Paul has been walking through how believers of differing backgrounds and heritages (namely, Jews and Gentiles) can and should coexist in their personal lives because they are actually coexisting in Christ. Now Paul wants to further expand upon this by talking about believers taking responsibility with their liberty.
Romans 14:13 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. 14:14 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.
Rather than spending our time judging each other, Paul says to look inward and judge that the believer is not creating a reason for another believer to stumble. We could rightly say that each believer has the obligation to sit in judgment of his own motives and actions. Christ said something similar in that one should consider the beam in your own eye before worrying about the speck in your neighbor’s. Paul reckons that there is nothing unclean of itself, but should your brother find it unclean, then to him it is unclean. In other words, you may be perfectly clear in your conscious before God to partake it something that your fellow brother may find not to be something acceptable. A stumblingblock is placed when you understand he finds it unclean yet you do it anyway in his presence. Now, I do not get the impression from Paul that we are to walk on egg shells, sleeping with one eye open and always looking over our shoulders to make sure we do not mess up. What I get from this is the notion that each believer has a responsibility to ensure that the his motives and actions thereof are sensitive to the believers around him and from that, curbs his liberty should he find it would not be edifying to progress with his words or actions.
Romans 14:15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. 14:16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
Going back to the beginning of the chapter, Paul is using the meat example as how a stumblingblock works. If a believer has come out of a system of thought whereby meat was sacrificed to idols, for example, another believe may eat that meat with no issue to his conscious whereas the one just coming out of that system may be caused to stumble in his conscious. Paul writes about this very thing also to the Corinthians,
1Corinthians 8:7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8:8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. 8:10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; 8:11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 8:12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 8:13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
Note in 1Corinthians 8:8 Paul echos his thoughts in Romans 14:14 – meat itself is not the issue, but what it is associated with. Again, this isn’t to suggest that a believer should walk in constant fear of offending his fellow believers, but it is to say that to whom much is given, much is required. For the believer who has a strong conscious in the Lord regarding matters as these, it is for this believer to recognize that that doesn’t mean every other believer is in the same position with their conscious. Therefore, Paul says to not let the good of our liberty be evil spoken of – don’t let something that is good (in your conscious) be spoken of negatively because you exercised it without thought of your fellow brother/sister. You mean, as believers, we should be decently and orderly in our approach with one another? Of course! Seek those things that edify and make for peace – whether that is peace between each other or peace within the conscious of a fellow believer. This is a hallmark characteristic of the kingdom of God, as Paul is about to tell us:
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 14:18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. 14:19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
In other words, the kingdom of God is characterized by righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, therefore, is it more important to express liberty (selfishly) at the expense of destroying a fellow believer’s conscious or does the importance lie upon righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost? I think the answer is obvious. Galatians 5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. Paul says in verse 18 that these things serve Christ and that service is acceptable to God and even finds the approval of men. Now, don’t breeze past this verse – take careful note of what serving Christ looks like – it looks like righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Citizens of the kingdom serve the King by promoting what the King is. Christ is Righteousness. Christ is Peace. Christ is Joy in the Holy Ghost. Therefore, yes, believers should pursue those things that make for peace so we can edify one another.
Romans 14:20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. 14:21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. 14:22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 14:23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
The context has been that all things are pure, but good things become bad things when used improperly. (As a side example of this principle, recall what Paul wrote to Timothy in 1Timothy 1 – that the law is good, IF IT IS USED LAWFULLY). Don’t lose sight of this context when reading verse 22 and 23 of Romans 14. When Paul asks if you have faith, (if the answer is yes), then to have it unto yourself, he is not saying to keep Christ quiet. He is not saying, as many do today, that God is a private thing. Faith simply means confidence. He is speaking within the context that if your faith (confidence) is strong (clear conscious with your liberty) then keep it strong, but to yourself when in the presence of a weaker brother. In other words, our responsibility to one another is not to show off the strength of our faith, but is to, wisely, build each other up. If you can’t do this, then keep it to yourself. What happens is if you express your liberty wrongly and a weaker brother stumbles, then his action is not an action of faith, but of sin and doubt. In other words, if you misuse your faith and your brother partakes along with you, but doubtingly so, then what you’ve done is not of faith at all, but is of sin. Even though the thing itself is not of sin, but because the weaker brother partook with doubt (unclear conscious about it), you’ve caused him to sin (to miss the mark of righteousness, which again, is the characteristic of the kingdom of God).
In the next chapter, Paul will continue with these thoughts for a bit then speak more about Christ being the hope of both Jews and Gentiles. Paul spent some time on this in Romans 2, 3, and 4, and he is going to wrap up his letter with additional remarks about this truth. Finally, in chapter 16, Paul will send his salutations to many that are in Rome and close out the letter.
Our story continues…