This chapter applies the significant principles of the previous chapters directly to our everyday life - even as to our eating habits. If we just give a nodding assent to what Paul teaches it does not change us, and we continue to live in conformity to our social and religious norms. Here we are challenged to live in the freedom that Christ has secured for us.
So let us approach this chapter with a sincere desire to receive truth and to hear what the Spirit is saying! In that way no one will feel threatened and uptight; it will also do away with any feelings of superiority over those who have not yet grasped the freedom that is ours in Christ! This chapter boils down to practical Christian living. It helps us apply our faith to the situations that are common to all of us.
Paul was writing to the Christians in Rome - and it was the melting pot of nations. You could be pretty sure to find your nationality somewhere. People lived with their own nationality in a certain little section - just like they do in our big cities. They brought with them all their cultural background with its baggage. The only thing they had in common with everybody else was their passport or registered alien visa. Within this multicultural setting Christians were called upon to be like-minded and unjudgmental.
"Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only." (vv.1-2)
Here Christians are divided into two categories, the strong and the weak, and both groups are likely to be present in any gathering of Christians. The strong are apt to despise the weak, and the weak are horrified at what the strong do. Knowing that, the easiest way to maintain the unity is to remain silent about the issues that divide them. If they are mentioned, the weak get appalled, and the strong get disgusted - and off it goes again. Usually this chapter is discussed only when the weak are present as a class, or when the strong are present as a class, but never when both classes are present. We want to adhere to our dogmas because we feel secure in our comfortable pew, and are afraid of change and where it will lead us.
There are many pointless things that separate Christians, because they do not dare to apply the principles that have been outlined in the earlier chapters. Here Paul is not talking about the big issues of life, like anger, unforgiveness, impatience and bitterness, but about things that divide churches. People are not divided by anger and hatred, but by the things that caused that anger. That's why we have so many denominations. We split because there was something to get angry about.
When people become Christians, they don't leave their culture; they bring it with them. For example, when Germans become Christians, they bring their culture with them. So do the British, the Chinese, the Japanese, etc. In any mixed congregation, different nationalities are present with the different cultures they brought with them - the ones that were handed down to them from wherever they came. This is more apparent in social settings than in meetings.
For example, some time ago Canadian Mennonites travelled to Germany for a conference. At lunchtime, the German Mennonites drank beer, and the Canadian Mennonites drank coffee. The German Mennonites looked down on the Canadian Mennonites for drinking coffee, and the Canadian Mennonites looked down on the German Mennonites for drinking beer - a cultural difference!
How are these issues to be dealt with in the Spirit of Christ? How can the unity of the Spirit be preserved? When Christ is our very life, and He is the source of everything we do, life and love will be evident in the midst of differences.
In the light of the situation that existed at Paul's time, we understand many of our problems. The Jewish Christians in Rome brought their Jewishness with them. It was their custom to go to the synagogue every Saturday morning, to refrain from working on that day, to light the candles Friday evening, etc. And of course, they could only eat certain foods - pork and rabbit were out! They had all the nostalgia of their customs. How they enjoyed the wonderful family get-togethers on the Sabbath! Their customs didn't save them; their faith in Christ had saved them, but they still retained their customs. That's the way they had been raised! They did this unto God!
In the worship service the differences in culture were not that apparent, but when they got together to eat, the trouble began. The Gentile Christians had a very strong background in idol worship. They knew that the priests of the idol temples got up early, went to the market and bought the prime cuts of meat to sacrifice to their gods - and the gods of all the nations would find their way to Rome. After their early service and ceremony of feeding their gods, they would take the meat that had been offered to them back to the market and sell it at a very reduced price because it was second-hand. The idols had already eaten it. The Gentile Christians would not eat that meat, because it represented paganism to them; it was unclean, almost demonized. So they wouldn't eat that meat! That meant they would pay twice the price for a poorer quality of meat.
Then there were the vegetarians, concerned about their health, eating only vegetables and fruit, drinking pure water, exercising daily to keep their bodies in good, vibrant health. They did this unto God!
Another group of Christians said, "God gave us all things freely to enjoy." They were free to enjoy their meat and drink some wine with their meals. These differences were highlighted at their smorgasbord fellowship meals. The Jewish Christian would pass over the cold cuts of ham, and silently or verbally judge those who ate them.
