The Conduct of Christians toward Such as Are weak in Faith. Rom. 14, 1-23.

Scruples with regard to food: V.1. Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. V.2. For one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs. V.3. let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth; for God hath received him. V.4. Who art thou that judgest an other man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall beholden up; for God is able to make him stand. V.5. One man esteemeth one day above an other; an other esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. V.6. he that regardeth the day regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. he that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. The present section of St. Paul’s letter has reference to a special class of people in the Roman congregation, namely, to such as were weak in the faith, the apostle giving both them and the other members of the congregation a few rules as to their deportment toward each other. He addresses himself first of all to those that are firmly grounded in the faith. that are not bothered with scruples of conscience concerning various foods, especially the meats that were offered for sale in the shops. Him that is weak in the faith, that is not yet so firmly established on the basis of his faith, receive, welcome as a member in full and equivalent standing. There were only a few of such members in the congregation at Rome, but Paul was just as solicitous about their spiritual welfare as though there had been a great number. This small minority was to be welcomed and given all the privileges of membership in the congregation, but not for the condemnation of thoughts, not with the purpose of passing judgment upon their strange notions or scruples. The members should show all kindness and brotherliness, deal with the few scrupulous ones with all Christian tact, lest uncharitable criticism cause dissension. For the one, being strong in faith, has confidence to eat all things. The stronger members did not deem it much of a venture to eat all foods, even meat, and their behavior did not result in any spiritual damage to themselves. Their conscience remained clear, no matter what food it was that was placed before them. They had the conviction that their conduct in eating all things was in no way displeasing to God and did not interfere with their Christianity. And this conviction, in turn, rested upon their faith in Christ, which eaused them to choose and to do only such things as were agreeable to their Savior. But those that lacked this confidence ate vegetable food only, fearing to partake of flesh that might have been offered as a heathen sacrifice, or they believed that the eating of meat in itself was harmful to their spiritual life. St. Paul addressed himself to both parties, giving to each one the instruction necessary for the maintenance of Christian harmony and charity: Let him that eats not despise him that eats not; such a one should not look down with contempt upon his weaker brother and his scruples with regard to food. And on the other hand, one that refuses to partake of meat should not condemn him that eats, as though he were less spiritual, as though his Christianity were not so strongly expressed and so consistently carried out. This warning against judging is substantiated by the statement: For God has accepted him: a person that eats meat without scruples is acting in full accordance with God’s will, he is assured of the grace of God. For who is lie that ventures to judge and condemn the servant of another man? It is not the proper thing, it should not be done, that any one should pass judgment upon a Christian brother who is Christ’s own; Christ has accepted him as one of His servants. He stands or falls with respect to his own lord. It is the business of each master, it concerns only him whether his servant stands or falls; he will take care of that. But he will remain standing, he will continue in his Christian state; for God is fully able to keep him upright, to hold him up and not let him come to grief in his Christianity. It is an easy matter for God to guide and guard also such a brother whose conscience permits him to partake of all manner of foods, with relation to whose constancy the weaker brethren are unduly concerned.

A second point of controversy is now touched upon: One, indeed, makes a distinction between various days, while the other rates all days alike; let every one be fully persuaded in his own opinion. He that clings to a certain day does so to the Lord; and he that does not insist upon a certain day does so to the Lord, vv. 5. 6a. The weaker brethren in the congregation at Rome made a distinction between days for conscience’ sake, preferring a certain day of the week for the worship of the Lord, believing that it was absolutely necessary to devote one day entirely to prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, to spiritual edification. But the others, those that were stronger in faith, that had the confidence of Christian conviction based upon their knowledge of God’s will, esteemed all days alike and gave special preference to none. To them all days were equally holy and fit for the worship of God and for the study of His Word. And now the apostle says that both he that insists upon a distinction between days and he that does not favor such a preference should be fully persuaded in his own mind that his way is the one which suits his individual needs best. He intimates thereby that before God there is no distinction of days in the New Testament, and that therefore the choice of a certain day of the week as a day of worship is entirely a matter of Christian liberty. And therefore he that is concerned about a certain day and believes it to be in the interest of his spiritual life always to observe one certain day observes it unto the Lord; he must keep in mind that it is to the Lord’s service and honor that he makes the distinction, and not get the idea that he is performing an unusual work of merit. As a matter of fact, the stronger also, that keeps all days alike, sanctifying every one through the Word of God and prayer, serves the Lord. So “the strong should not despise the scrupulous, nor the scrupulous be censorious toward the strong.” This is evident again from the distinction between eating certain foods and abstaining from their use. If one eats all foods, not concerning himself about any specific distinctions, Acts 10, 14. 15, nor worrying about the fact that the meat was taken from animals sacrificed to idols, 1 Cor. 10, 25, he makes use of the liberty which he has in Christ, thus honoring his Lord and Savior, as appears also from the fact that he returns thanks to God for the food, 1 Cor. 10, 30; 1 Tim. 4, 4. And if one does not eat, if he abstains from eating meat or any other food in the belief that he will thus be placed into a better position to serve the Lord, he does so to his Lord; but he also gives thanks to God for whatever food he might partake of. So far as the expression of religious conviction is concerned and the condition of the heart with relation to God, there is no difference between the strong and the weak in faith.

