Last Lord’s Day, we dealt with Romans 14:1-13 under the title “The Law of Liberty.” By way of review and clarification, Romans 14 deals with matters of personal conviction and practice, which on their own are not sinful. Paul gave two examples of such convictions and practices.
- The first is the food we eat (Rom. 14:2). God has authorized all foods for our consumption (Mk. 7:19; Rom. 14:14). We all have the liberty to eat less than all foods. Thus, we should not condemn a brother or sister who abstains from certain foods due to their conscience, nor should those who abstains pass judgment on the brother or sister who does not abstain.
- The second was the observance of days (Rom. 14:6). Some, probably, were still observing the Sabbath as custom (not commandment). Others had no such practice and treated every day alike. Both had and still have the right to do so. Lard adds, “Only in keeping their days, they could not be allowed to do anything violative of the law of Christ” (Lard 1875, 416).
The two main points Paul drove home with these Christians (and the lessons for us) was when it comes to matters of personal conviction; we need to remember that one, we all belong to God and will answer to Him (Rom. 14:7-8, 11) and two, we need to respect our brother or sisters’ personal convictions and practice (Rom. 14:12-13) because they stand before God in full fellowship (Rom. 14:3-4). The main reason why we are to do so brings us to the second law of Romans 14, “the law of love.”
Walk in Love
Paul continues this discussion about matters of personal conviction and practice by stating what the Bible taught about food. Saying, “I know and 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” (Rom. 14:14). The Gospel declared all foods to be clean. Part of the liberty we have in Christ is we are free to eat all things, but also, we are free to eat less than all things. Neither is condemned.
Paul now points out that if the stronger brother insists on their liberty to hurt the weaker, it is no longer liberty but a sin. He says, “Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15). Love does not seek its own will to hurt of others. If I am aware of my brother’s convictions, I have an obligation to consider those convictions. To do otherwise is inconsistent with the Gospel.
Now we come to the third major lesson of the chapter. Paul writes, “Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:16-17). Because we all live to God (cf. Rom. 14:7-8), my preferences, opinions, my will, are secondary to the kingdom of God. Paul expresses this point well in1 Corinthians 8:11-13, specifically verse thirteen, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” What is food when the spiritual well-being of my brother or sister is on the line?
Paul now transitions to our fellowship’s goal in the Gospel. It is not to debate endlessly on matters of liberty, conviction, or personal practice (Rom. 14:1). No, the goal of our associating together is to “Pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Rom. 14:19).
The final chunk of the chapter deals with the very real consequences with God about how we handle matters of personal liberty in the Gospel. The irony here is that matters of personal freedom are governed by law. If I pressure my weaker brother or sister to violate their conscience, Paul says that I have destroyed “the work of God” (v.20). And for the person who has violated their conscience, they have committed evil because they have violated their principles. Hence why Paul says that “it is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offend or is made weak” (Rom. 14:21).
The final point is made in Romans 14:22-23, “Do you have faith [conviction]? Have it to yourself before God. Happy [blessed] is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves, but he who doubts is condemned if he eats because he does eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” One writer summed up these verses well when he said,
“God does not want us to violate our conscience even in a matter that is good because that is a manifestation of a lack of faith. We would be doing something that we really do not believe in” (Dunagan, Rom. 14:23).
- Romans 14 is not dealing with necessities, like what God expects of us in our conduct, baptism, worship, faithfulness, etc. Rather it is dealing with “matters that are morally neutral, that is, optional” (Dunagan). It would be a misapplication of the text to apply this to matters of doctrine or matters of morality.
- The strong are expected to tolerate the weak. They did not have to give up their practice so long as it did not cause the weak to stumble. They are instructed to be mindful of the weaker brother.
- While we are commanded not to condemn or belittle each other over doubtful things, that is not a prohibition on studying. The stronger is not to force the issue, but they can point out passages for consideration. The key is because this is about optional matters “there is really no hurry here, whether [the] brother ever eats meat or not in the future will have no effect on his eternal destiny” (Dunagan).
- There is a Biblical expectation to grow in understanding. So, if I am the weak brother, I have a particular conviction on some matter, I need to be open to discussing and studying the matter (Heb. 5:12-14).
The first half of the next chapter deals with the final application of what Paul has been teaching in the fourteenth chapter. And that is another sermon in of itself, but the point is best summarized in Romans 15:1-3, and that is where we will end this morning.
I found a great quote from Doy Moyer that sums up what Romans 14 teaches in practice:
“Defend your convictions with honor. Discuss with respect. Hold yourself to godly standards. Be willing to change when needed. Stand your ground when warranted. Do all with love and to the glory of God.”
Dunagan, Mark. Commentary On Romans. Personal copy obtained in 2017. Available at https://issuu.com/markdunagan/docs
Lard, Moses. Commentary on Romans. Cincinnati, Ohio: The Standard Publishing Company, 1875).