Pastor David B. Curtis


Liberty & Unity - Part 2

Romans 14:2-12

Delivered 12/02/2001

Once upon a time two men met at a church convention, and to their mutual surprise, they discovered that they had both been blind, and that Jesus had healed them. One said to his new-found friend, "Wasn't it wonderful when Jesus made mud and put it on your eyes and told you to go and wash? I'll never forget seeing for the first time through wet eyelids!" (John 9:6-7). The other one said, "Mud! Jesus didn't use mud--He just spoke the word and then my eyes were opened, and I could see." (Mark 10:51-51).

The other one replied, "He does use mud." "He does not." "He does." "He doesn't!", exclaimed the other man. "I ought to know, because I was blind, and He just spoke a word, and my eyes were opened."

His friend said, "If he didn't use mud, then your eyes have not been opened, and you're still blind. You just think you can see." And he went on to say "If Jesus did not use mud in your eyes, then I can have no fellowship with you, because you are denying one of the fundamentals of our faith."

As a result of this argument, a little group of Christians gathered whose eyes had been healed by Jesus using mud. They excluded all others and called themselves the "Mudites." Another little group of Christians who had been healed by Jesus with a word gathered together and excluded all others from their company. They called themselves the "Anti-mudites." For the rest of their lives the Mudites and the Anti-mudites continued in rivalry with each other while around them groped blind men and women who never knew that Someone had come to give light to those in darkness.

Does the division between the Mudites and Anti-Mudites sound ridiculous? It should actually sound familiar, because their tale is the tragic story of twenty one centuries of Christianity with its divisions, splits, schisms and denominations.

We began studying Romans 14 last week, and we saw that it is a call for unity of strong and weak believers. It's clear as we study the scriptures that the Lord is very concerned as to how Christians treat one another:

Matthew 18:5-6 (NKJV) "Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. 6 "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Jesus is talking here about Christians. He says, " of these little ones WHO BELIEVES IN ME...." He is telling us that how we treat one another is how we treat Him - "Whoever receives one little child like this in my name receives me." The word "sin" in verse 6 is the Greek word skandalizo, which means: "to trap, to lead into sin." Now we're not too familiar with millstones, so let me tell you a little about them. A "millstone" was used for the grinding of corn or grain, every household had one. The household millstones were about 2 feet across and 6 inches thick. It took two women to use it. It probably weighed between 75 to 100 pounds. How would you like to go swimming with that around your neck? You get the point, right? Well this is even stronger than you may think. The Greek word used for "millstone" here is mulos onikos, which means: "a millstone belonging to a donkey". This was not the average household millstone but one so large that a donkey was used to turn it. So Jesus is saying, "You'd be better off dead than to lead a Christian to sin." We need to be very careful how we treat each other. This is an important biblical truth.

In Romans 14 Paul wants us to learn how to get along with each other. He deals here with preferential issues. We all have different backgrounds and preferences, and when we come together in the church there is great potential for conflict. So Paul focuses on the unity of the strong and weak believer.

The "weak" believer is one who doesn't understand his freedom in Christ. He tends to be very narrow and over scrupulous in what he allows himself to do. Why are some believers weak? They may have had legalistic teaching or been taught certain traditions. They don't understand the Word of God in the areas of Christian liberty.

The "strong" believer is one who understands and enjoys his freedoms. He is not bound by non-moral externals. The terms "strong" and "weak" have to do with Christian liberty. It is not dealing with spirituality or maturity.

In striving to keep unity in the church, we must understand that we not only have spiritual and carnal believers, and young and mature believers, but we also have weak and strong believers, and therefore, a potential for conflict. The strong tend to despise the weak, and the weak tend to condemn the strong. Keep in mind that Paul is not dealing with sin issues here but preferences, non-moral preferences. The issue in Romans 14 is not lying, or stealing, it's not fornication or adultery - these things are sin. We're talking here about morally indifferent things. No one has the liberty to sin.

Paul's purpose here is not to attack the scruple of the weak believer; he doesn't do that. What he does is to give some principles to govern our conduct so the strong and weak can live together in harmony.

Our first principle is found in verse 1:

Romans 14:1 (NKJV) Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.

1. The strong are to receive the weak:

The word "receive" means to take to one's self and so take into friendship. Don't receive them just to argue with them or to try to force your opinions on them. This is not always easy to do. The over scrupulous person can be very uncomfortable to be around. They tend to judge your liberty and make you very uncomfortable.

Romans 14:2 (NKJV) For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.

