It has already been established that we are to love all people, especially believers (13:8ff). We are called to walk humbly in the Spirit, hence “…clothes yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (13:14).
Chapter 14 opens with “accept” referring to a believer “weak” (i.e., has not completely understood the true meaning of Christian freedom) in the faith. The “strong” (free from any legal bondage through Christ, Gal 5:1) are to accept and avoid criticizing those who have a different conviction over non-essential issues, especially eating food in this context.
Whether one is categorized as “weak” or “strong” we all belong to the Lord! Moreover, “…every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.” v. 11 Paul said, “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” v. 12
v. 13-18 “Therefore…”, because the day will come when we will “give an account of himself to God.” (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Cor 3:10-15) “…let us stop passing judgment on one another.”
What does it mean to “pass judgment?” Is it a matter of one’s heart? My motivation? Is it the nature of my thoughts at the time I make a judgment?
“Instead, make up your mind…” Harrison (1976) said, “He is calling for a determination to adapt a course of action that will not hurt another brother, a decision once for all to avoid whatever might impede his progress in the faith or cause him to fall.”
• Stumbling block- something against which one may strike his foot, causing him to stumble or fall.
• Obstacle- a trap designed to ensnare a victim. It is used of something that constitutes a temptation to sin (cf. Matt 16:23).
Is pushing or insisting a brother conform to a non-essential issue (e.g., dietary, worship day) because one is “strong” or free in Christ, wrong? What about the brother or sister who reluctantly conforms, is that wrong too? (cf. v. 23).
What if my motivation is to get a brother or sister from a “weak” position to a “strong” position, may I then challenge his or her conviction? What if I say “I love the brother” and want them to be completely free?
Paul describes a different approach to demonstrate genuine love for those in Christ:
For those free (strong) in Christ, are there times to violate one’s conscience? In other words, Is it an act of love to forgo one’s convictions for the benefit of another, especially those who have strong convictions about non-essential issues?
Paul’s appeal is not to liberty, but to love. Allen (1986) said, “Love takes precedence over knowledge.” He asked, “If the ‘strong’ do not care about the sensitivities of the ‘weak’ but openly fly in the face of them, what will the result be?”
Therefore, “acting in love” includes a willingness to sacrifice our own convictions, especially over non-essential issues. Love through Christ does not want to cause distress in any fashion, especially when it comes to the body of believers.
v. 15 What if the ‘strong’ refuse to sacrifice their freedom? “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.”
“…destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” Is Paul suggesting that my arrogance and pride to flaunt my freedom might cause a brother to fall or drift from fellowship? Do I really care? Does God care?
If we refuse to sacrifice our own convictions, Harrison (1986) quoting Moule said,
“The Lord may counteract your action and save your injured brother from himself–and you. But your action is, none the less, calculated for his perdition. And all the while this soul, for which, in comparison with your dull and narrow ‘liberty’ you care so little, was so much cared for by the Lord that He died for it.”
A selfish insistence on liberty may tear down and destroy, but love, when it is exercised, will invariably build up (1 Cor 8:1).
Moreover, in the church, among the redeemed a selfish insistence on liberty, the outcome is evil. (e.g., church splits, anger, resentment)
v. 16 “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.” We are called to live free, but responsibly with love as our motivating force in all our decisions.
v. 17 What matters the most? It is not externals such as dietary regulations, but our spiritual, or even supernatural understanding that motivates our ‘in Christ’ lives. Through Christ our reactions to events and interpersonal conduct is shaped by the indwelling power of Christ! Nothing else really matters in comparison!
Moreover, Harrison said, “Surely the strong will agree that if their insistence on Christian liberty endangers the spiritual development of the church as a whole, they should be willing to forgo that liberty.”
The context for “righteousness” is not justification, but ‘right conduct to which the believer is called in obedience to the will of God (cf. 6:13, 16, 18).
To live a righteous life, experience the peace of God, and have abundant joy is only possible through God the Holy Spirit. Again, we are dependent on our indwelling God!
v. 18 How do we serve our gracious and powerful God? In righteousness, peace, and joy through the power of the Holy Spirit!
In this way of service we are acceptable to God who provides the power, and others see our life ‘in Christ’ and they too experience the blessings of God through us. Therefore,
How important is my witness to my neighbor, especially the saved in this context?
Paul said earlier, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (12:18).
v. 19-21 Here he said, “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
In harmony among diversity there is mutual edification. In regards to ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ Harrison (1986) said,
“mutual edification implies that the strong, despite their tendency to look down on the weak, may actually learn something from them. It may be that they will come to appreciate loyalty to a tender conscience and begin to search their own hearts to discover that they have cared more about maintaining their position than about loving the weaker brethren. Through the fresh manifestation of love by the strong the weak will be lifted in spirit and renewed in faith and life” (pg. 149).
v. 20 However, the opposite of edification (to build up) is to destroy (to tear down). What non-essential issues do I need to allow the ‘love in Christ’ to prevail? This question seems most important when it comes to building up fellow believers.
v. 21 “It is better…” praiseworthy, noble to strive to live our lives in this humble fashion! Phil 2:1-11.
Is Paul presenting a principle that is just talking about food or wine? “…or to do ‘anything else’ that will cause your brother to fall.”
v. 22-23 Therefore, if there is “strong conviction” on one side and even stronger conviction on the other side of a non-essential issue, freedom through Christ allows it (i.e.,don’t make it an issue, or just be silent).
Whatever the non-essential issue, I need to act (just be secure in Christ) in confidence privately where God is my witness. To do otherwise is not acting in love.
Moreover, selfish insistence is a “…condemning of oneself by what he approves.” We are blessed when we actively avoid this destroying type of behavior. In other words, if we push a non-essential issue, then love is not prevailing in the situation.
v. 23 Are there behaviors in my life that my conscience is not allowing me to be comfortable doing? Yes? No? What should I do? Whether weak or strong, love for God and my fellow believers guides my response.
Is there a difference in ‘conscience’ between believer and non-believer? What about the ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’ believers in the context of these passages?
To have doubt about it, yet act anyway brings guilt and sin. An incomplete understanding of freedom ‘in Christ.’ However, understanding our freedom in “the faith” eliminates doubt and subsequent guilt and sin for acting on non-essentials. However, love for the brethren helps us discern whether to act on our freedom or not, hence security in Christ through faith.
Persevere in love, in Christ!
The International Bible Commentary, (1986) FF Bruce (ed).
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. (1976). F.E. Gaebelein (ed.)
NIV Study Bible (1984).