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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
As we begin to look at this new section that runs from Romans 14:1 thru 15:13, we need to understand that our Apostle Paul hasn’t changed his subject matter. His theme remains the same as in chapters 12 and 13, which is "Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself, which in effect means seeking their highest good.”
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself (or herself) than he (or she) ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith (Romans 12.3)
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; (Romans 12:9-12)
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8)
Please open your Bible at Romans 14.
When our Apostle Paul wrote this letter one of the hottest topics of his day was the eating of meat that had been offered to false gods. This meat was sold to merchants who re-sold it in the market place where people shopped for food. The weak in faith chose to eat vegetables rather than eat it and sin against God; based on their beliefs. Paul’s emphasis in this section is on the weak in faith so he writes instructing the strong in faith not to look down or disrespect the weaker members of this group.
Verses 1-12 deal with the Believer’s responsibility to respect the personal convictions (beliefs) of one another rather than try to revise them. Verses 13-23 instruct us to refrain from exercising our own personal liberties when there’s the slightest chance that they will harm another person.
Let’s read some Scripture together.
Principles of Conscience
1: Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
2: One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
3: The one who eats (meat) is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
4: Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5: One person regards one day above another (Friday evening till Saturday evening according to the Law was the Jewish Sabbath but), another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
6: He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
7: For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;
8: for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
9: For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10: But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Paul specifically mentions two groups of Believers in this section namely “the strong” and “the weak.” We need to know who these people were or what it means to be strong and weak in the Body of Christ if we’re to fully comprehend this text.
Without a doubt, these folks are Believers because Paul includes them in this category: Now we (Paul included himself in this group) who are strong ought to bear (the what) weaknesses of those without strength and not just to please ourselves (Romans 15:1).
The word strong, as used here is from the Greek word Dunatos (pronounced: doo-nat-os’) meaning – able, powerful; to be able to do something. I’ll use one of Paul’s examples: For if because of food your brother (or sister in Christ Jesus) is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with food him for whom Christ died (Romans 14:15).
The “ability” the strong in faith possess, as suggested by the Bible passage above appears to be in influencing the weak in faith’s relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ either negatively or positively.
The strong are predominately Gentile Believers who have come to know Jesus Christ through faith in God’s Gospel without any attachment to Jewish Law or traditions. They have zero appreciation for the Jewish faith. They are the same people Paul addressed in chapter 11: Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; (Romans 11:20).
So the strong in faith consisted of Gentile Believers, with some Messianic Believers, who regarded unbelieving Jews as enemies of the gospel: From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers: (Romans 11:28).
The Greek word for weak is Astheneo (pronounced: as-then-eh’-o) meaning – feeble, without strength, powerless (the literal meaning). But the question remains who does Paul consider powerless or without strength in this Roman assembly?
We already know this church is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Given that; we also know in the 1st century a T-bone steak is just a T-bone steak to a Gentile; they didn’t care from whence it came. But the Jew on the other hand had 2500 years of Mosaic Law in their history and eating meat that had been sacrificed to a pagan god in a pagan temple was a definite affront to Jehovah: One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. (Romans 14:2; Leviticus 11)
*Daniel abstained from eating meat and drinking wine while in Babylonian captivity out of respect for God’s dietary laws even though the king ordained them (Daniel 1:1-21).
The weak in faith’s choosing to eat only vegetables isn’t sinful behavior. This is actually God-exalting behavior based on their beliefs. The practices of the weak Paul listed here for us are faith-driven practices meant to please God such as: He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:6)
I have no problem teaching the weak in faith are unsaved Jews, since Gentiles have no hang-ups with either food, wine, or special days. If you study the Jewish context of this section and Paul’s writings that have come before it, it argues that the weak in faith are not Believers in the Messiah. They have not fully embraced the Truth about Jesus Christ, as some of their brethren have done. They are Torah-observant (which is why the still maintain the dietary laws and the Sabbath) but they are unconvinced of the deity of Jesus Christ or that He was physically resurrected from the dead, according to the Scriptures. (Romans 11:7)
So, Paul instructs the strong in faith to modify their behavior so that the weak in faith are not provoked to speak evil of their “good thing” i.e. liberty found in Jesus Christ: Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; (Romans 14:16).
Personal Convictions and Personal Liberties
A young man went to see his doctor one morning. When his M.D. asked him what’s troubling him, he replied, “I’ve been misbehaving for months Doc, and I can’t sleep at night. My conscience keeps me awake.” “You want me to prescribe something that will strengthen your willpower?” asked the doctor. “Well, no,” said the young man. “I was thinking of getting something that would silence my conscience.”
That feeble attempt at humor on my part was submitted to illustrate the “issue” at hand, which according to Paul is the subject of personal convictions (a person’s firmly held beliefs) and their personal liberties. Disputable matters are areas where the Bible doesn’t give us explicit instructions and there were many disputable matters in this Roman church: eating meat offered to idols, drinking wine, and venerable days were just a few.
Unfortunately, disputable issues still exist and divide and harm Believers today: body piercings, dancing, dress, drinking alcohol, holidays, homeschooling, movies, music, plastic surgery, tattoos, video games, worshipping with uplifted hands, shirt and tie on Sunday morning vs casual dress, shoes and socks vs sandals in church, etc.
