CHRIST’S LordSHIP Romans 14
“For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Rom. 14:9).We are to hold our convictions between ourselves and the Lord.
Some things are clearly labeled “sin” in Scripture. We Christians agree with God, and not only give up those things, but also seek to purge them from our fellowships (cf. 1 Cor. 5). Yet there is a whole range of practices which don’t bear that biblical label. And, at various times various groups of Christians have considered practices not called “sin” to be inappropriate for those who honor Jesus Christ. The congregation I joined as a new Christian in 1956 had convictions against smoking, drinking alcohol, going to movies, dancing, and other things I probably wasn’t aware of. Since everyone in our congregation shared these convictions, no conflicts arose. But folks in the first-century congregation in Rome did have conflicts over convictions. Some thought it wasn’t appropriate for believers to eat meat. Some thought Sunday ought to be kept as a special day, much as the Jews kept the Sabbath. And others simply did not agree. Soon the harmony and unity of the church was in jeopardy, as believers judged, criticized, and looked down on one another. If you’ve ever wondered how to handle those differences that drive wedges between Christians, Romans 14 will be an especially exciting chapter for you.
Warmly welcome others without judging their convictions (14:1–8), thus affirming Christ’s lordship in each life (vv. 9–12). Yet be sensitive to others’ convictions (vv. 13–18), and do what promotes peace and growth (vv. 19–21). Personal convictions should be kept to oneself, as a matter between the individual and his Lord (vv. 22–23).
Understanding the Text
“Accept him whose faith is weak” Rom. 14:1. In this chapter Paul spoke of the “strong” and the “weak.” What did he mean by these terms? Simply put, the strong are those who have a mature Christian perspective on what Paul called “disputable things.” The weak are those who do not yet have a mature or an accurate grasp of such issues. The striking thing is that Paul didn’t side with the strong against the weak, or with the weak against the strong! Instead he modeled exactly what he called for in Romans 14: acceptance. Without looking down on either, or criticizing either, he shows that each believer is a valued member of the local body of Christ. Each is welcome. Each is loved. Each belongs. What an important wonderful thing for every believer to know. Wherever you or I may be on the journey of faith, we are one with those before us, and behind. In the fellowship of Jesus, we are one. “Passing judgment on disputable matters” Rom. 14:1. A “disputable matter” is any practice which God has not labeled “sin” that some Christians feel is all right, and others feel is wrong. We may use a biblical principle as basis for feeling that a particular practice isn’t appropriate for Christians. But unless God has clearly stated a practice is sin, our opinion is “disputable.” That word, “disputable,” reminds us to stay humble. We may be right in our opinions about disputable matters. But we may also be wrong. So while we follow our consciences and do what we believe is right, we also free others to reach their own conclusions. You and I must surely do what we believe will be most pleasing to the Lord. But in “disputable matters” we have no right to try to impose our beliefs on others. “One man’s faith allows him to eat anything” Rom. 14:2–3. You can easily generate your own list of “disputable matters.” Here’s how. First, start with Paul’s two cases: eating meat vs. vegetarianism, and strict vs. lax observance of “holy days.” Add to your list everything you can think of that are like these two. Then note how disputes over such issues affect relationships. Some folks start judging others. They are critical and condemning. Others ridicule. They treat people with differing convictions with contempt. Now add to your list any issues that seem to have such effects on Christians you know. When you have your list complete, post it. And remember. These are the things that you’re to pay no attention to at all as you build Christian friendships. God has accepted those who differ with us on all issues like these. Since God has welcomed them, we surely must welcome them too (see DEVOTIONAL). “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” Rom. 14:5–8. If you look over that list of convictions you just made out, you’ll undoubtedly have an opinion about most items there. How can you tell what position you should take on each matter, not publicly, but for yourself? You should study each issue to convince yourself: (1) That you can or cannot do this “to the Lord.” (2) That you can or cannot do it giving thanks to God. When you’re “fully convinced in your own mind,” do what you believe is right without fear of what others might think. “That He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” Rom. 14:9–12. What