A few weeks ago, we began looking into Romans 14. And we saw there that in the Church there are two kinds of Christians, the weak and the strong. This isn’t derogatory or condescending for Paul to say this or even make such a distinction. It’s an honest look at the family of God’s people. All families have their quirks about them, their differences, and their unique characteristics. So it is with the Church. Not all members of the Church are the same, there is much variety among us, and one of the differences that distinguishes one Christian from another are these two categories Paul is dealing with here in Romans 14: the weak and the strong.

But what does it mean to be weak, what does it mean to be strong? Recall how Paul began in Romans 14:1, “As for the one who is weak in faith…” There it is. The weak thing about the weak brother or sister is that they’re weak in faith, while the strong thing about the strong brother or sister is that they’re strong in faith. Ok, well what does this weakness and strength look like in daily life? Paul is clear throughout this chapter. The weak brother or sister appears to be those with scruples, with deep seated opinions and convictions on non-essential matters, so much so, that these non-essential, or side, matters tend to become central matters. Paul mentions two of them in the text, special diets and special days. And it isn’t so much about the diets and the days, it’s that these weaker brothers and sisters are making adherence to them a kind of litmus test for being true Christians. The strong brother or sister is different. Rather than being characterized by scruples, the strong appear to be those who not only embrace but live in light of and enjoy the liberty and freedoms in the Christian life. Again, Paul is clear about this throughout chapter 14. And he has something to say to both groups here. You see, the weak sin when they judge others based on their own scruples, and the strong sin when they disregard and refuse to bear with the weak for being weak.

So, in v1-12, the text Andrew preached two weeks ago, is all about Paul’s counsel to the weak, that they’re not to judge others based on their scruples but instead are to welcome others. Rather than doing the judging themselves they’re to leave judgment to God, the One before whom all men will one day stand and give an account to. That was the main point in v1-12, the instructions to the weak. Now today, as we move ahead to v13-23, Paul shifts to instruct the strong, the ones who enjoy the liberty and freedoms of the Christian life. Here Paul instructs them about how they’re to do life alongside their weaker brothers and sisters. Let’s turn to the text to see this for ourselves. First see…

Don’t Scandalize the Weak (v13-16)

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.”

v13 begins with “Therefore…”, so Paul is drawing conclusions based on what he has just finished saying. Standing in judgment over one another is something the weak and the strong must stop doing.[1] Instead of this what all Christians must do is decide to not live in such a manner as to cause another brother or sister to stumble or be hindered in any way. We get what the phrase “stumbling block” means, it’s to do something that causes a brother or sister to stumble or trip in their walk with Christ. To hinder means a similar thing, but it’s a bit more emphatic. The word here for hindrance in Greek is the word is skandalon, which is where we get our English word scandal. You see what’s called for in this? Not only must we never cause a brother or sister to stumble as they follow Christ, but we also must never do anything that scandalizes our brother or sister. Or I could say, we must never do anything that causes one another to respond with shock and awe and dismay and confusion.

Paul continues filling out what this means in v14, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” The first part of v14 is straightforward, right? Paul’s persuaded, he’s convinced, in the Lord Jesus (meaning, from the teaching of Christ and through the gospel of Christ that has come to him and is renewing his mind) that nothing is unclean in itself. Paul is persuaded of this. And all the strong brothers and sisters would agree with this. They know this to be true because Jesus has fulfilled the Law, all foods are now clean, and no dietary restrictions remain for God’s people. That’s clear in the first part of v14. But then comes the rest of it, “…but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” This is unexpected, but it follows what Paul is getting at here. Yes, all foods are now clean for Christians. But while the strong get this, grasp this, and live in light of this, the weak don’t, and so they still avoid certain foods and maintain certain diets.

Take coffee for example.[2] If I have a friend who believes coffee to be sinful, thinking it’s an unhealthy drug and/or stimulant that easily ensnares many in addiction, for him coffee isn’t ‘clean.’ It is a matter of conscience for him to avoid drinking coffee. Here’s what Paul is getting at. v14 says I would be wrong to entice my friend to drink coffee, even if I believe my friend to be wrong and misguided about coffee. In other words, if I were to persuade my friend to drink coffee before he believes it to be ‘clean’, I cause my friend to go against his conscience, which subjectively, would be sin for him. Lesson? Until my fellow Christian is truly convinced that coffee isn’t wrong, I as the stronger brother, must decide to sacrifice my freedom to drink coffee so I don’t scandalize my weaker brother with my actions.

Which is exactly what v15 says, “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” Back to the coffee. Could you imagine what it would be like for my friend, who thinks coffee is sinful, to watch me, a pastor, drink coffee? Because of his deep seated scruples about coffee, I imagine it would be scandalous for him to watch me drink it. Unthinkable! But what if he had a different reaction? What if my friend watched me enjoying a coffee and was tempted, or felt pressured, to drink coffee himself just because I was doing it, even though he still believed it to be wrong?[3] Though I might very well be enjoying my Christian liberty and freedom, I would not be loving my friend at all. And that’s not all. v15 doesn’t just mention how my actions could grieve my friend, it mentions that I should not “…destroy my friend for whom Christ died.” Picture this. Say I don’t really care about my weaker brother and his erroneous convictions about coffee, and I just chalk him up to be foolish, and I drink my coffee in front of him without caring about what it will do to him. Say he then goes against his own conscience and begins drinking coffee himself. Now that he’s gone against his conscience once, what’s to stop him from going against his conscience again? Maybe even in regard to something else? And after going against his conscience a few times, what’s to stop him from doing this again? And again? And again? v15 mentions destruction, and we should heed this warning. Spiritual ruin comes in slow steps, Church. We ought to watch how we walk before one another, lest we put one another down the path of destruction.

What does all of this mean for the strong brother or sister? It means that there is a way to be right that’s very wrong. This means we must fight to avoid the attitude of superiority, of looking down on our weaker brothers and sisters.[4] We must walk in love toward our brothers and sisters. Because being who they are the weak do look to the strong for a model of Christian living, and could easily feel pressured to give into certain habits, practices, or beliefs, even when they aren’t quite settled about these matters, and from giving in they could begin down the slow but steady path of destruction. If v15 doesn’t happen, that opens up the possibility of v16 happening, where the weak call what is good evil, because we’ve acted unlovingly toward them.

Church, oh that we would remember the gospel! Jesus Christ, is the chief example here. v15 mentions these weaker brothers and sisters are ones for whom Christ died. Question: how did He die for them? By willingly sacrificing and giving up His own rights to save us from our sins. Being fully God He voluntarily and willingly laid Himself low, and laid aside His privileges, for us. Considering how Christ has loved us all, Church, how can the strong refuse to do the same? How could the strong refuse to pay the tiny and insignificant cost of gladly going without coffee, or whatever it is, in order to love our brothers and sisters in Christ?[5] To refuse to do so, and to make much of our rights, our freedom, and our liberty in Christ against our brothers and sisters in the Church, is to sin greatly. But to serve them by sacrificing for them, is very Christlike. If we know Jesus, if we follow Jesus, we must walk as Jesus walked. So, let’s also remember we must walk in sacrificial humility like Jesus did.[6]

So the initial call today in this text is this: don’t scandalize the weak. Look now to our second heading…

The Heart of the Kingdom (v17-18)

Just as Paul broken into his earlier argument in v9 with a robust doctrinal sentence, he does the same here in v17-18, where he reminds us what the heart of Kingdom of God is all about. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”

