Pastor David B. Curtis


Don't Destroy the Weak

Romans 14:14-23

Delivered 01/06/2013

Let me start this morning by reminding you that the theme of love, seen in chapters 12-13, continues into chapter 14 and 15. Paul is exhorting them to walk in love.

This section, 14:1-15:13, is about two groups who Paul calls the "strong" and the "weak." The "strong" seem to be predominantly Gentile Christians. They have no problem eating and drinking whatever they want. They are Gentile Christians who have no appreciation of the Jewish roots of their faith.

I take the position that the "weak" in Romans are not believers in Yeshua as Messiah. I believe they are part of the elect remnant, but they have not yet embraced the truth about Yeshua. The "weak" are impotent in faith. The problem is not their opinions, it's not about their liberties, it's about their faith. Now you may be thinking, "Could an unsaved Jew be called a brother to a Christian?" Jews were the historical community of the One God. Thus to be a Christian would have made one a "brother" to all Jews, from Pentecost to A.D. 70, whether they were Christians or not. We learn from Romans 4 that being weak in faith, for Paul, had nothing to do with Torah-observance, but rather a doubt in God's ability to give life to the dead.

In Romans 14-15 Paul is calling the Gentiles (the strong) to live righteously, according to halakhah (haw-lak-ha), so as not to cause the unbelieving Jews (the weak) to stumble. Living according to halakhah will demonstrate that they serve the One true God of Israel, Yahweh, and so convince their Jewish colleagues that they really are part of the people of God.

Let's remember the setting here at Rome. The believers are meeting in the Jewish synagogue with the unsaved Jews. They are together worshiping Yahweh the God of Israel.

In order for us to really grasp what is happening in this text, we must understand the forty year transition period. Prior to Pentecost the Jews who were right with Yahweh were those who had faith that He would fulfill His promises to Abraham. The righteous of the nation longed and looked for the promised Redeemer. With the coming of the New Covenant came a forty year period of transition. From the time of Pentecost to holocaust, Old Covenant Israel had forty years to trust in Yeshua as their Messiah before judgment fell. Understanding this will change how we view some Scriptures:

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. Hebrews 3:12 NASB

Could an unbeliever fall away from the living God? Not today, but in the transition period a Jew who refused to believe in Yeshua would be departing from the living God. It is not that they didn't have faith in Yahweh, but they did not yet believe in Yeshua.

The Gentile believers in the transition period had to be careful that they did not offend the Jews by the way they were living. This is what James was saying at the Jerusalem Council, when they laid out guidelines for living when around Jews:

"For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath." Acts 15:21 NASB

In other words, if they were going to reach the Jews, they can't go around violating the Law of Moses. The Jews will be offended. They were going into synagoguesS and were running into orthodox Jews who were upholding the Law of Moses, so for the sake of evangelism, they were going to have to set some of their freedoms aside. Now in case you think that this was just some legalism coming from James, notice verse 28:

"For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: Acts 15:28 NASB

These essentials were Spirit inspired. This was all about evangelism of the Jews.

In our last study we looked at:

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. Romans 14:13 NASB

This is not talking about offending another Christian because you smoke or drink. It is talking about turning a Jew away from faith in Yeshua. A stumbling block is something that trips a Jew up, causing him to fall away from faith in Yeshua as Messiah.

The "strong" are urged, in view of God's certain coming judgment, no longer to judge the "weak" with whom they have a difference of opinion concerning the keeping of the Law and Jewish customs. The "weak" are in the process of stumbling, but have not yet fallen. They have faith in Yahweh, but not yet in His Son. They are "stumbling" at the time in uncertainty, but they have not yet fallen, because they have not yet actually rejected Yeshua as the Christ.

The "weak" stumble over a stone along the way, and the "strong" face a choice. They can reach out to the "weak" and help them regain their balance, or they can give them a little push and cause them to fall. Paul is telling his readers to live in such a way as to help the "weak" come to see that Yeshua is the Christ.

