Service to Those with Whom We Disagree: Acceptance

The weak in faith (Romans 14:1-4)

The church in Rome was composed of Christians who had left the Jewish religion and Gentile idolatry. The differences in backgrounds caused different views of past practices. Changing your religion isn’t easy. Some would go to the extreme of rejecting any association of their past religion (I Corinthians 8:1-13), others would see that it no longer made a difference, and still others would try to blend their old practices with the new (Acts 15:1; Revelation 2:14-15).

Each of us has different measures of faith (Romans 12:3). Some are very confident in what they believe, whether right or wrong. Others have belief, but it is weak and can be easily knocked down. A person whose faith is weak and unstable is not to be shunned. But he is also not there to be brow-beaten into someone else’s beliefs (II Timothy 2:23-25; Titus 3:9). We are not here to judge another person’s motives (I Corinthians 4:5).

We often assume that a strong faith means someone is right and a weak faith means someone is wrong, but that isn’t always the case. Paul’s faith was strong (Romans 15:1), and he was in the right at the end (II Timothy 4:7), but there was a time when Paul was confidently wrong (I Timothy 1:12-13). Some Corinthians’ strong faith led them to eat meat in an idol’s temple, which was wrong (I Corinthians 8:10; 10:21). One can be confident and be confidently wrong. If you realize that the strength of your faith doesn’t reflect your accuracy, then a brother who is strong in his beliefs won’t automatically despise a brother whose confidence is not yet strong.

The two brothers have different views on a matter. They likely think the other person’s view is not the best, if not wrong. The example given is a brother with weak faith who only eats vegetables to avoid any taint of idols and the meat sacrificed there; perhaps he is from a Jewish background and wants to avoid any unclean foods, especially meat that hasn’t been prepared properly (Acts 15:29). The brother with strong faith believes he can eat anything, including meat, feeling confident that he can avoid the improperly prepared meats. The strong brother is not to have contempt for the position of the weak brother. The weak brother is not to judge the strong brother as being in error. We have to remember that where there are people weak in faith, there is more strife (I Corinthians 3:1-3). It is easy to fall into a mode of judging others based on our own thoughts.

This is not to say that no matter can be judged (John 7:24; I Corinthians 6:2). We are to make a distinction between what is right and what is wrong (Hebrews 5:12). But we have to remember that what you or I think isn’t the standard of judgment (Proverbs 17:15; 21:2). The only one who determines whether someone is in the right or not is Jesus (John 12:48; I Corinthians 4:4-5; II Corinthians 5:10).

What wasn’t being considered is that both brethren can be right, even though they have taken different positions. God has allowed the eating of meat (I Timothy 4:4-5), but if a person chooses to eat only vegetables, he isn’t sinning. Perhaps the harder position is for the vegetable eater to realize that the meat-eater is not sinning either. For that, he is going to have to rely on what God said and not his own personal preference.

What we do is for the Lord (Romans 14:5-9)

Paul then brings up whether some days can be observed for religious purposes. Here “strong” and “weak” are not assigned to the two positions; rather, each is encouraged to be confident in his decision.

Paul never allowed the binding of Jewish feast days on Christians (Colossians 2:16-17; Galatians 4:10-11). However, individual Christians could choose to observe days so long as they weren’t bound on others. It is easy to see those coming out of Judaism having difficulty not resting on the Sabbath has had been their practice all their lives, or want to keep the Passover which was still significant to them as part of the cultural heritage.

Both the one who observes special days and the one who does not are doing so to honor God in their own personal way (I Corinthians 10:31). This should not be taken as comments on worshiping on the Lord’s day. Rather, the focus is on Jewish practices that Christians from Jewish families bring with them when they become Christians.

Yet, no one can take a private practice and elevate it to a religious requirement for others. For example, someone might choose to have his children circumcised (Acts 16:3; I Corinthians 7:18-19), but to require circumcision was wrong (Galatians 5:1-4; Acts 15:24).