The Gentile Christians looked at the steak and asked when and where it was bought. It just looked too juicy and tender to be spiritual! It must have been bought at half price. They were not touching that meat! And they would either silently or verbally be judging those who ate it. And the vegetarians would feel superior to both groups! Superior because they did not eat meat nor did they drink wine! They were refraining to the honor and glory of God!
Do you get the picture? Can you see how we can become divided because of the mental images we have formed in our natural mind - formed by the law and by our imagination of what is pleasing to God and what is not pleasing to Him? Do you see how denominations are formed? Instead of asking God for revelation knowledge, we stick to our ideas and traditions.
The point is that each one thought he was doing it unto God. Refraining from eating certain meats, refraining from eating meat offered to idols, refraining from eating any meat and refraining from drinking wine, was all done as a service to God. Observing the Sabbath, observing Sunday, observing any day, was done unto the Lord. They were all very sincere.
Obviously, the churches of today have the same problem. There is a parallel, only there are more issues that divide. Each denomination sincerely believes its idea is according to God's will. In addition to our meat-eaters, vegetarians, and abstainers from alcoholic beverages, we have some who would never go to a doctor and would never take any medicine, because they are trusting God for divine healing. Others trust God for divine healing, but see a doctor and take medicine too. To add to this list, there are the pre-trib, mid-trib, and post-tribulation believers; the eternal hell, the annihilists, and the no-hell believers; those who believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit as an experience after salvation and those who don't; the financial prosperity versus the spiritual prosperity teaching - the list continues to grow!
The church consists of believers who are trying to amalgamate their former and their present beliefs into their life with God. Paul was not so concerned about what they ate or didn't eat, but he was very concerned about the attitude the strong had toward the weak, and vice versa. Though Paul had never been to Rome, some attitudes and problems had been related to him via the grapevine.
Who are the strong, and who are the weak? This puzzled us as teen-agers, for being young we were naturally the weaker ones. Yet it seemed to us that it was always the strong (the pillars of the church) who were offended by our actions. However, a church office is not a qualification for being strong.
Who are the weak? The weak live out of rules that arise out of a cultural and/or religious background. They become pseudo-spiritual - a counterfeit of spirituality. They have a religious set of rules of do's and don'ts. We are all familiar with them. If they wanted more rules, Paul was not about to give them! We always want to reduce the dynamic life of the Holy Spirit to a list of dead instructions - even when it's not a question of being under the law. Even in the nitty-gritty problems, we want rules. O how we want rules! They are weapons we can use against those we disagree with. So Paul refused to give them rules! We are to recognize that we live from Christ's life within us - not from prescribed rules and regulations. Our principles are formed by the light and life within us!
The weak are threatened by freedom. Just like a little bird is comfortable in its down-filled nest and does not want to leave it, so the weak are comfortable in their tight little straightjacket and don't want to leave it. It means they don't have to learn to hear the voice of God; they don't have to know the mind of God; they don't have to think, for everything is laid out before them. They only have to do what is expected of them. Therefore the presence of their free brother, who sees Christ without any ritual whatsoever, is very threatening to them. They don't like this freedom because it suggests that they might have to search the scriptures themselves and leave their old dogmas.
Since the weak are threatened by change, they try to control by judging others. Those who drink a bit of wine are often not even considered to be Christians. They certainly can't be filled with the Holy Spirit! That is a classic judgment of the weak in faith. They look at their own standard of behavior and judge others accordingly. Then they try to get others to see it their way by intimidation. Those who do not abide by their abstinence or worship on their day, are judged as being unspiritual or backslidden.
There are many thousands of Christians who sincerely trust in Christ alone for salvation, and fellowship with those who trust in the same way they do. But along with that, they have some superstitions and practices that come from pre-Christian religious days - ideas that come from paganism, but they seem to be quite ignorant of that fact. Praise and encouragement from their peers is very important to them.
To them it's Christianity. They do not understand the Christians who have the freedom to do the things they themselves would never do. The weaker brother's conscience is cluttered with junk from his ancestors and he comes dangerously near to the law-works system, and some have actually drifted into that system.
