NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson XXIII)
John Bengel had an interesting insight when he said that the study of the nature of God (Theology) is meant to be peaceful and designed for edification. However, sometimes we know it can cause disputes and disharmony. This is especially true when believers argue and debate minor things such as which foods or drink to consume or abstain from.1 Adam Clarke also sees the same intent on the part of the Apostle Paul. Instead of the Romans continually contending about food, drink, and festival times, in which it is not likely that the Jews and Gentiles will soon agree, they should endeavor with all their power to promote peace and unanimity. Why be instrumental in tearing down one another when they can use the same effort in edifying each other? This will help in removing obstacles to spiritual growth instead of putting stumbling-blocks in each other‘s way.2
Robert Haldane points out the list of characteristics that are part of any Christian who by faith serves God and Christ: They live by doing right, that brings peace to their surroundings, it fills them with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and they are pleasing to God. You can’t pick and choose, you must have all three to be of any value to God and the world. As Haldane sees it, when Christians live the way the Gospel says they should, they are providing non-believers a living testimony. The conduct Paul recommends here is important to a Christian’s place in society and will certainly be noticed by even the most ungodly around them.3
Charles Hodge notes that in these verses the Apostle explains more fully what is meant by saying “he felt honored or esteemed.” It was all because God had allowed great success to be produced by his ministry which substantiated his claim that he was a divinely commissioned preacher of the Gospel. That’s why they need not compare his ministry to that of other Apostles. He was satisfied to rest his claims on the results of his own labors and the testimony of God. However, Paul took no credit for the things that were done through his anointed ministry. Christ and the Holy Spirit received all the credit and glory for every effect of the Gospel and the miracles people saw taking place before their very eyes. In other words, Hodge believes that what Paul is really saying is that there was nothing done through his ministry for which he would take the credit, it is all attributed to Christ who gave him strength.4
The contrast, therefore, is not between what he had done and what others had accomplished, but between what he may have tried to do and what Christ actually did by using him as a vessel. He wanted no praise or applause for anything that was completed, even those things that were humanly possible. His desire was that all the light shine on Christ as the source of his strength to accomplish anything that had been brought to fruition. The conversion of the Gentiles was Christ’s work, not Paul’s. Therefore, Paul could glory in it without lifting himself up for recognition. It is to be remarked that the Apostle represents himself as merely an instrument in the hands of Christ for the conversion of sinners. Any skillfulness involved he ascribed to his Redeemer.5 This should be the attitude of every servant of God and Christ.
Albert Barnes notes an important factor here we should keep in mind. In verse 19 Paul uses the Greek noun oikodomē – [“to edify” – KJV], which means properly to “build,” as a house; then to “rebuild” or “reconstruct;” also to “adorn” or “decorate;” then to do anything else that will make it more likely to grow and blossom. When applied to the Church, it means to do everything through teaching, preaching, ministering, counseling, etc., which will promote its great objective: To aid Christians by enabling them to overcome difficulties which removes their doubts and misgivings and calms their fears.6 In these expressions the idea of “building” is retained, held together by a firm, tried, and tested Cornerstone, the Lord Jesus Christ.7 To be the Church is then regarded, according to Paul‘s noble idea,8 as one great temple erected for the glory of God, having no goal or purpose other than to do all that is possible, that each member of the royal priesthood9 be suited to carry out their assigned ministry and perform their functions appropriately in perfecting and adorning this Temple of God.10
Frédéric Godet points out that the Kingdom of God consists of those who willingly and lovingly serve their Heavenly Master. Developing goodwill toward God and all mankind comes only to those who cultivate the ethics and virtues of Christ in their lives. Godet contends that it would be normal to say that the person who serves Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit is acceptable to God. We must understand, however, this does not apply to everyone who calls themselves a Christian, but to those who seek to understand another person’s heart and is looked upon as someone to respect even through the eye of a critic. Everyone, Christian or non-Christian, recognizes them to be a person really animated with power from above. They are the opposite of a fool or a boaster. An approved Christian is one who has been tested and tried and proven genuine.11
One Jewish writer notes that Paul says not only would a person who does what’s right please God but also be admired by others. He asks a question related to the Church in Rome, “Who else might critique the behavior of these converted Gentiles?” He suggests that this could be converted Jews who were still tied to Synagogue rules who watched these former heathens to them to see if they were either acting like righteous Gentiles coming to faith in the God of Israel through Yeshua, or pagans following a false Messiah. Paul teaches that these Gentile believers were to “serve Yeshua” in a fashion approved by even non-believing Jews. He goes on to point out that Paul’s comments in this section reflect back to what he has said in previous chapters and indicate that he has been building his case to reach this conclusion. This is especially true of what he taught in chapter 12, which comes on the heels of his warning to Gentiles in chapter 11.12
14:20 Don’t let the eating of food destroy the work of God. All food is right to eat, but it is wrong for anyone to eat something that hurts the faith of another person.