The key is that we are living according to the Lord’s rules (Romans 6:16-22). It is our living according to the Lord’s rules that matter (Galatians 6:4-5). We don’t live for ourselves (Galatians 1:10; I Peter 4:1-2; II Corinthians 5:15). Even in death, we belong to the Lord (Acts 20:24; Philippians 2:17).

Jesus is Lord of the living and the dead. Those who currently live and those who have passed on in death (John 5:24-25). He is also Lord of the spiritually alive and the spiritually dead (Acts 10:36, 42; I Corinthians 15:27). Jesus died for us and purchased us from sin (I Peter 1:18-19; Hebrews 2:14).

Judgment belongs to the Lord (Romans 14:10-12)

Returning to the point he made in Romans 14:3-4, Paul reminds both the weak in faith and the strong in faith that they are not the judge of right and wrong nor are they judges of another person’s motives. Jesus decides what constitutes righteousness (Matthew 28:18). He is the one who we will face in judgment (Matthew 25:31-32; Acts 17:31; II Corinthians 5:10).

This doesn’t mean we cannot make decisions or judgments (I Corinthians 6:2-4). How can false teachers be refuted without judgment? (Romans 16:17-18). How can an erring brother be restored without judging the direction he needs to go? (Galatians 6:1-2). Rather, the emphasis is on the standard of judgment. We cannot use our own beliefs as the standard; we must always go back to the gospel (Romans 2:16; I Peter 4:6).

The decision by Christ is not whether we meet the standards of another person. We are judged for what we do against Christ’s standards (Matthew 12:36; Galatians 6:5; Philippians 2:12; I Peter 4:5).

Don’t cause a brother to stumble (Romans 14:13-18)

Instead of searching for a reason to condemn a fellow brother, our focus ought to be making sure that we don’t cause a brother to stumble (I Corinthians 10:32). Sometimes, it is hard enough to live righteously without having to live by someone else’s idea of what constitutes righteousness.

As an example, the laws of uncleanness have ended (Acts 10:15; I Timothy 4:4). There are no unclean meats or other physical things. However, if a person still sees pork as unclean, then while it is not unclean in general, it is for that person. Therefore, a brother would not invite him over for a ham dinner. To force the issue is to act without love for the brother (I Corinthians 8: 7-13; 10:24; 13:5).

To force the issue will also cause what is truly good to be viewed as evil as the person digs in to defend their own view (I Corinthians 10:29-30). We too often focus on physical things, but the kingdom is about spiritual things. We find unity in emphasizing the spiritual (Ephesians 4:3; Colossians 3:14-15).

When a person is serving God, even if the things done are different from your own service, what is important is that they are found to be acceptable to God. And if God finds them to be acceptable, then men will approve as well – or ought to (Proverbs 3:3-4; Galatians 5:22-23).

Class Discussion:

  1. What is meant by a stumbling block? If someone says they were offended by what you did, does that make it an actual offense?
  2. How would Colossians 2:16 fit into this topic?

Summary (Romans 14:19-23)

Pursue the things that create peace between you and your brethren (Psalms 34:14; Romans 12:18; II Corinthians 13:11). Pursue the things that build up your brethren (Ephesians 4:29; I Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 12:14).

Don’t destroy the work of God for ordinary things, such as food. All things are clean, but if someone sees it as evil, then it becomes an offense for him (I Corinthians 10:32-33). Therefore, don’t do anything that causes a brother to fall or weaken his faith (Matthew 18:7-10; Philippians 1:10).

If you have confidence (faith) in what you do, realize that it is your faith before God. Just be sure that you are confident in things that God approves. You don’t want to be confidently going to Hell (I John 3:21).

But if you are not certain, acting against your conscience condemns you. Your conscience is a warning system. It could be wrong and, thus, needs to be retrained. It could be right and, thus, needs to be heeded. But in either case, it is wrong to ignore it.

Class Discussion:

  1. What is the work of God? See Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 2:11-13; Philippians 1:6.
  2. Can a person be confidently wrong? See John 16:2; Acts 26:9.
  3. Can you have doubts about something you are required to do, for instance, baptism? Does that mean you should not be baptized?
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