Though the weak in faith are truly Christians, they are ignorant of what is theirs in Christ, and therefore cannot embrace the magnitude of God's salvation in Christ Jesus! Since they don't know their union with Christ, they are still in legalism. They have to set aside a certain time for the Lord and follow rules, because they do not know that it is a life in the Lord!
It is so much easier to have a list of rules to bring about standardized behavior, than to live a life of love! We can point to rules and say, "See, I told you so." In this way condemnation can be heaped on the unruly and pressure applied to bring them into conformity with the accepted religious and social norms of the denomination.
A good percentage of the churches today are churches of the weaker brother. They have their rules and regulations. Sundays must see them in church in Sunday go-to-meeting clothes, for it is a holy day. Tie and suit coat, regardless of how hot it is! Wine is a complete taboo - at least when others may be looking! They don't trust in their practices for salvation, but they think it is a part of Christian living. Those who do not adhere to their standard of living are judged as being worldly and backslidden.
Who are the strong? The strong are those who understand that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, and that the law no longer has jurisdiction over them. They can eat anything with moderation. Food will not affect their stand before God, their walk with God, nor their growth in God. It might affect their digestion and their health, but it will not affect their standing with God. The strong have the freedom to drink wine in moderation, and know that every day of the week is unto God. God looks at the heart, not at the external. He does not look at the day on which they meet, for no one day is holier than another.
They know who they are in Christ! They are living in the realm of faith, and understand their freedom in Christ. They recognize the need of being led by the Holy Spirit instead of by the dictates of religious laws. This does away with keeping the law in order to be sanctified. It releases them from all forms of diet and the necessity of keeping certain days as holier than others. They are free from the bondage of the law and free to live in Christ! Their diet is a matter of preference. Christ has made them free from all overlays of rules and regulations.
The strong have a problem with a superior attitude. Their smirking smile says, "So you think I can't enjoy T-bone steaks and drink coke with my meals?" They have that belittling surprised tone of voice when they say, "You mean you don't go to movies?!" The strong will welcome the weak for the purpose of arguing and debating. They love to prove from scripture that it's alright to drink some wine, and that in Christ there are no days to keep. They welcome the weak like a spider welcomes a fly in a web. They love the debates and the arguments, because they know they can prove their point. They know the weak will feel even more threatened because they can't prove their point. This bolsters their superiority, and the strong love it!
The weak irritate the strong. When the strong get together, they ridicule and joke about their old-fashioned ideas. Irritating! The strong do not realize that the weak are deeply wounded when everything they count precious and sacred is laughed at. So Paul admonishes the strong to be careful about their attitude toward the weak brother!
The question is, how do the strong and the weak relate to one another? In Paul's concern about attitudes he said, "The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him." (v.3) How easy it is to regard with contempt someone who does not understand who he is in Christ! And how easy it is to judge the one who does things we would not do! Instead of respecting one another, we put ourselves on a higher pedestal, not recognizing the grace of God!
Paul exhorts the strong to be gentle with their weaker brother. Don't look at them with contempt, for it does not belong to the new man! Contempt comes out of pride, and pride is not of God; it does not recognize the grace of God! The lusting of the flesh and pride of life give birth to contempt. Only those who are humble of heart can please God!
The weak are to be accepted by the strong, but not in order to start a debate. Paul was very concerned about Christians passing judgment on the opinions of others. We know this is the very thing Christians often do. Both the strong and the weak are guilty. I don't think any of us can truthfully say we have never been judgmental.
Recognizing our freedom in Christ does not necessarily mean that we are living a fruitful life - that the love of Christ is evident in our lives. Obviously, the strong in the church in Rome were lacking in this, otherwise Paul would not have had to encourage them to have a right attitude toward their weaker brother.
In this chapter and the next, it becomes very apparent that Paul places himself with those of strong faith. This gives us an interesting insight into the life of Paul. He was free to enjoy a nice juicy steak, but for the sake of others he would not ask where it was bought and how much they paid for it. "Don't ask any questions for conscience' sake - just enjoy it!" He could also enjoy a glass of wine with his meal. It may be even more shocking to know that all days were alike to him - he didn't even celebrate Christmas or Easter!
"Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand." (v.4) Here Paul speaks of us as being Christ's servants. Aren't we God's children? We have been born of the Spirit - we are His children, and no longer servants of the law. There is a big difference between being a servant of the law, and a love-servant of Christ! Paul always emphasized the fact that he was a bond-slave - a slave who served out of love, not because he had to. How can Christ be our Lord if we do not obey Him? In obeying Him, we serve Him!
Our brothers and sisters in Christ are not our servants. The strong are not the masters of the weak, nor are the weak the masters of the strong, so why judge them? Let the Lord be in charge of His servants! He has the ability to train them and to make them able to do His will! Let's recognize our parameters!
Paul's instructions here are persuasive, to the point, yet very kind in contrast to the way he spoke to the Galatians.
Although he basically dealt with the same problems, he addressed them as "foolish Galatians". (Gal. 3:1) They had fallen from grace! (5:4) If we go back into the law we are no longer living by grace but by self-endeavor!
Why the graciousness to the church in Rome, and the severity in tone to the Galatians? Paul had not been to Rome, and he did not know how much the people understood in regard to their freedom in Christ. So he brought them some basic teaching! However, the Galatians had already received his teaching - they understood that they had been set free from the law! Instead of remaining free, they slipped back into servitude to the works of the law for righteousness - keeping holy days, abstaining from certain foods and wine. In other words, they had to become Jews, be circumcised and keep the law in order to be sanctified. That is utter foolishness!
The church in Rome had amalgamated its cultural differences and ideas with Christianity, while the Galatian church had slipped back into the law for salvation. There is a big difference between the two! Therefore Paul was much harsher with the Galatians.
"One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God." (vv.5-6)
Another hot issue was the day on which they would have their service. Saturday or Sunday? Saturday attracted the Jews, Sunday the Gentiles. Why does it have to be limited to either Saturday or Sunday? Hasn't Christ delivered us from all that? Those who recognized their deliverance from days, knew that any day would do. To them every day meant resting in Christ; every day was a Sabbath; every day was a day of worship, whether they met with the brothers and sisters or not; every day was a celebration unto God!
Any religion based on accomplishments and abstinences, always gets pride mixed in with it. It causes them to look down their noses at those who do not agree with them and say, "We are the elite; we have a special in with God because we keep certain days, we pray more, we fast more, we don't drink, smoke, and do drugs. Our women don't cut and color their hair, they dress simply, etc."
This foolishness is still being practiced! We have people in the church who really believe that the way to walk with God is by rules and regulations. They do not understand that God wants a relationship! How would you like a marriage relationship based on rules instead of love - a list of rules and regulations for both husband and wife to fulfill in order to have a happy marriage? What a bondage that would be! It might have the outward appearance of a happy marriage, but it would be devoid of love - the very essence of marriage! In a love relationship, service for both husband and wife comes out of love - the love that wants the best for the marriage partner. In a love relationship self ceases to be number one!
The strong are not bothered with silly, finicky rules and regulations. But how are they going to deal with those who insist on keeping them? It's interesting to notice that the weak are always the first to emerge in the conflict. The strong are in a subdued background because to them it is a matter of indifference. But to the weak it matters a lot.
In their abstinence the weak look at their free brother with utter disgust. They know he has problems because they know what he eats! And he doesn't keep the Sabbath! He was even seen going to the theater! Anyone who disagrees with the weak is openly judged. Judgment is the real hallmark of the weak. They judge those who disagree with them as being unspiritual; backslidden is their favorite word. And in some areas they would suggest that the strong are not even Christians.
Let's look at two families, one weak and one strong. The weak family is very careful to obey certain standards and rules the church has given them, or ones they have set for themselves. They are ridden with guilt, for they know they have not been able to keep all the rules. A weekly trip to the altar for confession becomes a ritual. Instead of a joyous expression on their faces, a pious appearance emerges.
A strong family is freed from the pressure of rules, and is free to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The joy of their salvation is clearly outraying from their countenance. They know that they are in Christ, and that there is no condemnation in Christ!
Both of these families love the Lord with all their heart. Both of them give liberally of their possessions to God. Though one is weak and the other is strong, both are accepted by God. The weak have not yet experienced the freedom that is ours in Christ, nor do they know that the kingdom of God does not consist of eating and drinking, and setting aside a certain day on which the church meets. But they are also accepted by God.