Living unto the Lord: V.7. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. V.8. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. V.9. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived that He might be Lord both of the dead and living. V.10. But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. V.11. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. V.12. SO, then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God. The apostle here makes the application of the thought suggested in the first verses of the chapter, basing it upon a larger truth of which it is a part. The mind of the Christian, whether he partakes of certain foods or not, whether he observes certain days or not, is always directed to the Lord, because the whole life of the Christian, as well as his death, is devoted and consecrated to the Lord. Since his soul and body, his thoughts and acts, are dedicated to the Lord, therefore the believer will naturally think of His honor first in all things. For none of us lives unto himself, and none dies unto himself; if, then, we live, to the Lord we live, and if we die, to the Lord we die, vv. 7. 8a. No Christian considers himself his own master, to do with his gifts, abilities, and time what he pleases, according to his own will or for his own ends. In the service and for the honor of the Lord the whole life of the Christians is spent. And when they die, they willingly follow the call of the Lord; they cheerfully entrust their souls to the hands of their heavenly Father and their Savior Jesus Christ; they are glad to leave this world and come to Him, commending everything to His gracious will. And this behavior on our part with reference to the Lord is based upon the fact that we are the Lord’s, His precious possession, whether we are still alive in this world, or whether we are leaving this world to be forever with Him. We are Christ’s, because He has paid the ransom for our redemption. And therefore throughout life and beyond the grave we are His own, in all eternity. “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!” For this we have the guarantee of His death and resurrection: For to this end Christ died and returned to life, in order to be the Lord both over the dead and over the living, v.9. It was the definite intention of the Lord, and this intention has been fully realized, that He might become our Lord in life and death, and we His own. Through His death Christ entered into life and thus attained to the glorious station which is the crown of His redemptive work; He has earned the right to be our Lord. As the living, exalted Christ He has, through His Word and Spirit, claimed us as His own in faith, not only in life, but beyond death, when we shall live and reign with Him in all eternity. But if we serve the Lord and belong to the Lord whether we are alive or whether we are dead, then surely the smaller contrast between eating and not eating cannot come into consideration. It should rather be an easy matter for Christians, in their fraternal relations, to overlook such unimportant matters in true charity.

And so the apostle returns to his first warning: But thou, utterly insignificant beside the Lord, why dost thou judge and condemn thy brother? In view of our common responsibility to Him and the fact that we are all one in Him, how dare we judge each other? Or thou also, the weaker, why despisest thou thy brother? It is altogether inconsistent with the brotherhood of the believers to let a carping and criticizing attitude mar the relationship. It is a practice not only out of harmony with the spirit of Christ that lives in the believers, but also very dangerous: For we must all stand before the judgment-seat of God. How will any one dare to anticipate the prerogative which belongs to Christ and God only, namely, to pass sentence upon a brother? Through Christ God will judge the world; the judgment-seat of Christ is that of God, 2 Cor. 5, 10; John 5, 22. Therefore we must refrain from interfering with the work which is peculiarly His, especially since we shall be equal before His throne of judgment, as the prophet writes, Is. 45, 23: As I live, says the Lord, to Me shall every knee be bent, and every tongue shall confess to God, shall recognize His authority as God, the supreme Ruler and Judge. Note that, according to the teaching of St. Paul, Jesus Christ is God. From this it follows for the Christians: Therefore now every one of us must give an account of himself to God, v.12. Every one, without exception, every one for his own person, will be called upon to answer for his works; therefore we should await His decision and not presume to act the part of judges over our brethren. He that always keeps this fact before his eyes will very easily conquer the desire to carp and criticize.

