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Romans 14:1-12

Romans 14 begins a new topic in this epistle. Paul now looks at how love keeps you from judging others who disagree with you over non-moral or non-essential issues. From Romans 14:1 through chapter 15:7, he gives us some very powerful principles regarding how to love each other over these issues. He writes, Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:1-12).

In these words, Paul is addressing the conflict that was occurring in the early church over two basic issues. The first issue was whether a person eats meat or is a vegetarian. The second issue was a disagreement over what day they should worship. Should they honor God on one specific day, or should they worship Him every day?

Why did these issues stumble the believers in that day?

To fully understand these issues, you must consider these conflicts in the context of the first century. With regard to eating meat, you must understand that most of the people coming to Christ in that time were idolaters. All of the meat that a person bought in the marketplace had been offered to an idol in one of the multitude of pagan temples. So, for a person who had just come out of idolatry into faith in Christ, they looked at this meat as tainted because of its relationship to the pagan temple. These new believers thought to themselves, Why would I want to participate in and support idolatry again? Consequently, these new believers would struggle with purchasing this meat from the marketplace. Many of them decided to not eat meat anymore, and were very judgmental toward any Christian who did buy this meat. They considered anyone who purchased this meat as compromising their faith. 

The second issue was in regard to worshipping on one special day versus worshipping on a Sunday. This was an equally difficult question. Think about a person who just came out of Judaism, who worshipped primarily on the Sabbath which was Saturday. When a Jewish convert entered into the church, there was an obvious conflict in his mind. Why should I worship on Sunday instead of on Saturday? The church primarily worshipped on Sunday because it was the day Jesus rose from the dead. But, if you believed that Saturday was a holy day, how would you feel if now no one else believed the same way? These believers looked at other Christians as also compromising because they were not really worshiping correctly according to the fourth commandment. Therefore, Paul takes these issues up and explains to these believers how to love each other. These issues are also addressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9-10, which I will refer to several times in this study. 

Paul’s Five commands

The Apostle Paul now gives five commands that were to help clarify a believer’s responsibilities over such issues. The principles that Paul teaches here are so important for all believers to understand in dealing with all non-moral questions that are not specifically addressed in Scripture. How should you resolve the differences you encounter with others over these and many other non-essential issues?

1. Receive one another without arguing and disputing.  Vs. 1

Paul explains, Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). Since there is no instruction given in the Old Testament about eating meat that had been offered to an idol, and no teaching in the New Testament making it mandatory that believers should worship on Sunday, Paul commands them to lovingly receive others who differ on these issues. The word receive in this context means to welcome or accept another person in a loving way. In other words, you should not dispute over doubtful issues when there is no clear command or instruction from God. Such issues fall into a general category of non-biblical and non-moral issues.

There are many issues today that believers dispute over where there is no clear teaching from the Word of God. These are considered “doubtful things.” The word doubtful means a reasoning or personal opinion you have. Therefore, when an issue comes down to your opinion versus another person’s opinion, where the Scripture has not spoken, you must not argue or dispute with other believers over these things. What would some of those things be for us today? How many times have you heard Christians arguing about whether or not a believer should watch television, use social media, go to movies, if women should wear pants or a dress, or many other political and social issues. Think of the arguments that people have about how we should worship, with musical instruments or without, with drums or without, or contemporary Christian music versus hymns. People also dispute about whether we should all be vegetarians, or many other issues concerning your diet. With all such issues you must choose to love and not dispute with others if you want to be obedient to Scriptural principles.

You must also remember that Paul taught that there were certain behaviors such as what we eat, which have no spiritual benefit or detriment for an individual. He said, But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Cor. 8:8). So, keep these truths in your mind when you encounter these issues. Remember to be welcoming toward those who don’t believe exactly like you do in these non-essential areas. Choose to love and receive them, and not dispute with them over such things. Paul also said, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). God loved and received you with all your questions and contrary opinions. Should we not do likewise?

2. Be concerned with people’s weakness of faith.  Vs. 1-2

Again, Paul said, Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). What did Paul mean when he taught that someone who struggled with these doubtful things was weak in the faith?