Paul wanted the Christians to recognize that everything they did was to the Lord. "For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." (vv.7-8)
We are to live on the level of faith and enlightenment that we have received - out of our faith in the finished work of Christ! The Holy Spirit within us enables us to live in the love of God - in the very essence of His nature! The level on which we live will harmonize with the faith we have. As our faith increases, the level on which we reveal Christ will rise.
When convention and tradition do not determine our actions, we are free to be led by the Holy Spirit. Just doing what other Christians are doing, does not require any faith. Simply conforming to the beliefs of others means that their fears become our fears, their superstitions become our superstitions, their level of faith becomes our level, their truth becomes our truth.
Listening to the Spirit's teaching leads us into all truth! It takes away our fear of being in the minority, our fear of other Christians, and our fear of group ruling. It takes away the fear of being different, of being ridiculed and of being unpopular. When fears control us we remain spiritual babies. We always need to ask, "What does the Holy Spirit say?" When Jesus Christ is our Lord, we get our instructions from Him - not from a hierarchy or a spiritually elite group that tells us what we can or can't do according to their understanding. People can confirm what God has already told us, but if they legislate their own ideas, they are going beyond their God-given authority.
Living according to this conviction will keep us from trying to influence others to imitate our actions; it will also keep us from lording it over others. Accepting others where they are at, doesn't mean lowering our standards to theirs. By loving and accepting them, we are laying a foundation upon which we can build. Our foundation has to be truth, for truth can only build on truth.
The Holy Spirit knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what is best for us. This goes beyond religious matters; He even knows our chemistry. Some people get sick when they eat certain foods. We are wise when we listen to the Spirit's checks in our lives. One person can drink a glass of wine, but to another the Holy Spirit says, "It's not for you." The Holy Spirit's teaching and leading is the rule! The Christian lives from within. That's where his faith is. So action must always come from the Holy Spirit's directives.
In verse 9 Paul made a very sweeping statement. "For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." (v.9) The goal of Christ's death and resurrection is that "He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living"! Paul did not specify whether the dead are the spiritually or physically dead; nor did he specify whether the living are the spiritually or physically alive people. He simply said, "the dead" and "the living". So "the dead" must include all the dead, and "the living" all the living; in other words, all people, whether they are dead or alive.
What does Christ's lordship involve? Is it a dictatorship that demands obedience with the threat of eternal punishment if His demands are not met? Is lordship synonymous with dictatorship? Does it mean that He will lord it over everyone?
1 Cor. 12:3 tells us that "no one can say, `Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." Phil. 2:10-11 says that every tongue in heaven, on earth, and under the earth will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Saying "Jesus Christ is Lord" through clenched teeth and without inner conviction, would be paramount to lying. That would be sin, because whatever is not of faith is sin. (Rom.14:23) It would certainly not bring glory to God! Only that which comes from the Holy Spirit brings glory to God! Christ came to reconcile all things to Himself! This is the purpose of His death and resurrection!
The rest of the chapter deals with the reasons why we should not judge our brother. It also explains what the kingdom of God is. Let's look at God's rationale, for His rationale is right and true.
"But you, why do you judge your brother?" (v.10a) This question is directed especially to the weaker brother. He sees what the strong do, and judges their behavior because he wouldn't do the things the strong do! He wouldn't drink wine, eat meat offered to idols, enter a theater, etc. His judgment may be based on rules he has set for himself, or on a traditionally accepted norm, or on rules the hierarchy has set for people. He is ignorant of the fact that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, and, though he may not realize it, he is still seeking sanctification through self-effort.
The next question is directed especially to the strong. "Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?" (v.10b) That superior attitude is a no-no in the kingdom of God. To love our freedom in Christ more than we love our brother is sin! That contemptuous attitude does not come out of love, but out of pride in intellectual attainment. All our spiritual insights come from the Lord; we have nothing to boast about. So the weak have problems with judging the actions of those who don't agree with them, and with trying to bully them into submission. And the strong have problems with judging the ignorance of the weak, and of having a superior attitude.
Paul then reminds both the weak and the strong that "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God." We are all accountable to God! "So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God." (v.12) God's standard of judgment is truth. All our arguments, all our rationale is being judged, and will be judged, according to truth. Truth will expose all the lies that we have upheld or cherished, and all the traditions that kept us from accepting the truth!