This is an illustration of someone who is weak in the faith. He eats only vegetables; indicating that the one to whom Paul has reference was a vegetarian. The weak restricts his diet for conscience sake, not for health reasons. The strong, on the other hand, eats anything he wants. Who is right? The strong are. Biblically, we are free to eat anything. There are no dietary restrictions in the New Covenant. The man who is weak in the faith has not come to the heart conviction that all dietary laws are set aside:

Romans 14:14 (NKJV) I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

We have perfect liberty to eat any and all kinds of food.

Romans 14:3 (NKJV) Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

"...Him who eats...." is referring to the strong believer. The strong are not to "despise" the weak. The word "despise" here comes from the Greek word exoutheneo, which means: "to throw out as nothing, thus to treat as nothing and so with contempt." There is nothing on which a man prides himself more than on his superior knowledge of truth. The pride of knowledge is prone to hold the ignorant in contempt.

So, the first principle is that the strong are to receive the weak. The second principle is found in the last part of verse 3:

Romans 14:3 (NKJV) Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

2. The weak are not to judge the strong:

"...Him who does not eat...." is referring to the weak believer. The word "judge" is used in the sense of "to criticize or condemn." The weak tend to condemn the liberty of the strong because they don't understand it. They usually view liberty as sin.

Notice the end of verse 3, "...for God has received him." Who is this speaking of? The strong believer. Don't judge the strong because God has received him. Of course God has received them both, but here he is speaking of the strong.

Paul understands how you and I think. In our minds it seems so much more difficult for God to receive the person with so much liberty than to receive the person who is very scrupulous, strict, and regimented. This is because we are so works oriented. We have a hard time understanding grace. We look at the narrow man who is burdened with scruples, and we find it very easy to understand that God accepts him. But our text says that it is the person who enjoys his liberty that God has received. God has received the strong, and we are not to condemn what God has received.

Romans 14:4 (NKJV) Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

This verse is a sharp rebuke to the vegetarian - the weak believer. The "you" is emphatic - "Who are you to judge another man's servant?"

Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote, "Suppose a man invited me to dinner and served me a meal that was very highly spiced. Would it be my place to say, 'Your cook uses too much seasoning, this food is terrible.' He might answer, 'I tried five cooks till I found one who seasoned it to suit me. This is the way I like it.'"

One of his sons was in the audience and said to him afterwards, "Your illustration was faulty. In your story you were the guest of the man who bought the food and paid the salary of the cook. But in this text you are not sitting at the table with God, looking down on someone below you. You are a fellow servant, perhaps the kitchen boy, and you are only to do your work in such a way as to win the master's praise. He employs you both. You are not to judge the cook, and the cook is not to judge you. You both stand or fall before your master."

What Paul is saying here could be interpreted, "Mind your own business - he's not your servant, and you have no right to judge another man's servant."

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 (NKJV) Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.

We are Christ's servants, and our praise comes from God; we are not to judge each other:

Matthew 7:1-2 (NKJV) "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

We are not to judge each other in matters of liberty.

Romans 14:4 ends by saying, "...God is able to make him stand." The strength of the strong is not of himself, but in God; whereas, the weak may tend to trust in his own works. It is God who holds up the strong and not their works. We tend to view people with liberty as living on the edge and about to fall. But our security and standing are in God- not in our works.

Romans 14:5 (NKJV) One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

The weak in faith regard one day above another. This is easy to understand of the Jewish convert. They had been taught all their lives the importance of the Sabbath and holy days. In the days of the New Testament many were still observing the Sabbath day while others began to observe the first day of the week. Through the influence of Judaism, they transferred all the ritual of the Sabbath to the first day of the week and began to treat Sunday as the Sabbath.

Through the influence of the Reformers and the Puritans, many Christians today regard Sunday as the Sabbath with many of its restrictions and limitations. We are inclined to think of the first day of the week as a special day; a day to be observed above the other six days of the week. You will not find one place in the New Testament commanding us to keep the first day of the week. A man who is weak in faith regards one day above another; he doesn't understand that there is no difference between a Sunday and a Monday - they are all the Lord's days. The one who is weak in faith has trouble believing what the Lord said in:

Mark 7:14-23 (NKJV) When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!" 17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18 So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" 20 And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 "All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

It is not what you eat that defiles you; it's what comes out of your heart. Notice what Paul said in:

Galatians 4:9-11 (NKJV) But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.