does Christ’s lordship in disputable matters mean? First, that you and I are responsible to Jesus to do only that which we honestly believe will please the Lord. And second, that our Christian brothers and sisters are not responsible to us! If Jesus is Lord, then judging is His job. And I am free forever from the burden of determining what is right and wrong for others. How good that freedom feels. I don’t have to condemn others. I don’t have to try to argue them over to my point of view. All I have to do is love others, accept them, and share the joy of our common faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a terrible burden for a church, a pastor, or for you and me to play God. How freeing it is to let Jesus be Lord, and focus all my attention on serving Him. “Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” Rom. 14:13–21. Have you ever noticed how some people flaunt their freedom? They make it a point to do things that shock others, or even offend them, just to show they can. Paul was used to overreaction from the young Christians he’d nurtured over the decades. So he guarded against overreaction now. We’re free to live according to our convictions. We’re not free to use our convictions to club a brother to death! This is an overriding concern felt by every mature believer. We really are to care about others and their welfare. Since flaunting my freedom might provoke someone to judge, or encourage a young believer to act against his conscience, I must exercise my freedom with restraint. Sometimes this principle is misapplied, and we let those with the least maturity in disputable matters impose their views on the whole church. That’s not what Paul asked. Paul was talking relationships, not church rules. He was telling you and me that when we suspect something we are free to do might harm a less mature brother or sister, then for Jesus’ sake we should freely choose not to do it! What a joyous freedom this is. It’s the freedom we really want. Not a freedom to do what we like, or what we know is lawful for us. But a freedom to do what is loving. To do what expresses the warmth, the wonder, the joy of putting the welfare of others before even our own “rights.” “Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” Rom. 14:22–23. The best way to handle “disputable matters” is simply not to talk about them. To discuss and argue, to try to convince others we’re correct, does nothing to promote harmony in the body of Christ. And it does nothing to build up a brother or sister in his or her faith. All that disputing is likely to do is to create doubts and uncertainty. That’s why Paul reminds us that whatever “does not come from faith is sin.” Whatever we do, we must do it in the conviction that we are pleasing Jesus Christ. So be convinced in your own mind before you act. When you are convinced, feel free to do what you believe is pleasing to the Lord. But at the same time, be sensitive to the convictions of others, and how your actions affect them. Value your brother’s well-being even more highly than your rights. And never, never make personal convictions the subject of debate.
There’s a Welcome Here(Rom. 14:1–4)
Paul immediately launched into the very heart of the issue. “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” That’s really what it’s all about. Not who’s wrong and who’s right. Just acceptance. The Greek word translated “accept,” proslambano, is one of the most powerful relational terms in the New Testament. It means to actively welcome. It’s a glad smile, arms reached out to hug, a hand on an arm drawing a newcomer into a circle of close and loving friends. Psychologists tell us how important acceptance is. If a child fails to feel acceptance from his parents, he’s likely to grow up ridden with doubt and a sense of unworthiness. If an adult fails to feel acceptance from others, she will always be uncertain, fearful, isolated, and alone. Paul reminds us that the church of Jesus Christ is God’s family. Here every child of God is to experience welcome, and so feel the great value God places on him or her. The church of Jesus is home: it’s where we can relax and be ourselves, knowing that here we belong. And here we are loved. Acceptance is one of the most important gifts you can give another person. And one of the most valuable gifts you will ever receive. No wonder Paul began his discussion of disputable matters with the command, “Accept him.” However we may differ from others about issues the Bible does not label as “sin,” and however passionately our convictions are held, our brother or sister in Christ has been accepted by God. And we are to welcome him or her too.
Give the gift that costs nothing, but means everything.
“On Sunday they come from the town and stand in the doorway and so keep out the cold. One is not cold among his brothers and sisters. What if there is less fire on the hearth, if there is more in the heart!”—Henry David Thoreau