NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson XIII)
In one of his sermons, Baptist preacher Octavius Winslow touches on this subject of the post-death sovereignty of Christ over the believer. He makes the point that God’s guardianship is another Divine work that truly belongs to Christ. That’s why our Lord was able to say, “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth.”1 “He is Lord of all.”2 “Lord both of the dead and the living.”3 “Christ is above all principalities and powers, might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come.”4 ”Upholding all things by the power of His word.”5 “By him (Christ) all things are held together.”6 “The Prince of the kings of the earth.”7 This should make it clear that Jesus is our Divine Guardian. The government of all worlds and of all creatures, according to the prediction of prophecy, is upon His shoulders. Is not this thought full of rich comfort and consolation to the experienced believer? Jesus as our Divine Guardian watches all our steps which are ordered and directed by Him – by Him who is God in our nature by Him who loved us to death – by Him who is our Elder Brother, our Prophet, Priest, and King. O how comforting to our soul that in the hour of its deepest sorrow and bereavement to know that it is sheltered in the palm of those very hands which were once pierced for us!8
Verse 10: So why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister in Christ? Or why do you think that you are better than they are? We will all stand before God, and He will judge us all.
Now Paul comes full circle, so to speak, explaining what we are are in Christ with His Father’s approval. So who are we to take God’s place in judging what we think God likes or dislikes in each of His children? Are we sometimes guilty, along with the scribes and Pharisees, of straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel?9
In other words, we become experts on details without fully comprehending what those details mean in the big picture. When confronting an issue between believers we may know the details involved, but are we aware of the opportunities that come with it? We may be strong in pointing out wrongs and mistakes, but fail to see the opportunity to show love and compassion.
I believe that some churches should change their rules for membership to, “Bar exam.” Everybody wants to be a judge. I’m convinced that at times one believer will judge another not only to make the other person look bad but by the same effort make themselves look good. But in whose eyes? Paul says that doing such critique for the sake of enhancing one’s own standing on the measuring stick of holiness is not only an affront to that other person, but fails to impress our loving and merciful heavenly Father.
Paul is clearly reiterating what Jesus taught about the subject of judging others when He said: “Do not say what is wrong in other people’s lives. Then other people will not say what is wrong in your life. You will be guilty of the same things you find in others. When you say what is wrong in others, your words will be used to say what is wrong in you.”10 Where many Christians make a mistake is that they take what Jesus said to men that nothing at all should be said when they see some brother or sister doing things they know to be wrong. This misconception can be easily cleared up if people will only remember that it is not we who judge, but it’s God’s Word that decides. When we continue reading what Jesus said we will see that He was not forbidding saying something in defense of what is right, but to make sure we are not being hypocrites in doing so.
The teachings of Jesus and Paul on this subject were not novel, they came from a long tradition expressed by a First Covenant preacher: “This is the last thing I have to say. Honor God and obey His Laws. This is all that every person must do. For God will judge every act, even everything which is hidden, both good and bad.”11 However, this was made clearer by Jesus Himself who said: “The Father does not say who is guilty. He gives this to the Son to do.”12 While the Father is omniscient and nothing is hidden from Him, only His Son knows what it is like to live as a human being here on earth.
That’s why the writer of Hebrews said: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do.”13 This same Gospel was echoed by the Apostle Peter,14 as well as by the Apostle Paul.15 In fact, Paul wrote the Corinthians saying: “Do not be quick to say who is right or wrong. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring into the light the things that are hidden in men’s hearts. He will show why men have done these things.”16 In other words, all we can go on to make to a determination based on what we know now. But the day is coming when we will get to know the rest of the story.
I read some years ago about a lady who lived across the street from the girl’s dormitory of a Bible College. Late one winter night she saw a man ride up on a bicycle, open a door that led to the basement and goes in. After a short while, she saw a light on the top floor go on and could see the man walk by the window. Before long, he turned off the light and later was seen coming out of the basement door and riding off on his bicycle. The next day, she wrote a scathing letter to the college President demanding to know why a man was allowed into the girl’s dorm in the middle of the night. She could only fantasize as to what occurred inside. The President decided to call her instead replying by letter and told her that the furnace had gone out and the girls had called about how cold it was. So the maintenance man was called and he went in and restarted the furnace. Since it was steam heat, he went up to an empty room on the top floor to make sure the heat was making it all the way up there. Once he was satisfied, he left and the girls could sleep comfortably the rest of the night. Obviously, once the lady heard the whole story, she changed her attitude and apologized. I wonder how many of us who have judged others wrongly will need to apologize on that day when all the secrets are revealed?17
Early church scholar Origen sees Paul attacking two ill-advised behaviors that may have developed among the believers in Rome. First, he admonishes those who refuse to instruct those who need a greater understanding of their faith and of God’s Word. Secondly, Paul points out how unskilled and rebellious those have become who have advanced beyond them into greater knowledge and understanding.18 Chrysostom also takes Paul’s condemnation as being directed toward those who are considered the stronger in the congregation and their discrimination against the weaker.19 Then Pelagius asks by what authority do those who are abstainers condemn fellow believers who are less restricted as ravening gluttons? And for what reason do those with freer consciences despise those who abstain as being weak and that their fasting as pointless?20 Remember, the Lord will judge our consciences to see what sort of desire and intention we used to do what we did.21 And Gennadius notes that once again Paul takes up his earlier theme, and by adding the word “brother” shows how inappropriate this kind of judging is.”22
John Calvin also points out that since Paul has declared that in life or death all of us are still subject to Christ, he now proceeds to speak about the authority to judge which the Father has conferred on Christ together with dominion over heaven and earth. Paul now concludes that it is an unreasonable boldness for anyone to assume the power to judge their brother or sister. By taking such liberty they attempt to rob Christ the Lord of the power which He alone has received from the Father. Also, Paul calls us before the only true Judge whom no one can replace. His power and judgment none can escape.
It would be the same as if a criminal who ought to stand humbly before the court would walk up and take the seat of the judge and judge other criminals on trial. It is just as absurd for a Christian to assume the liberty of judging the conscience of their brother or sister. A similar argument is mentioned by the Apostle James when he says, that “the one who judges their brother judges the Law,” and that “the one who judges the Law is not an observer of the Law but a Law enforcer.” But on the other hand, Paul says, that “there is but one Lawgiver, who can save and destroy.”23 He thereby ascribes the judgment seat to Christ, which means, His power to judge, as the voice of the archangel by which we will be summoned, which is called, in another place a trumpet; for it will pierce, as it were, with its sound, into the minds and ears of all, dead or alive.24
By focusing on the future judgment, Calvin is, therefore, saying that fellow Christians have no say over whether or not their brothers or sisters are saved and have been given the gift of eternal life. That final judgment will be made by Christ. But it does not eliminate the responsibility of each believer to counsel a weak fellow brother or sister on their activities and choices as it relates to what God’s Word has to say, not what they think is right or wrong.
1 Matthew 28:18
2 Acts of the Apostles 10:36
3 Romans 14:9
4 Ephesians 1:20-22
5 Hebrews 1:2
6 Colossians 1:17
7 Revelation 1:5
8 The Works of Octavius Winslow: Sermon titled, The Atonement in its Relation to the Godhead of Christ. The Divine Attributes Entwining Around the Tempted and Trembling Believer, Text: Acts of the Apostles 20:28
9 Cf. Matthew 23:23-24
10 Matthew 7:1-2
11 Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
12 John 5:22
13 Hebrews 4:15
14 Acts of the Apostles 10:42
15 Acts of the Apostles 17:31
16 1 Corinthians 4:5
17 See 2 Corinthians 5:10
18 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 25
20 See Verse 1
21 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
22 Gennadius of Constantinople: on Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 James 4:12
24 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.