This is an ongoing judgment. Every time truth is presented to us, and we do not accept it, we are judged to be wrong. Why didn't we accept it? Were we afraid of letting go of our old ideas? Afraid of what others would say? Whatever the fear is, it did not come from God. He does not give us a fear of receiving truth. If we have a love for truth it will keep us from being misled. (2 Thess. 2:10)
When lies and deception are exposed for what they truly are, everyone will praise God! "For it is written, `As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.'" (v.11) Truth will win because it has foundation. Lies and darkness are nothing; truth and light reveal their nothingness.
Again Paul makes a sweeping statement! Every knee will bow to God and every tongue will praise Him! Praising God because we are threatened with hell if we don't, is no praise. God only accepts the praise that comes from the heart! Do we dare to believe what is written, or will we edit it by inserting our own additions and subtractions?
"Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this - not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way." (v.13) As we look at our brothers and sisters (it doesn't matter whether we are the strong or the weak), we must not judge them. They are not our servants - they are God's! Judgment is His business! It's not up to us to condemn and criticize someone who does not see things our way. His Master will deal with him; he is accountable to God. Our part is to present truth as the Holy Spirit leads us, but not to pressure someone to change.
The strong have the temptation to show off their freedom when the weaker ones are present, because they feel superior. They justify their actions by telling themselves that their example will help the weak to become free. They think the weak will see what they are missing, and when they see that the strong can celebrate their freedom and still enjoy God to the full, they may follow their example. However, if their actions do not come out of faith, it will be sin to them. This can crush the weaker brother.
One of the dangers is that the weaker brother will live his life, not by a freedom from within, but by the freedom that he sees in his brother. His action does not spring from the heart - it's a pressured action or an exampled action. It will look like strong faith, but it isn't. It therefore brings that poor brother into constant condemnation. That leads to spiritual dwarfing.
Life is the greatest force there is, for it overcomes death. But the vessel in which it emerges is very fragile, so it needs care in its development. A young plant is so easily crushed; a baby needs a lot of loving care. The vessel that has received spiritual life also needs the right food, exercise and loving care for healthy development. If our brother has not yet seen the great scope of God's salvation, let's not cause him to stumble. Let's be careful to speak and act in the love of God! Then we will not hurt the weaker brother.
Christian growth springs from within - not from trying to be like others. Healthy growth is the result of eating healthy food and having healthy exercise. Our spiritual food is truth; our spiritual exercise consists of exercising our faith by obeying what the Spirit is telling us. That's different than obeying a set of rules. Obedience to rules does not require ears that can hear the Spirit.
Then why are we to be imitators of Christ? Isn't that just an exampled action? If we only imitate the action, then that is all it is. But that is not being an imitator of Jesus Christ. To follow Christ does not mean that we imitate His actions per se, but that we follow His example of obeying the Holy Spirit! Just as Jesus only did what the Spirit showed Him to do, so we only do what the Spirit shows us to do! This is the example we are to follow! The Holy Spirit will never tell us to do anything against God's will! Obeying the Spirit keeps us in the will of God!
"I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (vv.14-17)
The strong realize that the kingdom of God does not consist of certain foods, certain drinks, certain wearing apparel, absence of make-up, the days you keep, etc. But if the weak think it does, don't offend them by flaunting your freedom. Our walk is one of love. Even though the kingdom does not consist of eating and drinking, we will still reap the bad results of eating unhealthy foods, drinking unhealthy drinks, using drugs, smoking, etc. However, in this passage Paul is not referring to healthy and non-healthy foods. He is talking about foods that were considered clean or unclean according to the law of Moses.
The kingdom of God is righteousness. Since Christ's righteousness has become our righteousness, it does not depend upon the foods we eat, nor on casual or formal attire. The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit! Righteousness, peace, and joy are the kingdom of God. We can't live in God's kingdom without them because they are the essence of His kingdom! They have nothing to do with our circumstances, for they are ours in the Holy Spirit! There is no corruption in His kingdom!
