NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson XXV)
One Jewish writer notes that he sees Paul’s teachings follows in the footsteps of his Jewish teacher, Rabbi Hillel, who said: “Be disciples…loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people, and drawing them near to the Torah.”1 Compare this also to Paul’s message to the Ephesians where he wrote of Jews and Gentiles being built up together in the faith of Israel with its Torah.2 This mysterious “work of God” is found in Yeshua.3 Just because Bible scholars share different views and interpretations of what the term “work of God” means, it does not indicate that they disagree. The Word of God is multifaceted, which requires that we look at all aspects of what it says to get the complete picture.
French Bible scholar Frédéric Godet admits that he finds Apostle Paul’s idea that the salvation of an immature believer is something that can be compromised by disagreements on clean and unclean foods, astonishing! How can one knowingly or unknowingly do anything that can get between Christ and a believer enough to separate them? Furthermore, it seems that Paul is also saying that if this mistake is not quickly corrected, the offended believer may continue in such a state of moral condemnation and guilt that it will result in their spiritual death. Godet answers his own question. First of all, Paul is talking about strong believer’s who eat certain foods that may cause a scandal. The fact is, if a weak believer is misled into eating foods that go against their conscience, that is the real scandal! Paul is not focusing here on strong believers and what this does to them, but on what they did that caused a weak brother or sister to be carried away into sin.4
Spurgeon told them that when they hear of disturbances in the church they need not work frantically to suggest a change between the members but get the members to make a change in themselves! When a person goes out to gather figs, (in my case, mangoes) they need not be concerned about getting pricked by thorns. Likewise, conflicts and fights would never spring up among believers if they were not carnally-minded and unsanctified in their conduct. If they were more spiritually-minded they would be more ready to forgive and less likely to offend or to be offended. Paul once asked the Corinthians if they were not being worldly-minded by some saying “I’m on Paul’s side!” and others “I’m with Peter!” and so on?5 But let the God of Peace sanctify each believer and then they will seek to do what is for their brother or sister’s good. This is the thing that will bring peace. When you pray for the peace, remember that you can promote it by holding tight to holiness.6
14:22 You should keep your personal beliefs about these things a secret between yourself and God. It is satisfying to be able to do what you think is right without feeling guilty.
Paul is not advocating here that believers should have secret lives to go along with their church persona. He is simply advising that if there is something one has no remorse about overeating, drinking, or participating in, don’t go around bragging about how spiritually strong one is. In fact, Paul tells the Galatians it should be the other way around: “Brothers and Sisters, if a person is discovered being involved with sinful behavior, you who are spiritually stronger should guide them back onto the right way. But do so with humility. Be careful because you too may be tempted to do the same.”7 This is something the Apostle James would say “Amen!” to.8
On the subject of keeping one’s liberties to oneself and not imposing them on others, Origen advises that as long as it is right between you and God, leave it that way. It’s reward enough to have God’s approval. However, there are some who start off with good intentions, for instance, they decide to live a celibate life, but over time, either by negligence or desire, what they originally decided to do gets spoiled and corrupted. They become an unhappy person and confess that they feel defeated in what they tried to do. So they become their own judge and jury and condemn themselves. However, a happy person is one who gets forgiveness, makes corrections, and continues to strive to do what God called them to do. They don’t waste time constantly judging themselves. Let God be the Judge.9
Ambrosiaster emphasizes that if you are happy to eat because you know that everything God made is good, there is no need to judge anyone else. Rather, you should be at peace with your brother and sister for this is what God wants.10 Sometimes this requires certain people to swallow their righteous pride and let their brother or sister enjoy what they feel God has provided them for their sustenance. That’s why Chrysostom calls on everyone to resist vanity. It seemed to him that Paul is gently warning the stronger ones against the temptation of vanity. He does not want them to go around boasting of their superiority, but be happy they have a clear conscience.11
Augustine believes that by offending the weak we condemn ourselves. This should be read in connection with verse 16 above. Let us make good use of what we have, lest we offend a weak brother or sister by laying a stumbling block in their path. For when we offend the weak, we condemn ourselves by using the very freedom-faith God has given us in an offensive way.12 Pelagius puts it another way by saying we should not weaken another’s faith because of what we feel free to eat. If we consider ourselves faithful in this matter, eat in such a way that nobody is weakened by our example. The person is truly blessed who, in demonstrating their own strength, don’t think only of themselves but of the preservation of the weak13.14
John Calvin speaks on the purpose of someone exercising their faith in matters pertaining to beliefs. He states that there is an advantage for some Christians in the liberty of doing what is acceptable to them and God, but they must also learn how to make the right use of their liberty. Just because a believer has peace of mind over such matters they need not go around bragging about it. Calvin also notes, it is clearly evident how perverted some make this passage by concluding that it is not important how devoted anyone may be to the observance of foolish and superstitious ceremonies as long as their conscience remains pure before God. For Calvin, Paul intended nothing less, as the context clearly shows. Ceremonies are appointed for the worship of God, and they are also a part of our confession of faith. But when someone removes faith from the ceremony or confession, and make the celebration of the event instead of its purpose, it’s like taking sun’s heat away.15 What good is the sun if it has no heat? In other words, no matter how much we may revere and practice certain ceremonies, if there is no true faith involved they become worthless activities.