3. Your responsibility is to not judge.  Vs. 3-4; 6-10

The third responsibility you have toward the weak brother is to never judge and condemn them in your heart. Arrogant condemnation is what causes strife and disputes. Solomon explained this fact about pride when he taught, By pride comes nothing but strife” (Prov. 13:10). He also declared, He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife” (Prov. 28:25). The first thing you must address in your own heart is your prideful attitude. When you think that you have to set everyone straight about how they should live their life in every detail, let me assure you that you have an arrogant heart. You must remember that you are not anyone’s personal Lord and Savior! There is only one Man who holds that office, and His name is Jesus! If someone tells you that you are very opinionated and judgmental, believe them and deal with your sin, or you will create one conflict after another. Judgmentalism is one of the greatest causes of division in the body of Christ. Just make sure you are not the judgmental one!

This is why Paul warned the church at Colossi, “Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). This is what was happening in this church. People were judging and condemning others, because they ate food offered to idols, and then sold it in the market place, or because they did or did not keep a certain Jewish festival, or because they did or did not worship on the Sabbath. Paul’s encouragement was to stop this judgmentalism. Why? Because all of these festivals or sabbath days were a shadow of what Christ was to do for them. Christ was the fulfillment of every Jewish feast and the only One Who could give them the Sabbath rest in their souls. The word shadow actually means a foreshadow or prediction or a type of another thing to come. Paul declared that Christ was the substance of what was foreshadowed. He is the reality to which all these holy days and feast days were pointing. Think about it, which would you rather have, the shadow or the actual person that is making the shadow?

The ultimate issue is that every believer should realize that they are not the self-appointed reprover of other people’s lives. People should make their own decisions over what they eat and when to worship. They make these decisions sincerely as unto the Lord. This is why Paul says in verses 6-10, He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?” Paul’s point in these verses is very simple. Those who observe a certain day to the Lord, or those who eat foods believing that God has provided them, do so with sincerity of heart. Likewise, those who refuse to observe a day, or eat certain foods, are doing so with sincerity in their hearts. Both are sincere; both are upright before God; both are seeking to honor God according to the light He has given them. This is why neither group should judge the other.

Before I leave this subject of judgmentalism, let me make sure you have a balance of this truth. There are two kinds of judgments. There is a judgment to condemn and despise, and there is a judgement to discern and determine what is right. However, often believers get these two kinds of judgments mixed up! Jesus was very clear about these two forms of judgment. He condemned one form of judgment when He said, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). This is what is called a synonymous parallelism, which gives two similar statements or commands, which help define the other. When Jesus spoke of judging, He was referring to condemning another person, which is very clear in this verse.

However, Jesus also taught that there was another form of judging that He wanted us to do. This was a judgment to discern and determine what was right. He taught the multitudes that followed Him, Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming'; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, 'There will be hot weather'; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time? Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” (Luke 12:54-57). It is quite clear that Jesus intends us to judge and determine what is right. In addition, when people questioned among themselves who Jesus was, He said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). It is very clear from these passages that Jesus intended us to use the brain He has given us, which would enable us to make righteous judgments based on the facts we have. He does not want us judging by appearance. However, this is exactly what the people were doing with Him. Jesus appeared to be just a person from the despised region of Galilee, when He was actually of the seed of David and the Messiah. They should have judged Jesus on the basis of what He said, and the miracles that He did (John 14:10-11). Christ’s reproof to them was simple. If you can discern and determine what the weather will be like, why can’t you judge correctly who I am? Therefore, Paul is explaining that God doesn’t want us condemning and despising others based on our opinions, and forget what the Word of God declares. Communicate God’s truths to others in love, and let them make up their own minds (Eph. 4:15).

 4. You must decide on these non-moral and non-biblical issues.  Vs. 5

The fourth command Paul gives in reference to non-moral and non-biblical issues is to let people make up their own mind. Everyone has the freedom to make their own decisions. In verse 5, Paul says, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” Now remember, Paul is not talking about clear moral or biblical commands. He is addressing these non-essential issues over which we must make up our own mind. Do you understand that there are certain issues about which God wants you to decide? He wants you to make the decision.

Let me explain the difference between essential issues and non-essential ones. An essential issue is a belief or command that you must believe or do to be a Christian. Essential issues would be your belief in one God whose name is Jehovah. Belief that Jesus is God Who came in the flesh of a man. That you are saved by grace and not of works. That Jesus rose from the dead, and that you must repent of your sins and be born again to enter into His kingdom (Deut. 6:4; John 8:24; Rom. 10:9; Mark 1:15; John 3:3). These are just some of the things you must believe and do to be a follower of Christ.

