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Strong and Weak Believers Neither to Despise nor to Judge Each Other. Verses 1 to 12.
Perfect Liberty in this Dispensation; but Each Must Walk According to Conscience. Verses 11 to 23.
1 But him that is weak in faith, receive ye, yet not for decision, of [his] scruples [ for him]. 2 One man hath faith to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest the house-servant of another? to his own Master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord: or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He [and none else] might rule over both the dead and the living.
10 But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God.
11 For it is written,
As I live, saith the Lord, to Me every knee shall bow.
And every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
PAUL, IN THIS Fourteenth Chapter, and the following one, directs his instruction chiefly “to the ‘strong,’ who can bear it, while indirectly showing the state of the ‘weak’! Those weak in faith, like babes, are not able to take much nourishment at once; while those who are strong are often not willing to receive what seems to reflect upon their vigor. To have faith before God, secretly, hiding it from the weaker brother, for his sake, until he becomes stronger, is not easy: it requires walking in love, which is always costly to the one loving!
Verse 1: But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not for decison of [his] scruples [for him]—As to receiving and welcoming into our fellowship believers less instructed or with weaker faith than ourselves, let us note what our attitude should be, (1) toward those less instructed or of weaker faith than ourselves; and (2) toward those with greater knowledge, and liberty of conscience, than ourselves.
There are those who are “weak” in faith. They have true faith, they have Christ; but, because of traditional or legal teaching; or perhaps through Satan’s accusations on account of former sins; or through not grasping the fact of their death with Christ and their present and eternal union with Him; or possibly because of habits of introspection and self-accusation, or even through unsubdued sin,—for some or all of these reasons, they are “weak.”
Such weak ones are to be received. Of course, in these days, when that sweet powerful fellowship of the early Christian assemblies, that consciousness of the presence in the assembly of the Holy Spirit, and so of the Risen Christ, is rare, there is difficulty in making clear the meaning of the word “receive.” Ecclesiastical procedure has so usurped the place and prerogatives of the saints’ acting by the conscious will of the Holy Spirit, as largely to obliterate the meaning of these words, “receive ye.” People say, Was not so and so received into the church by the pastor and officers? “Official action” has supplanted the saints’ blessed ministry of receiving, as described here.
Nevertheless, we must go directly to Scripture in this serious, practical matter. By “receiving” the weak brother, is not meant allowing him to “join the church”; but acknowledging him, by the discernment of the Spirit, to be a man of faith (even though his name be Mr. Ready-to-halt). Thus he and we are members one of another, being in Christ. And there is the same welcome in the assembly to this feebler member as to the most gifted teacher of the Word among us. It is not that he has been “officially recognized,” but that he has been discerned generally and welcomed, in the Spirit.
He is to be received,—but not to decide for him his conscientious scruples. No one’s conscience but his own can direct him. He may be taught the Word, however, and God will bring him along. He must not be forced. If he have faith, though it be but weak faith, he is among us not by our action, but by Christ’s.
What a terrible contrast to the teaching of this Scripture is presented by the “close communion” people, and the “exclusivists,” of all sorts. Unless a man pronounces “shibboleth” their way, there is not the thought of receiving him. This is the Pharisaism of the last days. And sad to say it is most found among those most enlightened in the truth, for “knowledge puffeth up, but love buildeth up.” We are profoundly convinced that if those who now “exclude” so readily those differing from them were filled with love, filled with the Holy Ghost, not only would there be deliverance from the awful wickedness of “exclusiveness,” but there would be hundreds, even thousands, of hungry believers flocking into fellowship, where they would be lovingly greeted just as they are! Further teaching for them can wait: but receive them!
Where faith in Christ in the least degree is found, we should be thankfully delighted, and should welcome such believers. All believers have not the same knowledge, nor the same freedom from tradition, nor the same strength of appropriating faith. We have no right to say to believers, “Sit back, until we are satisfied about you.” This puts your will between believers and fellowship with God’s saints.
Verse 2: One man hath faith to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs.
In this verse Paul illustrates the strength and weakness of faith
in a way that not only the Jewish believers of his day, but also people in our day,
instantly understand. Faith to eat all things: “Faith” here means knowledge and
heart- persuasion that Jewish distinctions of meats do not exist in this dispensation,
which knowledge, one having, could eat any food with thankfulness, and with no scruples.