Serving Christ in righteousness, peace and joy makes our service acceptable to God! "For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another." (vv.18-19)
It's easy to build up those who do not irritate us. But what about those who are a constant aggravation? Those who are constantly doing the wrong thing? Does this mean we can never correct them? Answers to these questions do not come in one easy formula.
The important thing is to have the right attitude. We are to pursue the things that make for peace; it does not say that we will always be successful. Romans 12:18 says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." Although Jesus was at peace with everyone, not everyone was at peace with Him. Why? Because they clung to their law! The crucifixion of Jesus is a good example of that. We cannot be in grace and cling to the law! Being bound to the law makes us very hard-hearted, and means that the law is more important to us than loving our fellow Christians. Grace and mercy triumph over judgment. (James 2:13)
There are many different sources of irritation. Customs, mannerisms, laziness, lack of responsibility, inability to manage money, nagging, self-righteousness, etc., are all sources of vexation. There are also the biggies, when people mistreat us, take advantage of us, belittle us, etc. Reacting in anger does not make for peace. We need to be led by the Holy Spirit in everything we do and say.
The life of Jesus demonstrates how He was led by the Holy Spirit. Chasing the money-makers out of the temple showed that He valued truth more than a peace built on false premises. It took courage to pronounce the woes against the Pharisees and scribes. He knew full well that they would seek revenge! Jesus did it for their sake and for ours. He was willing to give His soul for them, and in His agony on the cross He called out, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."
"Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense." (v.20) What a statement! We can eat clean food, but if it gives offense to the weaker brother, the flaunting of our freedom becomes an evil deed for us.
When the scribes and Pharisees were offended because Jesus ate and drank with sinners, Jesus was not flaunting His freedom. He was seeking the lost, doing what the Holy Spirit showed Him to do. The scribes and Pharisees do not belong to the class of the weaker brother. They had seated themselves in an office to which they did not belong, and were trying to lord it over Jesus. Jesus did not accept their lordship. Proclaiming Christ as Lord means that He alone is our Lord! Our obedience is to Him alone!
"It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles." (v.21) That is the principle we follow. Our desire is to build others up in the Lord. Letting the love of God flow out to others will keep us from becoming a stumbling block to the weak.
"The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." (vv.22-23)
We cannot live by the faith of other Christians. Whatever we do, we do out of the faith God has given us. We often hear testimonies of how God has answered prayer. When we are in need, we are tempted to follow their method. Sometimes we are even taught a method, a series of steps, which, if followed, will ensure that our prayers will be answered. These methods may contain some biblical principles, but God does not endorse methods because then it becomes faith in a method instead of faith in God. He will never answer prayers that are not according to His will. We must never let a method replace a Spirit-directed prayer. Our faith is not in a method; our faith is in God!
During Israel's journey to the promised land, God gave directives. Moses could not depend on a method; God's directions were always tailor-made for the occasion. One time Moses was told to strike the rock in order to get water, and the next time he was to speak to the rock. At the Red Sea Moses was told to lift his staff over the sea and it would part. At the Jordan, the priests who carried the ark, had to get their feet wet before the waters parted. Just as Moses and Joshua always had to get new directions for every problem, so we have to listen to the Spirit and receive His directives.
In the scriptures God has already revealed the basics. Love your neighbor, love your enemies, don't let bitterness get rooted in you, listen to the Spirit, etc. As we let the love of God flow out through us, God will give us specific instructions for certain occasions or situations. Why should God give us more instructions if we are not following the ones He has already given? What makes us think we would follow additional guidelines if we are not obedient to what He has already declared?
Many debates have taken place in regard to what sin is. Is it sin to wear make-up, cook on Sundays, go to the movies, go to dances, participate in sports on Sunday, etc. We want some clearcut rules. Then we can work on our halos and point fingers at others.
Here Paul gives us a simple definition of what sin is. Instead of giving us rules, Paul said, "Anything that is not of faith is sin." Faith comes from within; it does not come from the reasonings of the natural mind. For example, if someone says, "Well, I have faith that a little cheating is OK," we know that this faith came from the desire of his natural mind. In fact, it is not faith; it is a lack of faith, because he is not believing that God is his provision. Paul is talking about the faith that comes from the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit will never lead us into sin! We can safely trust His leading and His guidance! God never gives us faith to do things that will not glorify Him! He keeps us from stumbling!