That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life...
Philippians 2:15-16a

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Problem With Romans 14

The problem with Romans 14 is that no one ever reads Romans 15 verse 1!!!

Romans 14 is the classic "judge not" chapter in the Bible.  I've had it thrown at me SO many times to "admonish" me to overlook the sin in a "weaker" brother.  I've even had it used on me to prove I'm legalistic and just like the Pharisees.  However, those who use Romans 14 in this way have terribly misrepresented the text.

I don't know everything, but there are some things that I do know.  One thing I know is that if more people read Romans 15:1 in relation to Romans 14 they wouldn't be using Romans 14 as a "you can't judge me..." text.

So what does Romans 15:1 say?
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 

To me, this verse is the whole key to understanding what Paul is talking about in Romans 14.  Paul is admonishing believers to stop being so selfish about what they want all the time.  He's saying that it's better for us to give some things up rather than to cause a brother to stumble.

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 brothers's way. (vs. 13)

Romans 14 is not about going around and finding all the "non-essential-grey-areas" that it's OK for Christians to participate in or believe.  It's not about finding all the "eating meats" and "esteeming days" that exist in the 21st century.  I've heard people do this so many times.  They come out with the... "it's a Romans 14 issue, so it's ok for me to do it." Huh?  It's not about a checklist of do's and don'ts, although for all those who use it to call the rest of us legalists, they sure like to make checklists out of this chapter.  It's not about labelling every person at church as weak or strong.  I heard someone say once that if their action was offending a "strong" brother rather than a "weak" brother, then it was OK for them to do it!  They used Romans 14 to justify that!  I say if it offends it's a stumblingblock. Period.  Who cares if you think the offended person is strong or weak!  Obviously that person didn't read verse 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.

Paul is saying that it is possible through our actions to make a fellow Christian weak.  Maybe that person is a strong Christian, but our actions have the potential to pull them down.

Paul tells us EXACTLY what Romans 14 is about.

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (vs. 17)

See, it's not about meat, or "grey areas" or "non-essentials" or the weaker brother or what I can and can't do.  It's not about finding excuses for my actions.  Those things are nothing more than self-centred Christianity, which is a huge oxymoron!  Romans 14 is about righteousness.  It's about living to a higher calling, not for myself, but for the sake of others.  It's not about what I want and what I can have. Romans 15:1 again... not pleasing ourselves.  See, the truth is I don't matter.  The only thing that matters is pleasing the Lord.  There is some great teaching in this passage about how we can please the Lord.  We please the Lord by not causing someone else offence.  We please the Lord by not causing a fellow Christian to stumble.

Here's the question.  Does it hurt to stop eating meat?  Paul didn't think so.  He said he would give up meat for the rest of his life if that's what he needed to do.  So, does it hurt to stop watching tv?  Does it hurt to turn off the radio?  Does it hurt to put on a different kind of clothing?  Does it hurt not to pierce your ears?  Does it hurt to stop saying certain words?  Has it ever hurt anyone to sing only hymns in church?  Has it ever hurt anyone to stop going to the movie theatre?  Does it hurt to get rid of those books and magazines in our home?  I don't think it's ever physically hurt anyone to do any of these things (if I'm wrong, feel free to correct me).

If it doesn't hurt, then maybe we should consider some of our choices.  Romans 14 is not talking about ourselves.  It's not talking about the fact that we have the right not to be judged for what we do.  It's only talking about how we can live more righteously, and how it wouldn't hurt sometimes for us to give some things up for the betterment of someone else.

Too many people want to make Romans 14 about me without ever reading Romans 15:1 and discovering it's all about others.  Maybe this acrostic can help.  You may have seen it before.

Jesus first
Others second
Yourself last

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