Romans 14:19-23 Pursue Mutual Benefit


In verses 19-20 Paul reiterates much of what has been already said, but also introduces the idea that we are to pursue the benefit of others in the exercise of our Christian liberty. In the exercise of our freedom, we must always ask ourselves if what we are doing is building up others, especially those younger and less experienced in the faith. If we cannot answer in the affirmative, we must refrain. Paul concludes in verse 21, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” This is a fine summary statement and even finer if we translate the word “good” in its root sense of “beautiful”: “It is beautiful not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to stumble.”

Such behavior or thought is beautiful because it shows there is love among the brethren. It is beautiful because arrogance is gone. It is beautiful because it is unselfish. It is beautiful because it means one has a finely tuned sense of spiritual proportion, recognizing secondary issues for what they are. It is especially beautiful because it puts others first.

During the war when vessels had to be convoyed across the Atlantic because of the U-boats, all ships had to proceed at the speed of the slowest ship. This is something of what Paul has in mind here. The strong brother could stride ahead, but his love will not permit it. The shepherd must pace the flock to accommodate the weakest lamb. The Christian must regulate his freedom to take into account the feeble conscience of a weaker brother or sister. We must actively pursue those things that make for peace and mutual building up of one another. This is never easy, but it is the way of love.

What else must we do to insure unity? Paul gives advice to the strong regarding the use of his conscience in verse 22 and advice to the weak in respect to his conscience in verse 23. First, the advice to the strong: The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves (v. 22). Paul is saying, what you believe about neutral things is between you and God. Keep it that way. Moreover, you are a happy (blessed) person if in exercising your liberty you do not condemn yourself by harming another. You are blessed if your exercise of freedom is free from doubt. You are blessed if no one is being scandalized and led toward sin by you. You are blessed because you feel God’s pleasure.

Secondly, Paul gives advice to the weak: But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (v. 23). Conscience is not an infallible guide, but it is wrong to go against one’s own conscience. We ought to never sin against our conscience, no matter who pressures us to do so.

The apostle Paul has detailed four “do’s” if we are to build unity amidst our diversity. First, we must determine never to be a source of stumbling. Second, we must live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, concentrating on the eternals rather than the externals. Third, we must actively pursue that which benefits other believers. Fourth, we must do all that we do with a clear conscience. We are a diverse lot – there is no doubt about that. Diversity is one of the glories of the community of Christ. But our unity is supremely glorious. Let us seek to enhance it with all that we are!

Romans 14:19-23 Study Questions:

What are some issues that cause division in the church at large? Are these issues in your own church as well? How might these be handled better?

Why is the stronger believer responsible to change his or her behavior so as not to offend the weaker brother or sister?

What would help us turn our focus to justice, peace and joy?

Why is it difficult to suppress our own point of view in order to help those who are weaker in the faith?

Sit in silence and ask God to show you how you have piled snow on another person’s path. Spend a few minutes praying silent prayers of confession over the things that God brings to mind.

Romans 14:13-18 The Way of Love and Peace


We have seen that the God-given diversity in the Body of Christ can conflict with our Lord’s high call to unity. Diversity and unity are in natural antithesis because we humans tend to criticize and censor those who do things differently from us. Judging one another according to our little lists is one of the favorite sports of Christians today.

In answer to this problem, Romans 14 tells us three things we need to know if we are to maintain unity amidst diversity. First, genuine acceptance of one another is the only option available to believers. The tendency of the liberated Christian to look down on his less broad-minded brother and the tendency of that brother to judge his less restricted brother must be put away. Second, individual Christians can disagree over customs and social habits and both be perfectly right with God. Third, we must submit to the Lordship of Christ and refrain from judging others because we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give account of ourselves to Him. These three elements are essential if we are to maintain Christian unity amidst our amazing diversity.

In this study we will see what we need to do in order to experience unity in diversity. Perhaps we have understood and accepted the logic of Paul’s argument against passing judgment. However, the extremely delicate conscience of the “weak” brother remains. What are we to do? The apostle’s choice of words in verses 13-15 calls for a complete determination not to be an obstruction because the word for “stumbling block” means something carelessly left about over which someone stumbles, whereas “hindrance” means something deliberately left to ensnare another. We must determine not to be a witting or unwitting cause of a weaker brother’s stumbling as we exercise our Christian freedom. Our Christian lives must be salted with refusal to do anything that will harm the spiritual life of weaker brothers.

