I grew up as a preacher’s kid. I was raised in a home that was practically an extension of the church. We lived next door to the church in the parsonage, and so it seemed we were in church for one reason or another almost every day. Being a preacher’s kid you can’t get away from the church.
My dad was what they used to call a fire and brimstone preacher. The church doctrine my dad preached was a little towards what might be labeled today as legalistic. We had very strict convictions. We didn’t believe that as a Christian you could smoke, or drink, or go to movies or dances or listen to certain types of music. And growing up in the sixties and seventies, we made sure that everyone could tell we were Christians by the way we cut our hair and what type of clothes we wore.
What made those sort of standards even a little harder to bear was our attitude towards anyone who didn’t share our convictions. Unfortunately, a lot of times anyone coming with a different perspective was not made to feel welcome and in fact often made to feel ostracized. They either went along with the beliefs of the church or they soon left. That type of conflict in the church is what Paul is addressing in this chapter. It is a conflict over non essentials – things that are necessary wrong or right, just a matter of personal standards and convictions.
Now there are things that as Christians we should not tolerate. As the church we should rebuke and convict Christians who are living in sin or giving into sin. Sin is non negotiable. Sin destroys. Sin kills. Sin condemns. Jesus died to deliver us from sin; it’s penalty, it’s power over us, and it’s presence. And so as His people whom He has redeemed, we are cleansed from all sin. Not to claim that we never will sin again as long as we are in this fleshly body, but we certainly now want to abstain from sin, to repent from sin, and live in righteousness. So the church has a responsibility to condemn sin and to rebuke those who fall into sin.
Now in the church I grew up in, there were a lot of things wrong with our attitude towards others who didn’t share our convictions in that church. But I will say that there was something that we got right. And that is that the church was central to our Christian life. Today’s message is not going to even seem relevant in the least to most of us here today because to our way of thinking, the church is non essential. At the most we go to church three or four hours a month, and our fellowship with others in the church is almost non existent. But I can tell you that is not what the Bible teaches. Look at the descriptions of early church life and you will see that they were connected on a daily basis with one another. It was their new home, new family. But today we are so far removed from that as to make this passage of scripture practically immaterial to us. However, it is not a non essential to the Lord, and I am going to give due diligence to teach these principles in hope that we rise up to the standard of church which the Bible teaches is essential to our Christian life.
Now there are a lot of aspects of how we might worship the Lord in the church that may be matters of differences in Biblical interpretation, or matters of personal conviction. There are some areas that the Bible does not specifically speak to. These are areas that are not sinful, but matters of personal preferences based on someone’s understanding. And Paul is addressing those aspects of Christian living that may have arisen out of a cultural background or religious background. He is speaking to the Roman church which was probably the most multi-cultural church in the world at that time. At the very least there were Jews and Greeks and Romans who were a part of that church. There were people that had come out of strict Judaism and those who had come out of paganism. There were former idol worshippers, and former worshipers of Jehovah.
At the beginning of this epistle Paul had written in Romans 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” That means that the gospel is the means of salvation for both Jews and Gentiles, transferring all believers, regardless of their national heritage, from whatever their previous religious background, into one new entity, which is the church. The church is their new community, their new family. Paul spends the first 11 chapters of Romans explaining the theology and doctrine of how that is accomplished in Jesus Christ so that we are made new creatures, given a new life, unified with other parts of the same body, and that body is Christ’s church. But then the practical side of how that works out starts in chapter 12 and following, as the logistics of making this diverse group into community comes into play. How that is accomplished requires some practical input from Paul in order to form all these different groups into one unified body.
So starting in chapter 12 Paul starts talking about the practical applications of church doctrine, how the church is to worship, how the church is to use spiritual gifts, how the church is to love one another, how the church is to love the world, and love their neighbor, and how the church is to submit to the governing authorities. Now in chapter 14, Paul turns our attention to how the church is to accept one another.
