A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Christian Life as One of Consideration
In concluding the argument, Paul gives some practical exhortations (vv. 13:23). He is saying first to the weak, "Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather," (if you want to judge anything) "that no man put a stumbling block or occasion to fall in his brother's way". That is where judgment ought to begin.
In the fourteenth verse Paul sides with the strong: "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself." There is not any food on earth that is inherently defiling. The distinctions between foods were demolished when Christ died on the Cross. We must even recognize that not even alcoholic liquor is unclean in itself. (It only becomes unclean when it is wrongly used.) But that is not what Paul is talking about here. If a man regards a thing as unclean (even though it be so little a thing as eating pork), his conscience will condemn him for eating it. Even though his conscience may be wrong, if he eats it, he violates his conscience and that is an awful thing to do. The man who violates his conscience on a little thing will soon be violating it on a big thing.
So in verse 15 Paul admonishes the strong. "Destroy not him with thy meat." Think of it! For a piece of meat a man will start a process going which might, if it were not for the power of God, end in the eternal perishing of a soul. Is this against the security of the saints? Can a Christian be destroyed? No. But you can (present tense) be destroying him. This passage does not teach what God will do, that is, how He will step in and rescue the brother. Paul is talking about what a Christian may produce by his actions. By exercising his own freedom, he may start something which could result in moral disaster (if uninterrupted) and bring ruin to another brother.
In verse 16 Paul says to the strong: "You position is good. You are free; you can do anything. Just don't let what is good to you become the object of criticism and misunderstanding."
Verse 17 records the great principle. The kingdom of God is not founded upon the distinctions between what you eat and what you do not eat. The kingdom of God is not a set of rules and legalistic ceremonies. In their differences and irritations, the weaker brother and the stronger brother have violated the very spirit of Christianity, because the kingdom of God is not a thing of eating and drinking. What is it? It is "righteousness, and peace,and joy." And where is it? "In the Holy Spirit."
This is just a summary of earlier portions of Romans. You may ask, "What are righteousness, joy, and peace - subjective feelings?" Not altogether. "Therefore being justified" (being declared righteous) "by faith, we have peace" (5?1). That statement covers the first two items of the kingdom of God: righteousness and peace. Joy comes next: "We ... rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (5:2). Paul has already explained, in that fifth chapter, what is the source of peace with God and joy. The love of God is shed abroad ... by the Holy Spirit" (5:5).
This verse 17 of the fourteenth chapter is a summary of the truth in the fifth chapter. Paul says, "This is the Kingdom of God. It is not meat and drink at all. It is a question of righteousness, peace, and joy." Verse 18 makes meaningful application of the truth in verse 17. If you want to do any teaching, for instance, do not go out and teach about meats and rules. What are you to teach? You are to teach and preach righteousness. If you do this, you are acceptable to God, and not only so, but you will be approved of men. If there is anything the would resents, it is these little irritating rules that appear to have no meaning. The world can approve some things, such as righteousness, peace, and joy, even without knowing their full significance.
Verse 19 concludes this section which is addresses to the strong. The word "edify" means "to build up." Paul says to both classes, "For meat destroy not the work of God." What is the work of God? The church. God is building the church today. He is putting in members; some are weak and some are strong. Paul is saying, "For the sake of a little meat; do not pull down the work of God." I heard of a church being nearly broken up over a cake that a woman baked. Because some sort of controversy came up over a cake, it nearly broke up the church! "For the sake of meat, do not destroy (or pull down) the work of God."
Verse 21 is a wonderful verse! That word "good" might be translated "beautiful." It is a beautiful thing neither to eat meat nor to drink wine, nor anything by which your brother might be offended or caused to stumble or made weak. You may have a right to all these things. There may not be a thing wrong with doing it, but it is a beautiful thing for the Christian voluntarily to forego the thing, if by taking it he makes his brother to stumble. That is for the strong, and they ought to remember it.
Paul closes now by talking to both parties: first to the strong in verse 22. Are you proud that you know the liberty that is in Christ, as we have been teaching it here? "Have it to thyself"; do not go around displaying how much you can do and how far you can go because of your faith. Lay your faith before God and not before other people. Suppose you could go to the theater and prove that you have faith strong enough. Do not display it. You may allow things in your life because you are free, but there is a danger that you may upset another's faith.
Then Paul turns to the weak: "He that doubteth is condemned." His conscience condemns him because what he is doing is not with the faith that it is acceptable. Then he adds: "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
Three lessons can be drawn from this chapter: The first is a lesson for the strong. Do not despise the weaker brother. The second is for those who are weak: Don't judge your brother if he takes more liberty than you on matters indifferent to the faith. The third is for both. The supreme teaching of this chapter is that the voice of conscience must not be ignored. You may ask, "Isn't the Word of God above the conscience?" Certainly. Your conscience may be wrong and may need to be corrected by the Word of God, but even then, it is your conscience. Here is a man who is weak, and his conscience says, "Don't eat that piece of meat. It is wrong to do it." If he eats that meat he violates his conscience which is a dangerous thing to do. The man has started upon a road that can theoretically wreck his whole moral universe. He needs to be taken kindly and patiently to the Word of God and have his conscience corrected.
There are three guiding lights for the Christian life in this chapter. We ought to live our lives, first, in the light of the Lordship of Christ. Second, we ought to live our lives in the light of the judgment seat of Christ. Last of all, we ought to live our lives in the light of the Cross of Christ. We must heed the admonition, "Destroy not thy brother, for whom Christ died."
These principles ought to be the dominating motives in the life of every true child of God.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 85 - "The Christian Life as One of Exemplification in Ministry")