by Matthew W. Bassford
As you work your way through Romans, hopefully, the extraordinary quality of the epistle becomes obvious. The Book of Romans has changed the course of human history, and with good reason. The substance of Paul’s argument is astonishing in its scope, and the skill with which he argues is no less impressive. He pulls out all the stops in presenting his case as persuasively as possible.
Some of the devices he employs are obvious, but others are quite subtle. Consider, for instance, the lead-in to the discussion of conscience in Romans 14. In that chapter, Paul urges the Christians in Rome not to judge or have contempt for brothers who differ in conscience.
Much of the preface in Romans 13 is straightforward. Romans 13:8-10 tells us to love one another. Romans 13:11-12 calls us to put on the armor of light because of the brevity of human existence. Romans 13:14 exhorts us to put on Christ and make no provision for the flesh.
All of this is good sound preaching, as the saying goes. We like to be told things like this. Sermons using these Scriptures inspire us and have us walking out of the church building humming “Onward, Christian Soldiers” to ourselves. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with walking wide around the conscience of others, though.
The trap is in Romans 13:13. There, Paul supplies us with a list of three pairs that are part of the works of darkness, the works in which we are not supposed to walk. The first two pairs are more of the same. We are not to walk in orgies and drunkenness. That sounds like a good idea to me! Likewise, we are not to walk in sexual immorality and sensuality. This may step on the toes of some Christians, but it probably doesn’t for most who are in the auditorium Sunday morning.
The third pair, though, is “not in quarreling and jealousy.” All of a sudden, “Onward, Christian Soldiers” kind of skips a beat, doesn’t it? Jealousy. Hmm. It’s awfully easy to find ourselves enviously regarding someone else’s attractiveness, prosperity, or position. Or good health, for that matter.
Quarreling is even worse. Brethren have been known to quarrel these days, sometimes, just a little bit. Perhaps we ourselves have exchanged a heated word or two with another Christian about. . . COVID, just to pick an example out of the air. Perhaps we have formed into factions with other like-minded brethren so that we can complain to them about the ungodly behavior of the other side. Perhaps we have Vaguebooked about how ungodly they are. Perhaps we have disturbed the peace of our congregation or even caused a church split.
The Holy Spirit says that’s walking in darkness. The Holy Spirit says that’s making provision for the flesh and its lusts. In fact, the Holy Spirit says that’s on the same level as participating in an orgy.
If that’s where we find ourselves, we need to put some onward in our Christian soldiers. We need to rush into battle, not against those who disagree with us, but against the devil who has entrenched his self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and contempt in our hearts. Our sin may be sweet in the mouth, but it will be bitter in the stomach.
How can we win this desperate fight? Paul is so glad you asked.
Welcome to Romans 14.