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Romans Part 14: Accept One Another

April 26, 2007

Beginning in chapter 12, Paul called the Roman Christians to live out an appropriate response to the grace of God found in the gospel. The culture of the church was to be neither Jewish nor Greek, Instead the Christians were to be transformed into a kind of assembly the world had never seen before. Jews and Greeks, who despised one another outside the church, were to embrace one another inside. Sincere love, devotion, sharing, and hospitality were to be characteristic of their relationships in the church.

Likewise, the church today must be a place of love and acceptance between all types of people. Instead of Jew and Gentile, the opposing groups involved more often might be black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural. The challenges might be based on nationality, or on differences in language and culture, or maybe even on style of music and worship. But the principle is the same. We must embrace all our brothers and sisters, even — especially — those who are different from us. We must show them sincere love. We must practice hospitality toward them.

In chapter 14, Paul expands this concept of acceptance to a new area. A growing challenge to the unity between Jews and Gentiles was their differing understanding of certain doctrinal teachings. These differences did not have to do with fundamentals of salvation–the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, his resurrection, repentance, baptism, and the forgiveness of sins. Instead their differences involved ceremonial questions like eating of meat and observance of special days. Paul’s instruction on this was very clear:

Rom 14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

It is interesting to note whom he characterized as weak and who was strong. The weak brothers were those who considered certain foods unclean, and those who observed special days. The strong were those who recognized their freedom on these matters. Many of the Jews believed they were still obligated to follow the regulations of the Law regarding unclean foods, and to observe special days according to the Old Testament Law. The Gentiles realized this was not required of a Christian. It was the Jews, not the Gentiles, who were considered weak on these topics.

Why didn’t Paul just give them an official ruling on these subjects and leave it at that? Apparently the Holy Spirit chose instead to give us principles for deciding many similar disputes. If we would only follow those instructions, what a different church we would have today!

First, he called on them to stop passing judgment on one another. He gave this instruction to both parties in the disputes:

Rom 14:3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.
Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Then, he added the instruction to protect the conscience of the other party:

Rom 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

Rom 14:15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

Rom 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Rom 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.
Rom 14:21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

Then he concluded by commanding them not to quarrel about these things, but to keep their opinions private. He also added a warning not to violate one’s own conscience:

Rom 14:22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.
Rom 14:23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

It is better to keep your convictions to yourself than to raise an issue. Paul did not just make a suggestion, but he gave a command. Keep it between yourself and God.

He placed the greater burden on the strong to protect the consciences of the weak:

Rom 15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

And he concluded where he began chapter 14, with a command to accept one another.

Rom 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Paul could hardly have been more clear about how to handle controversial subjects in the church. But history testifies that the church has done a poor job of following this instruction. Churches have split over many topics less fundamental than the ones Paul used as illustrations. Paul’s examples were deeply held convictions of the Jews, bred into their culture over 1500 years. How hard must it have been for them to accept the Gentiles who ate pork and who treated Jewish special days just like any other day! Didn’t they realize the meaning of those days–days like passover, pentecost, feast of tabernacles, new moons, and jubilees? Why did they treat these days as if they had no meaning?

Paul also instructed the Gentiles about how to treat the Jews. The Gentiles were to accept the Jews despite their incomplete understanding of the gospel. Moreover, the Gentiles were to give up their rights when necessary rather than grieving their weaker Jewish brethren, or rather than causing their brothers to sin. The importance of the spiritual survival of a brother far outweighs the significance of his technical misunderstandings. Sometimes the strong brother might need to abstain from eating certain foods for the benefit of the weak. Sometimes, a strong brother might need to observe a special day to protect the conscience of another Christian. Sometimes, they needed to keep their opinions to themselves.

In comparison to the differences between Jews and Gentiles in first century Rome, many of our controversies seem trivial. But we usually defend our positions and draw our lines with equal conviction. Paul’s message to the Romans was to eliminate the quarrels and the drawing of lines. That is also the message of Romans to the modern church. We need to accept our brothers and sisters despite disagreements over disputable matters.

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2 comments

  1. Hi Alan,When I was at OCC (many years ago) whenever one of those ‘disputable matter’ conversations came up someone would eventually say “Is this essential to my salvation?”, which usually ended the conversation. I didn’t really appreciate that back then, but I think perhaps that is a more pertinent question to ask than I ever thought back then.I have learned that I may have strong opinions on some things but in the final analysis no one is going or not going to Hell because they hold a different POV. It’s taken a lot of pressure off me :^)ttk


  2. I really enjoyed this teaching. I was actually reading this in scripture recently, and it was nice to have a more clear break down of what I was reading!



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