Days like Christmas and Easter are no different than any other days. Pat Robertson once said, "Easter is the Christian's most holy day of the year." That is nonsense! Easter is a pagan holiday just like Christmas.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NKJV) So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

All of those things were shadows, and they were all set aside. The veneration of days is a weakness.

When a man asked me my view of Christmas, I said, "Christmas is a pagan holiday! None of what we do on Christmas is biblical, none of it is commanded by the Lord, none of it is apostolic, and none of it was ever observed by the early church." With that said, is it wrong to celebrate Christmas? NO! Is it wrong not to? NO!

Romans 14:5 (NKJV) One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

The word "esteems" is from the Greek krino, which means: "to prefer, to judge."

The third principle that we see here is found at the end of verse 5:

3. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind:

There is a sense in which these words reveal our liberty in Christ as does no other single passage. It is an individual matter. You are to decide for you. This is so difficult for some people. Just do what you think you ought to do. How can you say that? As long as it's not a moral issue, you just decide. The words "fully convinced" come from the Greek word plerophoreo, which means: "to fill one with any thought, conviction or inclination, hence to make one certain, to persuade, convince." Be fully convinced, don't violate your conscience. The weak brother can hurt his conscience by following the strong believer's practice without holding the strong believer's convictions.

So, the three principles we have seen here are: 1.The strong are to receive the weak, 2. The weak are not to judge the strong, 3. Each person is to be fully convinced in his own mind.

Now, in verses 6-12 Paul shows us two reasons why such conduct ought to be existing in our lives. 1. Verses 6-9 show us that each believer has the Lord's honor and glory in view.

Romans 14:6 (NKJV) He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

Each believer does what he does for the Lord. The strong believer is eating everything in sight and saying, "Thank you Lord for this food." And the weak believer is eating vegetables and saying, "Thank you Lord for these vegetables." The motive in both cases is the same. The one who drinks alcohol gives God thanks for the refreshment of it, and the taste of it, and that is perfectly proper. The one who says, "I can't drink beer, I only drink soda," gives God thanks for the soda. The soda may be more harmful physically than the alcohol, but in either case, it is not a moral question. It is a question of what the heart is doing in the eyes of God.

Is it a sin to drink alcohol? Do the scriptures say that it is wrong to drink? No! I was once asked by a lady what the church's position was on drinking. I said, "We believe that drunkenness is a sin." She said, "But what about drinking" I said, "We believe that drunkenness is a sin." That's it! Alcohol is an area of Christian liberty.

Romans 14:7-8 (NKJV) For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.

Are these verses a mistake? Do we live to the Lord? Paul said:

Philippians 2:21 (NKJV) For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.

No believer lives his life for himself; his life is lived for the Lord. We belong to the Lord:

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NKJV) Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.

This is one of the greatest motivations to holy living. We are the Lord's. He died to purchase us:

Romans 14:9 (NKJV) For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Possible interpretation: Living is liberty and dying is limitation. In the context, this would surely fit. He is not talking about funerals and life and death in that sense. He is talking about those who feel free to enjoy their liberty to the fullest. They are living, while others, because of deep convictions of their own, limit themselves, and thus they are dying, because death is limitation. But whether we live or die, that is not the important thing. The important thing is that we belong to the Lord. We are his and we do what we do for him.

Paul is saying that when the believer, strong or weak, insists that his method of living be imposed upon other Christians, he is striking a blow at the Lordship of Christ. The weak believer has no right to impose his way of living on the strong believer. For him to do that by judging is to say, "I'm Lord of his life."

For the strong to despise the weak is to also strike a blow at the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Don't play fast and loose with the convictions of other believers; don't judge the strong and don't despise the weak. To try to impose your liberty or your scruples is to challenge the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The second reason Paul gives for not judging or despising in verses 10-12:

2. We must answer to God:

Romans 14:10 (NKJV) But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

This speaks to the strong and weak; we will all answer to God.

Romans 14:11 (NKJV) For it is written: "As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God."

This is an Old Testament quote from:

Isaiah 45:23 (NKJV) I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath.

We are all the Lord's servants, and we will all answer to Him for how we live.

Romans 14:12 (NKJV) So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

"So then...." introduces the logical conclusion. "Give account" - is an expression often used for the keeping of financial records. I won't give an account of you, and you won't give an account of me. I won't have to answer for what you do. I'm not accountable to you for my liberty, or to the elders, but to God. I'll answer to Him for my liberty or scruples.

In light of this, we shouldn't judge others or despise others. We're not that person's Lord, and they don't answer to us. Let's stop playing God, and let's promote unity in the body of Christ by receiving each other in love.

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