That’s why Adam Clarke reminds believers who act according to the full persuasion which God has given them concerning their conduct, will enjoy peace of conscience. That’s why those who allow themselves to practice anything for which their conscience upbraids and accuses them are miserable because of their own actions. Clarke offers what he feels is an excellent maxim, and every genuine Christian should be careful to test every part of his conduct by it. It goes like this: If a person has no peace in their own heart, they cannot be happy; and no person can have peace who sins against their conscience. If a person‘s passions or appetite allow or motivate them into practicing or participating in a particular thing, let them make sure that their conscience approves what their emotions will allow, and that they do not become the subject of continual self-condemnation and reproach. Even the person who has a strict scrupulous conscience had better, in matters that are still questionable, obey what their conscience tells them rather than violate their moral standards. This will only lead to having a miserable life as they condemn themselves for doing or not doing what they should have or should not have done.16 In other words, if in your mind you are not fully convinced of the logic of doing or not doing something, go with your heart.
This is why Robert Haldane says that any Christian who acts according to what their conscience says is the best for them, can enjoy peace of mind. Furthermore, such a Christian will be made even happier when they discover that what is acceptable to them does not cause some other believer, who has not made the same choice, to stumble.17 No wonder that Jesus, Peter, James, John, and now Paul all preached that first, we should love one another as we love ourselves.
Charles Hodge is of the opinion that by Paul presenting the idea in this verse that concession of some principle or renunciation of some truth is not required, he does it more distinctly than he did before. He asked them not to label something as sinful which was not sinful to others or to shackle their own consciences with the ethics-chain of their weaker brothers and sisters. He simply requested them to use their spiritual liberty in a considerate and careful way. There are two ideas included in this concept. The first, keep it private. In other words, do not parade it around or make it a point to show off how you are above the weak thinking of your fellow believers. The second, that this faith or firm conviction does not need to be renounced just to please a weak believer. If it is founded on the truth of God’s Word, then keep it! As long as God sees and recognizes it, it need not be exhibited before others as some form of super-spirituality. It is to be cherished in our hearts and used in a manner acceptable to God.18
Albert Barnes also has something to say about maintaining a clear conscience. Many people indulged in practices which their conscience condemns, thereby leaving their conscience in doubt. The way to be content and happy is to have a “clear conscience” in what the person says or does. In other words, if a person has doubts about a certain course of conduct, it is not safe to even dabble in that type of behavior. Leave it alone until a better understanding is achieved. Many people are engaged in “businesses” or “work” about which they are unsure of the ethics involved. Many Christians are uncertain about particular careers that are being offered. When in doubt, choose the one about which there is no doubt of whether it is proper for a Christian or not.
1 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nezikin, Aboth, Chapter 1, Mishnah 12
2 Ephesians 2:10-22
3 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Frédéric Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 1 Corinthians 3:4
6 Charles Spurgeon: Sermon – “The God of Peace and Our Sanctification,” Text: Hebrews 13:20-21, Delivered on Sunday, August 5, 1877, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, England
7 Galatians 6:1
8 James 3:13
9 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 26
12 Augustine on Romans 81
13 See Isaiah 57:14; 1 John 2:10
14 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 275
17 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 607-608
18 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 661-662