Paul views any behavior that distresses another’s conscience as unconscionable (v. 15). “What you eat” alludes to one’s petty insistence upon having meat regardless of the consequences to others. The idea is flaunting or deliberately shocking the weaker brother with a display of Christian freedom. Paul is horrified at the thought. Rather, the key to exercising Christian freedom in all matters is “walking in love” (v. 15). Christian liberty does not mean flaunting your freedom and doing as you please. As Christians, we are all immensely free in Christ. Our only bondage is the bond of love to our fellow believers. It is our Christian duty, when exercising our freedom, not only to think about how our actions affect us but others. We must always remember that it is not our display of Christian freedom that commends our faith to the world, but our demonstration of agape love. The strong, mature Christian voluntarily limits his freedom out of love for his weaker brothers and sisters.

Not only ought we to determine not to be stumbling blocks, we should also live as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Here in verses 16-18 Paul, with finely tuned pastoral insight, lifts the entire discussion to a higher level than mere eating and drinking. The Kingdom of God is not mainly a matter of externals (how one eats, drinks, what one wears etc.) but of eternals – “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The primary eternal element of God’s Kingdom is “righteousness.” The experience of God’s righteousness in our lives produces as infinite longing for holiness, a driving desire to know Him better, an intense thirsting in the inner parts. David’s longing is expressed in Psalm 42:1-2a: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Jesus enjoined the pursuit of righteousness as the recommended pursuit for all humanity in Matthew 5:6 –“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Properly following the eternal element of righteousness is “peace,” that profound inner satisfaction that only God’s presence can give. Peace with God is the secret of peace with one another. Kingdom peace is an inner unflappability that remains undisturbed by minor irritations, a quiet assurance that God is at work.

Lastly, there is the eternal element of “joy in the Holy Spirit.” This joy is the outward mark of Christ’s presence. When joy flies as the flag over our lives, the world knows the King of Heaven is in residence in our hearts. The Kingdom of God consists not of externals but of eternals. How wonderful it would be if we would concentrate on these things. How easy it is then to forgo some external freedom for the sake of another believer.

Paul concludes this thought in verse 18. We are then acceptable to God who sees our hearts and approved by men who see our actions. The overall principle here is this: whether we be “weak” (limited in freedom) or strong (more liberated), we make a great mistake if we focus on externals. The weak shrivels his Christianity by seeing the externals as a road to greater righteousness. The strong trivializes his faith by insisting on his rights to the externals. If we flaunt our freedom, we are far less emancipated than we imagine.

The Kingdom of God is not operative in your life if your rights are so important to you that you are willing to separate from a brother who does not agree with you. The fact is, the man who feels he must demonstrate his emancipation on every possible occasion is a slave in spite of his apparent freedom, for the need to prove his liberty has become a tyranny. Whether we are strong or weak, we are to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, focusing not on the externals, but on the elements of eternity – “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 14:13-18 Study Questions:

Paul says in verse 14 that nothing is unclean in itself, but how does he say something can become “unclean” (vv. 13-23)?

Paul is concerned that Jewish Christians, returning to Rome, may see Gentile Christians doing things that, from their point of view, were associated with paganism, and they may look on in horror. They might even conclude that they had made an awful mistake, call down curses on this new movement (v. 16) and give up the faith altogether. How might believing in accordance with love prevent this from happening?

What were, and are, the essentials of faith and practice about which there should be no compromise?

Weekly Seed of Faith 1/22/21

Seed of Faith – Salt Of The Earth   By Pastor Dave  
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” Matthew 5:13

Dear Seed-Sowers,
I hope and pray that you are all well, safe, healthy and growing in grace. I have been rereading Matthew 5 this week and reflecting on Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” Wow!  There is so much meat in chapters 5-7 of Matthew. (Perhaps a challenge for you to read these chapters for a week?) In the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that we are to be poor in spirit, called to be merciful and meek, called to hunger and thirst for righteousness in order that we may be “the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”  In essence, what Jesus is telling the people gathered on that mountainside is that they are to not to just sit around listening about HOW to be a Christian, they are to go out and BE a Christian.  Jesus clearly states the purpose of the Christian life — to be salt and light in our world!