Paul's exhortation to the "strong" dominates the rest of the chapter:

I know and am convinced in the Lord Yeshua that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Romans 14:14 NASB

"I know"--this is the Greek word eido, which speaks of absolute, positive knowledge. He also said he was "convinced." He could not be budged from his conviction, so sure was he of the truth of the matter. No form of words could express more fully the certitude of his conviction. This certainty and conviction comes "by the Lord Yeshua"--his conviction is consistent with the teaching of Yeshua (we'll look at Yeshua's teaching on this in a minute).

What is it that Paul is so certain about? "Nothing is unclean in itself"--Paul is absolutely convinced that believers are no longer under the restrictions of the Law regarding diet. Paul says this same thing in:

men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 1 Timothy 4:3-4 NASB

So the strong are right in principle--nothing is unclean of itself.

This verse makes it clear that the issue dividing the "weak" and the "strong" is a Jew/Gentile issue of purity. This word "unclean" strongly implies to me that the basic issue at hand is that of a change in dispensation from the Old Covenant economy to the New. A Jew could not eat a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich under the Old dispensation, but could under the New. And the "weak" were still living under the Old Covenant.

The word "unclean" is from the Greek koinos, which means: "impure or defiled, profane." The term "koinos" is never used in Greco-Roman literature in terms of unclean foods, while it is common in Jewish circles.

The Lord Yeshua taught that the distinction between ceremonially clean and unclean food had ended (Mark 7:15-23).

And He said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) Mark 7:18-19 NASB

Paul, who was raised as a Jew and a member of the Pharisaic sect, which strictly observed purity laws, now believed, because of the teaching of Yeshua, that the purity Laws were passe.

Paul goes on to say in verse 14, "But to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean"--Is Paul teaching that sin is a subjective thing? If you think it is unclean, it is? Or if you think it's okay, it is? Contemporary existentialism teaches that any behavior at all is approved as long as it is done wholeheartedly. Situational ethics maintains that it is purely the attitude that counts. If you think that it's right, it's right. If you practice immorality in a loving way, then it is right. The question becomes: Is it the loving thing to do? Do you feel right about it?

Situational ethics applies even where the Scriptures have spoken authoritatively. The Bible calls premarital sex sin (Hebrews 13:4), but situationalists often call it pure and wholesome. The Bible calls homosexuality an abomination! But many today who call themselves Christians call it an alternative life style. It is an "alternative life style," it's an alternative to holiness and righteousness.

Now I don't believe that Paul is teaching us that sin is a subjective thing, that sin is only what you think it is. That isn't true. Sin as such is very explicitly defined in the Scripture. The one who is considering something as "unclean" is someone who is living under the Old Covenant. And under the Old Covenant it is unclean. Under the Old Covenant a Jewish man was forbidden pork, any form of pork. He could not have bacon for breakfast. He could not eat ham. Furthermore, he could not eat meat in which there was blood. And then also, he could not even eat beef or fish or chicken unless the food had been prepared according to certain methods, or as we say today, unless it was kosher.

Notice that Paul doesn't ask the "weak" to change their behavior, but he calls on the "strong" to change their behavior for the sake of the weak:

For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15 NASB

Paul says, "Because of your food" and "with your food"--the issue here is not that the "weak" are eating things because the "strong" are eating them. The issue is with what the "strong" eat that will offend the "weak," because they view it as inappropriate for the "strong" to be eating. It is not like the situation in Corinth where the "weak" are being tempted to eat what they see the "strong" eating. In Rome the "weak" don't feel that the "strong" should be eating it, and when they do, the "weak" are hurt and could be destroyed.

The word "hurt" is from the Greek word lupeo, which means: "to make sorrowful, to affect with sadness." This same word is used in:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 NASB

If you have ever experienced the death of a loved one, you know that the "hurt" can be devastating. This is not talking about a little hurt because someone slighted you.

How would you "hurt" your brother? By doing what he thought was wrong. The "weak" are living under the Old Covenant, they are not aware or do not believe that the New Covenant has arrived, so when they see the "strong," who claim to believe in Yahweh the God of Israel, doing what they know is wrong according to the Old Covenant, they are hurt. If you're convinced that something is wrong, you'd be grieved if you saw someone who said they were a believer doing it.

