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Romans 14 (web)

Disputable Matters

Do Not Judge Others in Disputable Matters

14:1 Now receive one who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions.

14:2 One man has faith to eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.
14:3 Don't let him who eats despise him who doesn't eat.
Don't let him who doesn't eat judge him who eats, for God has received him.

14:4 Who are you who judge another's servant? To his own lord he stands or falls.
Yes, he will be made to stand, for God has power to make him stand.

14:5 One man esteems one day as more important. Another esteems every day alike.
Let each man be fully assured in his own mind.

14:6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;
and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.
He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks.
He who doesn't eat, to the Lord he doesn't eat, and gives God thanks.

14:7 For none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself.
14:8 For if we live, we live to the Lord. Or if we die, we die to the Lord.
If therefore we live or die, we are the Lord's.
14:9 For to this end Christ died, rose, and lived again,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother?
Or you again, why do you despise your brother?
For we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
14:11 For it is written,
"'As I live,' says the Lord, 'to me every knee will bow.
Every tongue will confess to God.'" (Is 45:23)
14:12 So then each one of us will give account of himself to God.

14:13 Therefore let's not judge one another any more

Tolerate the Convictions of Others in Disputable Matters

but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother's way, or an occasion for falling.
14:14 I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself;
except that to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

14:15 Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love.
Don't destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
14:16 Then don't let your good be slandered,

14:17 for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking,
but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

14:18 For he who serves Christ in these things
is acceptable to God and approved by men.

14:19 So then, let us follow after things which make for peace,
and things by which we may build one another up.
14:20 Don't overthrow God's work for food's sake.

All things indeed are clean, however it is evil for that man who creates a stumbling block by eating.
14:21 It is good to not eat meat, drink wine,
nor do anything by which your brother stumbles, is offended, or is made weak.

14:22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God.
Happy is he who doesn't judge himself in that which he approves.

14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because it isn't of faith;
and whatever is not of faith is sin.

Discussion Questions

  • What determines whether a matter is disputable?
  • Consider a disputable matter that you know some struggle over. In what ways is it similar to the situation Paul was dealing with concerning whether to eat meat or not?
  • What about going to church on Sunday?

  • Or considering Sunday a "Holy day"? Is that disputable?
  • Paul says that we should keep disputable matters between ourselves and God, but what if others demand that we live contrary to our convictions?
  • How can we "not allow what we consider good to be spoken of as evil" if we are silent?
  • How might this discourage us from meddling in other people's business?
  • Should we try to "enlighten" people who seem to us held captive to their own convictions concerning disputable matters?
  • What if they or you are not "fully convinced in your own mind" concerning a disputable matter?
  • Is it sinful if we act contrary to our conscience, even if that action is not contrary to someone else's conscience? If we always do what we "feel" is right, does that mean that it always is right? How is this related to faith?

  • Comments

    Tolerate the Scruples of Others

    Rom 14:1-3 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

    By "weak faith" he is not talking about saving faith, but rather matters of scruples. The pagans would sacrifice animals to their gods and sell the meat on the open market. Some Christians were so disturbed at the idea of unintentionally eating meats sacrificed to idols that they gave up eating meat altogether. Other Christians viewed themselves as having freedom to eat such meats, for "The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it." 1Cor 10:26

    Paul elaborates on this issue in 1Cor 8 saying, "Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ." 1Cor 8:7-12

    However notice the conflicted between these two passages. For in 1Cor 8 he advises the Christians to conform to those of the weakest conscience in the matter, while here in Rom 14 he is not advising a certain behavior but rather an attitude, namely that whether weak or strong one should not judge other Christians in matters of which the Lord has given us freedom. Furthermore in applying the 1Cor 8 passage, how would you know if you're offending a weaker brother if the weaker brother is not allowed to speak of his scruples in the matter? Consequently I would not categories a person sharing his convictions in such matters as the same as judging those who don't hold his convictions.

    Perhaps some of these paradoxical verses may be resolved in 1Cor 10 where Paul speaks of keeping one's scruples a private matter if one has knowledge that one's behavior is offensive to others in such matters as the Lord has allowed freedom, so as to not intentionally offend the conscience of another. That being the case, a degree of privacy is necessary in the Christian life for the sake of unity of the whole.

    Sabbath Optional

    Rom 14:4-6 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

    Just as with regards to food, it's a matter of personal preference regarding one day as more holy than another. If one regards all days alike, that's fine as well. The obvious implication is that the Sabbath law does not apply to Christians. In fact few Christians view the Sabbath as holy, being the seventh day of the week, namely Friday evening till Saturday evening according to the Law and the gospels, even though many Christian in fact rest on the Sabbath, ceasing from their labors. In its place most Christians view the first day of the week, which is the Lord's day, as holy in commemoration of the Lord's resurrection from the dead on the morning of the first day of the week, and so have agreed to assemble together on that day. Let not the one who reckons Saturday holy judge him who reckons Sunday holy. And let neither judge him who regards all days equally.

    And "do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." Col 2:16,17 Much as those who reckon themselves institutionally elite, as did the chief priests, Pharisees and elders who had Christ crucified, tend to obsess over matters of ceremony, for such is the only way they can parade their personal significance, yet debates over such issues are not much more than a matter of shadow boxing. In fact it was over ceremonial legalism which upset Paul so much in his letter to the Galatians, even to the extent of having to rebuke the apostle Peter, who himself the Lord had tried to instruct on the insignificance of ceremony in Acts chapter 10.

