NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson XIV)
For Robert Haldane, the word “judge” in the 4th verse refers to the weak believer who condemned those who ate things prohibited by the Law, and not to the strong believer who is being admonished for despising, not for judging. Here both are individually brought forward and each separately asked a question in line with their attitudes. The believer who thinks that it is wrong to eat things prohibited by the Law is asked, why do you dare take it upon yourself to condemn your fellow believer who differs with you? Likewise, the believer who is better informed on these matters is asked, why do you have such total disregard for your fellow believer’s right to abstain? The Apostle most evidently asks the two questions with respect to each person’s attitude, and appropriate and suitable with respect to each individual’s personality.
Haldane then goes on to discuss another important factor to be considered when choosing to judge a fellow believer. He points to Paul’s basis for his admonition of those who judge or despise each other, in that, not only are they all the servants of Christ and fellow believers, but they must all appear before His judgment-seat, each to give an account of themselves. This is a good reason why they should neither judge nor despise one another. To judge others is to violate the exclusive right of Christ to judge. Also, to despise others reveals the presence of pride and ignorance as the cause for their contempt of fellow believers.
This most clearly shows that Christians have no authority over one another’s faith or their Christian conscience in this world. Both as to faith and Christian conscience, Christians may endeavor to enlighten one another, but when they fail, they have no authority to force others to change their views. Each Christian, however, is bound to follow the Lord as far as their own knowledge allows and not to be stopped by the misconceptions of fellow believers. No one should do what they know to be wrong in order to satisfy a fellow believer’s whim or wish, nor are they keep from doing anything they judge to be the will of their Master in order to retain fellowship with other believers.1
Adam Clarke believes this question can go either way when it comes to Jews judging Gentiles and vice versâ. Why would a Christian Jew who still observes the rites of the Mosaic Law judge condemn their fellow Christian Gentile who does not think of themselves as bound by this Law? Or, why do Christian Gentiles shun Christian Jewish believers as if they were unworthy of any respect because they do not yet believe that the Gospel has set them free from the rites and ceremonies of the Law? Clarke says that Mr. John Heylyn (1685-1759}2 was right when commenting on this verse by saying: “The superstitious are prone to judge, and those who are not superstitious are prone to despise.”3 We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Why then should we take it upon ourselves to judge or condemn each other? We are accountable to God for our conduct and will be judged at His bar of justice. So let us consider that whatever opinion we have of others who differ from us, the same will be returned to us for the same reason.4
Charles Spurgeon thinks that if we are prone to judge, certainly it should not be those who are linked to us in a spiritual relationship. Are not all believers one family in Christ? No matter what the differences may be, there exists an overwhelming reason to promote Christian unity. Why, then, will someone take a fellow believer by the throat, so to speak, and drag them to their personal courtroom and make them answerable to them? How can a believer condemn a fellow believer? Why would any brother or sister in Christ condemn another brother or sister in Christ just to prove that they are right? When the outside world censures Christians, we understand why; they hated our Master and they will hate us.5 But inside the sacred circle of Christian communion, there should only be esteem and love for one another. We should also be quick in defending each other. That means we should be anxious to try to understand others’ weaknesses of faith rather than to look for any imperfections to criticize!
Spurgeon believes that some judgmental Christians search for laws that may have been broken where no such laws exist! He wishes that having perfect love for each other will cast out all suspicion of one another6 and that we would have confidence in each other because Christ, our Lord, will hold up our brothers and sisters even as He holds us up! This judging among Christians, then, is, first of all, unnatural and unspiritual! And, next, it is done in advance of the coming Judgment Day. That’s when all mankind will be judged – judged in a better manner than you or I can judge. How dare we, then, trespass on God’s sacred Word by climbing up to the seat of judgment and pretend that we have authority over such matters at such a critical moment? Judgment will come soon enough – may the Lord have mercy upon us until that day arrives! Spurgeon asks why as brothers and sisters we feel pressured to be in such a hurry to place ourselves on the tribunal throne? Cannot God do His work better than we? “Vengeance is Mine: I will repay, says the Lord.”7 We need not spend our time constantly trying to discern between the tares and the wheat8,9 or as we might say today, between genuine organic wheat and genetically modified wheat. In other words, trying to judge whether someone is a true born again believer, or an imitation made through ceremonial sprinkling.
F. F. Bruce gives his views on the subject. For him, there is no sin to which Christians – especially those who call themselves dedicated Christians – are more prone than the sin of censorship. The Apostle Paul’s words are intended for serious consideration. Should a person not cover their mouth before they criticize someone?10 When we pass on hurried, uninformed, unloving, and mean-spirited judgments on a fellow believer, surely we have forgotten that if we speak evil of them we are at the same time speaking evil of our Lord whose name they bear as Christians (little Christs). We will all stand before the judgment seat of God. This judgment seat in Greek is called the bēma, or tribunal.11 There is no difference between this tribunal and the “judgment seat of Christ.” From the earliest part of the second century, there has been a tendency by Bible scholars to tie this verse to what Paul wrote the Corinthians12.13
John Stott assigns the words “despising” and “judging”14 to fellow Christians, with despising being “smirk of disdainful contempt” and judging as a “frown of accusatory judgment.’15 Both are now shown to be part of an abnormal attitude. Why? Not only because God has accepted those being scorned and condemned as His children because Christ died and rose again to be the same Lord of all. Not only that but because both the accuser and accused are related to one another in the strongest possible way by spiritual family ties. Whether we are thinking of the weak, with all their aggravating doubts and fears, or of the strong with all their aggressive assurances and freedoms, they are still our brothers and sisters. When we remember this, our attitude towards them should at once become less critical and impatient, and more generous and tender.16
Verses 11-12: Yes, the Scriptures say, “As surely as I am alive,” says ADONAI, “Every knee will bow before me, and every tongue will publicly acknowledge I’m God.”17 So each of us will have to explain to God about the things we do. Don’t cause others to sin.
Not only has Paul established that the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the Universe, but that one day every tribe and nation will acknowledge Him as Adonai (LORD). But this is not something Paul dreamed up. God Himself declared: “As sure as I’m alive, the whole earth will be filled with the shining-greatness of the LORD.”18 Paul declares this same sovereignty of God over the earth in his letter to the Philippians: “When the name of Jesus is spoken, everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow down before Him. And every tongue will say Jesus Christ is Lord. Everyone will give honor to God the Father.”19
That’s why it was so important for Paul to emphasize to the believers in Rome that one day we will all be held accountable before God. Listen to what Solomon said to the youth in his day: “Young person, if you spend your youth only having fun, if you use your early years just to entertain yourself, if you follow your heart as you live your life, and let your eyes be your guide; understand that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.”20 So it is not surprising that Jesus would echo the same theme.21 Even the Apostle Peter thought it was important enough for him to tell his readers that one day everyone will give an account of their words and actions before the Great Judge, especially those who make fun of believers.22
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster points out that after being killed, the future Judge rose from the dead, and, therefore, He rightly proclaimed: “I live.”23 Jesus is saying that not only does He live, but He will come to judge, and His enemies will confess His name and kneel before Him, acknowledging that He is God and from God.24 Since we are not going to give account of each other, says Paul, let us not condemn or judge one another over small issues that have of effect on our salvation.25
1 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 599-600
2 John Heylyn as an Anglican scholar who had a major influence on religious thought in eighteenth-century England. Because of his interest in mysticism he was known as the Mystic Doctor.
3 John Heylyn: An interpretation of the New Testament Part 2, Containing the Acts of the Apostles and the several Epistles, Printed for J. and R. Tonson on the Strand, Westminster, London 1761
4 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 270
5 John 15:18
6 1 John 4:18
7 Deuteronomy 32:41
8 See Matthew 13:24-13:30
9 Charles Spurgeon: Sermon titled: The Judgment Seat of God,” op. cit.
10 Proverbs 30:32
11 See Matthew 27:28; John 19:13; Acts of the Apostles 18:12; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10
12 2 Corinthians 5:10
13 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 246–247
14 The same two Greek verbs are used in verse 3 as “despise” and “judge.” (KJV)
15 John Murry: The Epistle to the Romans, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1968, Vol II, p. 175
16 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Quote from Isaiah 45:23; Cf. Psalm 72:11
18 Numbers 14:21
19 Philippians 2:10-11
20 Ecclesiastes 11:9 – Complete Jewish Bible
21 Matthew 12:36
22 1 Peter 4:4-5
23 Isaiah 49:18
24 Also see Philippians 2:10
25 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.