So many commentators trying to make this applicable to believers today say things like, "So, the grieving is the grieving of the weak brother who thinks, for example, that it is wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, or in our day, it's wrong to go to a movie, it's wrong to be seen in a theater, it's wrong to look at TV, it's wrong to work on Sunday, it's wrong to look at a football game on Sunday afternoon. So, the apostle here says if your brother is grieved with what you do, you're not walking in love toward him when you do it knowing that he feels that way about it." S.L. Johnson.

This text is not about Christians being offended because others do things that they think a Christian shouldn't do. If someone thinks it's wrong to go to a movie, should I not go to a movie? How far do we take this? Paul is not talking about living under the taboos of other believers. You wouldn't be able to leave your house without some believer thinking what you were doing was wrong. Paul's argument here is specific to the transition period, period!

Then Paul says this, "Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died." That is strong! He is not talking about upsetting a Christian by you doing something they think you shouldn't, he is talking about "destroying" them.

The word "destroy" is the Greek word apollumi, which means: "to ruin." It is a very strong word. Paul is saying that their actions, their eating and drinking, can destroy a brother. What exactly does he mean by the word destroy? The word destroy can mean: "Eternal damnation."

so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:15-16 NASB

The word "perish" here is the term apollumi, and it is the opposite of eternal life. Apollumi is translated very frequently in the Scripture with the word "perish."

Paul only uses this word twice in Romans, his other use of it is in:

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; Romans 2:12 NASB

The "Law" here is the Torah, the Jewish Law of Moses, the Writings and the Prophets. "All who have sinned without the Law"--simply means Gentiles. The Gentiles have sinned without the Law and will "perish." This is our word apollumi, and it is used here of eternal damnation.

Let me ask you a question here, "How can you sin without the Law?"

for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Romans 5:13 NASB

Paul says: Sin is not put to your account when there is no Law. So how had the Gentiles sinned?

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-- Romans 5:12 NASB

They had sinned in Adam, their federal head. They were in fact guilty--in Adam.

This word apollumi can also be used as a general term for death or the elimination of something:

And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing!" Matthew 8:25 NASB

Perishing here may be talking about physical death, they were afraid they would drown. Or it could be talking about eternal death. The Jews called the underworld Shoel. They believed that wherever there was a body of water or water coming out of the earth, that was a gate to the underworld.

Thomas Schreiner writes, "These terms reveal that the danger spoken of here is nothing less than eschatological judgment. Paul almost invariably uses the term apollumi to destroy, of eschatological destruction":

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 NASB

The word "perishing" and "destroy" are apollumi. Verse 19 is a quote from Isaiah 29:14 where Isaiah is saying that the iniquity of Jerusalem was bringing God's judgments which would confound their wise men. So "destroy" here is talking about God's eschatological judgment.

Arminians use Romans 15:15 to teach that a believer could lose his salvation. But the Bible teaches that believers cannot lose their salvation:

and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. John 10:28 NASB

"Perish" here is apollumi, and it is said that those with eternal life will never perish, so this must mean eternal damnation. You can't cause a believer to lose eternal life no matter what you eat or drink. Romans 8:31-39 deals with the believer's security.

Paul says that the person who is destroyed is "him for whom Christ died." As a Calvinist, I believe that Christ only died for the elect. So how can Paul say that they can destroy one for whom Christ died? This is a difficult text no doubt. We know that the "weak" are unsaved Jews, and Paul is exhorting the "strong" to live in such a way as to not hinder them from coming to believe that Yeshua is the Messiah. So how does Paul call these unsaved Jews, "....him for whom Christ died?" If Paul is referring to the elect remnant, then they can't be destroyed. So maybe Paul is using, "....him for whom Christ died" as a general reference to all Jews.

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. John 1:11 NASB

This is a reference to the Jews, they were His own:

"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Yeshua, for He will save His people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 NASB

Yeshua came to save "His people," again a reference to the Jews. He was Israel's promised Redeemer:

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant-- Luke 1:67-69 NASB

Who are "His people"? This is a reference to Jews. Could Paul be saying, Do not destroy an Israelite with your food? Those for whom Christ died? This may be weak, but it's the best I've got. I'm open to hear any other views you may have.

