Romans

Romans 14:1-15:13 – “Accept one another”

“ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER!”

Romans 14:1-15:13.

 

Preliminary comments: This is a very long section – we could take many weeks to look at it and that would be valuable. The danger is that we can loose the overall thrust of what Paul is driving at. We can fall into the trap of getting lost in amongst the trees and end up ‘not being able to see the wood for the trees’.

 

It seems clear from 14v1 and 15v7 that the subject of this passage is “accepting one another”. In what ways were Paul’s readers not accepting one another? How does he advise them to behave? And on what does he base his instructions to the Romans Church??!

 

INTRODUCTION

Differences of opinion about Christian belief, patterns of behaviour, styles of worship. These are issue that the church has had to grapple with right from its inception.

  • Should a Christian eat certain foods or not {e.g. should a Christian eat food that has been blessed by a Muslim priest – halaal food}?
  • Should a Christian drink alcohol?
  • Should a Christian play sport / work on a Sunday?
  • Should a Christian play the Lottery?
  • Should a Christian go shopping of Sunday?
  • What is the correct mode of baptism?
  • Should a Christian go to a pub or night club?

What about style of music/ worship/ the way we celebrate communion/ …. There are many areas of Christian life and practice that are not clear cut/ black and white issues — How are we to relate to each other regarding these issues??

 

This is precisely the issue that Paul is addressing in this long section of his letter to the Romans.

He begins with a positive statement –

Romans 14:1  Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. (NIV)

He then goes on to tell his readers [and us] that they are to avoid three basic things which are followed by reasons why.

 

1. Don’t despise or condemn fellow-Christians over disputable matters.[14v1-12]

2. Don’t cause fellow-Christians to stumble over disputable matters. [14v13-22]

3. Don’t please yourself, rather accept others. [15v1-13]

 

 

VERSE 1 sets the scene!!

What exactly was the problem in Rome?

Who are these weak and strong Christians? the two groups Paul names.

WEAK – Paul does not mean those who are weak-willed, i.e. easily led into temptation // this is not a weakness of character. Rather he is talking about a fellow-believer who seems to have an over-sensitive conscience.

 

Who are these two groups?

It would seem WEAK are mostly Jewish Christians who were continuing to observe the Jewish food laws about not eating ‘unclean’ animals and religious Holy Days like the Sabbath and other festivals.

The STRONG are probably Gentile-Christians for whom all food is from God and therefore acceptable to eat and that all days are for serving and worshipping God and we shouldn’t make one day more important than another.

 

Apart from the Jewish dietary laws about unclean meat there could be the added problem, as in Corinth [1 Cor.8], that some of the meat had been offered to idols and in order to avoid the possibility of eat such meat some ‘WEAK’ Christians had become vegetarian.

 

The STRONG are characterized by liberty and Paul identifies with this group —

Romans 15:1     1 We who are strong …… –

The WEAK are characterized by legalism – their Jewish consciences would not allow them to eat this suspect meat or treat holy days as normal days!

 

It is easy to see how tensions arose – esp. when it came to ‘Bring-and-share’ Church meals together. You can just imagine Mr. Claudius biting into a juicy piece of honey – glazed ham while Mr. Isaacs nibbles on his lettuce and tomato sandwich!!!

 

Paul instruction to these two groups within the Roman Church are that they are to accept one another — The Strong are to accept the weak ‘without passing judgement’ – does this mean that we are never to criticise or question?? NO!   Note that Paul adds ‘on disputable matters’ the non-essentials!!

 

NOW acceptance and tolerance are very popular concepts today! In many respects it is good BUT we need to be cautious about unconditional acceptance. The idea that we are to accept anyone, even into Church membership, with no questions asked and no conditions laid down is portrayed as reflecting God’s love.   HOWEVER, God’s love is unconditional BUT his acceptance of us is not as he requires repentance and faith in Christ!!

 

1. DON’T DESPISE OR CONDEMN FELLOW-CHRISTIANS OVER DISPUTABLE MATTERS. [14v2-12]

 

Paul sets out a number of reasons why we are not to despise or condemn fellow-believers?

1.1. God has accepted them! [v2-3]

One has liberty to eat everything but the weak eat only vegetables!

The meat-eater must not look down on or despise the non-eater NOR must the non-eater condemn the meat-eater.

 

May seem very remote to you and me.

BUT

ILLUS.: When Janet and I work as missionary amongst the Muslim community in SA – we had a number of converts who needed to be intergrated into the Church – In the SA system at the time Asian people lived in certain areas BUT most in the Asian Churches had come from Hindu or nominal Christian backgrounds. For the Muslim convert it was extremely difficult to fit in – Those from Hindu background found eating beef difficult – from Muslim background eating pork difficult. Muslims were not used to worshipping with men and women together!! …..

 

But the reason the two groups need to accept each other is because God accepts them. Thus our attitude to others is to reflect God’s attitude to them.