SO WHAT? ABOUT “salt”?

In the days of Jesus, and for many centuries thereafter, salt was the most common preservative used.  There were no refrigerators, no deep-freezers in ancient times. Salt was used to keep things from going bad and becoming rotten, particularly meat.  When Jesus said, You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot” Jesus was telling His disciples that they were called to be the preserving agents to a decaying world.

The simple principle is that you and I are called to be a preserving force in the world–wherever we are called to live, work, and play.

Think of it this way — salt that never leaves the shelf will do no good in preserving anything.  To be effective, the salt had to be rubbed into the meat.  Have you gone into the grocery store and looked at all of the “rubs” they have for seasoning these days?  In the same way, we  must allow God to use us as flavorful seasoning in our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, families, and churches.  A small amount of love and kindness goes a long way in making our world a better place.

The other day I went to the grocery store to do some shopping. I went to buy juice, and I came across an insight on flavoring. I was holding a bottle of Blueberry Pomegranate Juice.  There was a picture of a ripe pomegranate spilling its exotic, glistening seeds onto mounds of fat, perfect blueberries.  I read the ingredient list: “Filtered water, pear juice concentrate, apple juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate.” Where was the blueberry? Where was the pomegranate? Finally I found them, fifth and seventh in a list of nine ingredients. By law, food ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. Meaning a product contains the greatest proportion of the first ingredient on the list and successively less of those farther down the list. According to the jug in my hand, it contained mostly water—a few other juices, with just enough blueberry and pomegranate for flavor and color. In the bottom corner of the front label in small, easy-to-miss type, were the tell-tale words: “Flavored juice blend with other natural ingredients.” The enticing picture and clever labeling were decoys to sell a diluted, blueberry-pomegranate flavored product convincingly disguised to look like something it wasn’t. I put the juice back on the shelf.  I chose the juice that was more costly—because it had more of what I was looking for.

SO WHAT? THINK ABOUT THIS:  What if we had an ingredients list printed on us?

Would Jesus be the main ingredient? If not, how far down the list would He be? Would our “label” accurately represent our contents? Or would we falsely project a misleading outward-appearance that cleverly masked our diluted ingredients? This made me think, our outside packaging may look convincing. We may look and sound like the real thing but what if someone came looking specifically for Jesus and found something else?

More than a hundred years ago, the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche reproached a group of Christians.  Nietzsche said: “Yuck, you make me sick!” When their spokesman asked why, he answered, “because you redeemed don’t look like you are redeemed.  You are as fearful, guilt-ridden, anxious confused, and adrift in an alien environment as I am.  I am allowed.  I don’t believe. I have nothing to hope for.  But you people claim you have a Savior.  Why don’t you look like you are saved?”[ii]

Friends, it is our calling as Christians to be the salt of the earth.  We are called to bring love, joy, peace, hope, mercy, kindness, and grace into our families, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, churches and wherever we go. I think about the people who are serving us in the drive up. I can’t tell you how many times I pull away without something I ordered and paid for. The other day my 89 year old father-in-law taught me a life lesson. The drive up forgot his honey mustard sauce for his chicken nuggets.  We were going to go park and take in the majestic beauty of the San Gabriel mountains while we ate our drive through. No honey mustard? Dad said to me, “It’s okay. The mountains are still beautiful.”

I’m trying to say, be the light and the salt of Christ in a world that’s missing the honey mustard sauce!

As you read the living word of God, I’m praying it becomes a great seasoning salt that’s rubbed deeply into your being.  I’m praying that you are conformed, and transformed by what you read in your Bible. It’s a new year–pick a book (there are 66 of them) and read a paragraph, or a chapter a day. This week: be the salt of the earth. Lord knows, the world needs us!

See you Sunday.
God loves you and so do I,
Pastor Dave

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