Romans 14

Romans 14  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 7
CHAPTER 14 IS entirely occupied with a matter that gave rise to very difficult problems in the early years of the church’s history. The Jewish converts carried with them pretty naturally their views and feelings about matters of eating and drinking, about the observance of days, and customs, and the like. Their thoughts were partly based on the law of God, and partly on the tradition of the elders, but at any rate their feelings were very strong. The Gentile converts had no such feelings, and were inclined to regard it all as so much obstinate stupidity on the part of their Jewish brethren. Here was a cause of endless friction. The whole question is raised here, and settled with that admirable simplicity which characterizes Divine wisdom.
We must not let our interest flag at this point. We must not say—These questions do not exist today. The whole thing is of purely academic interest. We can dismiss it.
Not so. It is rather of very live and pressing importance. Though the exact questions that agitated and divided first-century Christians may have largely faded away, there are many others of an analogous nature taking their place, and much distress and harm is caused today when the instructions of this chapter are not observed. We will not go through the chapter verse by verse, but summarize it, by observing that there are in it three principles established, and three exhortations given; one connected with each principle.
The first is stated in verse 4. We may call it the principle of Christian liberty. In these matters that have to do with personal behavior and conscientious service to the Lord, we are set free from the lordship of our brethren, by being set under the over-lordship of Christ. We may be right or wrong in our judgment, but the thing of prime importance is that we each, with a single eye for our Master, do what we believe to be pleasing to Him. The exhortation which hinges upon this is, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (ch. 14:5).
God intends us to be exercised as to such matters, each for himself. Were there a definite command in Scripture there need not be the exercise. Then, simple obedience is the only course pleasing to God. But these other matters, how many they are. Should I go here or there? Should I partake of this or that? May I enjoy this pleasurable recreation or not? Ought we to carry out this service or this ordinance in this way or that way? What acrimonious and harmful controversies have raged around such questions. And the answer is so simple. Let the wrangling cease! Hands off each other! Each man to his own knees, in the presence of his own Master, that he may get, as far as in him lies, the knowledge of his Master’s will.
Having settled in the Master’s presence what we believe He would have us do, let us do it in the simplicity of faith. Only it must be, faith, and not self-will. And we must not go beyond or lag behind our faith. To do this is to bring condemnation (not, damnation) into our consciences, as the last two verses of the chapter tell us.
Some will say, “But this principle of liberty is sure to be abused.” No doubt: but note how it is guarded by what we have in verses 10-12. Here is enforced the principle of individual responsibility to God. I may not lord it over my brother, and if I attempt to do so he need not pay much attention to me; but let him remember the judgment seat of Christ. Christ has died and risen again that He might establish His rights in both spheres, that of the dead and that of the living. All our movements then, dying or living, must be in relation to Him. But in giving account to Him we shall be rendering account to GOD. This is a tremendous fact, calculated to move every one of our hearts, and make us very careful in what we do or allow.
The exhortation in connection with this confronts us in verse 13. “Let us no longer therefore judge one another,” (ch. 14:13) this is the negative side of it; and the positive is, “but judge ye this rather, not to put a stumbling-block or a fall-trap before his brother” (ch. 14:13) (N. Trans.). We are to keep our eyes on the judgment seat for ourselves, and as regards our brethren see to it that we do not provoke them to a fall. Lower down in the chapter this is worked out in a very practical way. Verses 15, 20, 21, for instance. Strong language is used. The Apostle speaks of destroying “him... for whom Christ died” (ch. 14:15). He says, “destroy not the work of God” (ch. 14:20).
God’s sovereign work cannot be annihilated, and the true sheep of Christ shall never perish; but both one and the other can be wrecked in a practical way. The case supposed here is that of some Gentile Christian, spiritually robust and unfettered by prejudice, flaunting his liberty before the eyes of his Jewish brother, who, though still strong as to the law, is weak in the faith of the Gospel. Thereby the weak brother is tempted into doing things with which afterward he bitterly reproaches himself, settling down perhaps under a spiritual cloud until his dying day.
You and I may be working mischief like that, if we do not take care. So let us look out, and keep our eyes on the judgment seat.
In saying this we have practically anticipated the third great principle of the chapter. It is that of Christian brotherhood, or fraternity, we may say. Verse 15 clearly states it. “Thy brother... for whom Christ died” (ch. 14:15). If Christ died for that weak brother of ours—troublesome and awkward fellow, though he may sometimes be—then he must be very dear to Christ. Shall he not be dear to us? And let us not forget that you and I may sometimes prove ourselves troublesome and awkward fellows in his eyes. Then may God give him grace, as formerly to us, to view us as those for whom Christ died.
Based upon this principle comes the exhortation of verse 19. Being brethren we are to pursue the things that make for peace and edification. We are to be keen to build up, not to knock down. We are to aim at peace not at strife. If tempted to transgress, let us ask ourselves Moses’ question, “Sirs, ye are brethren; why do you wrong one to another?”
It is possible for us to get things so astray in our thoughts that when we see a feeble brother we say, “See, here is a weak one! Let us give him a push and see if he will fall over.” He does fall, poor fellow. Then we say, “We always thought he would. Now you see he is no good, and we are well rid of him.” And when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ who died for him, what is going to be said to us? If we could hear it now, it would set our ears a-tingling. There is loss to be received as well as reward at that judgment seat!
Once more let us emphasize the fact that all these instructions relate to matters of individual life and conduct and service, and must not be stretched to include vital truth of God and to condone indifference as to that. Verse 17 lifts our thoughts onto a higher plane. God has established His authority and rule in the hearts of His saints, and this is not concerned with details as to eating and drinking, but with the features of a moral and spiritual order which are well pleasing to Him. That we should be living lives of practical righteousness and peace, and of holy joy, in the power of the Spirit of God, is to His glory. We are brought under His sway, and His Spirit is given to us, to this end.
As brought into that kingdom the principles that are to prevail amongst us are, Liberty, Responsibility, Fraternity—as we have seen—the responsibility being God-ward. At the close of the seventeenth century the great cry in France became, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”—the equality being manward. What tragedies followed! Very soon a situation developed which was the total negation of all three words! Let us see to it that we observe our three words, which work in the direction of righteousness, peace and joy.