Though certain flesh had been forbidden to an Israelite, and may be still regarded
as an improper food by many, yet the strong believer remembers how our Lord Himself
“made all meats clean” (Mark 7:19); and how Peter, insisting
on regarding “all manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things and birds” as
“common and unclean,” heard God say thrice over, “What God hath cleansed, make not
thou common.”260260 Our Lord taught with sunlight clearness, “There is nothing from
without a man, that entering into him can defile him” (Mark 7:15).
The word “nothing” is decidedly emphatic and embraces what we drink as well as what
we eat. And the weak in faith must remember this before they condemn the saints
who use the liberty here given to them.
On the other hand, Paul teaches that this liberty of the stronger believer will limit itself by love. There has not been a time since he wrote when it was more necessary to heed this than today. For now there is abundant teaching, in zeal without knowledge, that contradicts and nullifies the principle laid down by Christ. This false teaching binds, without enlightening, the conscience.
To eat all things—At man’s creation, God gave him the “green herb” and the fruits of “trees yielding seed.” After the Flood, God gave man “every moving thing that liveth,” to be food for him (Gen. 9:3). Today, all these foods are for us: herbs, fruits, flesh (and that of “all manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things of the earth and birds of the heaven”—Acts 10:12); and Paul also commands Timothy to “use a little wine for his stomach’s sake, and his often infirmities.”
Christian freedom, then, takes no account of former restrictions
of either food or drink, except for the weak brother’s sake. “All things are clean”
must be allowed to cover all things, whether of food or drink. The only restricting
thought is of the “weak” brother who does not see this.261261 There is, of course, to be temperance in the use of all things.
“The bishop must be temperate,” even as the deacon must not be “given to much wine”
(I Tim. 3:2, 8).
Nor is the man who has intelligent faith deceived by the wily pretenses of these. last days, whether of the “vegetarians,” or of the don’t-eat-starch-and-protein-together people. He remembers that God sent the ravens with bread and. flesh twice a day to Elijah!
But he that is weak eateth herbs—Mark this! The “vegetarian,” if so by conscience, is a “weak” brother. There even, are those today who esteem themselves particularly “strong,” in abstaining from eating flesh, although God says, meats were “created to be received with thanksgiving, by them that believe and [also] know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified through the Word of God and prayer” (I Tim. 4:3-5). To make distinctions of meats where God has set aside such distinctions, is sad weakness indeed,—and sometimes presumption. However, presumptuous people are not in view in Romans 14:2, but simply those whose faith is not strong enough to enable them to eat the food they have been accustomed to regard as “forbidden.”
Verse 3: Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not—Here is a solemn charge to the stronger brother. He that is strong in the liberty of faith is directed not to “set at nought” the weaker one. This applies not to eating only, but to the matter of regarding days, and to any other things people have “scruples” about. How a strong man loves to walk with a little child, holding his hand gently, and not ridiculing or scorning his weakness! Let us walk thus with weaker brethren!
And let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth—The weaker brother is not to “judge” the stronger. And note, in the case of the stronger, are used the words, For God hath received him. Doubtless God has received the weaker brother also. But do you know it is much more difficult for us really to believe in our hearts that God approves a man of wide Christian liberty, than to believe that God approves a man of many conscientious scruples? Yet the man of wide, strong faith, is honoring the work of Christ, as the man of trembling conscience has not yet come to do!
Verse 4: Paul writes this verse directly regarding this judging, whether secret or open, of Christ’s stronger servants by weaker ones; and thus he encourages Christian freedom: Who art thou that judgest another’s house-servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand— despite the criticisms and judgings of those who have not his faith.
It is striking, and tenderly suggestive, that the word “servant” in this verse is “household servant,” or, as we have shortened, “house-servant.” How would we, as masters of houses, feel, if, having invited a number of guests to dinner, we should overhear one of these guests criticizing the servant who waited upon him! Now Christ is Head over God’s house, and all believers are servants of Christ. Let no one undertake to judge, therefore, a servant of Another—before whom we shall all shortly stand!
And meanwhile, no matter what are our failures, or the attitude of others toward us, the fact remains that our Lord “hath power to make us stand,” before Him,—our only Judge. What a deep comfort these words are!
Verse 5: One man regardeth one day to be above another: another regardeth every day [alike]. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. Here Paul takes up the “day question,”—a live one to this hour! You instantly say. Is not the Lord’s Day above others? No, not in itself, as a “holy” day, in the sense that the Sabbath was and will be to Israel. Paul shows this plainly in his exhortation of Colossians 2:16: “Let no man judge you . . . in respect of . . . a sabbath day.” For, says he, you died with Christ unto earthly religious things; and must not now “observe” them. This passage shows that the first day of the week is not the “sabbath” at all. All those days of Judaism were “shadows.” “But the body is Christ’s.” But you say, I am not a Jew; the day has been changed. To which I answer, you speak as might a Jew; for the day has not been “changed.” There is but one weekly Sabbath known in Scripture and that is the seventh day. It will even be observed again weekly, in the land of Israel, after “the six working days,” of every week in the coming age, the Millennium (Ezek. 46:1, 3, 4). Because men have been wrongly taught or influenced, whether by Judaizing believers in the early Christian centuries, or alas, by Reformers and Puritans since the Reformation, most Christians regard the first day of the week as “the weekly Sabbath,” a “holy day,”—which entirely defeats its proper Scripture use. It substitutes a stern legal must for grace’s sweet word, privilege. “The so-called Puritan teaching here has been rightly called ‘an adulterous theology’; because it sought to marry believers to both husbands, to the Law and to Christ” (Scofield).
Howbeit, let us remain in the spirit of this fifth verse, which
is one of love: Another regardeth every day (alike). The weak brother, still influenced
in his conscience by legal considerations, held the first day of the week262262 Paul is evidently not speaking here of “various Jewish feasts
and festivals,” as some claim. Paul has nothing but the severest reprimands for
those who turn to “observing days, and months, and seasons and years” (Gal.
4:10), and calls Judaism “weak and beggarly rudiments,” now,—like the
old idolatry (vv. 8, 9); and in Colossians 2:14:
“The bond which was contrary to us” having been nailed to the cross, he classes
feast days and new moons along with “a sabbath day”; and asks believers not to let
themselves be “judged” about them.
With such observances, the Christian had nothing to do. But as to the first day of the week, marked out by the resurrection of our Lord, and His appearings to the disciples, as also by the breaking of bread (Acts 20:7, 8), and the Christian’s systematic giving (I Cor. 16:2), the matter was different. The Christians gathered on the first day, they remembered the Lord at His table on that evening, weekly. (I say, “evening,” for it was so at the beginning— John 20:19, Acts 20:7). God has indeed graciously so ordered things now, that we have the whole day. Yet look at Russia! And the same godlessness is spreading over the whole earth. Living faith in Christ,—not any kind of bondage, can sustain us. as peculiar and sacred in itself. He invested it with the restrictions of a Jewish sabbath, insead of hailing it with fresh joy each week as an opportunity for remembering, with other Christians, his Lord; and our place in the new creation with Him.
Now, the strong believer regarded every day alike. Each day alike was an opportunity for him to be filled with the Spirit, and in everything by word or deed giving thanks unto God the Father through Him. No day, thus, was holy in itself, above another! Privilege there was on the Lord’s Day, but no bondage. Paul’s instruction is, Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. Moses never could have said a thing like that! There is a sense in which these words reveal our liberty in Christ as does no other single passage. The Law allowed no liberty of action in such things: its very spirit and essence was bondage to a letter. Conscience was judged beforehand by the letter of the Law; conduct was prescribed. When a man gathered sticks on the Sabbath, he was stoned! Not so, now! Not being under the Law, or the legal principle, but in the Risen Christ, under God’s eternal favor, we have entered upon what the Spirit, in Chapter Twelve, calls our “intelligent service.” Here is an amazing sphere of holy freedom in which each of us, learning the truth, is treated as a king in the realm of his own mind. Instead of being told what he must or must not do, he is freely exhorted to assure his own mind and heart fully, and walk as Christ’s free man. Read Alford’s trenchant note below.263263“The Apostle decides nothing; leaving every man’s own mind to guide him in the point. He classes the observance or non-observance of particular days, with the eating or abstaining from particular meats. In both cases, he is concerned with things which he evidently treats as of absolute indifference in themselves. Now the question is, supposing the Divine obligation of one day in seven to have been recognized by him in any form, could he have thus spoken? The obvious inference from his strain or arguing is, that he knew of no such obligation, but believed all times and days to be, to the Christian strong in faith, ALIKE. I do not see how the passage can be otherwise understood. If any one day ill the week were invested with the sacred character of the Sabbath, it would have been wholly impossible for the Apostle to commend or uphold the man who judged all days worthy of equal honour,—who, as in verse 6, paid no regard to the (any) day. He must have visited him with his strongest disapprobation, as violating a command of God. I therefore infer, that sabbatical obligation to keep any day, whether seventh or first, was not recognised in apostolic times. It must be carefully remembered, that this inference does not concern the question of the observance of the Lord’s Day as an institution of the Christian Church, analogous to the ancient Sabbath, but not in any way inheriting the Divinely-appointed obligation of the other, or the strict prohibitions by which its sanctity was defended. The reply commonly furnished to these considerations, viz., that the Apostle was speaking here only of JEWISH festivals, and therefore cannot refer to Christian ones, is a quibble of the poorest kind: its assertors themselves distinctly maintaining the obligation of one such Jewish festival on Christians. What I maintain is, that had the Apostle believed as they do, he could not by any possibility have written thus. Besides, in the face of ‘every day’ the assertion is altogether unfounded.” (Alford: New Test., in loc.)
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that doth not eat, unto the Lord he doth not eat, and giveth thanks to God. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether therefore we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might rule over both the dead and the living.
Verse 6: These verses, of course, contemplate true believers only, those who “give God thanks.”
Here we have some regarding the day as holy in itself, Jewish believers especially, not fully delivered from the Law, would have tender consciences about days. But if they knew the Lord, it would be toward the Lord their consciences could be exercised, and they must be considered in love on that account; love would see through their eyes!
Again, there were those with greater knowledge and liberty who “regarded not the day,” knowing that every day, for those risen in Christ, is alike: the first day of the week being not a sabbath, but rather the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection which delivered us from legal things. Ignatius (martyred about 115 A.D.) said, “Those who were concerned with old things have come to newness of confidence, no longer keeping Sabbaths, but living according to the Lord’s Day, on whom our life, as risen again, through Him, depends.” And Justin Martyr, (martyred about 168 A.D.) when reproached by Trypho with “giving up the Sabbath,” said, “How can we keep the Sabbath, who rest from sin all the days of the week?”
Let those of legal tendencies mark this: that a man may regard not what we regard, and do so “unto the Lord.” Then the man who has liberty to eat all things, eats “unto the Lord,” and gives God thanks. And again, (let the stronger brother consider) there are those that eat not as “unto the Lord,” giving God thanks.
Verses 7, 8, 9: The argument of verses 7, 8 and 9 is that each one of us is living or dying absolutely unto the Lord,—whose we are. We are not in any sense one another’s lords! but belong to Christ alone, who died and lived that He might rule over us all,—and not we be lords of each other! or of the faith of others! Therefore comes the searching question:
Verses 10-12: But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou, again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God.
For it is written:
As I live, saith the Lord, to Me every knee shall bow, [not to men].
And every tongue shall confess to God.
So then each one of us shall give account concerning himself to God—[not to men].
The best manuscripts read “the judgment-seat of God” in verse 10: thus accommodating the words to the quotation from the Old Testament (Isa. 14:23). This word “God” is also used in Romans 14:12, as we see; although we know from II Corinthians 5:10, it will actually be before the judgment-seat of Christ that believers will be called. (Always remembering that Christ is God the Son.) Also, that “the Father has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
Of course we know from our Lord’s words in John 3:18 and 5:24, that condemnatory judgment cannot be applied to believers here, for, “He that believeth on Him is not judged”; “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life.” In Revelation 20, also, the saved, the “blessed and holy,” partake of the first resurrection; and over them the second death, the penalty of the lost, 1000 years later, has “no authority.” Nevertheless, we must not allow this blessed fact to dull the force of the solemn question propounded to us by our beloved apostle Paul, as to how we dare either judge or despise our brother? seeing that such action involves presumptuous forgetfulness both of the fact that we are not judges; and of the other fact that we shall all, though saved, stand before the judgment-seat of God and each “give an account of himself” to Him. In II Corinthians 5:10, of this judgment-seat (bema) for believers this is said: “We must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” In I Corinthians 3:13-15, we see that “if any man’s work shall abide . . . he shall receive a reward.” It is a matter of reward for our service, and not salvation, that is here in question. “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire”— that is, losing, as one whose house is burned, all his goods, though himself delivered. The whole emphasis here in Romans 14:12, is that each gives an account concerning himself—not of others; and to God instead of to man!
The reading “judgment-seat of Christ,” Romans 14:10, would seem to agree both with II Corinthians 5:10, and the whole spirit of the preceding verses here, especially verse 9. We know also that the Father has committed to the Son all judgment, both of believers and unbelievers (John 5:22, 27; Acts 17:31). But that it is before God (instead of a fellow-man) that all will bow, is being emphasized; and Christ is God, and will, we believe, as Man be the Judge, even at the Great White Throne of Revelation 20:11-15.
13 No longer, therefore, let us [Christians] be judging one another. But do judge ye this, rather, that no man put an obstacle in his brother’s way, or a snare. 14 I [personally] know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who reckoneth anything to be. unclean, to that one it is unclean. 15 For if because of thy food thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy food that one for whom Christ died!.
16,17 Let not then your good be evil spoken of. For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For the one herein serving Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men.
19 So then let us pursue things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one. another. 20 Overthrow not for food’s sake the work of God? All things indeed are clean; howbeit it is evil for that man who eateth with stumbling. 21 It is noble not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor [to do] anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended or is made weak. 22 The faith which thou hast, have thou to thyself before God. Blessed is he that doth not judge himself in that which he alloweth! 23 But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Verse 13: No longer, therefore, let us [Christians] be judging one another. But do judge ye this, rather, that no man put a stumbling-block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.
Here now is indeed a field for judging! And it is ourselves, not our brother, which we are to judge! And it is ours to see to it that no one of us is, or is doing, aught that binders or stumbles any brother. If these comments persuade any Christian to stop judging others and begin to judge himself, it will indeed be a fruit unto God! A stumbling-block is something in us that grieves a weaker brother; an occasion of falling, signifies that which we may freely do, but which another, undertaking, may in doing act against his own conscience, and therefore sin. Literally, the word means “snare,” or “trap.”
Verse 14: I know [personally], and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself: save that to him that reckoneth anything to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.
Paul states in verse 14 his own knowledge and liberty,— which is our pattern. Note carefully that knowledge comes first: “I know.” “Persuasion in the Lord Jesus,” that is, full heart liberty, or freedom of conscience, is second. There must be both,—not only knowledge of the Christian’s freedom, but heart and conscience persuasion, if we would walk in the liberty that belongs to the Christian. To such a one, nothing is unclean “of itself.” Distinction of meats (as under Judaism) is entirely gone; distinction of days (as under Judaism) is entirely gone. It is only to those whose lack of knowledge or weakness of conscience “accounts” or holds a thing to be unclean,—or, as we say, “wrong,” that it is so. What a glorious deliverance! No place is left for “religious fussing.” Christ, and the freedom that is in Him, fills all heaven, our whole horizon, at every moment: “To me, to live is Christ.”
But to the conscience not yet delivered (and real freedom of conscience is more rare than we think!) many things seem to be “unclean” in themselves: that is, Christians feel it is “wrong” to do them. You and I may have full light to the contrary: yea, these also may see the written Word that “nothing is unclean in itself” in this dispensation. But the conscience cannot be commanded. It must be persuaded, by the blessed Spirit—in the Lord Jesus. When one is thus set free, his walk is not forced, but happy and natural.
Verse 15: For if because of meat thy brother is grieved,264264Two stages are noted in the words ‘grieved’ and ‘destroy.’ When one man sees another do that which his own conscience condemns, it causes him pain (he is grieved); but when he is further led on from this to do himself what his conscience condemns, he is in danger of a worse fate; he is morally ruined and undone (destroyed). The work of redemption that Christ has wrought for him is cancelled, and all that great and beneficent scheme is hindered of its operation by an act of thoughtlessness or want of consideration on the part of a fellow Christian”—Sanday. thou art no longer walking according to love. Do not with thy meat destroy that one for whom Christ died. “If Christ so loved as to die for him, how base in you or me not to submit to the smallest self-denial for his welfare!” This verse often occasions the question, How could a “brother” be in danger of destruction? Let me quote on this passage from Charles Hodge, one of the greatest Calvinistic writers: “Believers (the elect) are constantly spoken of (in Scripture) as in danger of perdition. They are saved only if they continue stedfast (in faith). If they apostatize, they perish. If the Scriptures tell the people of God what is the tendency of their sins as to themselves, they may tell them what is the tendency of such sins as to others. Saints are preserved not in spite of apostasy, but from apostasy.” To this agree Paul’s words: “Ye are saved if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you” (I Cor. 15:2). “If so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and stedfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23). Before us, in verse 15, lies the awful fact that the destruction of one who is called a brother lies within the power of our use of our liberty—if it causes him to “stumble.”
This does not touch the security of those born of God and ‘“sealed to the day of redemption.” God says even of the carnal Corinthians, that “God was faithful, through whom they were called,” “who would confirm them unto the end” (I Cor. 1:8, 9). But we are not saved as automatons! God gives us a gospel to be believed, and a walk to be walked, corresponding to that gospel. That God can (and often does) rescue those whose walk is a failure is seen in the stern, but saving dealing with the brother of I Corinthians 5:1-5. But this same epistle records the solemn warning quoted above: “Ye are saved if ye hold fast the words.” Modernists, like all infidels, make light of “holding fast the pattern of sound words” (II Tim. 1:13). But God told earnest, praying Cornelius to send for Peter, who should “speak unto him words, by which he should be saved” (Acts 11:13, 14). Faith begins and lives by God’s words only!
Verse 16: Let not then your good be evil spoken of—(literally, blasphemed): “Good” here refers to the use of Christian liberty by those who are strong of faith, which is indeed good and delightful to God in itself; but in the use of which one must take heed that it be not judged and spoken evil of by the weaker brethren. We must always have the weaker in mind. You may have very blessed liberty in Christ; and that is good! But watch, in using your freedom, lest some one not having your freedom calls your path wickedness! Don’t lose your liberty, but use it carefully. (See verse 22.)
Verse 17: Now Paul writes a great verse, giving such a reason for this careful walk as ought to win all of us:
For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one thus serving Christ, is well pleasing to God, and approved of men.
In saying the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, Paul at one word sweeps the whole Christian platform clear of the rubbish of all the traditions of men. Men bow, for example, to the Pope’s “no-meat-on-Fridays.” But let these mark well that all such things have nothing whatever to do with the kingdom of God! The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Man cannot even see the kingdom of God except by a new, “down from above” (anothen) BIRTH (John 3:3)! And, since the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, believers are said to be in the Spirit—no longer in the flesh—to which the earthly distinctions of meats and days pertained.
And note, that the words here are not, righteousness in Christ —referring to our standing; but righteousness in the Holy Spirit—referring to our walk! Also, joy in the Holy Spirit. We cannot too strongly emphasize this fact—that “the kingdom of God,” now, is altogether in the Spirit! This leaves forms and ceremonies, days and seasons, unclean meats and clean meats, absolutely out! Such things are not Christian. They are Jewish or pagan, now! Such “religious” distinctions as these concerning eating and drinking are certainly not at all in the Holy Ghost—where all the saints now are (Rom. 8:9), and in whose energy all the real operations of “the kingdom of God” now are!
Verse 18: The one herein serving Christ—This word herein refers to the state of righteousness of life, peace of heart, and joy in God which those walking in the Spirit display. And the words serving Christ further prove that verse 17 has reference to practical walk, not to our standing in Christ. One thus walking, we see, is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men. Our Lord said, “If any man serve Me, him will the Father honor” (John 12:26). Nothing really pleases God, (since Christ the Son has been manifested, and become obedient to the Father even unto death), but to have men know and serve Christ—whose yoke is easy! But such service is made possible only since the coming of the Holy Spirit: therefore, “righteousness, peace, joy, in the Holy Spirit” is that service of Christ which delights God. And approved of men—Men will not always admit it, but they approve a believer who walks righteously, in Divine peace, and joy. Mere religious professors, men despise: but, while they may and often do persecute the one who walks in the Spirit, they at heart approve such,—yes, and only such! Let us ask ourselves. Does my walk please God? Is it approved in the hearts of men?
Verse 19: So then let us pursue the things that belong to peace, and things whereby we shall build up one another.
The word “pursue” is a strong word, generally used for persecute, follow hard after, as in hunting. Compare Chapter 12:13b, “given to (literally, pursuing) hospitality”: Philippians 3:14: “I press toward the mark.” Peter says, “Let him seek peace and pursue it”—same word. See also I Timothy 6:10, and II Timothy 2:22. So let us pursue the things of peace and of helping others. There is no more direct and effectual path away from yourself!
