NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson XX)
On one Sabbath day, Jesus was invited in to have a meal at one of the leading Pharisee’s house. While waiting for the meal to be served, Jesus asked his host if he invited only friends to such an occasion, or did he sometimes have people just come in off the street because if he did, God would pay him back on at the resurrection, Someone reclining at the table with Jesus heard this, they stated enthusiastically: “How blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God!”1 But Jesus had one revelation He wanted everyone to know about this Kingdom of God: “The Kingdom of God will not come with visible signs; nor will people be able to say, ‘Look! Here it is!’ or, ‘Over there!’ Because, you see, the Kingdom of God is already among you.”2 In other words, it is a spiritual kingdom. That’s why Jesus told Nicodemus: “I tell you that unless a person is born-again from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God… And unless a person is born from water3 and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. ”4
It was very important to Paul that the Roman believers also knew exactly what the Kingdom of God was all about. Perhaps he was reminded of when he was told that some self-styled experts had gone to Corinth and were telling everyone how they thought real Christians should live. So Paul wrote the church in Corinth and told them: “If the Lord allows me to, I will come to visit you. I will find out when I come if these proud people have God’s power, or if they just use a lot of big words. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of words but of power.”5 One does not stray into the Kingdom of God, nor do they gain entrance out of the sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time. Paul also did not mince words when he wrote the Thessalonians: “We told you with strong words that you should live to please God. He is the One Who chose you to come into His Kingdom and to share His shining-greatness.”6
We can gather from this, that with Gentiles and Jews fellowshipping in many churches throughout the known world in Paul’s day, that the customs and manners in which they were raised were always subjects that caused a lot of discussions and no doubt disagreements. The writer of Hebrews had to tell his readers: “Do not let the many strange teachings lead you the wrong way. Our hearts are made strong by God’s loving-favor. Food does not make our hearts strong. Those who obey Laws about eating certain foods are not helped by them.”7 Paul told the Corinthians: “God Himself made the way so you can have new life through Christ Jesus. God gave us Christ to be our wisdom.”8 Paul had good advice for the Philippians. He told them Christ had revealed to him that he could not be right with God by what the Law told him to do, but he was made right with God by what Christ told him to do.9
The Apostle Peter was also aware of how much sway the words and writings of church leaders had on those out in the far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire. So he started his second letter to them by letting them know that he knew this letter was going to people who shared the same faith as he did, faith that was of such great value that no amount of money could purchase it. He wrote: “This faith comes from our God and Jesus Christ, the One Who saves. May you have more and more of His loving-favor and peace as you come to know God and our Lord Jesus Christ better.”10 God’s Kingdom was to be known as a kingdom of peace that was inhabited with peacemakers. Not peacemakers who only made peace with the world, but with each other. That’s why Jesus told His disciples that even though they would encounter only trouble and tribulations in this world, that everything He taught was designed to bring them peace of mind and peacefulness to their souls.11
There was nothing that brought Paul more peace of mind than when he got the news that the churches were working together to spread the Good News about the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. That’s why he wrote the Philippians telling them that if they were strong because they belong to Christ; if His love brought them comfort; if they had joy in their gifts from the Holy Spirit; if they had loving-kindness and compassion for each other, that he shared their joy by knowing that they all think the same way. He told them to keep exercising the same love. Be as one in thought and action.12
Paul also commended the Philippians as follows: “Be full of joy always because you belong to the Lord. Again I say, be full of joy! Let all people see how gentle you are. The Lord is coming again soon. Do not worry. Learn to pray about everything. Give thanks to God as you ask Him for what you need. The peace of God is much greater than the human mind can understand. This peace will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”13 Paul was convinced of the fact that Christians may try all they want to get along with and become friends with the world so that they would suffer less persecution and ridicule, but it will not work. Jesus made it clear, we ARE NOT of this world,14 meaning the secular system, human philosophy, situational ethics, and corrupt virtues by which sinners lived and moved and had their being.15 Christ told Pilate: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”16
On the topic of righteousness not being found in what we eat or drink, early church leader Origen points out that just as there is no marriage in heaven,17 so is there no eating and drinking there either. All that will be over and done with and will have no place in God’s presence. Rather, there will be pure morality and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Because of this, Origen believes that Paul is urging everyone to concentrate on spiritual things, realizing that it has already been placed in our souls here below which we will take with us when we go into the heavenly kingdom. Peace and holy living and whatever else we are given by the Holy Spirit will be our food and drink in the Kingdom of Heaven.18 It is clear that as far back as the second-century theologians knew that no earthly body would be taken to live in heaven.