Why does Paul feel the need to say this? I think it’s because of what we’ve covered in this text so far. Because we’re so prone to make side matters central and place a weight on them they were never meant to bear, I think Paul feels the need to remind us what the Kingdom is truly about. This is as relevant to us today as it was back then. Andrew mentioned this some when he began this text, but isn’t this what denominations do all the time? Naming themselves after a man or theologian of Church history like the Lutherans, naming themselves after a particular doctrine like the Baptists, naming themselves after a model of church government like the Presbyterians and Anglicans. I do not think we ourselves are entirely innocent in this in the non-denominational world. We here at SonRise, in a sense, have named ourselves after the freedom from denominations we enjoy, and emphasize community as the ideal. These names are all well intended, but perhaps they reveal some of our own weaknesses. All in all, I think we all need to return to the center and stop detracting from the main thing by so emphasizing side matters.[7]

This was the issue in Romans 14. To some people the Kingdom of God really did became a kingdom all about special diets and special days. Church, we betray ourselves by what we emphasize, by what we give prominence too, by what we always speak of, by what seems to always absorb us, excite us, and thrill us. In this way we make it plain to all others what we truly believe is at the center of God’s Kingdom.[8] Yet, what does Paul say about the heart of Kingdom? “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” Question: who is it that kept the law perfectly and earned a spotless righteousness? Jesus. Who is it that then gives that righteousness to us as a gift when we turn to Him in faith? Jesus. Who is it that came as the Prince of Peace, who not only brings into peace with God, but also fills us with the peace of God? Jesus. Who is it who fills our hearts with joy and cheer to gladness all our days? Jesus. And who is it Church, who gives us the His Spirit to equip, enable, and establish us in the faith? Jesus Christ! Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit are only to be found in Christ. So make no mistake about it, SonRise, Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of the Church! Only Jesus shines with unmatched brightness and glory, and so our great concern must be that Christ the King is alone enthroned in our hearts above all else![9]

Now, here’s a question. Does the world see this in us? What impression do we give the world of what our Christianity is all about?[10] These Romans likely gave the impression to Rome that their faith was all about diets and days. What does our city conclude from watching us? What do they see as the chief thing about our faith? That Christians are people who don’t do bad things? That Christians are people who only do good things? That Christians are people who are reformed in doctrine? That Christians are people who only sing hymns? That Christians are people who homeschool? That Christians are people who are conservative in their politics? That Christians are people who have been baptized in a certain way at a certain age? Church, all these issues matter, they’re important, but none of these deserve to be front and center. The world’s great need is the Lord Jesus, and it just happens that God has so ordered His Church that the Lord Jesus is to be our great and chief concern. When we keep Christ central we offer the world hope and salvation…but when we remove Christ and put something else front and center, we sin against God, offer the world a false savior, and a fraudulent religion.

After Paul reminds us of the heart of the Kingdom, he finishes this text with further instruction to the strong. See lastly…

Conclusion: Do Build the Weak (v19-23)

Instead of scandalizing, we should peacefully build up the weak. I think much of these concluding verses in chapter 14 are a restatement and reaffirmation. So let’s walk through this and see how Paul drives it home.

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” We’ve seen this in the text, this is the main call here. Live not so that the weak are scandalized, but live so that the weak are built up, so that the weak actually grow and become stronger in faith.

But see where Paul goes on from here in v22a. “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God…” While the weak are known for their scruples, the strong do not live with all their convictions on their sleeves for all to see. They live wisely and prudently, only bringing out their views on these controversial side matters if the context is suitable.

Then see where Paul closes this out in v22b-23, “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

The strong should not surrender their convictions on side matters, not at all. But they should not also crusade for their convictions to embraced by all. If they do, they will coerce the weak to act against their conscience, which is to act outside of faith, which is to cause them to sin.

Church, zeal is a gift of God indeed. But Romans 14 reminds us that zeal for matters of minor importance does not build the Church. What builds the Church? “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

May our zeal be here, and may we grow in this, seeking to love one another as Christ has loved us.

[1] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 867.

[2] Daniel M. Doriani, Romans, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2021), 494–495.

[3] Ibid., 495.

[4] Moo, Romans, 870.

[5] Ibid., 871.

[6] Doriani, Romans, 500.

[7] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – Liberty and Conscience (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 222.

[8] Ibid., 242.

[9] Ibid., 228.

[10] Ibid., 239.

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