Let me give you the view of another reformed teacher. S.L. Johnson writes, "And so when he says 'Destroy not him with thy food, for whom Christ died' this is addressed to professing believers. As far as the believers are concerned, it is impossible to destroy them." I agree with him that they weren't believers, but they didn't profess to be. He goes on to say, "But those warnings are designed by God to be means by which He preserves the faithful in their faith. But so far as believers are concerned, the warning is edifying. It helps him. It keeps him in his state of the faith of God." So believers keep themselves in the faith by God warning of the loss of salvation. I believe that the elect are kept by the work of Yeshua, and by His work alone!

Paul says, "For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love." Remember what I said when I started this morning, this section is about love. These Roman Gentile believers are to walk in love so as to win the unsaved Jews to Christ.

Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; Romans 14:16 NASB

"Good thing"--most see this as referring to their liberty in Christ. But the "good thing" here is not their freedom, or liberty, it is their new position as fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God. They now share in the "root of the olive tree," they are partakers of the Abrahamic Covenant. They are not to let this "good thing" be spoken of as evil because of their failure to adhere to the standards of "righteous Gentiles" by eating and drinking things associated with idolatry.

To "be spoken of as evil"--is the Greek word blasphemeo, which means: "to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile." The unsaved Jews would blaspheme the faith of Christianity if the Christians were not honoring the Jewish practices.

for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17 NASB

What is the kingdom? It is the rule or reign of Christ in our lives by the Holy Spirit. Young's translates this, "....for the reign of God is not eating and drinking." It is not a physical realm, but the active reign and work of the Spirit in our lives. Paul is reaching back to Romans 5:12-21, which is all about the reign of grace.

These words: "righteousness, peace and joy" are expressions that he has unfolded in the Epistle to the Romans. Paul's definition of God's kingdom in 14:17 forms a tight summary of Romans 5:1-5. The kingdom of God is characterized by justification. That is its fundamental thing. And the apostle in Romans has given us the principles of justification that an individual is justified by faith in Yeshua the Christ:

For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Romans 14:18 NASB

The word "serves" is a present participle and means: "who keeps on serving as a slave."

The definite article with "Chirst" confirms that Paul's use has this Messianic significance and that it had not been lost in the Gentile mission. This confirms the correctness of reading the letter in light of the Old Testament expectations regarding Israel's long promised Messiah King, who is the Christ.

"Is acceptable to God and approved by men" --The word "acceptable" is from the Greek word euarestos, which means: "well pleasing." He lives a life by faith in Yeshua Christ restricting his liberty for the love of his lost brethern. The word "approved" is from the Greek word dokimos, which means: "to be approved after close examination." This is the opposite of the disrepute referred to in verse 16.

Paul wants the "strong" to serve Christ in a manner that the "weak" will view as acceptable to God instead of pursuing a course that will provoke the "weak" to blaspheme their claims to being the people of God.

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Romans 14:19 NASB

The word "pursue" is from the Greek word dioko, which is a strong verb, generally used for: "persecute, following hard after, as in hunting." Metaphorically, it has the idea of: "to seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor to acquire, to zealously go after something as though a dog on the hunt." What is it that they are to pursue? Most importantly, the things which make for peace--they are to follow all things that tend to produce peace and avoid anything that would cause strife. The term "peace" is used earlier in the letter where Paul refers to "peace with God." (Rom 5:1; 8:6)

The words "building up" are the Greek word oikodome, which means: "to build a house, erect a building." Metaphorically: "to build up, to promote growth in the spiritual walk." Oikodome is a frequent metaphor in Pauline letters to describe the coming together of Jews and Gentiles as the temple of God:

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, Ephesians 2:14 NASB

This is what Paul is attempting to do in Rome, make both groups one:

for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Yeshua Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:18-22 NASB

"Being built together"--is from sunoikodomeo. The "strong" are to pursue the kind of righteous behavior that will help the "weak" stop stumbling and recognize that Yeshua is the Christ who died for them.

Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. Romans 14:20 NASB

The word "tear down" is not apollumi, of verse 15, but is the Greek word kataluo, which means: "to throw down, as one might throw down a stone from a building, the opposite of putting a stone in place, oikodome,--"to build up" of verse 19.

"Work of God" refers back to Paul's revelation of the mystery that God was building the body and including the "weak," who the "strong" thought of as enemies:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery--so that you will not be wise in your own estimation--that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; Romans 11:25 NASB
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; Romans 11:28 NASB

Paul says, "All things indeed are clean." Paul reiterates that they are no longer under the restrictions of the Law regarding diet. This cannot be universalized, but must be read in context. Paul is saying that all food is clean--something with which Peter had to come to terms. (Acts 9:9-16)

"But they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense"--when food is causing offense, when it is turning people away from the Gospel, it becomes evil:

It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. Romans 14:21 NASB

The word "good" here is from the Greek word kalos, which means: "beautiful." It is used figuratively for: "morally good, noble, praise worthy, blameless, excellent, but above all it is used for that which is pleasing to God." It is good--pleasing to God--not to use your liberty if it will hurt your brother.

The complete disregard for the "faith" of the "weak" would cause great offense and keep them from seriously considering the possibility that Yeshua was the promised Christ.

The motive of love for fellow believers makes abstinence from what is legitimate something that is God-honoring and glorifying.

NOTE: wine is a non-moral thing. It is not a sin to drink wine, or he wouldn't use it here as an illustration. Drunkenness is a sin, but drinking is not! Jewish teaching did not forbid drinking wine, but it did give clear instructions about the dangers of overindulgence in wine, and certainly about drunkenness, the prevalence in Roman society of offering libations of wine to particular gods. They feared that drinking wine would be some kind of tribute to another god

Tom Holland writes, "However, in light of what Paul has written to the believers, it seems probable that he was advising the believers to consider the effect of wine on fellow believers. As today, some will have enjoyed drinking to excess and will have tried to curb their dependence on wine since their conversion. Paul's advice is to abstain from drinking wine lest others, who struggle with a history of personal abuse, hear about or see your enjoyment of it." Tom, Tom, Tom, this is not about us! This is not about offending another believer, it is about turning someone away from the Gospel.

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. Romans 14:22 NASB

Most see this as directed to the "weak," but the context seems to say other wise, the verses preceding it and following it are directed to the "strong."

Asserting their rights over against the "weak" is not an act of faith. Paul is saying, "Keep it to yourselves." He means they are free to eat and drink whatever they wish in the privacy of their homes. But don't flaunt your liberty in the face of those who it will cause to stumble. The "strong" end up condemning themselves because they know that their behavior is not loving. They are not regarding their Jewish brothers as more important then themselves:

But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. Romans 14:23 NASB

Most see this as directed to the "weak." They would say, The word "doubts" tells us that he is not convinced; it's an area of liberty, so if he partakes in it, he is condemned. His conscience condemns him because he doesn't have faith to do it.

What they miss is that in Rome, unlike Cornith, the "weak" are not attracted to or tempted in any way to follow the behavior of the "strong." They view the "strong's" behavior as ungodly. It repulses them that the "strong" say they worship Yahweh when they do the things they do.

"The one who doubts"-- looks back to 4:19-21. The parallel between this text and 4:19-21 is remarkable, both texts refer to "weakness of faith," "doubting," "assurance," and "faith." The "strong" doubts because they know they are not walking in love, their eating is not of faith, but arrogance:

do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. Romans 11:18 NASB

"Whatever is not of faith is sin"-- you are either with Abraham or with Adam. You are either living, like Abraham, in unwavering trust in God and His promises, or you are turning away from God and living by some other means.

The "strong" have the ability to destroy the "weak" by the way they live, they also have the ability to harm themselves if they choose to please themselves by the sinful act of eating without faith. This text is all about living in love. It is about doing what you do for the sake of making the Gospel attractive to unbelievers.

I think we greatly trivialize this text when we make it about not offending a Christian brother who is doing something we think is wrong. This is about evangelism! We are to live in such a way as to advance the cause of Christ, not hinder it.

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