Believers often disagree over matters of personal convictions and one’s personal liberties. But let’s be careful. The difference Paul speaks of here is not over Scriptural absolutes or fundamental Church Age Doctrines. Paul mentioned specifically the eating of meat vs only vegetables (v2), of regarding one day above another while another regards each day alike (v5), and of drinking wine (v21). These are neither absolutes nor doctrines.
You get a few Christians in a room talking and at least one of them will disagree over whether or not it’s o.k. or NOT o.k. to drink “wine” or alcohol at all for that matter, play cards, wear lipstick, work on Sunday, attend church on Wednesday night, etc. These are disputable matters. However, no Believer should ever dispute the fact that adultery, lying, stealing, and sexual immorality are sin. These are biblical absolutes. Furthermore, no two Believers should ever disagree or dispute the existence of the Triune God – all equal in every respect, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, His deity, His physical resurrection on the 3rd day according to the Scriptures, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. These are doctrinal certainties. And yet many Christians do…
There are people who claim to be Christ followers who behave as if they’re in a Scriptural orchard picking and choosing what they want to believe from God’s Word. For example: I’ve had more than a few Christians tell me they CAN believe that Jesus died on the cross and was buried BUT they CAN’T believe that he was resurrected from the dead.
Had this been a “disputable matter,” I would have let it go. But this is a salvation issue. According to Scripture, a person’s salvation is based on believing what God said. An individual is saved, IF they believe and hold fast that Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that He was raised (from the dead) on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
God’s Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are saved by placing your faith in this gospel and not just parts of it. Asking Jesus to come “into your heart” or asking Jesus, “to come into your life” are not mentioned in the Bible and are not part of God’s Good News! This individual I was trying to help (not change) held to their belief in regard to this matter and would not listen; they preferred to argue the point instead. Apparently, they’re not aware they’re not disputing with me over this indisputable Truth; they’re quarrelling with the Author of the book; the Creator God (Colossians 1:15-18)?
I want to show you how our Apostle Paul dealt with the issue of individual liberties and personal convictions (personal beliefs) when an individual’s salvation was at stake. Some Jews came into town from Judea and began teaching the Believers it was impossible to be “saved” unless they were first circumcised: Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1; Galatians 5; Colossians 2).
Paul and Barnabas responded sternly to their false doctrine and rightly so (Acts 15:2-12). But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (Galatians 1:8-9).
However, the group Paul is writing to in Rome wasn’t like this. They were not saying they had to avoid meat in order to be “saved;” they simply “felt,” according to their conscience that it was wrong to eat meat, just as it is wrong to lie or to steal.
There’s another good example from Scripture regarding the circumcision of Paul’s protégé Timothy and his fellow worker in Christ Jesus Titus. In Acts 16:3, Paul had Timothy circumcised so as not to offend the traditions and scruples of the Jews who knew his father was a Greek. But in Galatians 2:3-5, Paul refused to circumcise Titus because the false brethren (heretics) insisted circumcision was essential for salvation.
As I reminded you earlier Paul is still dealing with the subject of relationships in this section of Romans both vertical and horizontal - love God and love your neighbor as yourself – which literally means seeking their highest good. Paul is especially gracious in his approach to this group in Rome because there is no heretical doctrine here, only a difference of understanding in the matter of one’s convictions and liberties. In other letters, Paul deals harshly with moral sin and doctrinal deviation. But here he pleads for understanding and love for one another when it comes to spiritual immaturity:
So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (Romans 14:19)
Each of us is to please his (or her) neighbor for his (or her) good, to his (or her) edification. (Romans 15:2)
When Paul says, “So whatever you believe about these (disputable) things keep between yourself and God,” he is discouraging meddling and encouraging privacy in a Believer’s devotion to God. The strong in faith should not be micro-managers.
But whatever we do, our heavenly Father wants us to do it confidently, free from doubt.
In other words, our faith should be a confident faith: For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, Hebrews 3:14).
We should gain confidence through prayer: In whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him… For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, (Ephesians 3:12, 14).
Consequently, if any of you lacks wisdom, let him (or her) ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him (or her). But we must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)
To clarify Paul’s teachings in this section of Romans it should be stated clearly in order to avoid any misunderstanding his main point is that every Believer should be free to hold his or her own personal convictions on matters of personal liberty, but no Believer is free to exercise their personal liberties at the expense of another’s spiritual welfare.
The destructive consequence for the weak in faith of which Paul speaks is not the loss of their salvation, for that is eternally secure. They suffer the loss of fellowship with God as a result of sin. When the weaker brother or sister “drinks wine” with a troubled conscience and only because the more mature Believer does so, they are acting in doubt and therefore sinning (v23). The weaker brother or sister suffers harm (v15) because they violated their conscience and sinned.
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
The application we need to make from our study of Scripture and from the passage from Colossians above is that the Lord Jesus Christ is our focal point. The Sabbath for instance was part of the Law, which was not given to “save us” but to show us our need for a Savior (Galatians 3:24). Thus, rather than being legalists, going back to the Law and trying to keep it, like so many in the church are doing today. We are to honor Jesus Christ by living out the law of Christ. Believers do this by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves with a selfless love (Galatians 6:2). If we do this, we, through Christ, provide evidence that we’ve been redeemed and we show the world that we are in it but not of it!
(To be continued)
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