Pelagius joins the others in making the point that we are not justified by what foods we eat. He also points out that Paul did not say that fasting and abstinence are not part of the Kingdom of God but rather food and drink. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are more easily maintained when we stop depending on what others have to give in order to bring us contentment. For where there is righteousness (by loving one’s neighbor as oneself) there is also peace, and where there is peace there is also spiritual joy. This helps us avoid the distress and trouble that arises out of discord.19 Bishop Theodore writes somewhat humorously: “We ought to laugh at those who think that after the resurrection we shall eat and drink [in the Kingdom of Heaven] when Paul’s words so clearly say the opposite.”20
Martin Luther sees more here in what Paul is saying than it being just a dispute over what is permissible or not permissible for a Christian to eat or drink. He takes those who insist on their spiritual rights as wanting to claim the Kingdom of God for themselves. Such people are willing to disturb the harmony and peace among church members just to satisfy their own likes or dislikes. Luther feels that this is unacceptable because such things are not essential to God’s Kingdom thriving here on earth. Our joy, says Luther, is in being filled with the Holy Spirit, not certain foods and drinks. That is what brings us peace and joy because we are right with God. As Luther sees it, nothing disturbs peace more than the offence or resentment which is shown to a fellow believer, especially in matters violating their conscience.21 Could this be what Jesus was referring to when He said: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they are the true children of God?”22
John Calvin has several interesting things to say about Paul’s statement here. First, he notes that Paul is teaching us that we can abstain from using our liberty without any feeling of loss because the Kingdom of God is all about greater things than what we want or think we need. Furthermore, those things needed to either build up or to preserve the Kingdom of God are by no means to be neglected, even though someone may not totally agree on how or why they are implemented. If it is considered lawful to abstain from certain meats, this should have no negative effect on the harmony of the Church’s members as long as God’s honor is uninjured; while Christ’s kingdom suffers no harm, and our faith in Him is not hindered.
Calvin then goes on to share that by connecting peace and joy together, it seems to him that Paul is expressing the characteristics of joy. It doesn’t matter how quiet or loud those who are not happy about the way things are being done express themselves. Some won’t be joyful or have peace of mind until God lets them have their way. However, no joy will come to them unless it is first preceded by peace. And Calvin notes that although it would have been nice had Paul declared that the Holy Spirit was the author of what he was saying, nevertheless, it is clear that the Holy Spirit inspired him to point out that God is less concerned with external things than He is that we might know that the things which belong to the Kingdom of God will continue to operate in our lives with or without such foods.23
1 Luke 14:15 – Complete Jewish Bible
2 Luke 17:20-21
3 Nicodemus, being a Jew, understood the role of “water” in Jewish theology related to cleansing. Therefore, this should not be interpreted as referring to baptism.
4 John 3:3, 5
5 1 Corinthians 4:19-20
6 1 Thessalonians 2:12
7 Colossians 13:9
8 1 Corinthians 1:30
9 Philippians 3:9
10 2 Peter 1:1b-2
11 John 16:33
12 Philippians 2:1-2
13 Philippians 4:4-7
14 John 15:19
15 Cf. Acts of the Apostles 17:28
16 John 18:36
17 Matthew 22:30
18 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Theodore of Mopsuestia; On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. See Revelation 7:16
21 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 204-205
22 Matthew 5:9
23 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.