Romans 14, Part 5
Jan 12, 2011
Paul considered the issues of food and holy days to be matters of conscience, rather than clear mandates of Scripture. His most important concern was that Christians should not fight over these issues but show love to each other and live peaceably. These two issues were the primary ways in which we could "be at peace with all men" (12:18) and to fulfill the Law, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (13:9). So Paul writes in 14:17, 18,
(17) for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (18) For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
Recall Paul's earlier mandate in 12:1 "to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God." Toleration in the non-essentials is important. Too often our "pet doctrines" receive higher priority than simple love. Being a living sacrifice involves the ability to sacrifice one's own personal revelation on the altar of love.
(19) So then let us 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.
All Believers are living stones in the temple of God. Many of these stones are yet rough and misshapen, but we are not to "tear down the work of God" while He works with them. Many of those "stones" will correct their views in time and through peaceful discussion of truth with the brethren. In moral issues, many will be corrected at the Great White Throne, when "every knee shall bow to Me" (Rom. 14:11). Jesus tells us in Luke 12:46-49 that they will receive "few" or "many" lashes of God's whip, according to His judgment. But it is not our place to whip another person's servant (Rom. 14:4).
Paul says in verse 19 above that clean food is actually "evil for the man who eats and gives offense." In other words, it is not the food itself that is clean or unclean, but the person's usage of it that makes it good or evil. Clean food is actually evil to anyone who destroys or tears down his brother over food. This is consistent with the spiritual application of the food laws of Leviticus 11.
John Hilker (now deceased) was a pastor in Minneapolis for many years. I recall a story he told about food laws. He himself observed the food laws literally, but his mother disagreed. One day when John was at her house for dinner, she deliberately served pork chops. John said, "When they passed the plate around, I took a small pork chop and ate it without saying anything about it. Our conversation continued on other topics, and my mother never served me pork chops again. She just wanted to know that she was more important than a pork chop."
I was blessed to know Pastor Hilker as a friend in my formative years in the 1970's. I have never forgotten that story, for it showed that the wisdom of God resided in him. He knew how to eat food without giving offense. Though I too try to follow the food laws literally, I have learned in my travels to eat what is set before me.
(21) It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
By the way, the word for "stumble" is the same as the word for "offense." The "rock of offense" is the same as a "stone of stumbling," or a stumbling block. To offend someone is to cause them to stumble, and we ought to be careful about doing this. The Bible holds both parties responsible when someone stumbles--first the one causing the offense, and also the one who stumbles (if he is in the wrong or reacts in an ungodly manner). Thus, correcting our brethren must always be done in love by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
(22) The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
Faith comes by hearing. We all hear differently, and we ought to give people room to hear the word of God that contradicts the word that we ourselves have received. Our revelation does change over the years as we grow. Revelation is only as good as the condition of our hearts and our level of spiritual maturity. It is good to have conviction and even to be able to discuss one's beliefs passionately. Yet love is measured by our ability to think unselfishly of others.
Love does not force one's self upon another. To force one's viewpoint upon others is a form of rape. This is forbidden in the food laws of Leviticus 11, for it denies others the right to "chew the cud" and wait for the double witness of the "cloven hoof." If we followed these laws, we would understand that forcing our truth upon them would violate their rights and their integrity as fellow servants of Christ. As Ben Franklin once said, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."
(23) But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Again, it is not the food itself that is Paul's focus, but rather the faith of each person. Faith comes by hearing, and each person must "eat" the word properly, listening to the voice of God as prescribed in His laws on clean and unclean food. Of course, there is always "doubt" while one chews the cud. The purpose of such meditation is to come to a clear knowledge of the word that God is speaking. Yet each ought to continue chewing the cud until they are satisfied that they know the will of God for their own lives--and then walk according to that conviction by faith. If God later reveals something different, then one should also have the ability to set aside the earlier belief and walk with God in the new way.
This is the final part of a series titled "Romans 14." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones