NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson XIV)
Charles Ellicott also has another homily on what Paul says in verse 12. He points out that the Apostle argues strongly against this evil spirit of censorship in the Christian Church, and as far as such actions doing anything good to the Body of Christ, Paul says it is pointless. We need not judge one another, for both our brother and sister as well as ourselves will stand before the judgment seat of God. So there is no need of our condemnation, for if any person is truly worthless in God’s eyes He will condemn them: we should not interfere with the work of our Sovereign Master; He manages the affairs of mankind far better than we do. Even more, our judgment is of no value to God. It would be far better to spend time meditating on the fact that we who are so exact and severe in pointing out one fault here and another fault there will be examined by an unerring eye. Our own account must be submitted to God for examination by Him item by item. Therefore, we should give our full attention to our own record.1
Charles Spurgeon gives a somber warning of the day coming when every knee will bow before God Almighty and give an account of how they used the opportunities given to them to help others. Spurgeon calls all of those who will gather at that trial of all nations and peoples and tongues, a motley mob! Persons of all ages, too. Boys and girls and those who have enjoyed a long life. Kings and Presidents will be there to submit their significant accounts; legislators and judges will answer to their great Magistrate and Judge! Also, those that lived neglecting God and forgetful of their souls – they must all be there! It is a universal judgment. John says, “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.”2 Both sheep and goats will gather before the great dividing Shepherd3 – the wise and foolish virgins will both hear the midnight cry.4 The house on the rock and the house on the sand will, alike, be tested by the last tremendous storm!5 Tares and wheat, alike, will ripen and be harvested.6 Bad fish and good will be sorted out from the net,7 while the multitudes outside – the nations that knew not God – will all, without exception, hear with trembling knees the summons to stand before the dread tribunal!8 Saints and sinners, too, only on what a different footing, are all to be judged out of the books and out of the Book of Life9.10
Jewish scholar David Stern summarizes what he sees Paul saying in verses 9-12. For him, Paul finishes destroying the argument that physical circumcision, namely, being called God’s “chosen people” is the Jews’ biggest advantage.11 But Paul consistently maintains that this is spiritual, not physical.12 At the same time, he shows that the righteousness that comes from trusting God is available equally to Jews and Gentiles, not merely because it precedes the Mosaic Law but because it antedates even the Abrahamic Covenant, when circumcision was given as a sign of Abraham’s already demonstrated faith as a seal guaranteeing God’s promises, not as something to boast about. That’s why the words “our Father in heaven” is part of today’s Jewish Prayer Book – the Siddur.13 That’s why He is not only “our Father in heaven” to Jews but also to Christians.14
Verse 13: So we should stop judging each other. Let’s decide not to do anything that will cause a problem for a brother or sister or hurt their faith.
It is clear that Paul is not against believers keeping watch over one another and offering comfort, advice, or even reprimand when they see something that violates God’s Word and His Will. But do so without hypocrisy or self-righteousness. Seeing a brother or sister in tears after they have been shown the truth is fine as long as it is the result of conviction and repentance. But not in response to harsh criticism that results in tears of embarrassment and shame. We should all be committed to removing any stumbling blocks that might cause a fellow believer to fall.