And Paul breaks down the church into two positions, what he calls the strong and the weak. Oddly enough, it would seem that what he calls strong we might call weak, and vice versa. But according to Paul’s perspective, he calls the person who exercises more freedom in the area of personal convictions the strong, and the one who has more legalistic convictions the weak. Now I am not going to address which perspective is right or wrong, because that is not Paul’s concern in this passage. The issue here is not sinful actions on the part of the church, but differences in personal convictions of how they are to serve the Lord which may not always that clearly presented in scripture.
Now in vs 1 Paul states the premise of his argument, saying, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, [but] not for [the purpose of] passing judgment on his opinions.” What Paul wants to do is to address the issue of treating one another in the church with contempt, or disdain or undue criticism because the other person does not hold the same view of certain convictions that you do.
Now as we look at these first 12 verses of chapter 14, we can break this down into four points, or four reasons we are to accept one another.The first reason for the strong to accept the weak, and for that matter, for the weak to receive the strong, is that God accepts them. Verse 2. “For one believes that he may eat all things.” One person, for example, believes he can eat anything. He doesn’t have any dietary constraints. He’s not bound by the old Mosaic ceremony, dietary laws. On the other hand, there are others who being weak eat only vegetables.
Now it’s very likely that this conviction not to eat meat was because a lot of the meat that was sold in the meat markets in Rome was originally offered to idols in the pagan temples and then resold. That seems to be the case in the Corinthian church as we see from Paul’s letters to them. But irregardless of how they arrived at that conviction, Paul says that the issue is how you react to their convictions. How you are to respect them and not condemn them or make it a point of breaking fellowship over something like eating or not eating meat.
But the issue is not the health benefits of vegetarianism verses the benefit of eating meat. That may be a cultural issue for a lot of people today. But the Bible doesn’t make eating meat an issue. 1 Timothy 4;4 says in regards to abstaining from certain foods, , “For every creature of God is good and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.” And in Acts 10 the Lord showed Peter in a vision all kinds of animals, both clean and unclean, and God said to him “Kill and eat” and afterward said, “Do not call unclean what I have cleansed.” So the strong position is technically right. You can eat anything. There are no dietary restrictions. We are no longer under the laws of Moses.
But Paul isn’t even attempting to address the legality of eating here. All he’s saying is whether they’re Gentile or Jew and for whatever reason in their tradition, there are those who don’t restrict what they eat and there are those who do for one reason or another. But the principle comes in verse 3. “Let not him that eats despise him that doesn’t eat.” Don’t despise the one who doesn’t eat. The issue really is how we are to love one another in the church. We can’t love one another if we are critical of one another, if we make distinctions between ourselves which separate us.
This is so important in the church because there are always those liberated folks who want to condemn the people who are much more restricted in their thinking. And there’s always that danger of a critical spirit. We call them legalists, or worse. But on the other hand, he says in verse 3, “And let not him who eats not,” that’s the weak who won’t eat because he’s afraid he’ll violate some tradition, “let him not condemn the one that eats.” So the strong should not look with contempt on the weak and the weak should not look with condemnation on the strong.
And so it is a factor that within the church of Jesus Christ, there are those who see certain freedoms in Christ and they condemn those who do not have their views, and there are those who do understand they have certain restrictions and they tend to despise those who don’t share their views. And that is the potential schism which Paul wants to deal for the sake of unity in the church which is so essential to fellowship.
So here’s reason number one: Why we’re to accept one another; and we see that the end of verse 3, “For God has accepted him.” Why are you to accept them? Because God has accepted them. If the Lord accepts the brother who has difficulty with certain things and so he doesn’t do them, then we ought to accept such a person. And if the Lord accepts the person who sees liberty in certain things, then we ought to accept such a person. So that we may be one in the church. One in the body.
Reason number two for accepting one another, is the Lord sustains each believer. Notice what verse 4 says, “Who are you to judge the servant of another?” You have no right to evaluate someone else’s servant. If he believes he is being obedient to his Lord then you have no right to criticize him.
So who is the master of the weak brother? It’s the Lord. Who is the master of the strong brother? It’s the Lord. Then it is going to be Christ’s own evaluation of the believer that matters and He will see whether that believer stands or falls, whether that believer succeeds or fails. And what will be the result? Look at it in verse 4. “And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” So if he belongs to the Lord, you don’t need to worry about him, because the Lord will sustain him.