    Live to the LORD

    Rom 14:7-9 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

    To become a Christian a person pledges allegiance to Jesus as Lord. (Rom 10:9) And not in vain. For Jesus said, "Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?" Luke 6:46 For "he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2Cor 5:15 The Christian therefore takes on an attitude of servitude, being subordinate to his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, who defines his purpose in life. The flip side of this is that we are the Lord's possessions and as such await glory in serving Him, having a much more significant role than others in the world, and can have a profound impact in the securing the eternal destiny of the lost through the ministry of the gospel the Lord has imparted to us, being also gifted along these lines as the Holy Spirit has granted according to His will.

    Paul writes, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." Php 1:20 Our fruitfulness is not a function of circumstances, but rather a function of abiding in Christ.

    Each Accountable to God

    Rom 14:10-12  You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: "’As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’" (Is 45:23) So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

    In 1Cor 5 Paul commands we judge fellow Christians, "I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'" 1Cor 5:11-13 But when he speaks of judging one's brother here in Romans 14 he is not talking about the indisputable issues as he as talking about in 1Cor 5, things like sexually immorality, greed, slander, and drunkenness. But rather here in Romans 14 he's referring to disputable matters - ceremonial matters, "holy days", what you eat, and the like.

    More generally what is implied here is that the Lord has called us to a diversity of ministries the particulars of which are often a matter of personal preference in accordance with the freedom and giftedness the Lord has granted each one of us. In contrast are many an immature Christian who judges other Christians on the basis that these others aren't doing the same ministry as they are, or aren't doing it in the same way as they do it.

    Whatever our giftedness or ministry calling "we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." 2Cor 5:9,10

    Don't Judge Scruples

    Rom 14:13,14 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.

    Again he's referring to judging with regards to disputable matters. Matters of which we have freedom in the Lord. But as he said in 1Cor 10 concerning disputable matters, "Everything is permissible— but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible— but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others." 1Cor 10:23,24 While there are many options in the Christian life, we need to avoid cause others from stumbling over issues of which we ourselves may have a clear conscience.

    "Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ." 1Cor 8:8-12

    However one of the difficulties is when one's convictions concerning ceremonial matters becomes a matter of legalism, as was the case with the cult of the circumcision, which Paul had to deal with. And what of Peter who was reluctant to obey the Lord's command to kill and eat animals which were unlawful under the Law of Moses and said to the Lord,  "Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." Acts 10:14 What of his conscience? Seems that matter of conscience themselves take second place the work of the ministry. Yet even in this case it seems the Lord led Peter away from ministry to the Gentiles and gave it to the apostle Paul instead, as Peter also agreed. Beware, scruples can limit your usefulness.

    The Kingdom Not a Matter of Ceremony

    Rom 14:15-18 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

    By "destroy" he's speaking hyperbolically. More literally what happens Paul describes in 1Cor 8. "When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall." 1Cor 8:9-13 Consider how your lifestyle may provoke other Christians to sin.

    This is not talking about a brother being distressed because he thinks you'll lose your salvation over some ceremonial matter. Paul had no sympathy for the legalists who demanded that righteousness was a matter of eating, drinking, observing holy days and the like. But rather there are those who reckon some things sin for themselves, of which the Lord has not said to be sinful of itself. Yet again this is challenging with respect to the Lord's command to Peter to "kill and eat" that which Peter reckoned unclean. To what degree should we conform to the scruples of those with the most sensitive conscience and when should we put our foot down and tell them to get over scruples which are merely a matter of eating and drinking.

    If the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, then why should one be concerned about what one eats or drinks? To the Galatians Paul writes, "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God— or rather are known by God— how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you." Gal 4:8-12a So here Paul is instructing them to give up their obsession over ceremonial matter and conform to his attitude with regards to such things, and likewise with regards to the Colossians as I mentioned previously (Col 2:16-17

    So while we need to be polite to those with scruples different than ours, be aware that the type of legalism Paul spoke of in Galatians and Colossians may also be disguised as scruples. And much as there are some ceremonies associated with the Kingdom of God, namely water baptism and communion, yet again the ceremonies themselves are not essential to the Kingdom of God, but are merely shadows. Sacramental theology as found in Catholicism and various Protestant sects makes the Kingdom of God a matter of ceremony and as such is much like the modern version of the legalistic heresies which Paul had to deal with. Ask yourself whether your particular religious affiliation makes the Kingdom of God out to be a matter of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, or a matter of ceremony.

    Peace and Mutual Edification

    Rom 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

    Paul writes, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Eph 4:3 and goes on to speak of spiritual gifts which EVERYONE INDIVIDUALLY needs to exercise to the mutual benefit of the Christian community. "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Eph 4:15,16 So the effort to be made by each is the exercise of their spiritual gifts in cooperation with the body as a whole. And "try to excel in gifts that build up the church." 1Cor 14:12

    Likewise with regards to those outside the Church, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." Heb 12:14 Live in peace without compromising your holiness. "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." Rom 12:18

    But the main application from this chapter is to not unnecessarily offend others.

    Walk Confidently

    Rom 14:20-23  Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

    "keep between yourself and God." In saying this, Paul discourages meddling and encourages a certain amount of privacy in a believer's devotion to God. Spiritual leaders should not be micro-managers.

    Whatever we do, God wants us to do it confidently, free from doubts. Our faith should be a confident faith. "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first." Heb 3:14 We should be confident in prayer. "In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence." Eph 3:12 Consequently "if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything ." Jam 1:5-8 We should be confident of God's provision. So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" Heb 13:6 And consequently we should have confidence that God will make us competent in ministry. "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." 2Cor 3:4,5 Confidence also communicates your convictions. "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded." Heb 10:35

    The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

    Jan 28,2022