Guard Your Actions
Explore the Bible Series
February 5, 2006
Lesson Passage: Romans 14:13-23
Introduction: We near the end of this important applicatory section of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The apostle began this section with a two-fold admonition: (1) “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice”, (2) “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” These directives inform this entire portion of Scripture (Romans 12:1-15:13). As our lessons have pointed out previously, this unit of thought describes, in practical and unmistakable terms, the nature of the renewed mind. The Christian’s sanctification is manifest through consistent growth in holiness of life. In particular, Paul emphasized the central role of building and maintaining healthy, godly relationships with the Lord’s people.
Sadly, any extended exposure to the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, within the context of the local church, will certainly convince even the most optimistic person that maintaining the unity of a congregation can (and often does) prove very difficult. Heartbreaking circumstances often trouble the best of churches. These problems, of course, do not honor Christ, and they distract the church from her primary responsibilities. Church troubles sap the Lord’s people of energy for the service of Christ, and serve as a source of discouragement to all involved. Furthermore, these conflicts may harm the reputation of the church among unbelievers and cause young Christians to stumble. Paul was right to devote so much material to addressing ways to avoid these problems and how to correct them when they arise.
Last week, we considered some of Paul’s thoughts about a particular kind of problem that may have characterized the church at Rome. Some people in the church had a very sensitive conscience about issues that relate to the application of the moral law. These “weaker brothers” agreed with others regarding the necessity of obeying God’s commandments, but their application of the law proved restrictive and divisive. Stronger Christians enjoyed a healthier view of Christian liberty. Dietary restrictions (14:2-3), observance of the Jewish calendar (14:5-6), and the consumption of wine (14:21) were not issues that troubled these more mature believers. However, these divergent groups had to find ways to worship and serve the Lord in a spirit of unity and peace.
Pastoral experience teaches me that churches must walk a fine line on these matters. Congregations must avoid two extremes. On the one hand, stronger believers must learn to bear with the scruples of those who struggle with issues of Christian liberty. Unnecessary divisiveness and offense may arise in circumstances where mature believers do not exercise patience and understanding with their brothers. On the other hand, churches must avoid catering to divisive people with eccentric agendas. Eccentric people drain the church of energy and prove divisive over petty issues. Wise church leaders must resist allowing peripheral issues dividing the church and distracting God’s people from the weightier matters of the Kingdom. The Apostle Paul gave the church in Rome valuable insight into avoiding these kinds of problems.
I. Prohibition of a Judgmental Spirit (v. 13)
A. “Let us not judge one another anymore”: Paul used a construction that calls for the cessation of an action already in progress. Apparently the Roman church already manifested a censorious spirit toward those weak in the faith.
B. “but rather determine this”: Paul employed a play on words here that proves very difficult to translate into English. He just admonished the Romans to strop judging their brother; then, he commanded them to “determine this.” The word translated “determine” is the same word rendered “judge” earlier in the verse. Christians must not judge one another, but they must exercise their judgment against putting a stumbling block before their fellow Christians.
II. Liberty and its Proper Use (v. 14)
A. Paul’s liberty in Christ: Paul did not feel constrained by the dietary restrictions that troubled the consciences of other believers. He realized that no food was intrinsically evil.
B. However, all things may not be clean for all men. In other words, if eating certain foods caused a person to violate his conscience, then he should not eat that food. Furthermore, stronger Christians understand their freedom better than the weaker brother; nonetheless, the mature Christians must exercise patience and, in some cases, lay aside their liberty to prevent a weaker brother from stumbling.
II. Reasons for Restraining One’s Liberty (vv. 15-23)
A. The priority of love (v. 15): Christians show love by restraining their legitimate liberties in order that they might not unnecessarily offend a brother. In Paul’s economy, love is more important than food!
B. The good use of liberty (v. 16): Mature believers highly regard their liberty. It is, for them, a great good; however, their “good” may be used for a bad purpose. If the unrestrained use of Christian liberty caused a brother to fall, then the good has been misused.
C. The nature of the Kingdom of God (v. 17): So often, these disputes elevate trivial matters to primary status. Christians break fellowship over frivolous things like food. Paul reminded his readers that their fundamental concern should focus on “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
D. True service to Christ (v. 18): Strong believers may find these directives irksome. Impatience may characterize their demeanor toward the weaker brother, and the mature person may feel that he must constantly defer to the immature convictions of the less advanced man. However, this deferment to then weaker brother must be seen as genuine service to Christ.
E. The edification of the church (vv. 19-20): It is easier to destroy than to build. Paul encouraged the Romans to build rather than tear down. They must pursue this edification through promoting peace in the church. Paul found it repugnant that anyone would tear the church down over something as insignificant as food (v. 20).
F. The path to godly happiness (vv. 21-22): The mature Christian, by properly restraining his liberty, will find true happiness (See v. 22). This path will lead to true joy, in Christ.
G. The importance of faith (v. 23): This last verse has clear reference to the weaker brothers. If his faith compels his conscience to refuse certain foods and wine, then he should not eat or drink. Faith must drive and motivate his obedience.
Conclusion: May I add a personal, pastoral remark? I find these issues very difficult. They don’t seem to get easier with age (and I trust some maturity). Most of the time I find that patient preaching and reasonable conversation resolves these kinds of problems. Sometimes, of course, these problems become chronic and stubborn. It helps me, as I deal with pastoral circumstances, to realize that I may not always fall in the category of the “stronger brother.”
In my early years in the ministry I had a tendency to see the world in very “black and white” terms. Frankly, I did damage to church members by applying the Scriptures too rigidly to certain situations. Please understand that a person can hold to the proper doctrine in a matter, but he may misapply the doctrine to a particular circumstance. Paul’s point in this text centers on the proper application of sound doctrine. It is one thing to have a clear understanding of the Christian’s liberty; yet, the apostle makes clear that the man, sound in doctrine, may do great damage to the church by mishandling his good doctrine. Experience teaches that all matters in life are not stark and clear. Serve Christ with patience, grace, and longsuffering. When unpleasant issues surface, face them tenderly and firmly. Believe the right doctrine, vigorously obey the Scriptures, and exercise patience with your brothers. Perhaps, as a result of your patient ministry, a “weaker brother” may not remain a “weaker brother.” Moreover, those who regard you as the “weaker brother” will find encouragement in your growth in grace.