The Way - Day 121 (Romans 14)

Daily Reading:
Romans 14
Don't forget to journal in your Foundations Book!
Daily Reading Audio Commentary:
Today's Question or Action Step:
What are some tangible expressions of God's love you might practice this week toward your government officials- even those with whom you might disagree? Toward your employer? Towards your neighbors?
Weekly Memory Verse(s):
OPTION 1: Psalm 42:1-2
OPTION 2: Proverbs 17:27-28
OPTION 3: Matthew 6:3-4
Further Study Resources:
Study Guide for Romans 14 (Enduring Word - David Guzik)
Pastor Tom's Journal on Today's Reading:
Romans 14:1-13a
Condemnation (1:18-3:20), justification (3:21-5:21), sanctification (6:1-8:39), and the story of Israel (9:1-11:36) are the issues which have, so far, comprised Paul's letter to the Roman Christians. Each of these issues was meant to bring a fuller understanding of the salvation they had received through repentance and faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as payment for their sin (Romans 10:9-10). At the moment of faith, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer and begins the process of sanctification, which is resisting sin and following God's ways. Although works play no part in justification (being declared righteous), good works are a natural result of receiving the righteousness of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8-10). In Romans 12, Paul began unveiling the character of those who have been freed from the penalty of sin (8:1-2) and made alive in Christ (8:11). Before we briefly review the changes which take place, we must realize that it is the Holy Spirit who uses the word of God to bring new attitudes and actions. Consistent time spent reading God's word will allow the Spirit to change us (12:1-2).

So what changes will take place in our lives? Paul has already stated that we will serve God with our spiritual gifts (12:3-8), have right behavior (12:9-21), submit to government authority (13:1-7), love others (13:8-10), and resist the flesh while submitting to God (13:11-14). Now, in Romans 14 Paul provides another area of change - finding unity even though we are different. The church of Paul's day was filled with Jews and Gentiles and they were very distinct in their traditions; in fact, they had very little in common. This sometimes caused division within the church because people from different backgrounds were being brought together through faith in Jesus Christ. Two diverse groups under one roof equals possible chaos. However, Paul reminded his readers that the church did not have to be divided and unity was attainable. But how could unity be tangible? Paul provides several governing principles to be applied.

The situation is this - mature Jewish believers viewed themselves as free from obeying the ceremonial points of the law (eating regulations, observance of certain days, etc.), which may have been offensive to a new (weaker, immature) Jewish believers. The more mature Jewish believers knew that the ceremonial law could not bring God's favor; however, the weaker Jewish believers felt that they should still respect the ceremonial laws and were offended when those who were more mature did not follow it. This caused some controversy. The other situation is related to Gentile believers in the church. Since Gentiles came from a pagan system of beliefs and values, many of them had been involved in idol worship and offering meats to false gods as a form of worship. So, when they came to faith in Jesus Christ they were offended when more mature Gentile believers would eat meat which they purchased in the market even though it had been previously offered to idols. In both situations, Jews and Gentiles, the conflict was concerning the weak conscience of the immature believer. In anticipation that the weaker believers may not understand, Paul wrote these principles to guide those who were more mature in their faith.

First of all, Paul commands the mature believers to "receive [accept] one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things" (14:1). Those who were mature were not to cast judgment on those with a weaker conscience, but rather each should have respect for the other because God has accepted them both (14:2-3). John MacArthur gives insight into Romans 14:3, "The strong hold the weak in contempt as legalistic and self-righteous; the weak judge the strong to be irresponsible at best and perhaps depraved" (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1720). This should not be. Paul writes that each person, whether strong or weak, should be guided by their own conscience (14:5) and be thankful to God for their choice in matters of conscience (14:6). Rather than spending their energy standing in judgment of others, they should recognize God as the final verdict on matters of freedom (14:7-13a). Again, Paul is not referring to issues which are clearly defined in Scripture (hatred, gossip, stealing, lying, rebellion, etc.), but issues which Scripture does NOT clearly define.

Every believer needs to personally learn how to have respect for those who come from distinct backgrounds and traditions. Our focus should be on those things which bring us together, not on issues which make us different.

Romans 14:13b-23
The first eleven chapters of Romans helped Paul's readers develop a better understanding of their salvation in Jesus Christ. Although they were sinners (1:18-3:20), Jesus Christ took the penalty of sin upon Himself and all those who would accept His payment (for sin) in place of their own death would be made righteous before God (3:31-5:21). The moment they were made righteous, the Holy Spirit enters in and begins the process of changing their attitudes and actions (6:1-8:39). No longer should their deeds be selfish and evil, but instead God would empower them to do good works. These changes would not automatically take place, but as a person submits to God's word he starts to see his life transformed.
Beginning in Romans 12 Paul provides insight into these changes - serve God with our spiritual gifts (12:3-8), have right behavior (12:9-21), submit to government authority (13:1-7), love others (13:8-10), and resist the flesh while submitting to God (13:11-14). Again, these things do not happen by chance, but as a person gives control to the Holy Spirit in daily living (Ephesians 5:8-21). In Romans 14 Paul began revealing another big area of change - unity. Believers would no longer be divided by their traditions and backgrounds, but they would learn to lovingly accept one another. Although Jews and Gentiles alike were receiving salvation and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, they were having a hard time letting go of some of their past experiences. Less mature Jewish believers were looking down on more mature Jewish believers who no longer participated in some of the rituals of the ceremonial law. On the other hand, the more mature Jewish believers were intolerant of those Jews with a weaker conscience. The Gentiles were also guilty of not respecting each other. Gentiles with a weaker conscience were judging other Gentiles who chose to eat meat which had been offered to idols and sold in the market. The more mature Gentile believers knew that the idols were worthless so they did not see a problem with eating this meat and felt as if the less mature Gentile believers were being judgmental. In both cases, Paul wanted the Jews and Gentiles to develop a healthy respect for one another because the things over which they were disputing had no bearing on their salvation. In essence, Paul was promoting a unity amongst diversity.

However, in the last part of Romans 14 Paul gave special instructions concerning their behavior in matters of preference. Paul writes,

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil..." (14:13b-16).

Although Paul acknowledged that there are some issues which are non-essentials, he also advocated having respect for differing viewpoints. The more mature believer should not flaunt his liberty in the presence of a less mature believer for fear that he may hinder his spiritual growth. Even though a believer is free in Christ, he must be conscious of how his choices affect those around him. As a side note, Paul is not granting permission to engage in those things God clearly labels as sin, but he is granting freedom to choose in those matters which may be unclear.

Instead of dwelling on those things which make believers different (Paul is not speaking about doctrinal issues), they should rather pursue "the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another" (14:17-19). It is important that Christians not be involved in arguing about things which destroy God's work (14:20).

Paul closes out his teaching on this subject regarding unity in diversity by giving a guiding principle to his readers, "It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.... Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin" (14:21-23). Mature believers should respect those who may be offended at their freedoms. Less mature believers should not judge others, but they also must not train themselves to violate their conscience. Paul's teaching in Romans 14 is an important one. Believers should practice love and acceptance with one another even when there is a differing opinion. The point is not in always being right, but always being righteous.

Dear God, give me a respect for those who may be shaped by different backgrounds and experiences. Teach me to accept and love them.