MY HEART HEALTHY CHURCH

 

Week of November 23, 2008

 

Bible Verses:Romans 14:1,10-13,19-21; 15:1-6.

 

Life Impact: This lesson can help you take specific actions to establish your churchís health and unity.

 

Accept One Another: Romans 14:1,10-12.

 

[1]Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. [10]But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. [11]For it is written, "AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD." [12]So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. ††[NASU]

 

Now Paul supplies a lengthy example of what it means in practice to walk according to love [14:15]. It concerns the relations between two groups in the Christian community in Rome whom he names the weak and the strong believer. It is important to be clear at the outset that Paul is referring to a weakness neither of will nor of character, but of faith. So if we are trying to picture a weaker brother or sister, we must not envisage a vulnerable Christian easily overcome by temptation, but a sensitive Christian full of indecision and scruples. What the weak lack is not strength of self-control but liberty of conscience. But who were the weak and the strong in Rome? Four main proposals have been made regarding the identity of the weak. But the most satisfactory proposal is that the weak were, for the most part, Jewish Christians, whose weakness consisted in their continuing conscientious commitment to Jewish regulations regarding diet and days. Paul makes it quite clear that he believes the position of the strong to be correct [14:14,20]. He writes throughout from the perspective of the strong; and he explicitly associates himself with them when he writes, we who are strong [15:1]. Vital to Paulís strategy in these chapters is his insistence that, from a gospel perspective, questions of diet and days are precisely non-essentials. There is a similar need for discernment today. We must not elevate non-essentials, especially issues of custom and ceremony, to the level of the essential and make them tests of orthodoxy and conditions of fellowship. Nor must we marginalize fundamental theological or moral questions as if they were only cultural and of no great importance. No, the Roman issues were doubtful points, or disputable matters, opinions on which it was not necessary for all Christians to agree. The sixteenth-century Reformers called such things adiaphora, matters of indifference, whether they were customs and ceremonies, or secondary beliefs which are not part of the gospel or the creed. In either case they are matters on which Scripture does not clearly pronounce. Today as in first-century Rome, the problem is how to handle conscientious differences in matters on which Scripture is either silent or seemingly ambiguous, in such a way as to prevent them from disrupting the Christian fellowship. One further characteristic of this passage deserves our attention, namely Paulís remarkable blend of theology and ethics. He is treating some very mundane matters, yet he grounds them in the truths of the cross, the resurrection, the parousia and the judgment.

 

[1] Paul states the positive principle in two parts. (1) Accept him whose faith is weak [1a]. They are weak in faith (here meaning conviction), immature, untaught, and (as Paulís unfolding argument makes clear) actually mistaken. The word for accept means to welcome into oneís fellowship and into oneís heart. It implies the warmth and kindness of genuine love. (2) Having reflected on the principle of acceptance, we need to observe its qualification: without passing judgment on his opinions [1b]. Paul is saying that we must receive the weak person with a warm and genuine welcome, without debate over his misgivings, or not for the purpose of getting into quarrels about opinions. The welcome we give them must include respect for their opinions.

 

[10-12] In verse 10, Paul suddenly poses two straight questions in which he sets over against each other you and your brother. Despising and judging fellow Christians are both now shown up to be totally unacceptable attitudes. Why? Not only because God has accepted them, because Christ has died and risen to be our common Lord, but also because they and we are related to one another in the strongest possible way, by family ties. Whether we are thinking of the weak, with all their tedious doubts and fears, or of the strong, with all their brash assurances and freedoms, they are our brothers and sisters. When we remember this, our attitude to them becomes at once less critical and impatient, more generous and tender. We welcome our brother because we will all stand before Godís judgment seat [10b-13a]. There is an obvious link between our not judging our brother [10a] and our having to stand before Godís judgment seat [10b]. We should not judge, because we are going to be judged. What kind of judging was Paul referring to, however? He was not forbidding criticism or telling us to suspend our critical faculties because Paul tells us to watch out for false teachers. And you have to use your critical thinking abilities to discern what is false teaching. No, what is prohibited is not criticism but censoriousness, judging in the sense of passing judgment on or condemning. And the reason given is that we ourselves will one day appear before the Judge. In order to confirm this, Paul quotes from Isaiah 45:23. The emphasis is on the universality of Godís jurisdiction, in that every knee and every tongue will pay homage to Him. Therefore, because God is the Judge and we are among the judged, let us stop passing judgment on one another [13a], for then we shall avoid the extreme folly of trying to usurp Godís prerogative and anticipate judgment day. Four theological truths, then, undergird Paulís admonition to welcome the weak, and neither despise nor condemn them. They concern God, Christ, them and ourselves. First, God has accepted them [3]. Secondly, Christ died and rose to be the Lord, both theirs and ours [9]. Thirdly, they are our sisters and brothers, so that we are members of the same family [10a]. Fourthly, all of us will stand before Godís judgment seat [10b]. Any one of these truths should be enough to sanctify our relationships; the four together leave us without excuse.

 

Build Up One Another: Romans 14:13,19-21.

