.

 

The issue is solely about what is acceptable behavior between you and the Master and between me and the Master.

 

5. I believe that everyday is a holy day and every meal is a feast.  Others say that if you make every day special then no day is special.  Each of us should have a settled conviction.

 

Notice that Paul does not expect differences of opinion to be voted on and made a church policy.  Paul did not set up a democratic organization to settle the differences and write a church Membership Manual.  It is our differences that make us one in Christ.  We are not one because we agree on everything.  We are one because we are connected to the Head.  Our unity is in worship.

 

6. As a Christian, what you do or how you practice your Christianity is determined by your relationship with the Lord and not by me or the letter of the law.  It is your understanding of the law of love that guides your practice.  You have liberty under the Lordship of Christ as you continue to abide in Him.  Fasting and feasting can both honor the Lord.  Attendance and absence can both honor the Lord.  Abstinence and moderation can both honor the Lord.

 

If you celebrate Christmas December 25th give God thanks.  If you celebrate January 6th give God thanks.  A lack of conviction and failure to give thanks is a weak faith that is not trusting God completely.  The one who eats Kosher only must give thanks.  The one who eats whatever is set before him also must give thanks.

 

There must be an attitude of thankful dependence on God and a mutual respect for how we choose to honor God.

 

7. No Christian is a law unto himself; neither is he a law unto someone else.  The life of each person is interconnected with the other.  My life is not just about me.  My convictions cannot be used as a yardstick to judge another.  I have received my own measure of faith to build you up.

 

8. This verse summarizes the first half of this chapter.  It does not say we should give ourselves to the Lord.  Nor does it say that we are the Lord’s on Sunday.  It does not say we can negotiate our relationship to God.  As a Christian I am the Lord’s and you are the Lord’s whether we like it or not.  We belong to Him and He cares for us.

 

We do not belong to the law.  We are not slaves of each other’s expectations.  We belong to the Lord.  He is in control of our life and death.  The food and festival issues are really insignificant in comparison to our identity in Christ.  I belong to the Lord and you belong to the Lord.  If we know God and who we are in Christ, then loving one another is a lot easier.

 

9. Christ came, lived, died, and lived again that He might be our Lord.  I can’t claim freedom for myself without considering your freedom in Christ.  I can’t judge your conviction and conduct because I am not your Lord or Master.

 

10-12. The conclusion is clear.  We cannot judge a brother in Christ.  No majority or minority group has a right to pass judgment on the other.  There is no hierarchy before the throne of God.  It’s level ground.  We are who we are in God’s eyes.  He designed it that way.

 

When differences of opinion come up concerning deeply held traditions, feelings can burst into anger, frustration, and resentment.  If the Bible says nothing about our organ and piano or our flags, or our hymnals, or our furniture we must respect differences.

 

Each of us will give an open account of ourselves to God.  I do not give an account for you.  I do not give an account for my group.  During this life we are all interconnected and part of the family of God.  At the judgment we stand alone with Jesus as our Advocate.

 

14:13-23 “We belong to the kingdom of God”  (17)

Paul uses the word “kingdom” 14 times in his letters.  It appears over 100 times in the gospels.  A preacher traveling through the Roman Empire speaking about another kingdom would have to carefully define what he meant.

 

13. We have a freedom in Christ that we will never fully understand.  Don’t judge one another but be sensitive how your freedom affects one another.  You are not a slave of their expectations, but you are to build them up.  Avoid putting a stumbling block in their highway to heaven.  Judge only your attitude and give respect and thanks for your brother.

 

14. Paul emphasizes his conviction that nothing is unclean in itself.  Food is clean or unclean because of the meaning we attach to it.  A day is holy or common because of the meaning we attach to it.  Why don’t we celebrate ‘un-birthdays’ rather than birthdays?

 

The boundaries between clean food and unclean food, Jew and Gentile, sacred and profane have been done away in Christ.  But for some these distinctions are still operable and important.  Paul does not try to argue his conviction and try to change the conscience of another.

 

Note again that Paul is not telling us to abolish the food laws, but be sensitive in your liberty and appreciate diverse viewpoints.  Rather than starting a new church, just respect and give thanks for one another.

