Dr. Robert R. Seyda



John Stott proposes that if we assume that each “weak” or “strong” believer has reflected on this issue of to eat or not to eat and has reached a firm decision, they will suppose that their practice is part of Christian discipleship. So when any believer regards one day as special they should do so to honor the Lord (verse 6a). That should be the only reason to do it, “in honor of the Lord.”1 And the same is true of the one who regards every day alike, although Paul does not mention them in verse 6. Instead, he reverts to the question of eating or abstaining from certain foods, and in doing so adds an important double principle which is related to giving thanks. First, they who eat meat, eat to honor the Lord for giving them good health. That’s why they give thanks to God. Secondly, the person who abstains does so to honor the Lord for their health and gives thanks to God (verse 6b). Whether one is an eater or an abstainer the same principle applies. If we are able to receive something from God as His gift to us, then we should offer Him our gift of thanksgiving. The two movements, from Him to us and from us to Him belong together and are vital aspects of our Christian discipleship. Both are valuable and can be applied as a practical test: “Can I thank God for what I’m about to eat or drink? Can I do this out of respect for the Lord? Can I do this in honor for what God has done for me?23

One Jewish commentator adds that here we find nothing in the text that indicates the issue concerns the Torah’s command of keeping the Sabbath – only other days deemed important by “the weak.” The context of this section within the body of the entire letter shows that obedience to the precise commands of the Torah of Sinai is not what the discussion is about. If Torah commands are done away with, then Paul’s statement in Romans 3:28-31 makes no sense. The Torah remains holy, righteous, and good and does not fail.4 The Torah is irrevocable.5 The writer says that we should take note of Luke’s comments6 regarding the Torah and faith in Yeshua.7

Verses 7-8: We don’t live or die just for ourselves. If we live, we are living for the Lord. And if we die, we are dying for the Lord. So living or dying, we belong to the Lord.

Paul knew that such attitudes could lead to isolationism and shunning others who did not practice or believe the same way. So Paul wanted to remind the believers in Rome that God did not redeem and choose us to become loners or individualists in His kingdom. That’s why Paul told the Corinthians that God paid a high price for their redemption so they can do no less than use all their talent and ability to honor and glorify Him.8 When he wrote the Corinthians again, Paul told them: “Christ died for everyone so that they would live for Him. They should not live to please themselves but for Christ Who died on a cross and was raised from the dead for them.9 So the formula is quite simple: Whatever you plan to say, do, think, eat, or drink, if you cannot give thanks to God for it and then use it for His honor, it’s best to leave it alone.

Paul shared this as his motto with the Philippians: “I hope very much that I will have no reason to be ashamed. I hope to honor Christ with my body if it is with my living or with my dying. I want to honor Him without fear, now and always. For me, living means living for Christ. To die means that I would have more of Him. If I keep on living here in this body, it means that I can lead more people to Christ.”10 The Apostle Peter encouraged his readers to be of the same mind when it came to how to best spend their time as believers.11 Paul was trying to impress upon the Roman brethren that we can not only choose to please God by the way we live, but also by the way we die.

And we find out that Paul was a man of his word. While Paul was visiting with the Apostle Philip in Caesarea on his way to Jerusalem because he felt it was God’s leading, we are told that a preacher named Agabus came down from the hill country of Judea. After arriving, he took Paul’s belt and used it to tie his own feet and hands. He said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says, ‘The Jews at Jerusalem will tie the man who owns this belt. Then they will hand him over to the people who are not Jews.’” When Paul’s entourage and friends heard this, they begged Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul said, “What do you mean by crying and breaking my heart? I am ready to be put in chains in Jerusalem. I am also ready to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Paul would not listen so they stopped begging him and said, “May whatever God wants be done.12

Paul feels very strongly about a believer’s commitment to do and be all that God wants them to do and be. When he wrote the Philippians, Paul left no doubt about the way he felt: “If I must give my life as a gift on the altar to God for you, I am glad and share this joy with you.13 Paul could gladly share this trust and faith in God’s destiny for his life. As he told the Thessalonians: “We believe that Jesus died and then came to life again. Because we believe this, we know that God will bring to life again all those who belong to Jesus.14 So we should not be surprised what John heard a voice from heaven say during his vision: “From now on those who are dead who died belonging to the Lord will be happy. ‘Yes’ says the Spirit, ‘they will have rest from all their work. All the good things they have done will follow them.’15

