Romans 14 Sermon
It is important to note in Romans 14 that Paul does not have to say that he is not talking about God’s law/commandments, where we have no personal choice in the matter. Rather, it is obvious that he is talking about matters where God has not legislated, where we do have a personal choice. The Holy Spirit assumes that we have the good judgment and common sense to see the difference without having Paul labor over it. And in my sermon I try to follow this lead, except that I sometimes do point out that there is no personal choice when God commands us to do something. For examples of this, look at bold words in red.
For clarification of key words in sermon outline, I have included the following words with Webster’s definitions.
Personal -- private, individual; Choice -- choosing, selection.
Scruples -- doubts arising from difficulty in deciding what is right, mental reservation.
Indifference -- having or showing no bias, neutral.
1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Today, we have many personal choices to make in the area of conscience. Subjects that fall into this category: Conscientious objector, Head covering, Be a policeman, Be a politician, Service in some capacity in the military, Lords supper on Sunday evening, Arrangements for teaching, Dress for worship, etc.
The Bible is a wonderful book of God’s wisdom. And Paul is writing in Romans 14 giving God’s wisdom on how to interact with others concerning matters of personal choice and conscience. What Paul says in Rom 14 applies equally to all of us.
The Roman church was composed of Christians from varied ethnic backgrounds, namely Jews (Rom 2:17-24) and Gentiles (Rom 11:13-14). In Romans 14 Paul is addressing both. He had just finished a long dissertation on justification by faith. He talks about loving neighbor as self (Rom 12), about civil government (Rom 13), and now he is dealing with matters of personal choice and conscience (Rom 14).
Regarding the eating of meat, the Jewish Christians were used to Jewish dietary restrictions, and in a foreign country (like Italy) they were concerned for conscience sake about the danger of eating unclean meat from the market or eating meat offered to an idol as a sacrifice (1 Cor 10:23-33). To safeguard against eating unclean meat or meat offered to an idol they sometimes became vegetarians. This was the case with Daniel and his companions as captives in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon (Daniel 1:8-16).
But the Gentile Christians in foreign countries generally did not have the dietary restrictions for conscience sake as did their Jewish brethren, and were at liberty to eat what they wanted (1 Tim 4:4-5). But even some of the Gentile Christians also had their own personal scruples about eating. For instance, some brethren in India who came out of a Hindu background continue to be vegetarians for conscious sake. Conscience is not something we can just turn on and off. And Paul says that in these types of matters, both can go to heaven (Rom 14:3-6).
And, regarding the observance of days, Jewish Christians were used to observing Jewish festivals in recognition of their national heritage as Jews, such as the feast of unleaven bread (Passover), and the feast of weeks (Pentecost), and the feast of ingathering (Tabernacles). See Ex 23:14-16, Deut 16:16.
But the Gentile Christians did not have these Jewish customs in their national heritage, and such Jewish customs were not to be imposed on them. When some Judaizing Jewish brethren tried to teach the Gentile brethren to keep the law of Moses to be saved, letters from the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem were sent to the Gentile brethren in Antioch, and Syria and Cilicia, telling them to not be taken in by this false doctrine lest their souls be subverted (Acts 15:1-31). This was God’s law and not a matter of personal choice. And Paul later wrote the epistle to the Galatians to combat this false teaching.
So, Paul said some Christians ate all things and some Christians ate vegetables. And Paul said some Christians esteemed one day above another, and some Christians esteemed every day alike. Obviously, here Paul was not talking about Christians assembling for worship under the law of Christ (Heb 10:24-25).
Paul said they needed to respect each other and not judge each other. The meat eater should not despise the vegetarian and the vegetarian should not judge the meat eater. Because both of them are right (protecting their conscience), and both of them are accepted by God.
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
But someone might argue with his vegetarian brother because (supposedly) that brother is not believing what God says, namely, that every creature of God is good.
1 Tim 4:4-5
4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
However, carefully consider what God does tell us about what to believe. He says that there is room for Christians to have personal scruples due to conscience on some matters (Romans 14). God tells us to believe that we need to keep our conscience pure, or we make shipwreck of our faith.
1 Tim 1:19
19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
And if that requires refraining from eating meat that God accepts, then we should so do, or suffer the consequences.
14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean …...... 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
If a brother for conscience sake is a vegetarian, or a meat eater, leave him be. God has accepted him. And if we charge another brother with disrespect of God’s word, when he is trying to protect his conscience, we are judging another’s servant.
4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
The Scriptures don’t say that the vegetarian has to convert the meat eater, or that the meat eater has to convert the vegetarian. The Scriptures say just the opposite. The Scriptures say to not get into an argument about it and to keep the peace.
17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. 19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
When we allow for personal scruples due to conscience on certain matters, we might think that we are not all speaking the same thing. Paul said:
1 Cor 1:10-13
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
Regarding 1 Cor 1, Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for their party spirit in carnally elevating men. They were impressed with the skills and abilities of men, and formed parties saying they were followers of a particular man. Such was totally out of line with the principle of honoring God for our salvation.
And actually, in matters pertaining to Rom 14, when we allow for personal scruples due to conscience, we are all speaking the same thing. We are all saying that it is the will of God that he wants us to leave the vegetarian and the meat eater alone, and not cause an argument over it. Both are right, both are following their conscience, and both are accepted by God.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Sometimes tensions may get high, and problems can arise over matters of personal scruples and conscience. For example, there was a false rumor being circulated in Jerusalem by the Jews that Paul was teaching the Jews among the Gentiles to totally forsake Moses and his customs.