“Pursuing peace” is the negative side—refusing to engage in selfish conflict. Pursuing “edifying things” is the positive side. You must study the state and need of others, and “build up their need.” See Eph. 4:29, margin.
Verse 20: Overthrow not for food’s sake the work of God! Let us not be as unregardful of our brother as was Esau of God Himself! The “work of God” here refers to the operations of the Spirit of God within the soul—“the fabric which the grace of God has begun, and which the edification of Christians by each other may help to raise.” Or, which the selfish refusal to walk in love may pull down! For we find more people stumbling at the inconsistencies, and lack of love, in professing Christians, than at all things else. Let us follow Paul: “Though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more . . . Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good . . . even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many that they may be saved” (I Cor. 9:19; 10:24, 33).
All things indeed are clean; howbeit it is evil for the man who eateth with stumbling—All meats, all food, is indeed (in itself) clean, but to him that eats with a bad conscience, everything is evil. God indeed plainly says, concerning those who “command to abstain from meats,” that such are “giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons, because He Himself created meats to be “received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth” (I Tim. 4:1-5). But if one have not the assurance in his own conscience freely to obey this “command” of God, let him not violate his conscience; but wait humbly upon God, by His Word to strengthen him, and bring him into true Christian liberty. Otherwise his eating or drinking is not “with thanksgiving,” but in mere self-indulgence.
Verse 21: It is noble not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor [to do] anything whereby thy brother is made to stumble, or is ensnared, or is [made] weak—It has been remarked that in each of these three things, the effect is less than in the preceding one,—thus greatly strengthening and enlarging the exhortation. First, do not cause thy brother, by thy use of thy liberty, or in any conduct of thine, to have his fatal fall; second, do not even obstruct his Christian course by doing what might act as a snare to your brother, inducing him to act beyond his conscience; third, do not use your liberty, if your weaker brother, although he sees you are right, is not yet strong enough to follow you: and would therefore become disappointed and discouraged if he see you do so. “Wait for me!” did not your childhood’s brother often call out to you? So let us “wait for one another” in the spiritual life! Be conformed to his weakness for the present, and accommodate your walk to his, lest he remain weak.265265Brown (in Jamleson, Fausset & Brown) well says, “This injunction to abstain from flesh and wine and whatsoever may hurt the conscience of a brother, must be properly understood. Manifestly the apostle is treating of the regulation of the Christian’s conduct with reference simply to the prejudices of the weak in faith; and his directions are not to be considered as principles for one’s entire lifetime, but simply as caution against too free use of Christian liberty in matters where other Christians, through weakness, are not persuaded that such liberty is Divinely allowed.”
Verse 22: Hast thou faith? Have [it] to thyself before God. Blessed is he that doth not judge himself in the acts which he alloweth [in his own life].
“It is much more blessed to have a liberty before God which we do not use on account of our brother’s weakness, than to insist on our liberty, though it be distinctly given. The man whom Paul declares ‘happy’ is he who can eat what he pleases and drink what he pleases, without any qualms of conscience to condemn him while he does so.” These words (from Sanday) are true. The word translated “allows,” or “permits,” or “approves,” is literally, “puts to the test.” The picture is of a man having before him a question of conscience (of days, meats, or whatever), whose decisions in the use of his liberty are such that he does not go beyond his knowledge, and persuasion in the Lord Jesus (verse 14). For, though he have in his mind that he is free in such or such a matter, if his conscience check him, he “judges” himself if he rushes ahead in an action. To the strong believer the apostle speaks this word: “Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God.” You have probably known people whom in this sense you did not know! They had learned, yet were content not publicly to use, that great liberty of faith into which God had led them. It is blessed to have faith. It is yet more blessed to have that faith “before God”—when using the freedom it gives might perplex another!
Verse 23: But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Of course the word “damned” (for “condemned”) of the King James Version, is not the meaning here. But what is meant is the state of conscious condemnation into which one falls who goes beyond his faith in the exercise of his liberty. For he who acts thus enters the realm of self-will, the lawlessness (anomia) which God declares is sin (1John 3:4).
The apostle’s definition of sin here as “what is not of faith” is most searching. It will drive us to our knees. It reaches everything in our lives concerning which our conscience is not at rest, in which we do not have faith to proceed, in which we cannot walk with God.
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