God’s People Divided
(a) Healing the Wound
Sadly, there always has been a tendency among God’s people to create division among their ranks. We can manufacture rifts between ourselves and Christians of other evangelical denominations that gives us an isolationist and unloving mentality. We are also guilty of over emphasising the differences that exist among members of even the most relatively small fellowship, numerically. The real distinction in God’s mind, is between Christians and those who are not Christians. In the thinking of many believers, however, the most important distinctions are the issues that differentiate them from other believers. This is the case today and it was also true when Paul was Church planting. The Roman Christians suffered from division which threatened the long term survival of the work. Paul took this matter so seriously that he devoted extraordinary space to this matter. This is the practical issue that we come to examine from 14:1-15:13.
1: The Source of the Division
Some Christians were making their practices a rule for everyone:
Food and Diet v3
Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
This division may have existed between Jewish Christians who ate Kosher food and Gentile Christians who had a more liberal diet. Some Jews in Rome ate vegetables only for fear of eating unclean meats. It may also have existed because of the conversion of ascetic pagans. Such was the excess of Roman society that some pagans deliberately lived simple lifestyles eating only vegetables to make themselves pure. It is likely that members of this social group became Christians and brought their diet with them. Also within the early Church a debate raged as to whether Christians could eat that which had been offered as pagan sacrifices. This may have figured in Rome as it did at Corinth.
Holy Days v6
He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Unlike Christians at Colossee (Colossians 2:20-21) the Romans were not binding themselves to Holy Festivals as a means of salvation. Nevertheless there were some with a Jewish background who were still observing the Old Testament Sabbath and celebrating the ancient feasts such as the Passover.
2: The Salve for the Division
Recognising that some issues are minor v1
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
It is the general opinion that Paul taught the Church to receive brethren who have particular ideas about certain aspects of life and behaviour. Rather than dispute with them the Church should receive them in love. These issues that relate to food and diet and Holy Days are not fundamental to fellowship. These people who may be weak in faith should not be criticised and discouraged.
Confessing the sin of judging the Lord’s servants v4
Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
These weak brethren are the Lord’s servants. Therefore other believers do not control them. What right have we to dictate to the Lord’s servants?
Allowing for personal conscience v5-9
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
This is a central argument in a principle called Christian Liberty. There are non-essential matters in which we all need to be convinced in our own minds and consciences. If we in our individual lives endeavour to glorify God and honour him and if that satisfies our consciences, then other believers should respect that.
Understanding individual accountability v10-12
But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Every person shall answer for himself before the Judgement Seat of Christ. Rather than criticizing other believers we would be better occupied viewing our own lives with a critical spirit.
Exercising Christian sympathy v13-16
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
Using the word “stumblingblock” Paul was teaching that those who believed that all manner of meats were clean should respect the views of those who believed certain meats were unclean. This would mean refusing to eat certain meats when in the company of those Christians so as not to cause them offence. Sometimes there is an attitude among Christians, “I can do as I wish, no-one can tell me what to do”. If the matter is non-essential and is not clearly revealed in God’s word that is true. Nevertheless we should not go out of our way to do what we wish in the company of those who feel otherwise, because that causes offence and hinders Christian unity.
The emphasis Paul uses in v15 is most serious.
Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Are we to destroy a brother for whom Christ died over an issue that is minor in God’s thinking and in the light of eternity? We undermine the price of Christ’s blood with such harsh views about each other.
1: Recognise the fundamental areas of doctrine and behaviour.
2: All other areas of life and practise should never divide. These include debatable doctrines (eg The Last Things), political opinions, attitudes to Christmas, views about dress among other things.
3: Respect our different approaches and views with love.
4: Never on this account, criticise another believer harshly.
5: Never elevate our own opinions as if they were beyond reproach.
6: Avoid divisive conversations with those who think differently.
7: Take the humble approach and fit in with other peoples views for the sake of unity in the Church.
8: We do all possible to preserve unity among Christians. We are one body, let us build up that body, for the sake of Christ.