In the Christian life there are essential truths such as the deity of Christ, the Virgin birth, the atonement, the Resurrection, the Second coming and the infallible authority of Scripture. These issues are foundational and are believed by all true Christians.
Then there are the non-essentials, these are -not so clear and various people are offended by different things. Augustine said’ In essentials unity; in nonessentials liberty; in all things, charity’. Sin, false doctrine, immoral behavior, harsh words, bad feelings can create problems in a church. Disunity, disharmony, disagreement, strife, party spirit, can also come into a church by believers who strongly disagree on nonessential issues resulting in selfish feuds instead of self-less love acts. Paul is dealing with the question of Christian conduct.
In the Victorian Era two famous preachers fellowshipped together and exchanged pulpits, one was Charles Spurgeon the other was Joseph Parker. Then they had a disagreement and it got into the papers. Spurgeon accused Parker of being unspiritual because he attended the theatre. Spurgeon himself smoked cigars, a practice many believers condemned. Who was right? Who was wrong? God blessed both men even though they disagreed. When it comes to questionable matters -in the church why cannot dedicated Christians disagree without being disagreeable.
I spoke for a week on Radio in Sarasota for the Mennonites, consisting of about 10,000 people. They were are a quaint people, some were the old traditional type who would not wear clothes with zips, have TVs in the home, own a car or phone, and kept to some old traditions. Then there were those who dressed in modem casual style, owned cars, TVs, radios, phones and had a more modern view of Christianity. Who was right and who was wrong?
I was asked to meet with two elders of a church in another country in order to help them solve a moral problem. As we set at lunch one of the elders pulled out a cigar and started to smoke it, then later ordered a beer to drink with his lunch-I did not. Who was right and who was wrong?
Friends of mine went as missionaries to Papua New Guinea . The lady whom I respected so much was very strong about wearing hats-in church meetings. But when she came back from the Field she commented, “You were fortunate if the people had any cloths on never mind a hat.” They owned few clothes.
Some other friends of ours were missionaries in France . They could not get their furniture into France for a few months so I, along with two other friends, hired a furniture van and took the furniture over to them. A member of their church asked us over for dinner one evening. My friend was called out to the kitchen and came back apologizing for the embarrassed hostess as she had only wine to drink with the meal and had not bought any water or soft drinks. Should I have spoken up and reprimanded her or respected her custom?
At a Reformed conference in Scotland some visiting Swiss elders lit up their pipes and started to smoke when the next meeting was about to begin they were politely asked to refrain from smoking as it caused offence the other brethren.
The church was never meant to be a cosy club of like- people of one race or social position or intellectual caliber. Christians are not clones, identical in all respects. These differences, lack of understanding or non-acceptance or immaturity in the Word has created many difficulties in the church. There are public and private gifts, rich and poor people, highly educated and uneducated, powerful and powerless, old and young, adults and children, conservatives and radicals, and people of every temperament in the church. Is it any wonder there is so much variety and diversity among believers.
However this variety puts strains on us all. How are we to co-exist with one another? Disagreement and disunity have always been a problem in family life, political life, racial life, cultural life and in church life. Friends disagree enemies disagree, children disagree and adults disagree. It is a historical problem and dates back to man’s origin.
In the Old Testament there was disagreement between brothers, families and tribes. These disagreements can result in divisions, splits, contentions and even people suing each other inside and outside the church. They can bring bitterness and anger as well as character assassination.
In the New Testament the Corinthians split into parties, some sued one another, some divided over human leaders. (I Cor. 1: 10 – 1 3 6:1-8) The Galatians were ‘eating and devouring’, one another. (Gat. 5: 15) At Philippi , two women were at odds with each another and were splitting the church. (Phil. 4:1-3) None of these were doctrinal reasons but for personal reasons. This caused disunity in the church and between believers. We need to pray for scriptural insight to understand the richness of and variety of the church so that the tensions may be dealt with.
BACKGROUND HISTORY OF THE BELIEVERS AT ROME
When people become Christians, or Christians who come from another church or country or join a new Church, they bring with them baggage from their old church or life such as some of their customs, traditions, and convictions.
Among the Roman Christians there were waves of disharmony because of the disagreements over certain practices. One point of contention arose between believers who held that “all things” were permissible to eat and those who thought that only “vegetables” were allowable. Paul was writing from Corinth , which had a similar situation. It was customary for the Greek and Roman pagans to burn in the sacrifices the less desirable portions of an animal while saving the choicest sections for personal consumption and sale to the public. Occasionally, the market where this eat could be bought was located adjacent to, or inside , the temple designed for idol worship.
Therefore in the minds of many, there was such association between the sacrificial eat and idolatry that even to purchase it suggested involvement in pagan religious practices.
Another area of disagreement that caused division among the Roman believers concerned an individual’s response toward certain days. Some Christians regarded “one day above another” while others regarded “every day alike.” There where those who had years living in Judaism or in some pagan situation and in the process had acquired deeply rooted habits, customs traditions and attitudes. They did some things and avoided others. When they became Christians all this did not drop away from them in a moment. Some pagans began to live ascetic lives, turned from the world and eating of meat all together. Jewish converts, kept the Law of Moses, and specifically observed the Sabbath (Saturday) and were offended seeing other believers work on that day. Feast days were observed also. They did not see that justification by faith had made them irrelevant.
It is not hard to imagine the heat and frictions that had arisen between the opposing sides on these questions.
First there were those who were “weak in the faith” (vs1). They were scrupulous Christians who adhered to a rigid view about diet and special days. They stood guilty of judging those who both ate sacrificial meat and failed to observe special days.