17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. 19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: 21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
We can carefully review Paul’s gospel teaching to the Jews in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14-50), and to the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-23), and to Felix the governor (Acts 24:10-21), and to king Agrippa (Acts 26:1-29), and to the Jews in Rome (Acts 28:16-28). And we see that Paul never taught this rumor. He taught that Moses’ law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, the true savior (Gal 3:24).
But this false rumor circulated among the Jews was becoming a stumbling block to the furtherance of the gospel in Jerusalem.
21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. 22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. 23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; 24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
So, to negate the effects of the rumor, Paul was asked by the Jerusalem brethren to make a concession and perform a purification ritual in the temple with four men who had a Nazarite vow (Num 6:1-21). Paul didn’t hesitate and readily did this.
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
He didn’t do it with any thought that it was necessary for salvation. He had absolutely no interest in the law as an instrument of justification (Rom 3:28). But rather he performed the ritual as an accommodation to the Jews, so that they would be more receptive to listening to the gospel.
Paul made allowance for the Jews, wherever they lived, to recognize their national heritage as Jews and to protect their conscience. Some continued to practice circumcision and some customs of Moses according to their conscience. As long as those customs didn’t conflict with God’s plan for salvation, no harm was done. For example, to avoid disrespecting the sacrifice of Christ, they were taught that animal sacrifices no longer applied as a means for atonement (Heb 10:1-18). “The Epistle to the Hebrews” tells them (and us) that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Heb 9:12-14).
What Paul did teach is that the law was good (Rom 3:1-2), and was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Gal 3:24). But he also taught that the law is not the way to obtain Justification (Rom 3:20). Rather, he taught that we are saved through faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law (Rom 3:28). He taught that the old law, written and engraven in stones, was the ministration of death (2 Cor 3:6-11), because those under it had to perfectly keep it or they were cursed (Gal 3:10-11).
And another example of Paul doing something to appease the Jews that they might listen to the gospel is when Paul circumcised Timothy, the son of a Jewess that believed (but his father was a Greek). He had him circumcised as an accommodation to the Jews, to promote the hearing of the gospel (Acts 16:1-3).
But on the other hand, Paul would not circumcise Titus, a Greek, to appease Judaizing Jewish false teachers in Asia Minor (Gal 2:2-5). He never appeased false teachers, but vigorously opposed them.
So, many Jews, to recognize their national heritage as Jews, and for conscience sake continued to follow dietary and some customs in the law. But the Gentiles having no such background were instructed to not be bound by the Law (Acts 15:13-29, Acts 21:25). This was not a matter of personal choice, but rather was God’s law. Paul pointed out that the Judaizing teachers that bound the Law on the Gentiles for salvation were accursed (Gal 1:6-9), and that the Gentile Christians who looked to the Law for salvation were also cursed (Gal 3:10-14, Gal 5:1-4).
And in Romans 14 Paul is instructing both sides, in matters of personal choice and conscience, to not go around judging their brother.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
So, both the vegetarian and the meat eater are accepted by God, and we are taught to not go around making judgments on either side concerning matters of personal choice and conscience. We don’t have to go on a crusade to convince people one way or the other. God accepts both, and both can go to heaven.
22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
If we make judgments concerning others in these matters, and impose our will on others, commanding others to do it our way, we walk not charitably. For instance, Paul said the time would come when some would forbid others to marry and command others to abstain from meats.
1 Tim 4:1-3
4 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
This addresses the very point of Romans 14 to not judge others. In matters of indifference and conscience, we should receive one another (Romans 14:1), and we need to be careful that we are showing love and “concern” for one another, and not rather forcing a personal “command” on one another.
Paul said rather determine to do this -- do not put a stumbling block in the way of a brother to induce him to do something that violates his conscience (which causes him to sin).
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. 16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost .......... 22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Let’s bring it close to home. In this congregation regarding requirements for elders, we have some that believe that an elder should have at least two children. And we have some that believe that an elder can have at least one child or have a multiplicity of children. I am persuaded that one or a multiplicity of children meet the requirements for children for an elder. But some have a conscience about serving under an eldership where an elder may have only one child. To keep peace in the congregation (Rom 14:19), I will do what I can to accommodate those who have this concern for conscience sake.
Paul gives an example of this concern for the conscience of others in 1 Cor 8, where he instructs us to be careful to not embolden someone to do something to violate his conscience, like eating meat offered to an idol.
1 Cor 8:8-13
8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. 9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. 10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; 11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
Paul is saying that if a man sees us eating meat offered to an idol, he may get the impression that it is okay, and eat when his conscience tells him not to eat, and thereby sins against his conscience. The one who has liberty sometimes has to walk a tightrope to keep from inducing his brother to sin. That’s the sacrifice that sometimes has to be made.
And so, Paul instructs us on what our attitude should be toward each other in these matters. The meat eater shouldn’t try to induce the vegetarian to eat meat, and the vegetarian shouldn’t try to impose his practice on the meat eater. Both are right in their practice, and both are accepted by God. Both should respect the other’s practice and follow after peace and after things which edify (Romans 14:19). If at all possible, be accommodative to others.
1 Cor 8:13
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
A quick look at some applications where personal choice and conscience may lead us to different practice, and where we should strive to accommodate one another:
Conscientious objector; Wearing of the head covering;
So let us be careful with our brethren and show charity toward them. We can and all do have differences of personal choice and conscience, and we can still be at peace one with another and glorify God. Nothing hurts the church and the cause of the Lord more than division and dissention. The world looks at us and judges us by our behavior as to whether or not God is in us.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.