What condition were you in when you got saved? For some of us thats an easy question to answer because weve only known the Lord for a few weeks or months. But for others that encounter took place so long ago we hardly recognize the person we once were. Weve changed so much over the years its like were talking about someone else. Memories of the old us start us laughing or blushing or cringing. We dont want to think about those days anymore; weve moved on. Over the years God changed us. The process wasnt easy. We often had to learn things the hard way
and then in some cases learn the same lesson again, and even over and over again until it stuck. And no one, no matter how old, would say theyve arrived. All of us are painfully aware of how far we still have to go, and thats the point Paul is trying to teach us in this passage. Hes reminding us that spiritual growth takes time and since God was patient with us while those changes took place, we need to turn around and pass on to those behind us the same grace He gave us. Their growth will take time just as ours has and being patient, as Paul will point out, doesnt mean abandoning people and letting them go it alone. It means refusing to exercise our own rights in some cases and putting their good ahead of ours. In other words, it means loving them like Jesus loved us.
We tend to like people that agree with us, and to argue with and then walk away from those who dont. Paul uses the term elsewhere (Titus 3:10) of a factious man. He warns Titus to reject a factious man after a first and second warning. A factious man is someone who forces people to choose sides. He or she divides the community using doctrinal arguments or gossip or by gathering peoples loyalty like Absalom did (2Sa 15:1-6).
Its easy to spot those who do this in glaring, unhidden ways, but there can be a tendency to do this in all of us. When we encounter someone who doesnt agree with us we may spend some time trying to convince them theyre wrong, and then if they dont come to see things our way fairly quickly well cut off the relationship and maybe even warn others to watch out for that person. These broken relationships can become hidden divisions within a church until it is full of microfractures. It may look whole on the surface but upon closer inspection it has become brittle. If any real stress comes along it will quickly fall apart. That was happening in Rome.
What is Paul saying (Ro 14:13-19)
(vs13-15) Paul wants the Roman church to see that in light of the fact that the Lord Himself will judge each one of us it is unnecessary and wrong for us to judge one another. He doesnt mean by this that the elders of a church have no responsibility to confront false doctrine or discipline immoral behavior. There are doctrinal truths which if distorted or lost will prevent people from being saved. And there are categories of immoral conduct which if persistently practiced will prevent even a person who claims to be a Christian from being included in the resurrection of the righteous (1Co 6:9, 10; 15:50; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5-7). So his remarks should not be expanded into all-inclusive principles. Hes addressing non-essential matters where a persons conscience is the deciding factor.
Its important to remember than in this section (Ro 14:1-15:6) Pauls comments are directed toward specific issues which had become divisive. He discusses whether or not to eat meat sold in the markets, whether people can designate certain days as special days for worship (sabbath, etc.), and he also mentions in passing the drinking of wine (vs17,21) which probably was controversial because of widespread drunkenness (Ro 13:13; 1Co 6:10; 11:21; Eph 5:18; 1Ti 5:23). He leaves no doubt about the correct theological perspective on these, but because they dont rise to the level of being essential to a persons salvation, he tells believers to be tolerant and make sure their own actions are guided by love.
In such matters believers need to respect a persons freedom of conscience. We shouldnt impose our own standards on someone else. Instead our attention should be focused on ourselves, examining our own motives and behavior to see if we are operating in loveless pride. Are we, by exercising our rights, doing something that negatively influences another believer? Might our example potentially cause someone whos weak to fall back into unbelief or be reintroduced to an addictive bondage they had escaped?
(vs 16-19) Paul is answering the question any mature believer might ask: why should I allow my freedom to be curtailed by someone elses conscience? Why should I be forced to treat as unclean something I know is clean? And Pauls answer is simple: Because as a Christian I have chosen to follow Christs example (Ro 15:1-3) and walk according to love (v15), and love does no wrong to a neighbor
(Ro 13:10). If I love as He loves my main focus will not be on pleasing myself, but rather on doing that which protects and edifies those who are weak. My concern wont be to win theological arguments but to live in such a way that I can help as many as possible be saved (1Co 10:32-11:11).
Gods work on earth is not determined by whether a person does or does not eat meat or drink wine. What promotes salvation of the lost and the spiritual growth of believers is preaching the righteousness of faith, believers worshiping and ministering side-by-side in peaceful harmony, and teaching people to find relief from their suffering, not in alcohol, but in the joyful presence of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). Those who serve Christ by doing these things are very pleasing to God, and as time passes they tend to develop a good reputation with unbelievers as well as believers.
Paul invites us to join him in choosing to do things that promote peace with other believers rather than strife, to seek to make people stronger in the walk with God rather than expose them to temptation.
Pauls teaching us how to relate to people we disagree with when were sure were right. If Gods work is to continue, the community of His people (church) must remain unified, walking together in love. And that doesnt happen by accident. Its not just a community which only nice people attend. Its a decision thats lived out relationship by relationship. Its a choice each of us makes, especially when we encounter someone we consider weaker in faith or wrong on a topic. Here are six steps Paul gives us that will help us walk in love:
1) Dont judge. If I discover a soul-threatening sin or doctrinal error that needs to be handled along biblical guidelines. Otherwise, I should change the subject and refuse to allow our differences of opinion to divide us.
2) Dont abandon. I need to remember how long it took me to learn lessons. I need to be patient and stay in relationship with the person, not separate from them. Abandoning them isnt Gods way to avoid arguing.
3) Dont push. Its a terrible mistake to cause someone to violate their conscience. The conscience matters even if it lacks knowledge. Its our desire to please God that pleases Him, so if I encourage you to violate your conscience, in your mind you are disobeying God. Im actually eroding your character and thereby making you vulnerable to further violations. Heres what to look for: is the person trying to earn righteousness (stumble) or are they trying to please God (worship)?
4) Dont be cynical. We must let people change and not hold them captive to their past. We need to remember God is at work even when we cant see it (v4). Yes, trust takes time but theres a difference between caution and cynicism.
5) Dont mislead. People are watching us. They follow our example far more than our words. In whatever I do I must always consider the weak (people coming out of spiritual deception, idolatry, legalism, drunkenness, sexual addictions
). There are people who are still counting the days theyve been clean and sober. There are people whove been raised all their lives to believe certain things are right or wrong. Is it possible that my example might encourage someone to do something that will cause them to fall back into unbelief or reintroduce them to an addictive bondage?
6) Dont forget. Thats a person for whom Christ died, an eternal spirit profoundly loved by God (v15).
A radical reorientation
The Christian life isnt a matter of a few small adjustments. Its a radical reorientation of everything I do. No longer do I live to please myself. I now live to win every possible person to Jesus Christ. This is the way Paul lived and he invites me to imitate him (1Co 11:1), but even more importantly, this is the way Jesus lives and He demands that I pick up my cross and follow Him (Lk 9:23, 24).
1) Name someone who patiently helped you when you were a new believer.
2) Have you separated from someone over a non-essential matter? What step could you take to heal that relationship?