NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson VI)
Augustine addresses this same subject again in another of his commentaries. He suggests that apparently there were still some in Rome who were quick to pass judgment on things whether they were done with bad intentions or good intentions. It didn’t matter if the person did what they did to get all they could get or to give all they had. If it wasn’t done the way they thought it should be done then it might as well not have been done at all. Although they were mere humans, they wanted to judge the secrets of the heart – secrets of which God alone is the judge.1 Pelagius follows this with a question he would have liked to ask these people, “What authority do you have to judge someone whom the Law does not judge?” This is why the Apostle James says: “He who judges his brother judges the Law.”2 In other words, they imagined themselves to be wiser than the Law. Nevertheless, Paul was willing to admonish those who broke the commandments and said that we can do the same.3 But in the end, a person lives or dies according to their heavenly Master’s will and judgment.4
Martin Luther sees an interesting reply in Paul’s response to all those who question whether or not those who eat things, or do things, that they should not do will be able to endure to the end. Luther says that Paul’s reply is: “God will see to it that they endure.”5 Since this is said in response to Paul’s point that no one should take on the air of superiority when judging another person’s servant. John Calvin makes the point that if anyone is so discourteously and presumptuously as to give orders to another person’s employee to do things their way, that is a case of assuming too much of what is not theirs. If a person criticizes another person’s helper because what they did not please them and instructs them on how it should be done, that is not their right to do so. You should report it to the one over them and let them handle it. Who are you to order someone to do or not to do when you don’t even pay their salary? Luther believes that such people want everybody else to live according to their rules.6
Calvin goes on to make this point: Although the power of judging individuals on the manner of their performance is not ours, there is still a big difference between the two. That is, the person receiving the criticism, whoever and whatever they may be, should only have the judgment of their competence and manner of doing their job left up to their boss. In like manner, when a believer is trying to do the will of God, it is up to God whether or not they have done it right. However, when it comes to their performance in serving, any person can certainly express whether or not they were happy or unhappy with the way it was done. But it must always be remembered, such judgments are based solely on one’s personal views, not that of society.
It is also true that when it comes to how believers do what they have been commissioned to do, any judgment must be based on the Word of God. That’s because the judgment derived from His Word is neither human nor another individual’s opinion. Calvin sees Paul intention here was to restrain believers from presumption in judging. This is why believers who dare to pronounce anything respecting the actions of other believers as unacceptable must require God’s Word as the basis for their critique.7 Calvin also points to Paul’s own words to the Philippians: “He who began in you a good work will perform it to the end.”8 Once we understand this, it should play a vital role in how we conduct our judgment of other believers. There is no reason to be a monster when we can be a mentor.
John Bengel gives us a jewel of wisdom concerning this issue of judging others. To him, the work of Divine grace always draws a valid conclusion in that it is transferred from what it could have been to what it is. This is especially true when compared to how people judge others who are incapable of figuring out things for themselves.9 And Robert Haldane also gives us insight to broaden our understanding of who’s doing what to whom. He notes that it is generally understood that the person who Paul cautions against condemning others is considered the strong believer, and the person who is being condemned is the weak one. But this conclusion lacks any solid foundation in the text. Instead, in verse 3 it was the weak who condemned the strong, and not the strong who condemned the weak. The strong did not condemn the weak, they despised the weak. When, therefore, in this 4th verse, the Apostle asks with some sense of indignity, “Who do you think you are condemning another person’s servant?” Haldane believes this is directed toward the weak who previously condemned the strong. Had it referred to the strong, it would have said, “Who do you think you are to despise another person’s servant?” The weak condemned the strong as if they were not at all true believers. For this, they were rightly cautioned. They assumed the exclusive right of God who alone is the Judge of His own servants.10
Charles Hodge focuses on the provision that the person in charge is the one with the right to uphold or dismiss what those under them have done or are doing. As such, Paul is urging everyone to think things over before making a charge. This is especially true when it involves those who differ from us on matters of choice or opinion. This requires patience and a steady hand. No matter how weak a person’s faith may be, if they are a Christian they should be recognized and treated as such. If whatever may be determined to be their weakness is not acceptable, it does not take anything away from their acceptance with God. Therefore, there is no ground or necessity for proceeding against them without any compassion. The object of discipline is the reformation of offenders in order to purify the church. But neither of these objects requires the condemnation of those believers whom God has welcomed into His family. God is able to help them stand. He not only has the power but the disposition and determination to do so gently11.12 Hodge goes on to say that no matter what others may think, the individual involved must ultimately answer to God. It is before Him we all stand or fall.