The Apostle James gives an excellent illustration of how people can be hurt and demoralized when we attempt to “put them in their place,” so to speak. He says: “Do not look on one person as more important than another. What if a man comes into your church wearing a gold ring and good clothes? And at the same time a poor man comes wearing old clothes. What if you show respect to the man in good clothes and say, ‘Come and sit in this good place?’ But if you say to the poor man, ‘Stand up over there,’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ are you not thinking that one is more important than the other? This kind of thinking is sinful.”15
But James is not finished, he instructs his readers elsewhere: “Christian brothers, do not talk against anyone or speak bad things about each other. If a person says bad things about his brother, he is speaking against him. And he will be speaking against God’s Law. If you say the Law is wrong, and do not obey it, you are saying you are better than the Law. Only God can say what is right or wrong. He made the Law. He can save or put to death. How can we say if our brother is right or wrong?”16
No doubt both Paul and James’ thinking was influenced by what Jesus taught about settling matters before they get out of hand and everyone ends up in court.17 Jesus was certainly reiterating what the Scriptures said back in Moses’ day: “Do not say bad things against a man who cannot hear. Do not put something in the way of a man who cannot see. But fear your God. I am the Lord. Be fair in how you judge. Do not show favor to the poor or to the great. Be fair in how you judge your neighbor. Do not go around saying things that hurt your people. Do not do things against the life of your neighbor. I am the Lord.”18
This responsibility every Christian carries in their hearts of not becoming the cause of making someone else stumble was a very essential part of Christ’s teaching. He used children to teach His disciples by saying: “It is a sad thing for this world that there are things that cause people to sin. People will always be tempted to sin. But I caution those who become the reason someone sins.”19 This is also the reason why Paul told the Corinthians to live according to the dictates of their conscience, but make sure they are aware of anything that may cause another person to sin against their own conscience.20 Later, Paul would write that he too was being careful not be the one that caused another believer to stumble.21 This no doubt on Paul’s mind when he wrote the Philippians: “It is my prayer: that your love may more and more overflow in fullness of knowledge and depth of discernment, so that you will be able to determine what is best and thus be pure and without blame for the Day of the Messiah.”22
On the subject of believers not becoming stumbling-blocks to one another, Chrysostom asks us to consider the severe punishment we will suffer if we offend our fellow believers. Even if what was being done concerned something that was against the Law or against one’s opinion, if done wrongly Paul forbids them to continue doing so in order not to cause a brother or sister to stumble and fall. If we go around offending others because we don’t know how to make things right, what treatment do we deserve? For if not saving others is a crime (as is demonstrated by the man who buried his one talent),23 what will be the result if we offend them as well? But someone may say: “What if they bring the offense on themselves by being weak?” Well, this is precisely why we should be patient. For if they were strong, they would not require so much care.24
But Bishop Theodore gives us an interesting commentary. He says that Paul was really directing his comments to the Gentiles because what he had already said to the Jews was enough. Bishop Theodore has Paul telling them that it is not right for them to sit in judgment of their fellow believers when they all remain subject to stand before Christ. Rather, judge how not to place a stumbling block or a trap for your sister or brother. The Bishop goes on to note that among the Roman Christians, those from among the Gentiles were more numerous, more powerful, and appeared to be more credible. They went out of their way to show disrespect for the Jews by making it a point to eat in front of them those things which the Jews were most careful to avoid, thus disturbing the Jews while neglecting the practice of true religion, and, indeed, became rather neglectful of the congregation themselves. Thus Paul does well to say, or rather to teach us this, not to do harm to a sister or brother, nor to maintain practices which divert them from following their faith and the dictates of their conscience.25
For believers in his day, Adam Clarke advised that they should not judge one another anymore. He encourages them to to abandon such rash conduct; it is dangerous, it is meanspirited. Judgment belongs to the Lord, and He will only condemn those who should not be acquitted. Let both the converted Jew and Gentile consider that they should labor to promote each other‘s spiritual interests, and not be a means of hindering each other in their Christian course; or of causing them to abandon the Gospel. It isn’t a matter of rites, rituals, and ceremonies, but the truths upon with the salvation of their soul depends.26
As someone who has lived the last 80 years in Europe, Asia, and North America, I can vouch for the fact that many times there were open disputes between the Baptists and Lutherans, Presbyterians and Freewill Baptists, as well as Methodists and Anglicans. But the most harmful of all was the disputes between Pentecostal denominations. How could they expect such conduct to promote the idea that a Spirit-filled life is the best life of all?
1 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Revelation 20:12
3 Matthew 25:31-46
4 Ibid. 25:1-13
5 Ibid. 7:24-27
6 Ibid. 13:24-30
7 Ibid. 13:48
8 2 Corinthians 5:10
9 Revelation 20:12
10 Charles Spurgeon: Sermon – “The Judgment Seat of God,” op. cit.
11 See Romans 2:25-29
12 Ibid. 3:1-2; 9:4-5
13 The New Linear Metsudah Siddur by Rabbi Avrohom Davis, Printed and bound by M. N. Miller Publishing Ltd, Jerusalem, 2007, p. 28
14 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 James 2:1-4
16 James 4:11-12
17 Luke 12:54-59
18 Leviticus 19:14-16
19 Matthew 18:7; Luke 17:2
20 1 Corinthians 8:9; 10:32
21 2 Corinthians 6:3
22 Philippians 1:9-10
23 Matthew 25:14-30
24 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 25
25 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, From a dissertation presented to the faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary by Charles David Gregory, 1992, p. 123
26 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 270-271