24th October 2023
Read (Romans 14v1-3)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
When we consider the condition of the modern church we can be tempted to look back to days of the Apostles with rose tinted spectacles. We like to believe that the church in those days never knew any division or difficulty and it was something of a golden age for the church of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, this is simply not true.
In chapter fourteen of Romans, Paul addressed a source of division within the Roman church. What was the problem? Some Christians believed that they could eat anything, whilst other Christians ate only vegetables (v2). This seems like an incredibly trivial issue but it is important to remember the context of the church in the days after Christ's Ascension.
The Lord has broken down the dividing wall of hostility and brought both Jew and Gentile together in His church (Ephesians 2v14). How are these groups saved? By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone - there is only one way of salvation regardless of your gender or cultural background (Galatians 3v28). Even so, as the church grew and the Gospel advanced there was friction between Christians from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. This is a common theme in the New Testament and almost certainly what Paul was speaking to in this passage.
Imagine a Jewish Christian in Rome who was recently converted to Christ and joined the church. He had believed the Gospel and turned to Jesus but was still wrestling with how the Old Testament laws applied to his life. This man met a Gentile Christian who had no concerns over such things. Initially these men received each other as brothers but slowly each other's behaviour caused frustration to damage their relationship. The Gentile convert feasted on whatever was in front of him, whilst the Jewish convert was mindful of Old Testament dietary laws and so had sincere concerns about his food.
What was to be done? Paul commanded that the individual who was "weak" in faith should be welcomed and every effort made to avoid quarrelling over opinions (v1). No side was blameless in the situation in Rome. The one who was able to eat all things was not to be filled with arrogance which would lead to hatred of the one who struggled (v3a). In the same manner, the one who could not in good conscience eat anything except vegetables was not to judge the one who ate all things (v3b). God has welcomed the strong and the weak Christian alike and neither should destroy one another over opinions.
To accurately describe this topic allow me to speak of something called Christian liberty. What does this mean? In Christ we are free. We are not free to sin but we are joyously free to glorify God and enjoy Him forever bound only by Holy Scripture. In practice this means that an individual has no right to impose any unbiblical man made rules upon our faith and conversely, we have no right to destroy our brother's faith with our exercise of liberty. In our example above, the meat eating Christian had no business devouring a steak in front of his more sensitive brother. He was not sinning by eating steak but he was certainly not loving. In the same way the vegetarian Christian had no business condemning his brother's love of meat. The second man was not sinning by restricting his diet but he was certainly not loving to those who disagreed.
I have no idea how you do or don't practice your Christian liberty but either way it is none of my business. The Lord is your master and it is to Him that you will give account. But as we consider these issues may we listen to Martin Luther who long ago said “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”
Q78 What is forbidden in the ninth commandment? The ninth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name.