 

[13]Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. [19]So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. [20]Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. [21]It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. ††††[NASU]

 

[13]Paulís therefore bases this direction on what he has just said about judgment belonging only to God [11-12]. The present tense together with his anymore implies that the Romans have been doing this and urges them to stop. What he looks for is the very opposite of judgment, as his use of the strong adversative, but rather, shows. Far more important than censuring a weaker brother for some overscrupulous action is it to make a firm resolve not to hinder such a weak brother in any way. It is not enough for a Christian that a certain course is not wrong; he must also consider its effect on other people, specifically on his brother, one bound to him by close ties.

 

[19-21]These verses repeat, enforce and apply the same teaching about proportion or balance. They contain three exhortations. (1) First, let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification [19]. Peace here seems to be the shalom which is experienced within the Christian community, while edification is building one another up in Christ. This is the positive goal which all should seek, and which the strong were neglecting in their insensitive treatment of the weak. (2) Secondly, do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food [20a]. The work of God seems to refer to the Christian community. Tear down translates a different verb from the one which Paul has used in verse 15. This verb means to tear down or throw down, particularly in relation to buildings. It appears to be deliberately contrasted with the previous verse. Our responsibility is to seek to build up the fellowship [19], not to tear it down [20]. And in particular we must not tear it down for the sake of food. Are you strong really prepared, he asks, to distress a brother because of what you eat [15a], to damage him spiritually by your eating [15b], to prize your eating and drinking above Godís kingdom [17], and now to demolish Godís work for the sake of food [20]? His gentle sarcasm showed up their skewed perspective. They would have to re-value their values, give up insisting on their liberties at the expense of the welfare of others, and put the cross and the kingdom first. (3) Paulís third exhortation expresses a contrast between two kinds of behavior, which he declares to be respectively good and evil [20-21]. All food is clean, he affirms, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble [20b]. This being so, it is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that will cause your brother to fall [21]. The statement that all things indeed are clean sounds like the slogan of the strong. Here is the theological truth which gave them their liberty to eat anything they liked. But there were other factors to consider, which would require them to limit the exercise of their liberty.

 

Imitate Christ: Romans 15:1-6.

 

[1]Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. [2]Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. [3]For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME." [4]For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. [5]Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, [6]so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.†† [NASU]

 

[1-2]Paul comes next to his third negative deduction from the positive principle to accept the weaker brother. Having urged the strong neither to despise and judge him [14:2-13a], nor to distress and damage him [14:13b-23], he now exhorts them not to please themselves [15.1-13]. What then ought the strong to do? What is their Christian responsibility towards the weak? (1) First, the strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak [1a]. One personís strength can compensate for another personís weakness. (2) Secondly, we who are strong ought not to please ourselves [1b]. We ought not to use our strength to serve our own advantage. Christians with a strong conscience must not trample on the consciences of the weak. (3) Thirdly, each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up [2]. Instead of causing to stumble [14:13,20,21], tearing down [14:20] or damaging [14:15] our neighbor, we are to build him up. Edification is a constructive alternative to demolition. And this upbuilding of the weak will doubtless include helping to educate and so strengthen their conscience.

 

[3-6]Why should we please our neighbor and not ourselves? (1) Because Christ did not please himself [3-4]. Instead of pleasing Himself, He gave Himself in the service of His Father and of human beings. Paul quotes from Psalm 69, which vividly describes the unjust, unreasonable sufferings of a righteous man, and which is quoted of Christ several times in the New Testament, being regarded as a messianic prediction. Christís fulfillment of Psalm 69:9 leads Paul into a brief digression about the nature and purpose of Old Testament scripture [4]. From this thoughtful statement it is legitimate to derive five truths about Scripture, which we would do well to remember. First, its contemporary intention: written to teach us. Secondly, its inclusive value: everything written in the past is for us. Thirdly, its Christological focus. Fourthly, its practical purpose: it can bring us encouragement with a view to endurance, so that we might have hope. Fifthly, its divine message. The striking fact that endurance and encouragement, which in verse 4 are attributed to Scripture, in verse 5 are attributed to God, can only mean that it is God himself who encourages us through the living voice of Scripture. (2) Because Christ is the way to united worship [5-6]. These verses are in the form of a benediction. Paulís prayer is that the God who gives endurance and encouragement may give you a spirit of unity among yourselves. It is a prayer for their unity of mind in essentials. For Paulís petition is this: May God give you a spirit of unity as you follow Christ Jesus [5b], literally according to Christ Jesus. This seems to indicate that Christian unity is unity in Christ. But what is the purpose of this unity of mind? It is in order that we may engage in the common worship of God: so that with one heart and mouth we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [6]. Thus the one mind [5] is expressed through the one heart and the one mouth [6]; indeed without this unity of mind about Christ unity of heart and mouth in worship is impossible.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††††††††† What does Paul mean here by weak in faith? What does it mean to consider something a non-essential or a matter of indifference? Give some examples of things today in the Church that would fall into this category.

 

2.††††††††† How does Paul tell someone who is strong in the faith to treat the person who is weak in the faith? What are the three exhortations Paul gives his readers in verses 14:19-21? Why should edification overrule all individual freedoms?

 

3.††††††††† What five truths about Scripture can we learn from 15:4?

 

4.††††††††† Spend time meditating on Paulís benediction in 15:5-6. What does he pray for? Why are these things crucial for true worship? What can you do to improve in these areas?

 

References:

The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Intervarsity.