There are also essential things that you cannot believe or do if you are a Christian. Some of these issues that are taught in Scripture would be: you cannot refuse to be converted and become as a little child if you want to be His disciple. You cannot love anyone or anything more than Jesus if you want to be His disciple. You cannot continue to practice sinful behavior after receiving Christ as your Savior, and you cannot refuse to take up your cross and follow Him (Matt. 18:3; Matt. 10:37-39; 1 John 2:3-4; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). These are some of the essential things that you cannot believe, and that you cannot do, if you want to be a Christian. These are fundamental basic beliefs that all believers have been in agreement regarding for the last two thousand years. 

The non-essential issues I have already addressed earlier in this study. I would refer you to that list. These are issues we can disagree on and still be considered a Christian. In non-essentials, you should give others liberty to believe what they choose, to make a decision in harmony with their own convictions, and to be convinced in their own mind. The balance between these two issues was summed up by one of the early church fathers when he wrote, “In necessary things, unity. In uncertain things, freedom. In everything, charity.” I love this simple statement, because it helps you to understand what Romans 14 is all about.

The Fourth Commandment

However, many would say the one issue of the Sabbath is not a non-essential thing, because it is incorporated into the Ten Commandments. You remember that Moses commanded the people to, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11). If this is the fourth commandment, how then can we call this a non-essential issue?

First, the Sabbath day is a very specific commandment, because it was given exclusively to the Jewish people alone. God spoke to Moses and said, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you… Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever…’ ” (Ex. 31:13-17). This commandment was given only to the children of Israel to keep throughout their generations. It was a specific sign that set them apart from all other peoples. It was to be between God and the Jews forever. This is also true of the feast days of the Jews.

But, how can I be so sure of this fact? Because Paul clearly taught, as I have already stated above, that the Jewish feast days and Sabbath days were not to be applied to the church. He said, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Here Paul was addressing the same issue of believers judging other believers, because they were eating certain foods, not worshipping on Jewish feast days or on the Sabbath. His intent was to set them free from these external rituals, and to encourage them that they needed to exchange the shadow for the substance of Christ’s finished work.

How do you make good decisions over non-essential issues?

One of the most important questions people ask me is, “How do you make good decisions over these non-essential issues? If these decisions are left up to me, I want to make wise choices.” Let me give you a few simple principles.

5. You must give account of your life, and so does everyone else!  Vs. 10-12

The ultimate issue when dealing with non-essential issues is to remember that you don’t have to judge others, or force your beliefs on others, because one day all of us must give account of our lives to God. This is why Paul said, But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10-12).

This is the ultimate point of this section of Scripture. He is essentially telling the Roman church, “Look, don’t spend all your time judging, despising, and condemning other people. If they misuse their liberty in Christ, don’t worry about it, because they will answer to God one day.” Rather, each of us should be more concerned about the judgment that God will have upon our own lives. How will you make out when you stand before God and give account for your life? We all should be asking ourselves, what did I do with what God has given me to do? Have I fulfilled my responsibility to the best of my ability and with the understanding He has given me? This is what I must give account for, my life and what I have done with the talents He has given me!

Paul said in Romans 2:1, “Therefore, you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” My sin always looks so terrible when I see others doing it. Yet, I can excuse myself so quickly. That’s just the way I am, and just the way you are too. What you need to do is examine your own life, and you will have plenty to work on for the rest of your life. Where do I need to mature and change? What does God want me to do in service to His Kingdom, and is my personal life pleasing to Him? 

One last thing before we leave this text. There is a passage the Paul quotes in this text that reveals the clear teaching of the deity of Jesus. Paul quoted in Romans 14:11 a passage from Isaiah 45:22-23 that teaches that each of us will bow our knee to God. The passage reads, For it is written: ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Notice who every knee must bow to. God declared, you “shall bow to Me!” Then God says it again, “every tongue shall confess to God.” What will all men confess? That He is Lord! Now compare this verse with Philippians 2:10-11. There Paul writes, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Here Paul makes it clear that we will all bow and confess to Jesus that He is Lord. Why will we do this? Because He is the Judge of all the earth. Jesus affirmed that He Himself is the Judge of all men when He taught, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:22-23). Paul believed Jesus to be the God and judge of all mankind. God’s personal name is Yahweh, the one true and living God. This one God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Notice that Jesus adds the fact that you must honor and revere Him just as you honor the Father. Why? Because Jesus is God the Son that came in the flesh of a man! This is the only reason they are to be equally honored. Is this whom you believe Jesus to be? This is one of those essential beliefs I referred to earlier. Bow your knee to Him today, and confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior!