ROMANS STUDY – SESSION 21

Romans 14:1 ­– 15:13

 

In Romans 14 and first part of Romans 15 are three basic principles concerning how Christians should relate to each.  The section of material can be outlined as follows:

·         14:1-12 – Christians are to accept one another

·         14:13-23 – Christians are to build up one another 

·         15:1-13 – Christians are to be unselfish toward one another

     

Christians are to Accept One Another (Romans 14:1-12)

The basic principle set forth this paragraph is that Christians are to accept (meaning to receive, welcome, not be judgmental toward) those who differ from them.  This entire section of Romans begins and ends with this principle.

·         Romans 14:1 ‑ "Now accept the one who is weak in faith..."

·         Romans 15:7 ‑ "Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.."

Why should we do that?  Why should we accept/not be judgmental toward those with whom we disagree?  The basic reason set forth in this paragraph is that we are not to be judgmental of others because it is God’s place and God’s alone to judge. That's the basic principle that permeates this paragraph.  It is in--

·         Verse 1 - "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions..." In the NASB the words "but" and "the purpose of" are in italics.  That means they are not in the actual Greek text.  Instead, they are implied by the context.  Literally this verse says, "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, not for passing judgment on his opinions..."

·         Verse 4 - "Who are you to judge the servant of another?"

·         Verse 10 - "But who are you to judge your brother?  Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?"

 

Paul was so concerned with this issue because in the church at Rome there were two distinct groups, parties, or camps that were passing judgment on each other.  Throughout this section two distinct groups – one described as "weak in faith" (Romans 14:1) and other described as "strong” in faith (Romans 15:1).  Paul identifies three sharp differences of opinion held by these groups.

·         Differences over food – Verse 2 – “One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.”  Probably the issue at question had to do with meat that had been sacrificed to the pagan gods.

·         Differences over special days – Verse 5 – “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.”  Probably the issue at question had to do with certain Jewish holidays.

·         Differences over drink – Verse 21 – “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.”

                          

The fact that Christians in the church in Rome differed over those issue was not the real problem.  The real problem was how they were expressing their differences.  Verse 3 - "Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does  not eat judge him who eats..." 

·         Those Paul calls "weak in the faith" were characterized by legalistic tendencies.  They felt they had to do certain things for God to accept them.  Many people think those Christians who follow the strictest rules are the most mature, but this passage reminds us that isn't necessarily so.  In Romans, those who were the most legalistic are des­cribed as the weaker Christians.  One of the negative tendencies of legalism is to be harsh toward those with whom they do not agree. 

·         Those Paul describes as "strong” in the faith were characterized by an understanding of the spiritual liberty they had received in Christ.  But their tendency was to look down on those who didn't really grasp that liberty.

Paul points out that both groups are wrong in their attitude toward the other.  As one writer put it,  "One flouts; the other flaunts‑‑both are wrong!" (MacGorman)  And the reason they are wrong is the statement at end v.3 - "...for God has accepted him..." Who are we to judge and to exclude from our circle of fellowship those whom God has accepted?

 

There are two points of application that should be made from these verses:

1.      We should not be surprised or disturbed when honest differences of opinions arise between committed Christians.  Sometimes our conflicts arise over cultural differences, sometimes over matters of taste or preferences, and sometimes over genuine theological differences.

2.      We should remember that each one of us is accountable to God for our beliefs and actions.  That is the heart of what is being said in this part of Romans.  Verse 10 reminds us "For we shall all stand before the judgment of God" and v.12 says, "So then each one of us shall give account of himself (not someone else, but ourselves!) to God."

 

Warren Wiersbe in the book Be Right tells of the broken relationship that developed between two of the most  effective, powerful preachers of the Gospel in England  during the Victorian Era ‑‑ Charles Spurgeon and Joseph  Parker.  Early in their ministries those two men were close friends.  They often fellowshipped together and they even exchanged pulpits on several occasions.  But had they had a disagreement and rift began develop between them. Spurgeon accused Parker of being unspiritual because he liked to go to the theater.  Parker pointed out that Spurgeon had the nasty habit of being a chain smoker of cigars.  Tragically, the two men never resolved their differences. The principle set forth in this passage of accepting each other and not being judgmental one toward the other can help us avoid making a similar mistake.  The famous statement of Augustine sums up well what the Bible is saying in Romans 14:1-12. "IN ESSENTIALS, UNITY; IN NONESSENTIALS, LIBERTY; IN ALL THINGS, CHARITY."

