Romans 14-The Law of Love In Action

The Law of Love In The Local Congregation

 

As we move along in this present age of the world, particularly as I move along in my own age, I have observed increasing laxity as it regards what might be called “standards” in the life of local churches. It is no secret that the world is attacking everything moral, godly, righteous, and clean. In fact, the world does not even care what sex you identify with, regardless of the anatomy of your own birth. We would expect this from the world. We would expect this from those who couldn’t care less for Jesus Christ and His Words. But, should we tolerate it in the church which is supposed to carry on the truth about Jesus Christ and His Words?

In the local church I pastor, Berean Bible Church of Kalispell, MT., we had a discussion concerning differing doctrinal “views.” In essence, the discussion came as a perspective particularly in regards to eschatology, or the study of what the Bible says about end-times events. Inevitably, we ended up in Romans 14, a chapter championed by some to allow for just about any viewpoint or behavior in the church as long as you have “full conviction” about it.

It was, I hope, a precious time of learning and clarification. My desire was to represent this powerful chapter in Romans the way that Paul intended it to be taught and to mean exactly what he intended it to mean. From there we can go on to obeying it. Although the truths written in Romans 14 are not unique to that chapter, the chapter is without equal in condensing how a church can maintain unity, as commanded in Ephesians 4:3, and yet maintain doctrinal accuracy.

My goal is to summarize Paul’s writing in this essay and exhort the church to obedience to it so that true unity can be maintained and the church can mature.

Main Point: Accept one another

 This command bookends the section that Paul uses to address the issues related to relationships in the Roman church. A church filled with Jews and Gentiles, formerly avowed enemies, is bound to have schisms and factions, as evidenced in churches like the churches at Corinth and Galatia. In fact, the issue regarding Jews and Gentiles was so prominent, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem in order to conclude the matter by the appointed Jerusalem elders and Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15). Given that Paul addressed the Jews, who were already causing a tremendous stir in the Roman church, in chapters 2-5 respectively, we can see why he now revisits what he wrote back there.

Romans 2:1 

       1        Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

 

The very first verse addresses the very thing that Paul addresses again in chapters 14 and 15-unrighteous condemnation of the Gentiles by the Jews in the church! The Jews of the church were passing condemning judgment upon the Gentiles for whatever reason. Most likely, it was conformity to the Law of Moses, or the lack of it, that they were being upset about. However, as Paul points out, the Jews themselves were also void of conformity to that very Law by which they were judging the Gentiles. He wrote:

Romans 2:17–24

       17      But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God,

       18      and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law,

       19      and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,

       20      a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,

       21      you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?

       22      You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

       23      You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?

       24      For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.

 

Notice, please, he is writing this to the church. He is speaking directly to the Jews who were attending the church in Rome. These are harsh words! However, the reason they were harsh is because they were true! The fact is, God’s riches in kindness, tolerance, and patience towards the weaknesses of His children should be a pattern for us to follow towards one another.

Romans 2:3–4

       3        But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

       4        Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

 

The Jews were no more obedient to the Law than the uncircumcised were. Yet, Paul writes, the uncircumcised, even without the Law, did, in fact, keep the Law because of the Holy Spirit (2:26-29).

With this in mind, we can see why Paul addresses all that he does in this epistle. From here he writes that the whole world, Jews and Gentiles, are under wrath (Chapters 2-3). Then, he informs the Jews that even those who are Gentiles and yet of the faith of Abraham are heirs of the promise to Abraham, vis-a-vis, the world (chapters 4-5). Then, he exhorts the entire church to holiness and a refusal to submit to anything unrighteous because of that kingdom which is imminently coming (chapters 6-8). Then, he teaches concerning the future of the Jews’s repentance in spite of their very clear apostasy from the covenant they promised to keep (chapters 9-11). From there, he teaches the church as a whole their responsibilities to the body (chapter 12) and to the world (chapter 13). As we get to chapter 14 and a portion of chapter 15, we see Paul further addressing how the Jews and Gentiles are to conduct their relationships in the  body. With all of the past that is real and nearly impossible to surmount, Paul teaches, in these chapters, how to do that. This is crucial for us as well so that the unity of the Spirit, which was granted at the moment of regeneration regardless of Jew or Gentile (Galatians 3:28-29), can be maintained.

Again, the conclusion is: “accept one another”

What Does This Mean?

The verb “accept” is a verb that means, in most contexts, “receive” or “take.”[1] It is a command that is addressed primarily to the strong (v.1). He writes,

Romans 14:1

       1       Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

 

He is not writing this to the weak because the command is to accept the weak. He is writing this to the strong in order that he might “accept” the weak. Thus, this chapter is meant as a concession for the weak and not for the strong. He writes again in chapter 15 verse 1:

Romans 15:1

       1        Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.