I actually think this is speaking to some degree in regards to discipline of the Lord as opposed to discipline of the church. There are some things that are between you and the Lord, and therefore, discipline should be of the Lord and not of someone else. Back in chapter 13 Paul laid down some principles for love towards one another in the church, saying in general that love does no harm to a neighbor. So by extension, when you sin against a brother in the church it may be necessary to take that person to the church for discipline. But in this case, this is not sinning against a brother. It’s not the sin of adultery or stealing from your brother which has to be mediated by the church if he does not repent. There is no sin here against someone. This is between him and God. And God is able to make him see the truth and change his perspective. So it’s not our business to be critical towards him.
Reason number three for accepting one another; the Lord is sovereign to each. Paul’s point in verses 5 to 9 is that even though the practice in these non- moral areas of ceremony and custom and tradition and standards may vary according to the individual, the goal and motive is the same.
And the goal is the same because he believes in his heart he is pleasing the Lord. Why does a strong brother celebrate the freedoms that he’s given in Christ? Because in his heart he believes that in doing so he pleases the Lord. And the weak brother restricts his activities because he believes that doing so pleases the Lord. So the motive is the same in both cases.
Let me make sure though that you understand that weakness as Paul speaks of it here, doesn’t mean weak faith in terms of saving faith, but being too weak to believe that you really have the freedom you have. He may be afraid to exercise freedom in that area because he knows it will be a temptation to him to fall into sin. So being weak in faith is not synonymous with being carnal. It is not the same as being carnal, or fleshy, or disobedient or sinful. It may be the result of a lot of things, like upbringing, or even immaturity. They may recently been saved out of a cultish kind of false religion that still affects their views on certain things. And on the other hand, there are strong believers who exercise their freedom but who can be very fleshy, or very worldly. But the issue here is not rebelliousness or sinfulness, but a sincere desire to serve the Lord as a Christian and how they may view certain things that they may not have come to the point of being able to accept.
Another example of that is in verse 5. “One man esteems one day above another. Another esteems every day the same.” If you were saved out of Judaism, you might think that there were some days more important than other days. For example the Sabbath, and feast days and festivals and holy days. So the veneration of these days, according to Paul, is considered a weakness. That’s why in Colossians 2:16 Paul says don’t let anybody judge you in regards to new moons and Sabbaths and feast days. That’s why he says virtually the same thing in Galatians 4:9 and 10.
But some people want to sanctify certain days. They want to hold on to those. Other people look at every day the same. I can remember as a little boy, because Sunday was considered a day of rest, we couldn’t do a lot of things on Sunday. We would come home and we would eat a big dinner. Gluttony was not an issue. We would eat a huge meal. And then we were supposed to rest. As a boy, that was hard to do. I think after a while my parents gave up on us trying to keep Sunday as a rest day.
So how are we supposed to respond to this distinction that some people have in regards to sanctifying certain days? “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Just do whatever you think you ought to do. You might ask, “Well, how could you say that?” Because it’s not a moral issue. The Sabbath is not an issue. Paul has no concern at all with Sabbaths and feast days and festivals and all of that.
I hate to jump ahead to next week’s message, but look at verse22: “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” So do as you think is right before God. Not according to what you want to do, but according to what you think is right before God being fully convinced in your own mind. In other words, make sure your conscience is clear before God.
What Paul doesn’t want to do is tell someone to violate their conscience. If you train yourself to ignore your conscience, you’re going to have problems in your Christian life. Because the Spirit of God leads through the Word of God to speak to your conscience. And Paul does not want to do anything which might cause you to go against your conscience, because that is one of the ways that God directs our thinking. He doesn’t want any callouses forming over your conscience because then when it is time for God to prompt you, you’re not going to be responsive.
In verse 6, he says, “He that regards the day,” the person who wants to sanctify a certain day, “regards it to the Lord.” If he’s concerned about sanctifying that day, he does so 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.”