Now Paul focuses on a point of contention that existed between the Jewish church members who required kosher foods, and their objection to the Gentiles who ate the same food bought at the market that was offered in idol worship. As he told the Corinthians: “Food was meant for the stomach. The stomach needs food, but God will bring both of them to an end.”13 In other words, the resources for food was provided by our Creator for our existence here on earth. Once we get to heaven it won’t be necessary anymore. So there is no such thing as a sanctified diet that will bring us closer to God.14 However, just because what you eat doesn’t bother you, don’t brag about it in order to tease someone who has trouble with consuming such foods.15 By being careful not to offend a less tolerant brother or sister in the Lord, we do so in honor to God.16
Whatever your lifestyle, says Paul, don’t insist on anything that may end up bringing discord and injury to the work and body of Christ. This is true even today. There are some churches who use communion wine and others grape juice for the Lord’s Supper. But this should not be a factor in keeping them from fellowshipping together. After all, Paul told the Ephesians we are God’s handiwork; He created us through Christ so we could do the work He has called and prepared us to do.17 This was Paul’s hope and prayer for the Philippians: “I am sure that God who began the good work in you will keep on working in you until the day Jesus Christ comes again. It is right for me to feel like this about all of you. It is because you are very dear to me.”18
To show the minimal effect a kosher diet has on the spiritual life of a believer, and to show how vital it was that believers be cognizant of those around them, Jesus told His disciples: “It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that makes his mind and heart sinful. It is what comes out of a man’s mouth that makes him sinful.”19 There are some people who are more worried about the external condition of their bodies than they are of the internal status of their souls. But Paul also knew that there were those even in his day who took this to the extreme by saying that it doesn’t matter all at what a person puts into, or on, their body because it is destined to decay in the grave. Remember, Jesus did not die to save our bodies, He died to save our souls. All that counts then is the soul. But, as the Apostle Peter instructed his readers: “Do not let your beauty come from the outside. It should not be the way you comb your hair or the wearing of gold or the wearing of fine clothes. Your beauty should come from the inside. It should come from the heart. This is the kind that lasts. Your beauty should be a gentle and quiet spirit. In God’s sight, this is of great worth and no amount of money can buy it.”20
On the subject of not destroying the work of God in verse 20, Clement of Alexandria remarked, “It is the mark of a silly mind to be amazed and stupefied at what is presented at vulgar banquets after having enjoyed the rich fare which is in the Word of God.”21 In other words, spending more time drinking in the Word at God would result in spending less time drinking at worldly parties. Chrysostom, on the other hand, believes that when Paul uses the phrase “work of God” here in this verse, he means the salvation of a brother or sister. For some people were so far away from building others up that they were prepared to destroy what God had started, and not for any good reason but over something very trivial. It is not the eating which is unclean but the ulterior motive behind it. If a super-spiritual believer entices a less-certain believer to eat something that goes against their conscience, they do it for no good purpose, they will only things worse. Thinking that something is unclean is not as bad as actually eating it even though you know it is unclean. In that case, you are committing two errors: first, by increasing the other person’s opposition by your quarrelsome attitude, and second, by getting them to taste what they believe is unclean. If you are unable to persuade them with spiritual insight, don’t try to force them.22
1 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 354
2 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 273
3 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 605
4 Philippians 4:13
5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 680-681
6 Acts of the Apostles 9:31; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 14:4
7 Ephesians 2:20; Isaiah 28:16. Cf. Romans 9:33
8 Ephesians 2:20-22
9 1 Peter 2:9
10 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Frédéric Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 1 Corinthians 6:13a
14 Ibid. 8:8
15 Ibid. 8:13
17 Ephesians 2:10
18 Philippians 1:6-7a
19 Matthew 15:11
20 1 Peter 3:3-4
21 Clement of Alexandria: Christ the Educator 2.1
22 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 26