Romans 14, Part 3
Jan 10, 2011
Paul tells us in Romans 14 that we should be tolerant of different viewpoints. While all disputes seem important to those involved in the disputes, not all disputes are to be considered "fellowship" issues. Among these are matters of food, Sabbaths, and the holy days.
(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.
Believers in Christ are related and connected to each other through Christ. We are not connected to Christ through our spiritual brethren--not even through those who are in positions of authority in a denominational hierarchy. We are all directly connected to Christ through a personal relationship with Him. From the early chapters of this epistle, Paul has established the fact that our link to Christ is based upon faith--faith in the effectiveness of His death and resurrection, NOT our faith in men, fellow believers, nor in the Church itself.
Thus, if some believers are expelled from the group over issues that are not essential to one's salvation or relationship to Christ, such expulsions can never separate such believers from Christ. No man can claim to be the link between God and other men, because there is but one Mediator between God and man, and that Mediator is Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
Each believer is part of the body of Christ directly, not indirectly through the Church or through the approval of men (however spiritual and whatever their appointed position of authority). For this reason, Paul says in verse 4, "who are you to judge the servant of another?" This rebuke is directed at those who presume to use the excuse of Church authority to judge a servant of Jesus Christ. No Christian is the servant of the Church, but of Christ alone. Therefore, he who observes one day differently, or he who eats something not approved by the hierarchy, is living by faith in Christ as much as the others--even if their opinions are absolutely wrong.
This relationship with Christ remains unbroken whether we live or die. Death does not break our link to Christ, for nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39). Likewise, Jesus Himself said in Matt. 22:32,
(32) I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead but of the living.
His point was to say that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were yet "living" in the eyes of God. Death did not break their relationship with God.
So even if the Church itself were to put its "heretics" to death, such action in itself does not break their relationship with Christ, as long as that relationship has been established by faith in Christ's death and resurrection. It does not depend upon the approval of men.
So Paul continues his discussion in Romans 14,
(10) But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall 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 shall give account of himself to God.
The apostle makes it clear that we are accountable directly to God, not to any man and not even to the Church itself. "Every knee shall bow to Me," God says.
Our concern is to assist our brethren in their relationship with Christ. For this purpose was the Church ordained, not that they would subject believers to itself, but that they would assist believers in their relationship with God. When the Church or any denomination takes upon itself the right to determine (usually by approved membership) who is a true believer and who is not, it has gone beyond its ordination and calling.
The Church has turned millions of people away from Christ by usurping authority that it does not have--and by NOT exercising the authority that it HAS been given. The Church has often usurped power as did King Saul, and yet, conversely, it has fallen short in exercising spiritual authority as sons of God. Many speak of a "powerless church," referring to a church which does not see the power of God working in its midst. The irony is that the Church has often taken upon itself political and judicial powers that were never given to it.
(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.
Paul was referring to the law in Leviticus 19:14,
(14) You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
Paul understood that God had blinded the eyes of His people--except for the remnant of grace (Rom. 11:7). Jesus, too, recognized this, for we read in John 12:37-40,
(37) But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; (38) that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, "Lord who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (39) For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, (40) "He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them."
God used a Cross as a stumbling block before the blind, for Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:23,
(23) but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to the ethnos, foolishness.
God also claims to have hardened their hearts, in essence, plugging their ears, as we have read already in Romans 11:8-10. Hence, the message of God, though given generally to all, will not be heard unless God opens the eyes and ears of the people by a work of the Holy Spirit. So we read in Rev. 2:29 and elsewhere,
(29) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
It is obvious that even the churches are not exempt from this divinely-imposed deafness. The remnant of grace, then, does not include the entire body of Christian believers who are part of the Church by simple faith. Even Christians can be deaf.
We all believe that we know deaf and blind Christians. They are always living somewhere outside of our own bodies, we believe. The blind church is always the one down the street. It is the "deaf" church that we often curse from our own pulpits for not hearing our Truth. We love doing things that would cause those other "blind" churches to stumble.
It is sometimes difficult to speak the truth (as we see it) without cursing the deaf or placing a stumbling block before the blind. We treat these blind and deaf people as if they were fully and totally responsible for their own condition, instead of recognizing the sovereignty of God in this matter.
This is why it is important to understand Romans 9, as well as all the Scriptures where God takes the credit and the ultimate responsibility for the hardness of men's hearts, their blindness, and their deafness. Men have difficulty recognizing God's sovereignty unless they see also the restoration of all things in the end. A sovereign God appears to be unjust in His dealings with the earth, but when we see the overall divine plan through His eyes, we see that all things do indeed work together for good. In the end, all of creation will praise Him, not out of compulsion, but out of reverence, awe, and love.
This is the third part of a series titled "Romans 14." To view all parts, click the link below.