We turn now to Romans 13.
You know, one of the sad truths of church life is that we rarely make it this far in Romans. We start in chapter 1, and two quarters later, we’re still worrying over original sin and predestination and election. We move onto the minor prophets or the latest book from Max Lucado rather than continue slogging through the challenges of Romans. After all, we sometimes think, the serious theology is only in chapters 1 – 8!
Well, those chapters are serious theology indeed, but Paul taught all that so that we could better understand the applications. And chapters 12 -15 are the application chapters. They explain why the theology matters. This is some of my favorite stuff!
Now, I’m going to skip the first few verses of chapter 13, as we covered those (over and over) in the series on Pacifism. It’s end of the chapter that particularly interests me today —
(Rom 13:8-10 ESV) 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
We’ve discussed this passages many times before, but the key point — one I don’t think we’ve made in the past — is that the Ten Commandments are about loving your neighbor. Murder, adultery, envy, theft, dishonor of parents, bearing false witness — are all natural corollaries of “love your neighbor.” And “love your neighbor” is, of course, much broader. The Ten Commandments are but examples pointing us toward the broader principle.
Love, therefore, is the Christian ethic — but it’s not an abstract love. It’s the love demonstrated by Jesus on the cross. It’s service, submission, and sacrifice. Love requires action.
You see, this is the command that’s essential to forming a community — a colony, if you please. We sometimes think of “love your neighbor” as referring to the poor and the lost, and it does. But it first refers to the body of believers that you are a part of. If you can’t love them, you can’t love very well at all. We start by loving our own. We don’t dare stop there, but we absolutely must start there.
Notice how often the New Testament urges us to “love one another” — “love your neighbor” as applied to the church. The command is narrower than Paul teaches here but nonetheless true and right, because that is where we start.
I’m skipping next to chapter 14 because it’s an example of the principles announced in chapters 12 and 13. Indeed, chapter 14 announces some of the hardest disciplines I know.
(Rom 14:1 ESV) As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
“Opinions” is a translation Alexander Campbell would have celebrated, because he used “opinions” to refer to all doctrines other than faith in Jesus. Does Paul agree? The NIV translates “disputable matters.” The meaning is literally “inward reasoning.” It can mean “thoughts” or, sometimes, “rebellious questionings,” as in —
(1Ti 2:8 ESV) I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;
(Phi 2:14 ESV) Do all things without grumbling or questioning,
(Rom 1:21 ESV) For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
(Luk 24:38 ESV) And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
(Luk 9:46-47 ESV) 46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side
The word can be value neutral, but tends to have a negative color — “doubts” or “questions” is probably better than “opinions.” And it fits the context
(Rom 14:2-3 ESV) 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
This is almost certainly a reference to Jewish scruples. A good Jew ate kosher, that is, respected the various food laws. Outside a strong Jewish community, kosher meat would be impossible to find, as it had to be properly butchered.
A related and equally possible meaning would be that Paul is speaking of meat sacrificed to idols. Most meat sold in a Gentile marketplace was offered to a false god. That was the Roman way. To eat such meat could, in some circumstances, be an act of devotion to that god. Both Jews and Christians would sometimes refuse to eat such meat as a matter of conscience.
In a church where people routinely ate together, there would certainly be some who come to a common meal who refuse to eat the meal — as not kosher or bought in the marketplace. And there’d be those who eat. The possibility of insult was great, as both sides might consider the other side to have a weak faith — even to be insulting. A hostess might take offense that her meal was eaten by half the guests. There may have been huge social pressures to sin against one’s conscience.
We have members who are vegetarians, and some vegetarians consider it morally wrong to eat an animal. Paul’s command is simple. Those who eat meat should not look down on or insult the vegetarian, and the vegetarian should not look down on those who eat meat. AND they should eat together despite their differing views.
This is an application of Romans 1 – 11, that is, Paul’s teaching that God’s kingdom now includes Gentiles as well as Jews. Paul is dealing with the practical problem of bringing Gentiles into a Jewish world. And the solution is love applied in light of the gospel.
“God has welcomed him” means, I believe, that in a common meal, it’s not the host who sets the rules but God — who invites all and welcomes all. God invites and God puts up with disagreements such as this so long as we don’t make them tests of fellowship. That is, we absolutely must still eat together (and take communion together) despite our disagreements. There may be no “vegetarian” and “carnivore” churches (or even small groups). All churches and fellowships must be open to all.
(Rom 14:4 ESV) 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
But the Romans did pass judgment on each other. The context is clear that they questioned whether the others might “stand” before God. In their minds, these were doctrinal issues that were fellowship and salvation issues. Paul tells us they’re not, but his readers disagreed. They disputed over what they considered tests of fellowship, and Paul plainly tells them to get over it.
“And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” is a reference to God’s grace. Neither side merits salvation and therefore neither side is damned just because they don’t merit salvation. NO ONE does! Rather, both sides have faith in Jesus, both sides are trying to honor God, and so God’s grace will make up whatever deficiencies there may be. (Another application of Paul’s theology from earlier in Romans.)
The lesson, therefore, is that grace can cover some doctrinal disagreements. Some try to trivialize this passage to refer to such opinions as the color to paint the foyer, but Paul’s readers were damning each other over the question. They saw it as doctrinal.
Indeed, a large of portion of Acts deals with the doctrine of kosher foods and eating foods sacrificed to idols. The topics appear throughout the New Testament. These are serious doctrinal issues that the early church struggled to answer. Ask Peter or Paul whether food sacrificed to idols or the obligation to honor the Mosaic food laws were serious doctrinal issues to them!
(Rom 14:5 ESV) One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Paul next raises another doctrinal dispute current in Rome. It’s very likely that he has the Jewish Sabbath and feast days in mind. And this controversy remains with us. We still argue over whether Easter should be treated the same as any other day and whether Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. Some insist that certain activities are prohibited on Sundays. And in Romans, Paul doesn’t give the answer.
We know Paul’s conclusion from other writings of his, but he doesn’t share the right answer with the Romans! Obviously, he means for them to get along and accept one another regardless of who is right.
Those approving meat considered the cleanliness laws of Moses fulfilled in Christ and no longer applicable. Those insisting on eating kosher considered themselves to be honoring commands of God that were then 1500 years old that defined the separation of God’s people from the world.
Those who honored the Sabbath (or perhaps even Sunday as the Christian Sabbath) considered Sabbath-keeping as a command relating all the way back to the Creation (as many still argue). Others consider the Sabbath a vestige of Judaism fulfilled in Jesus. Every day is a day dedicated to God and the true Sabbath rest comes with the Second Coming. And that debate continues today.
We don’t divide over these issues, but that’s only because the editors of church periodicals haven’t made them fellowship issues (yet). There are plenty of issues on which the Bible says much, much less that we’ve divided over!
But this is a lesson on discipline. What is the lesson?
(Rom 14:3 ESV) Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
To be God’s community, his colony, we must stop dividing over such things. Not all doctrinal disputes are salvation issues! And we shouldn’t have separate congregations for every nuance of Church of Christ theology. That is not unity — it’s very definition of division.
We have to learn to get along with people we disagree with. That doesn’t force us to be silent on our opinions, but we do need to learn to extend the same grace to one another that we’ve received from God.