 

15-16. Let your conduct be determined by love.  Jesus did not die for your traditions.  If Christ was willing to give His life for your sin, can’t you give up eating meat so your brother won’t feel pressure to eat meat and defile his conscience?  Be sensitive to the conservative minority.

 

The word for ‘deeply upset’ or ‘hurt’ is used for soldiers harassing or annoying an army.  Paul is talking about a wounding that destroys the brother’s faith.  Do we try to harass other Christians into our image?  Do we feel better when others agree with us?  I have a friend in NZ who helped me see the stupidity of some of my cherished traditions.

 

Correct theology immediately becomes incorrect theology when it violates love.  Don’t value food laws or festivals more than your life in Christ (He died for you).  Insensitive conduct will hurt the church and the witness of the church.

 

17-18. The kingdom of God is not of this world.  It is not in competition with the Roman Empire.  The kingdom of God is the unseen presence of the Spirit.  The kingdom of God is not built up or benefited by armies, land, eating or festivals, but as we love one another.  One way we love one another is to respect our differences.  When we assert our rights we often trample on the rights of others.

 

Righteousness, peace and joy are relational words.  Paul does not tell us to settle our differences, nor does he give us a systematic theology and a church manual.  He just says as we live righteous lives being peacemakers with the joy of the Lord we will be pleasing to God and approved by men.

 

Being acceptable to God is more than eating and drinking the right stuff, in the right place, at the right time.  Being acceptable to God is more about a love relationship than a proper ritual.  Our relationship with God must be righteous.  Our relationship with man should be peace and harmony as we give thanks and praise God together.  For us the joy of the Lord will be our strength.

 

19. The attitudes and activities that please God are the ones that build up one another rather than self.  Peace and harmony are more important than pie and ice cream, church manuals, and theology classes.

 

To be a responsible member of the body of Christ I must work for peace and strive to build up the body.  We are mutually dependent on God’s grace and mutually interdependent in our relationships with one another.  The strong are more dependent on the weak than they might realize.  Our faith will grow as we trust God’s working in the lives of each other.

 

I may do something really stupid.  Paul says God may use you to correct me, but you will need to examine your motives for correcting me.  Are you living in harmony with God’s will and ways today?  Do you just want to make me see things like you do or is it to edify the whole body?

 

20-21. Absolute rules are dangerous to human relationships.  What applies to eating meat and drinking wine applies to anything which causes a fellow believer to stumble in the Way.  Self-restricted liberty will help a brother weaker in faith.

 

22. The faith you have does not need to be written in a manual.  The reliance and trust you have on God will be different than mine.  Your faith is not the standard for everyone else.

 

It is not any law or 10 step program that gets you into God’s presence, but your faith is counted for righteousness.  Your faith establishes your relationship with God.

 

When I find out my beliefs have become a stumbling block to some else, I should grieve.

 

23. Any action that does not express my dependence and trust on God is a lack of faith.  If I feel God does not want me to drink wine, then it is a sin for me to drink wine.  If I feel it does not please God to read fortune cookies I will not read fortune cookies.

 

My faith is not the norm for you.  Neither are your laws binding on me.  We often try to make others in our image, but faith has to do with the image of Christ.  My freedom of faith in Christ will rejoice with your freedom of faith in Christ.  We can have different opinions and both be fully acceptable to God.  By faith He reckons us righteous.

 

The liberal majority should not ride roughshod over the conscientious conduct of the minority.

 

It is not always easy to maintain a balance between faith, liberty and love.   Everything which is not of faith is sin.

 

There is a freedom in Christ that is much greater than our understanding.  Real freedom for any creature is living as we were designed to live, using the grace we were given, to build up the body of Christ and the kingdom of God.

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One Response to “Romans 14”

  1. Joyce Faler says:

    Thank you for your timely post! We are going through Romans 14 now – I’m leading the class – & frankly I left the class last Sunday with a headache. Should I at least feel good that half the class were nodding in agreement & half were shaking their heads in disagreement? A real life example of a mix of strong & weak – at least we have diversity!
    Love in Christ,
    -Joyce

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