Paul is explicit in verse 1 that the one “who is weak in faith” is not weak in basic Christian faith, but is weak in assurance that his faith permits him to do certain things, such as eating meat. These “weak” are to be wholeheartedly accepted – they are not to be accepted with the ulterior motive of straightening them out. There is to be no phony condescension on the part of the strong, no hidden agenda, but rather simple, unqualified acceptance.
Moreover, the acceptance is to be mutual on the part of both the strong and the weak (vv. 2-3). This mutual acceptance lays bare the psychology behind the rejection of the strong or the weak. The strong, Paul says, “despise” those who do not eat. The idea here is distain. The human tendency is always to despise whatever or whoever we consider weak. To despise the Christian who has a narrower morality – such an attitude is not Christian. On the other hand, because the weak are inclined toward judgmentalism, they are told not to “pass judgment” on meat eaters. The weak tend to be censorious, to pigeon-hole other believers according to their checklists. Too often you and I are guilty of both these errors. Whether we are “weak” or “strong” believers, there is to be mutual, wholehearted acceptance of one another.
According to Romans 14 you must accept your Christian brother and sister who differs. If you are an abstainer, you must not judge the participator. If you are a participator, you must not disdain the abstainer. This call to acceptance comes to us as a command of God. If we are to obey Him, we have no choice. Is this a call to become a bunch of wishy-washy Charlie Browns? Not at all! We are not talking about basic doctrines such as sin, the deity of Christ, salvation by faith, or clear Scriptural commandments against adultery or lying. We are talking about non-essentials.
We are all called to a profound acceptance of one another. This is not optional. Verses 5-6 give us the second element of understanding. The controversy over days in these verses probably involved Sabbath observance. The Christian Jews’ conscience demanded that they observe it. The Christian Gentiles’ conscience argued that every day is equally devoted to the service of God. Paul’s advice to both is simply, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Each believer is to use his or her powers of reasoning that have at least begun to be renewed by the gospel under the authority of God’s Word and act accordingly. The same is true of eating or abstaining from meat. The evidence that both the “weak” and the strong have right hearts is that they both give “thanks” to God. That is, both do what they do with the intention of serving the Lord. Paul’s indisputable point here is: people with opposing viewpoints on non-essentials can both be perfectly right with God. We need to take this to heart: if the Lord convicts you that something is wrong in your life, you had better not do it, even if other Christians are doing it!
The Lordship of Christ is the foundational truth for the unity of the Church amidst diversity of opinion (vv. 7-12). Verses 10-12 emphasize that we will all answer to Him for our lives. Paul twice uses the term “brother” to emphasize the unity that “weak” and strong Christians have. He is saying in effect, “Stop trying to be God to one another. You ‘weak,’ why do you pass judgment on your brother? You strong, why do you look down with contempt on your brother? Remember, all of us are going to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. There your works as believers will be judged. There God will judge your motives.” We are not to judge our brothers and sisters in things on which the Bible does not directly speak! One thing we will certainly have to answer for will be our judgmental attitude. Isn’t wonderful that final judgment is up to God, and His evaluation will be perfect? Our reward will be exactly what we deserve, as will our brother’s and sisters.
This whole section is part of an extended commentary on the command of Jesus to love one another, and this has been the subject since Paul began the practical section of this letter. In chapter 12 we saw that the nature of love is to serve. In chapter 13 we discovered that love must be submissive. Now in chapter 14 we are learning that love must be patient and tolerant of other people’s views. May we allow God to give us the wisdom to see what is essential and what is not.
Romans 14:1-12 Study Questions:
Who does Paul consider to be the “weak in faith” and, by implication, the “strong in faith”? What attitude are the two groups to have toward each other?
How is Paul attempting to break down barriers between ethnic groups in verses 1-6?
Over what issues in today’s church are we in danger of judging one another because of things that Paul would declare to be unimportant? Where are we prone to build walls of division on cultural or ethnic lines where Paul would gently but firmly insist that we are all serving the same master?
What is Paul getting at in verses 7-9? How can condemnation become a consequence of differing opinions (vv. 7-12)?
What is the overriding perspective that the Christians in Rome need to learn in dealing with differences with each other?
How can we as believers know on which issues we can live with differences of opinion and which we cannot?