Of the abuse of Christian liberty: V.13. Let us not, therefore, judge one another any more; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. V.14. I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. V.15. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died. V.16. Let not, then, your good be evil spoken of; v.17. for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. V.18. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men. His entire admonition up to this point the apostle now condenses in the one short expression: No more, now, let us judge one another. Not only the condemnation of the strong by the weaker is here referred to, but also the contempt which the strong are apt to feel for the weak. ALL such manifestations are decidedly out of place among Christians. Christian liberty, as directed by true love, is rather exercised in this way, that we make this our rule or maxim in our dealings with the brethren, not to put a stumbling-block for our brother or an offense. We should neither put something in the weaker brother’s way over which he will fall, nor should we place an offense before him which would incite him to sin. In what way this may be done the next sentence explains: I know and have the full conviction in the Lord Jesus that nothing is common in itself, but only to him that thinks something is common, to him it is common. Paul has the divine assurance based upon his intimate union with Christ, whose servant he is, that nothing in itself, no food, not even the meat of animals bought in the meat-stalls, in itself is of a nature to render a person unclean. No matter what food it is that the Christian might choose for himself, the eating of it will not in itself stain his conscience or be a sin. Only one limitation is made, namely, that resulting from the state of mind of him that eats: except as the opinion of the eater takes it to be profane and harmful. If a person thinks that some food will make him unclean, he sins in partaking of this food. It is not that the food has the inherent power to work uncleanness, but that the person believing that there is a distinction between clean and unclean foods commits a sin in offering violence to his conscience. And this sin is occasioned by the brother who abandons all consideration and tact, and deliberately, in the presence of the weaker brother, partakes of the food in question, and thus by his example entices the other to follow him. The weaker brother in that case has not yet reached a state of knowledge according to which his erring conscience has been corrected, and the result is a sin. And thus the reaction strikes also the stronger brother: For if through thy food thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no more according to love. The indulgence in itself may be harmless and innocent enough, but if in this way it becomes injurious to the Christian brethren, then the indulgence becomes a violation of the law of love, an uncharitable act, a sin. By eating of the food in question in the presence of the weaker brother, and thus challenging him to partake of the same food, the stronger Christian, upon whom the obligation of love rests, becomes guilty of uncharitable behavior. The admonition, therefore, is very emphatic: Do not destroy through thy food him for whom Christ died. It cost Christ His very life to save your brother from everlasting damnation, and it is a terrible thing to endanger the salvation of any person by an uncharitable harping upon Christian liberty. Surely it is not asking too much to renounce the eating of a certain food for the sake of a brother, to avoid giving him any offense, if Christ gave His life as a ransom to keep him from eternal perdition! "If Christ so loved him as to die for him, how base it would be in us not to submit to a little self-denial for his welfare!”

At the same time, the Christians should lead such a life and at all times, in all circumstances, comport themselves so that they do not give offense to those that are without: Let, then, your good thing not be blasphemed. This is addressed to all Christians and should be kept in mind by them always. The great possession of the Christians, the highest and most glorious good, is salvation in Christ, through which redemption has been transmitted to them. The believers should never give the unbelievers occasion to speak abusively of, to blaspheme this wonderful gift, as they would if they haggle about foods. Such behavior on the part of the members of the Church naturally causes the unbelievers to assume that mere external matters are the essence of Christianity, that salvation depends upon the fact of a person’s using or abstaining from certain foods. This the apostle substantiates: For not is the kingdom of God eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; for he that serves Christ herein is well-pleasing to God and acceptable to men. The matters about which the Christians should be concerned are those which pertain to the kingdom of God, to that great invisible Kingdom established by Christ, the communion of saints. The act of eating and drinking does not influence a person’s standing either way in this Kingdom. The matters that do count very emphatically are justification, the certainty that we possess the righteousness of God by faith, peace with God through the merits of Jesus Christ, and the joy of faith which is characteristic of all true Christians, which is wrought in their hearts by the Holy Ghost. These are the essential blessings of the kingdom of God, upon which everything depends. If any person, in the certainty of the possession of these gifts and blessings, lives in accordance with this realization, then God takes pleasure in him, and he will be acceptable to men. Every one that has been justified before God through Christ, that has peace with God through Christ, that truly rejoices in the redemption given by faith in Christ, will make it the object of his life to serve the Lord Jesus with all the powers of body and mind. Thus the remembrance of the relation in which a person stands to God, together with the Christian conduct which results therefrom and its effect upon the unbelievers, will cause all Christians to heed the admonition of the apostle not to let their good be evil spoken of.