 

 The whole section places the responsibility of “accepting” upon the strong in relation to the weak. Now, imagine what this would have sounded like as it was read by the elder in Rome. People would have looked around and wondered who was weak and who was strong. The proud Jews may have seen themselves as strong or the proud Greek may have seen themselves as strong. However, Paul gives an example in order to evaluate who is strong and who is weak.

Romans 14:2

       2        One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.

 

Here, Paul identifies the “weak” as the one who “eats vegetables only.” This is a statement that indicates who the weak believer is. He is the one who is simply not convinced that the teachings of Jesus Christ allow for participation in eating meat, meat offered to idols in idol temples (as most meat was processed in that day). “The faith” refers to the content of the faith that is encapsulized in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Not understanding something like Mark 7 wherein Jesus declared all foods clean (acceptable to God) means that that person, not understanding this and consequently being convinced, is not established in his faith and he cannot eat meat but sticks to his vegetables.

This person is considered “weak.” He is not one who in wanton, purposeful, sin. He is not one who has redefined righteousness (Romans 14:17). He is one whose conscience, bound by his weak understanding of the Word of Christ, does not allow him to eat meat in Rome. He is weak.[2]

Paul writes that eating meat is okay on the basis of Christ’s teaching (Romans 14:14, 20). All foods are indeed clean. Jesus said so (Mark 7:14-19). Paul, a stronger brother, says that he is convinced that all foods are clean. But, for the sake of the weaker brother, which is seen as a hardship on the church and not a virtue (see 2 Corinthians 11:29), he says to not criticize that brother towards condemnation, but to get closer to him; pull him closer to yourself.

If that weaker brother, who has not matured to the point of fully embodying the teaching of Jesus Christ, is serving Jesus Christ, don’t stand in his way (Romans 14:13-21). If you both serve Christ in this manner, the manner of keeping stumbling blocks out of the way of a brother ( e.g. see Leviticus 19:14), his service to Jesus Christ is acceptable and pleasing to the Lord.

Summary

 So, as he continues to write in chapter 15, the Law of Love (Romans 14:15) instructs the strong to put up with, in love, the habits, strictures, and concerns of the weak. This is a way to promote godliness in the church and further the ministry of the church.

Conclusion

However, this needs to be said as well. This discussion does not indicate, at all, that false teaching is tolerated. That is, if a Jew came into the church in Rome and said that a Gentile must follow the Law in order to be reconciled to God, that cannot be tolerated (see Acts 15:1-2).[3] Paul always confronted those who, even slightly, redefined what God has established in the true reonciling gospel. Paul is not indicating that doctrine is relative or fluid. He said that he knows and is convinced that the Lord declared all foods clean. We cannot take this passage and redefine it by saying any view of doctrine is viable as long as you are serving Christ. Even in prison, Paul recognized that some preached Christ from selfish motives (Philippians 1:16; 2:21). However, when they were preaching Christ, he was pleased and patient. But, those who distort the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ are condemned and are to be rejected by the church (Philippians 3:2).

[1] προσλαμβάνω   προσλαμβάνω    2aor. προσέλαβον, mid. προσελαβόμην; (1) take aside, take hold of and lead aside (MT 16.22); (2) take along with oneself (AC 17.5); (3) receive hospitably, accept, welcome (PM 17); (4) take, partake of food (AC 27.33) Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 335.

 Here is a good summary: “In the NT the word is found only in the mid. (as in the LXX): “to take to oneself” (men, Ac. 17:5; 18:26; nourishment, Ac. 27:33, 36 [v. 36 part. gen.]) or “with oneself” (Mk. 8:32 and par.), “to receive hospitably” (Phlm. 17; Ac. 28:2). R. 14:1, 3; 15:7: As God (or Christ) has taken every member of the Church into fellowship with Himself, so incorporate each other into your Christian circle with no inner reservations (such as might spring from differences in religious custom).” Ὑπολαμβάνω,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 15.

[2] First Corinthians 8 also deals with this very thing.

[3] I believe, too, that even other doctrines which are not accurate require intolerance in the church body as well (1 Timothy 6:3-5; Romans 16:17-18). For example, 2 Timothy 2:17-18 indicates one such teaching that the Second-Coming resurrection had already happened. That teaching had begun to infiltrate the church in Ephesus and create panic. Paul’s response was to remove those men from leadership and to put them out of the church. He wrote that they were “..men who have gone stray from the truth…” So, know that there is only one truth and the church is supposed to be the support and pillar of truth (2 Timothy 3:15).