The strong brother eats everything he wants and he says, “Thank You, Lord, for this freedom. Thank You, Lord, for providing all of this food.” And the weak brother is eating his restricted diet and he’s saying, “Thank You, Lord, that I can make this sacrifice for you.” But in both cases, he is thanking the Lord. He that eats says thanks, he that doesn’t eat says thanks and so the motive in both cases is the same.
Now the caveat to this attitude of the person who doesn’t eat, or who observes a certain day, is that it is not an attempt to earn their salvation. The people in the church that Paul is speaking of are already Christians. They are believers. They have been transferred into Christ’s church. So this is in response to their faith. It is not the means of salvation. But the fruit of their salvation. So let’s make sure we understand that. The Judaisers believed that you couldn’t be saved unless you had received circumcision. That, Paul made very clear earlier in this epistle was wrong. That was false teaching, and he corrected them on that. But that is not what Paul is talking about here. He is talking about restrictions that come as a result of their salvation, not as a means of procuring salvation.
So he continues in verse 7, “For none of us lives to himself and not one dies to himself.” What is he saying? He’s saying as a Christian, as part of the body of Christ, whether we’re weak or whether we’re strong, we don’t live for our own sake, we live for the the Lord. 1 Cor. 6:19 tells us that our lives are not our own, we are bought with a price. So our lives are not our own. We now live for the Lord. We do what He wants us to do. We do the things that are pleasing to Him.
He reiterates this principle in verse 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.” That statement means that every Christian is under unconditional sovereignty. Unconditional surrender. We don’t come to salvation on our terms. We don’t come to Christ with terms of our surrender. But we must unconditionally surrender to the sovereignty of the Lord. We have been bought and paid for. Our life is not our own. We serve the Lord as servants to do His will and not our own. This is a tremendous statement on the Lordship of Christ and His relation to the believer. We are the Lord’s. We are His possession. We are not our own.
So both the strong and the weaker brother are servants of the Lord. The weaker brother is the Lord’s servant, and as such what he does he does for the sake of serving the Lord. The stronger brother is also a servant, and does what he does in the spirit of serving the Lord. And since these matters are simply matters of preference and not sin, we must not make a rift in the church over them, but accept one another in Christ. Let’s not break fellowship with someone over things that are not matters of sin, but of personal conviction and personal preference.
The conclusion is that every Christian lives in light of the sovereign lordship of Christ, each and every one of us. That’s why 1 Corinthians 15:23 says this little phrase, “They that are Christ’s.” That principle should be the single greatest inducement to holy living: We are the Lord’s. You don’t belong to you. You belong to Him. Weak or strong, new believer or mature Christian, you live for the Lord.
And just to emphasize that principle again, Paul says in vs 9, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” That Jesus is Lord is the foundation of our salvation. Back in chapter 10:9 we read “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Jesus is not just our Savior, He is Lord. And as our Lord and Master we live for Him and we die for Him.
Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. Not even death can separate us from the love of God. Paul said back in chapter 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Notice that, not even death. In death we are the Lord’s. Paul said in another place, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. That is our eternal security. We belong to the Lord. Our life is from the Lord, and we are in the hand of the Lord, whether now or in eternity.
So, we accept one another. Why? Because God accepts us on the basis of our faith in Christ. And the Lord is sovereign over all His servants. And one last brief point, the Lord alone will be judge over every believer. So before we start judging one another, remember this. The Lord alone will be the judge. This is a strong rebuke. Verse 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. For it is written, ‘AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.’ So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”
So the Lord is the supreme judge, and everyone will be judged by Him. We don’t need to be concerned with judging one another lest we be guilty of usurping the position of God. We had better be more concerned with the fact that we will have to give an account to God ourselves.
So in conclusion, why do we accept one another? Because God accepts us, because the Lord can hold us up and He will sustain us, because the Lord is the sovereign over each of us and because ultimately He is the only one who has the right to judge. Now we’re not talking about sin, we’re talking about these personal areas of convictions. And so we want to accept one another. Many conflicts in the church can arise over non-moral, non- essential things and they need to be eliminated. Let’s drop the contempt, stop the criticism. Let the Lord be the judge. Our responsibilty is that we should love one another and accept one another as co-servants of Christ.