Henry Alford agrees with the interpretation that the words right or wrong (“stand or fall,” NIV) are inapplicable to the judgment that will take place on Judgment Day. He wants us to notice that the admonition here is entirely directed to the weak who have little compassion when judging the strong – not vice versâ. The weak assume that the strong cannot be true servants of God since they don’t stand up for what is right when confronted with temptation. To this, the Apostle Paul answers that such judgment belongs only to Christ whose servants they are. Furthermore, that the Lord’s Almighty Power is able to keep them going and will do so.13 Charles Ellicott agrees with Alford that the true reading here is “the Lord” will help them stand.” In Paul’s case, the Master mentioned in the text is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
Charles Spurgeon is happy that Paul is saying here in verses 2-4 that it is a great blessing when the members of the church do not push one another around because everyone is responsible for the path they have chosen to follow. Almost every church has workers assigned to different tasks, but they must learn to cooperate for the betterment of the Church. Unfortunately, Sunday school workers do not always agree with one another. Then, again, Sunday school personnel are not always fond of how the Children’s Church sessions are run. It should never be so. Members of the Church body are represented by the different members of the human body. That’s why the eye must not say to the foot, “I don’t need you.” Neither should the hand say to the ear, “You’re not important.”14 Every person must work according to the Holy Spirit’s gifts in their lives.
Spurgeon also advises that when a person assigned to one area of ministry starts telling a person responsible for another ministry how they should or should not do their job, or starts telling their staff what to do, they are making a great mistake, both for themselves and for the Church at large. It is also unacceptable for one ministry leader to envy another leader and start knit-picking at loose threads so they can find fault with their service. They should be reminded of Paul inspired question that asks: Who do you think you are to criticize another person’s staff? Their promotion or demotion is entirely left up to their leader.15 Spurgeon then appealed to his own church staff and tells them that he is praying that they will maintain a holy unanimity, to be of one accord, to have the same goal of doing what’s good for the church, to only provoke one another to love each other so they do a good job. It is their goal to give, not to get, and to strive for nothing except that which promotes everything for everybody to the Glory of God and the Lord Jesus!16
Verse 5: Some people might believe that one day is more important than another. And others might believe that every day is the same. Everyone should be sure about their beliefs in their own mind.
What Paul is talking about here are religious holidays. We know about the Jewish Holy Days such as the Sabbath and all the Feasts. But there were equally important and celebrated holidays among the Gentiles. Ancient peoples were very attentive to seasons and the Sun’s position in the sky because their livelihood depended on planting and harvesting at the proper times. Then there were pagan festivals honoring their gods. So you can imagine in a congregation of mixed ethnicities coming from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds there would be some who felt the need to retain certain holidays as a part of their culture, not their religion.
Paul had to remind the Galatians of the same thing: “Now that you know God, or should I say that you are known by God, why do you turn back again to the weak old Law? Why do you want to do those religious acts of worship that will keep you from being free? Why do you want to be held under the power of the Law again? You do special things on certain days and months and years and times of the year.”17 Once the early church began to spread throughout the Roman Empire they fought the same battles over such holidays. However, rather than simply forbidding converted pagans from continuing to celebrate such festivals, the church redesignated them as Christian holidays. For the most part, this created the basis from which these holidays have been secularized and for the most part, the religious factor has been completely eliminated.
1 Augustine: Sermon on the Mount 2.18.59
2 James 4:11
3 1 Corinthians 5:3-5; 6:2-3
4 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 199
6 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Calvin: ibid.
8 Philippians 1:6
9 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 351
10 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 596
11 Cf. Romans 11:23
12 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 650
13 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 119
14 1 Corinthians 12:15-21
15 Romans 14:4
16 Charles Spurgeon: Sermon titled: “Order is Heaven’s First Law,” Text: Joel 2:8, A sermon published on Thursday, February 22, 1906
17 Galatians 4:9-10; See Colossians 2:16b