 

1.2. Each is responsible to Christ as Lord! [v4-9]

Each Christian is a servant of Christ and ultimately each one stands or falls before God alone. I do not have the right to judge another’s relationship to Christ in regard to disputable matters.

Paul now uses a second illustration, this time of a ‘day’. Some wanted to observe special days, presumably Jewish festivals and holy days. Who is right??

 

ILLUS.: Today we have the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign. Some are passionate about it others don’t bother too much.

Sport on Sunday— Jonathan Edwards [not 18thC American preacher] but the current British Triple-jump champion — a strong Christian who competes on a Sunday. AND Michael Jones the NZ – All Black rugby player, one of the best flankers in World rugby, He will never play on a Sunday also a strong Christian.

Both are committed to Jesus – but each have different views!!

God has given them the sporting ability for which they are to thank him and they want to use it for their Lord!

The same as the one who eats or abstains —

Romans 14:6 6 b …….He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (NIV)

A very practical test then is :-  “Can I thank God for it?” and

“Can I do this as unto the Lord?”

 

The reason being that as Christians we are the Lord’s whether in life or death – we are to be his – after all says Paul Christ lived and died for us thus he is Lord of the living and the dead!!

Paul moves from the mundane petty differences between believers to the relationship of each believer to the crucified, risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ!

We are each to live for Christ and to respect our fellow-Christians relationship with Christ as their Lord!

 

1.3. Remember that you are ‘family’! [v10a]

Romans 14:10a    You, then, why do you judge {look down on} your brother? …..

We must not only NOT condemn or despise our fellow-believer because Christ is their Lord BUT also because we are related – we are family.

The ‘weak’ may think the strong are brash and arrogant and the ‘strong’ may think the weak are feeble and legalistic BUT still they are family!!

 

1.4. Remember that God is the final judge! [v10d – 13a]

Paul could be echoing Jesus words —

Matthew 7:1      1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (NIV)

Put in context – Jesus is not saying we should suspend our critical faculties as in verse 15 of the same chapter we are told to ‘watch out for false prophets’.

Paul makes some vital points here…

  • God is the universal judge [v11]– ‘every knee will bow … every tongue will confess’. no one in all the universe falls outside God’s jurisdiction.
  • God is the individual’s judge [v12] — ‘each one of us …’ we all stand among those who will be judged we therefore have no right to judge others when we ourselves will be subject to God’s judgement.
  • God’s judgement seat is at the end of time — throughout the NT we are taught to have an eternal perspective on things. So often we get caught up in the present and are preoccupied with trivia and we lose sight of the big picture. And when we look up – when we get an eternal perspective so much of what we think is important pales into insignificance and we realise that what we eat /or don’t eat or what we do/or don’t do on a particular day is unimportant in the light of eternity.

 

 

2. DON’T CAUSE FELLOW-CHRISTIANS TO STUMBLE OVER DISPUTABLE MATTERS. [14v13-22]

 

Romans 14:13   13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in your brother’s way. (NIV)

There is a responsibility on all Christians not to cause each other to stumble in their faith and practice – clearly Paul appeals to the strong to defer to the weak.

Evidently the strong are in the right -14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. – all food is acceptable. BUT it is so easy to behave wrongly when you are right.

I know I am right and if you can’t handle my legitimate behaviour then that is your problem —- mine conscience is free and I can do as I like!!”

No says Paul even if you are right that doesn’t mean you can run rough shod over the weaker brother!!

 

2.1. Remember that your Brother is valuable!

Romans 14:15 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. (NIV)

Your fellow-believer is far more valuable than food – remember that he/she was valuable enough for Jesus to die for!! If you run roughshod over him/her you are not only cause him/her to stumble you are actually destroying him/her and more than that you are destroying a work of Christ – he die for that person!!!

This is what he means in v20  20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.

 

We are called not to damage our fellow-believer BUT to build him/her up v19  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (NIV)

 

2.2. Remember that the kingdom of God is more important than my individual rights!!

Paul’s plead is that the body of Christ be built up – edified. The good of the community / church is more important than a display by an individual believer of his/her rights.

 

Paul is very blunt – no doubt there were some red faces in Rome when the letter was read- “Don’t damage the Kingdom for the sake of a piece of meat”.

In a world where everyone is fighting for their rights the Christians are called to forego their rights for the sake of the Kingdom.

Don’t give to disputable matters a higher importance than God’s kingdom.

 

 

 

2.3. Remember that some things which are wrong for you are not always wrong for everyone!

Don’t make your experience normative for everyone else – If you have a weak conscience and eating meat bothers you then don’t do it as it is wrong for you.

If you feel it is wrong to play sport on Sunday then don’t play BUT don’t condemn the one who does.

If you are convinced that baptism by immersion is right and sprinkling is not, don’t despise the one who has been sprinkled as a baby.

You may have private convictions about some disputable things but don’t make a public issue out of them!!

 

3. DON’T PLEASE YOURSELF, RATHER ACCEPT OTHERS. [15v1-13]

 

Romans 15:1     1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. (NIV)

The natural inclination of the strong is to crush the weak and take advantage of the situation – but we are not to live like that. Rather we are to do good to — and edify our neighbour!! NOT pleasing people as a way of currying favour NOR seeking flattering But rather that we might do them some positive good.