The second reaction came from those believers who were strong in their faith (Vs 1-2- 15 :1). These libertarian Christians viewed their weaker brethren with contempt. (14:3)
Paul viewed nothing as unclean and proclaimed, ‘I know and am convinced in the Lord that nothing is unclean in itself, but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean? (Rom. 14:14 ; I Car. 8: 4-13). They were acting superior to the more scrupulous ones. Scripture favored the strong believers but the crucial problem was the critical response of the groups to one another.
The attitudes were wrong. The stronger treated the weaker with ‘contempt’ the Greek word means to ‘regard as nothing’ Rather than exercising their freedom discreetly and responsibly they were flaunting it in the face of those who could not handle it. They were discounting the feelings and beliefs of the more liberal Christians. , to utterly despise’, they despised them.
The narrow-minded believers also displayed a faulty attitude. They became judgmental of the more liberal Christians. (Vs3) Rather than broaden their understanding of freedom in Christ, they adopted a view of condemnation toward those who ate the wrong foods and treated each day alike.
Accept Him That is Weak. Vs 1
There was a problem at Rome . Some believers were passing judgment upon other believer’s conduct or viewpoint. Paul had condemned that which was immoral, and obviously wrong, like stealing, killing, committing adultery, bearing false witness and coveting in chapter thirteen. He now warns against the danger of condemning questionable matters. Then there were the Gentiles who never had to worry about diet and holy days. This caused a division over diet and holy days. Some of the members thought it was a sin to eat meat, so they ate only vegetables. Other members thought it a sin not to observe Jewish holy days. If each Christian had kept his own convictions to himself, there would have been no problem, but they began to criticize and judge one another on these things. Each group thought they were the spiritual ones. It was a question of Christian conduct. However there are gray areas in the Christian life, some think women should not were make up, wear a hat, and not be involved in any kind of ministry. Other think it is sinful to smoke tobacco while other say it is not right to smoke tobacco but one may take a drink of alcohol. Others say it is wrong to dance while others say it is wrong to have mixed bathing. There are those who say we should not watch TV or co to cinema or theatre. Various people are offended by different things other Christians do. Sometimes it is a matter of custom or tradition. Some of these things other believers do are questionable. One has no wall of separation from the world. The weak person in the text is not weak in faith but one who does not understand the conduct implied by faith. It is the faith of him who is weak and hesitates or alters. Some do not know they should regarding certain things. Perhaps they understand justification by faith but do not grasp the use of meat or special days. You may not agree with him but you are to receive him as a believer in Christ. This person is no less important in the fellowship of believers. Paul is discussing how a person should live and conduct him or herself, the actions that are permissible or required of him. One group of believers is not to sit in judgment over another group of believers on such matters for that is how friction, schisms and party spirit starts.
Some things are not expressly condemned in Scripture, but some believers separate themselves from these things. If they want to do that it is their business the problem comes when they want to enforce their scruples upon others. These things are not to separate believers. The church has no authority to decide questions of a personal liberty either, unless what they do is forbidden in Scripture.
There are two extreme viewpoints to day. One has no wall of separation from the world. These folks were living like the unsaved man and their lives were no different from when they first were saved. They may even have a false view of freedom and have gone back to the old ways. They indulge in every form of worldly activity and go anywhere the world goes. They spend their energy and time in activities that have no spiritual profit.
The second group rejoice in salvation by grace and deliverance from the Mosaic Law but have their own set of Ten Commandments plus the many more they add. They become very self-centered, critical and proud. These are the ones Paul calls “weak in the faith.” They become separated from everybody and everything. They do not get involved in any form of worldly activity; they do not drink or overeat but they can gossip and even tell lies. They can listen to untrue reports and rumours. Throughout church history there are those who have believed they were free to do anything and those who see things they must not do. Disagreement sent waves of disharmony causing problems in the church at Rome . Friction was obvious between the two opposing sides.
THE TWO GROUPS
Paul was contrasting two kinds of people; one who ate everything while the other eats only vegetables. The Vegetarian had carried into his life some kind of scruple about eating meat from his pre –Christian experience.
- The Strong Believers.
Paul stood with this group. (15:1) They opposed the believers that thought that certain foods were unclean. However they had a superior attitude and viewed the weaker brethren with contempt. Paul was convinced that nothing was unclean. (Rom.14: 14; 1 Cor.8)
- The Weak Believers.
They adhered to a strict rigid view about diet and special days. They stood guilty of judging those who both ate sacrificial meat and failed to observe special days.
Both need to get a doctrinal view of the word of God. Both were to received into fellowship and were not to pass judgment upon the others convictions or viewpoint. The weaker believers conscience was different and the strong had not to judge him on his conscience but on what he believes about fundamental beliefs of the faith.
FOUR PRINCIPLES TO FOLLOW REGARDING QUESTIONABLE THINGS
If a man is not believing or practicing immoral things, believing or teaching heresy, then we must not condemn him for his convictions or viewpoint. Such a person may not be weak in fundamentals of the faith but he does not want to conduct himself as other believers do. We must not condemn questionable matters if Scriptures do not do it. Some Christians do not know what to do about certain things and find them questionable, we are not to judge them but receive them as brothers in the Lord. You may not agree with them but you must receive them, not in order to argue with them but to have fellowship with them. We are not to have groups in the church sitting in judgment over other groups on questionable matters. Some things are not expressly condemned in Scripture.
The church has no authority to decide questions of personal liberty in things that are not expressly condemned in Scripture.
Accept one another. The weak were in the minority among the strong. They had to be welcomed, in warmth and friendship. Christian love demands no less. They are not to be made to feel that they are barely tolerated and seen as second-class members.
Don’t pass judgment on doubtful things. Some people have scruples about certain things; this is not to hinder the warmth of fellowship. It also means do not argue or judge doubtful things or points. We must not judge someone’s scruples. We cannot judge their thoughts or motives either since we do not know them.