 

Christians are to Build up One Another (Romans 14:13-23)

William Barclay writes:  "One of the highest human duties is the duty of encouragement...It is easy to pour cold water on [a person's] enthusiasm; it is easy to discourage others.  The world is full of discouragers.  We have a Christian duty to encourage one another.  Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a [person] on his feet.”  The Apostle Paul would certainly have agreed with that sentiment.  In this passage Paul speaks of the importance of Christians building up or encouraging one another.  Verse 19 actually summarizes the thought of this paragraph. "So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”  This paragraph gives us several concrete instructions about what we can do to build up or encourage others.

1.      To build up others we must be sensitive to how our actions may influence them.  Twice in this passage we are warned against being a bad influence or stumbling block to others. 

Verse 13 ‑ "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this‑‑not to put an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother's way." Verse 21 ‑ "It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything be which your brother stumbles."

The basic principle is we're not to do anything deliberately, even if action itself is not wrong, that may cause another, weaker Christian to stumble.  We should be sensitive to others, and we should be gracious and considerate in all that we do. 

 

That does not mean that we must be controlled by conscience of others.  Jesus didn't allow the overly strict, legalistic religionists of His day control His actions.  He did some things they found offensive.  For example, Jesus did not keep their petty laws about observing the Sabbath.  He associated with some people they found repulsive, going to the homes of people such as Zacheaus, a hated tax collector.  While we do not have to be controlled by the sensitivities of others, we should  take into account how our actions may influence others and attempt avoid doing anything that would  become a hindrance or stumbling block to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Christians should certainly be concerned about how their actions, attitudes, words will influence those around them. 

 

2.   To build-up others we must focus on essential things and not get bogged down in trivial things - It is imperative as we go through life that we learn to keep everything in  proper perspective and refuse to allow things that  are relatively trivial and unimportant in the larger scheme of life to dominate us.  Verse 17 is a stinging criticism directed at both the legalists and the libertarians in the church at Rome.  "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."  In effect Paul is saying, “It's silly to argue over what to eat or not to eat or what to drink or not to drink.  That's not the essence of the Christian life.  We should be focusing on much more important things such as righteousness and peace and joy.” As one writer put it: "[It's] not the externals, but  the eternals [which] must be first in our lives..."

 

We can discourage and even destroy people by attempting to force on them our point of view on every little issue.  Within the body of Christ we must learn to allow each other the freedom to live by his/her own convictions and consciences.  That's the thrust of what Paul says in verse 22 - "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.  Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves."  That does not mean there aren’t some basic, fundamental theologi­cal truths that we hold in common.  But it does mean that we must not insist on uniformity of thought among God's people.  And that is especially true in relation to issues that are relatively trivial in larger scheme of things.  We can build up others by refusing to major on minor things.

 

Christians are to be Unselfish Toward One Another (Romans 15:1-13)

Most of us, from time of our earliest days, have been taught that selfishness is bad and unselfishness is good.  However, we are rarely taught specifically what it means to live unselfishly.  These verses give us a glimpse of what it means to live unselfishly. 

 

1.      Being unselfish involves being considerate of other  people - The first thing says in paragraph is "Now we who  are strong ought bear the weaknesses of those without  strength..."  As I pointed out earlier, by using the words "strong" and "weak" Paul is referring to the two groups of people at odds with each other in the church at Rome.  The weak group was more legalistic in their approach to Christian living and the strong group was more libertarians.  Paul obviously identifies himself with the strong group, so he writes from that perspective.  The strong Christians in Rome should be considerate of the weaker Christians.  That is, they shouldn't deliberately do things to make the weak Christians weaker.  Instead, Paul tells them "to bear the weaknesses of those without strength..."  The word translated "bear" is an interesting word.  It can mean one of several things.

a.       It can “to carry.”  This word is used that way in John 19 where Scripture says Jesus went to the place of crucifixion "bearing" His own cross.  Perhaps Paul is saying, "Just as Jesus took upon Himself a cross He did not deserve, out of consideration for others, take upon yourself their weaknesses and burdens." 

b.      It can mean simply to  "endure" or "put up with."  If Paul is using the word in that sense he would be saying, "Out of consideration for one another, put up with those you feel are weaker...don't push them away...don't distance them from you or your circle of fellowship...bear with them...put up with them"...

            However interpret word, clear that unselfishness demands that relate to others with spirit of consideration...

 

2.      Being unselfish involves putting others before ourselves - Twice in these verses we are warned against living for ourselves.  Verse 1 reminds us that we should have a greater goal in life than “…just please ourselves.”  Verse 2 explains what that goal should be – “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” 

 

This paragraph makes it clear that Jesus is the ultimate model for unselfish living.  The example for us to follow in unselfishness is the example of Christ.  Paul points out in verse 3, “For even Christ did not please Himself…” 

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