Avoid all offense: V.19. Let us, therefore, follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. V.20. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offense. V.21. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. V.22. Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. V.23. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Paul now draws a conclusion which is applicable to all conditions and circumstances of Christians: Let us now follow after the things which pertain to peace and to one another’s edification. Everything that brings about and preserves peace, everything that results in mutual edification, should be earnestly pursued and promoted by the Christians at all times. Because through Christ we have peace with God, we want to serve Him in this way, that we live together in peace and edify one another in faith and conduct, instead of quarreling and harming one another. And therefore Paul repeats the thought of v.15: Do not on account of food destroy the work of God. If we, instead of edifying, building up our fellow Christian in faith, in his spiritual life, tear down the work of God, the spiritual temple, in his heart, and this on account of some paltry food, we certainly become guilty in His sight. It is true indeed that all things are pure, every kind of food is in itself clean and will not produce spiritual uncleanness; but they are all bad and objectionable in the case of him that eats of them with offense, with a bad conscience. Therefore we dare not tempt and lead a brother to do what he believes to he wrong, thus destroying the work of God in him. If our conduct causes our weak brother to eat with offense, to partake of what he esteems impure, then our behavior is harmful, objectionable. On the other hand, it is proper, praiseworthy, not to eat meat nor to drink wine nor to do anything at which our brother takes offense, v.21. As in the case of meat, so it was with wine in those days: many of the weaker Christians may have feared its use on account of the fact that it may have been used in sacrifices to idols. It is not so much the question of doing the right thing for one’s own person as to avoid doing wrong to one’s weak brother; hence the admonition of the apostle. This is held before us in the next sentence: The faith that thou hast have with thyself before God. The form of the sentence is emphatic: So far as thou art concerned, thou hast the firm confidence, the unshakable conviction, that in eating meat and drinking wine thou art doing right before God. The stronger brethren were not required to make a concession of principle or to renounce the truth; all that was asked of them was that they use their liberty in a considerate and charitable manner. Their conviction they could hold just the same in the sight of God; it was not to be paraded to the injury of some one else, for God would see and recognize it.

And so Paul concludes: Happy is he that does not condemn himself in that which he approves of. The strong in faith uses food and drink of all kinds, also meat and wine. And it must be a source of great satisfaction and happiness to him if he has the conviction of a free conscience and is sure that he is doing right. It is fortunate if one can make use of all the gifts of God without reproaching himself. But what evil consequences it may have if some one makes a tactless use of his Christian liberty and thus offends his weak brother, is shown in the last sentence: But he that holds doubts when he eats is condemned, since it is not of faith; everything, however, which is not of faith is sin. If the weaker Christian comes to that point that he wavers and doubts, he may finally, before coming to the right understanding, follow the example of the stronger Christian and thus at last eat and drink what in his conscience he still condemns. But such a violation of conscience cannot be reconciled with faith, since it is not done with the certainty that it is right, with the certainty of the conviction based upon knowledge. But whatever a person does without being certain that he does the right thing in so doing, whatever a person indulges in with the fear that it probably is wrong, that is sin. “Any and every action of man of which he is not convinced that it is in conformity with the will of God is sinful.”

Summary. The apostle admonishes the weak not to condemn the others, the strong in faith, not to despise the weak nor to give them any offense, and both parties to strive after that which promotes peace and mutual edification.