Although what Paul says here in these two verses is quite to the point, a number of early church scholars share what it meant to them. Origen does not think that we should live to please ourselves but rather, follow the example of Christ who died to sin so that by imitating Him we too might become strangers to sin and die to it. Christ did not give us an example of living for ourselves. What we get from Him is that we live for God. Origen also notes that the word “die” used here by Paul refers to the death which we die when we are buried with Christ in baptism, and “live” is the life we live in Christ after having died to sin and become strangers to this world16.17

Ambrosiaster also concludes that any person would be living for themselves if they acted according to the Law. However, if they are not controlled by the Law’s brakes they are living for God who gave the Law so that it might be possible to live according to His will. Likewise, whoever dies, dies to God for He is the Judge who will either condemn or reward them.18 But Chrysostom sees it differently. For him, this means that we are not free to just live as we please. We have a Master who wants us to live and not die, and to whom life and death matter more than they do to us. For if we die, we do not die to ourselves alone but to our Master as well. By “death,” Paul means apostasy from the faith. Chrysostom then adds that if someone is living under the Law, they cannot be living for Christ at the same time.19

Then Pelagius gives his point of view. For him, Paul is saying that no believer lives for themselves or dies for themselves because “Christ died for all so that those who live no longer live for themselves but for Him.20 He follows this up by encouraging everyone to take care that they do not live for themselves by always eating or die by always fasting.21 Then, the early church Bishop of Mopsuestia adds that if we live it is Christ’s life that we should live; if we die, we die with Him, under His protection.22

Based on what Paul says here, Reformer Martin Luther firmly believes that it is foolish to judge those who will be judged by Christ. And in addition, those who do judge must be careful in order that they may not be judged themselves by God for doing so.23 Here Luther refers to what will be done at the judgment seat of Christ.24 But as we can see, such judgment does not make standing up for what is right and pointing out violations of God’s Word as being invalid in this life. If it did, then it would end preaching as we know it. What Paul wants believers to avoid is not only hypocrisy but being picky about other people’s choices, especially in food and drink.

John Calvin offers his thoughts on this subject. As he sees it, Paul is now confirming what he said in the previous verse as part of his argument as a whole. Meaning, it should not be any wonder that particular acts in our life should be influenced by the Lord’s will since life itself ought to be wholly lived for His glory. It is only then that a Christian’s life is rightly formed when it has for its object the will of God. Fellow Reformer John Calvin advises that anything you might consider doing with respect to a fellow believer for their good, it would be disrespectful not to consider doing something to benefit them, but even more disrespectful to do something that might hurt them. Calvin says this is all wrapped up in the goal for our own lives. By this, we learn the rule by which we are to live and to die so that if God extends our life in continual sorrows and miseries, we should not desire to depart this life before our time. But if He should suddenly calls us at the height of our career we must be ever ready for our departure.25

John Bengel quotes German Lutheran theologian Hieronymus Weller von Molsdorf (1499-1572) who lived in Martin Luther’s house and wrote that no one should live for themselves to the point that at their own discretion they can choose to live according to what they want in life. If they become satisfied in the life they live it can easily give way to self-indulgence. And once this happens, then their whole purpose becomes one of seeking pleasure wherever they can find it. Bengel then adds that the art of dying is the same as that of living.26 This brings out the reality that the world is not only watching Christians’ attitudes while they are alive but their attitude when they are about to die.

1 Revised Standard Version, New Jerusalem Bible

2 See 1 Corinthians 10:30; 1 Timothy 4:3ff

3 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

4 See Romans 7:12; 9:6

5 Romans 11:28-29

6 Acts of the Apostles 15; 16:1-3; 21:17-27

7 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 1 Corinthians 6:20

9 2 Corinthians 5:15

10 Philippians 1:20-22

11 1 Peter 4:2

12 Acts of the Apostles 21:10-14

13 Philippians 2:17

14 1 Thessalonians 4:14

15 Revelation 14:13

16 See Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:3

17 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

18 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

19 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 25

20 2 Corinthians 5:15

21 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

22 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

23 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 200

24 2 Corinthians 5:10

25 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

26 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 352

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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