 

3.1. Christ is our example! [v3-4]

Jesus didn’t live to please himself — he gave himself in the service of God which expressed itself in the service of others.

Of all people Jesus had the right to please himself – he was in very nature God YET he gave up his rights in order to serve others.

 

3.2. Christ is our unity! [v5-6]

The kind of unity that Paul encourages is not just any kind of unity! There is unity and comradeship in a sports Club or a Political party.

The kind of unity that God requires is unity in Christ – he is the focus and the more we agree with him and about him the more we will agree with each other!!

When we focus on the essentials, the disputable matters begin to become less and less important.

When we take our eyes off Jesus and His agenda and become preoccupied with our own petty likes and dislikes – divisions and damage result in the body of Christ.

 

3.3. Christ accepted you! [v7]

Romans 15:7     7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

At the beginning of chapter 14 Paul urged the ‘strong’ to accept the ‘weak’ — here he calls for mutual acceptance! The motivation is that we have been accepted by Christ — and this attitude will bring glory to God!!

3.4. Christ became a servant! [v8-13]

In this section Paul slips back to the issue of division between Jews and Gentiles as the two issues are so closely related — the point being that Christ became a servant of Jews and Gentiles // or strong and weak // of all // in order to bring us to God!!

 

 

It is easy to see how this is how we are to treat // accept each other!

That we are to prefer each other and not give unnecessary offense to those who are ‘weak’ — cause them to stumble!

How does this work in practice??

A number of issues:-

1) If we always give way to the weak – and never offend – we would never do anything – someone is always offended by something!!  So we need to say to the weak // to those who are easily offended “Is it not equally unacceptable to TAKE unnecessary offense as it is to CAUSE unnecessary offense??”

 

2) How do we determine what is a disputable matter and what is not? What may be disputable to you may be totally indisputable to someone else.

Three categories — ABSOLUTES — CONVICTIONS — PREFERENCES — The difficulty is that what is a conviction to me may be an absolute to you!!

It is not always easy to distinguish between the essentials and the non-essentials ..

Paul has told us that we each must be convinced in our own minds BUT we know that our minds and consciences are not always right and they therefore need to be educated by the Word of God – there is not substitute for detailed, in depth study of Scripture.

 

3) Given these difficulties, we are still called to act in LOVE in all things.

We are to remember that our fellow-Christians are those for whom Christ died!!

We are to honour and not despise them. serve and not harm them. To do what is for the GOOD of the Kingdom //the Church recognising that the good of the body is more important than the rights of one individual to exercise their liberty.

 

Conclusion.

We are called to be strong in the Faith that was once delivered to the saints – The basis of our Faith are the essentials of the Gospel – and we can not appeal to love to deny these essentials. The Faith is first, before love.

In the non-essentials love is primary and we cannot appeal to zeal for the truth as an excuse for failure to love.

[ILLUS.: Durban North – the reformed group who left – would sit in the front row shaking their heads at the preacher – their doctrine may have been right BUT there was not love shown]

Faith instructs our consciences. Love respects the conscience of others.

Faith gives liberty/ freedom. Love limits its exercise.

 

In the non-essentials Christians are so free that we are free NOT to exercise our freedom. The ‘strong are free to eat the meat BUT they are so free that they are free not to eat it!!!

 

As you have listened you have probably had a list of people going through your mind to whom this applies – You may be saying to yourself  “I hope so-and-so is listening!!”  BUT God is talking to you – NOT saying “Others must accept and defer to you BUT YOU must accept and defer to others!!!”

 

“In essential unity.

In non-essentials liberty,

In all things charity.” [Richard Baxter]

 

 

“ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER”

 

Romans 14:1 – 15:13

 

1.  DON’T   DESPISE   OR   CONDEMN   FELLOW-

    CHRISTIANS OVER DISPUTABLE MATTERS. [14v2-12]

1.1. Remember that God has accepted them! [v2-3]

1.2. Remember that each is responsible to Christ as Lord! [v4-9]

1.3. Remember that we are ‘family’! [v10a]

1.4. Remember that God is the final judge! [v10b-13a]

 

2. DON’T CAUSE FELLOW-CHRISTIANS TO STUMBLE        OVER DISPUTABLE MATTERS. [14v13-23]

2.1. Remember that your Brother is valuable! [v14-16]

2.2. Remember that the kingdom of God is more important than my individual rights!! [v17-21]

2.3. Remember that some things which are wrong for you   are not always wrong for everyone! [v22-23]

 

3.  DON’T PLEASE YOURSELF,   RATHER ACCEPT      OTHERS. [15v1-13]

3.1. Christ is our example! [v3-4]

3.2. Christ is our unity! [v5-6]

3.3. Christ accepted you! [v7]

3.4. Christ became a servant! [v8-13]

 

“In essential unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity.”

[Richard Baxter]

 

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