Romans 14 and Personal Space: I Have a Lord; You Aren’t Him! (Brick Walls and Picket Fences 13)

by Dave Miller on September 2, 2011 · 26 comments

This post is a continuation of the discussion of Personal Space truth that is found here.  There will be parts of this post that will not make sense unless you have read the previous entry in the series. 

In Romans 14, Paul tells us that there are disputable issues on which conscientious Christians can disagree.  Each of us answer to our Lord and it is a serious offense against the Cross of Christ for us to try to assume lordship over one another on these disputable issues.  In this post, we will look at Paul’s clear teaching in Romans 14.

An Examination of Romans 14

Paul, in verse 1, identifies the subject he is going to address, “opinions.”  The Greek word is “dialogismon” which usually refers to reason, even dispute.  Simply put, we are talking about issues that are disputable among Christians, on which opinions are only reached on the basis of reasoning, not on clear revelation.  It is pretty easy to show that adultery or homosexuality is wrong.  There are verses which are clear that demonstrate these issues.  Murder is wrong – you do not have to reason your way to that issues.  But on the issues being addressed here, there is not clear biblical revelation, but reasoned dispute and discussion.  On such issues, Paul will tell us, genuine Christians may differ and disagree.

Paul does designate one side in the dispute as “weak in faith” – a strange designation to us.  The stronger person in this passage is not the person with the most rules, but the one who enjoys his freedom in Christ under the Lordship of Christ.  But the key here is the command that governs the entire passage.  On these disputable issues, we are to “welcome” one another without arguing.  The basic thrust of the entire passage is that on these kinds of personal space issues, we should welcome and accept those who have differences from us and not argue with them.

The sad fact is that in Baptist blogging, the most volatile subjects are often those that we are commanded not to argue about.  We are commanded by scripture to accept our brothers and sisters even if they have opinions that differ from us on such matters.  We are prohibited from anger and division because someone disagrees on issues of food and drink (v 17) or about keeping the Jewish Sabbath laws.  It is often just such subjects that seem to motivate the greatest anger and dispute in discussions.

Verses 2-6 establish Paul’s view on these issues.  Christians who love Jesus and God’s Word may have different opinions on issues such as these.  We do not all have to agree on every issue to honor the Lord.  He gives two illustrations of the principle.   Verse 2, talking about dietary issues, says, “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.”  Verse 5 addresses the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath day and other holy days. “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.”  There is not a single divinely ordained position on these disputable matters.  Committed, Christ-loving, Bible-honoring Christians can come to different opinions.

Paul’s key admonition is found in verse 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.”  He first addresses the Yessies, and warns them not to despise, or disdain those who would say no.  Even if they think that the stricter folks are silly, old-fashioned fossils, they are members of the body of Christ.  We cannot treat them with contempt.

On the other hand, he also addresses the NO-NOers who have a tendency to be judgmental and condemning against the Yessies.  Just because your conscience makes an activity wrong for you does not mean it is wrong for everyone.  God has welcomed people whose opinions differ from yours.  What right do you have to condemn them?

These two tendencies appear in almost every such dispute.  Those who believe something is acceptable for a Christian disdain those who are so “legalistic” and bound by human tradition that they cannot enjoy their freedom in Christ.  They look down on them.  Those who believe the actions are wrong condemn their brothers for not agreeing with them, seeing them as “antinomian” and worldly, not adequately maintaining standards of holiness and purity in the world.  Both sides need to remember that these attitudes are clearly prohibited in scripture.  Yessies may not disdain no-noes and  no-noes may not judge and condemn yessies.

In fact, the command goes one step beyond that here.  We are to keep our opinions to ourselves on such issues and not argue about them!

The theological basis of this is in verse 4.  I have a Lord to whom I answer and so do you.  Jesus.  I am not your Lord and you are not mine.  When we assume lordship over one another, we insult the power of our true Lord to do his job.  “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.”  On disputable issues, we do not have the right to attempt to assume Lordship over our brothers and sisters.

This is when I usually begin to hear the screaming.  “Are you saying that Christians can do anything they please?”  Of course I am not saying that.  It is an amazing assumption.  Do we believe that the only way to get Christians to behave properly is to demand that they live under my rules and convictions?  Without my rules, they will run amuck?   Can I not trust the Lord who redeemed my brothers and sisters and placed the Spirit of Holiness within them to guide them in the right path?  The answer among many Christians is a hearty (if unintentional) no!  They either demand that others live by their convictions on disputable issues, or disdain those whose convictions are more strict than theirs.  Can we not just allow Jesus to be Lord of others and not try to make them agree with our convictions?

Paul goes on, in Romans 14:7-8to reveal the motive for Christian living.  It is not Christian peer pressure or fear of what others will say.  We live to Christ.  “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.   If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”  I do not get to do what I please as a Christian.  A Christian does not live “to himself.”  I live to the Lord; by His authority for His pleasure.  We belong to Him.

Do not mistake what Paul is saying here.  He is not just affirming the right of Jesus to be Lord of our lives.  He is denying that any of us has the right to usurp that right.  He is pointing out how inappropriate, even blasphemous, it is when we “quarrel over opinions,” when we attempt to make others conform their views on these issues to their own.  We each have a Lord and none of us should attempt to play that role in the life of another.

Paul ratchets up the pressure on this teaching in verses 9-12.  Ask any regularly-attending 8-year-old why Jesus came, he will answer, “to die for my sins.”  And that, of course, is absolutely correct.  Jesus paid the price for our sins with his blood so that we could experience forgiveness and new life.  That part we understand.  But Paul says there is another reason that Jesus both died and rose again.  Verse 9 reveals the full purpose of Jesus’ coming.  “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”  Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins and rose again from the dead to save us.  But He had a greater purpose.  He died and rose to take His rightful place as Lord of all.

Jesus went to the Cross and earned the right to be the Lord of the redeemed.  Since I didn’t die for your sins, I have no right to play Lord in your life.  Since you did not die for my sins, you have no right to attempt the same over me.  Jesus paid for the right of Lordship with his sinless life, his sacrificial death and his triumphant resurrection.  Until I can offer redemption, I should not try to assume lordship over others.  What have I done that gives me the right to force my opinions on others or demand my way in the church.  If I cannot save people, I should not try to control them.  You do not have to answer to me, nor I to you.

When I have preached this biblical concept, I have made many Christians very uncomfortable.  They seem to assume that not acting as Lord over others carries with it the assumption that people will run wild, that they will live profligate and licentious lives.  Really?  Is Jesus not good enough as a Lord that I need to help him in the process of sanctification?

And Paul is not saying that we can “do as we please.”  No.  Not even close.  I do not get to live as I please and neither do you.  We are to live for the glory of God with a constant understanding that one day we will give account to our Savior for how we have lived our lives.  Look at verses 10 through 12.  “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”  Each Christian has an appointment at the end of this life.  We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ where He will review our lives.  At stake is not heaven and hell – that was decided at the cross.  But Jesus will review our choices and actions, our words and attitudes – our lives will be opened before Him.  We will be rewarded for those actions that have had eternal consequence.  For my fleshly, worldly actions I will lose rewards.  There is much about this that we do not completely understand, but the basic message is clear.  I will answer to Jesus Christ.  I may not have to please you, but I have to please Him.  I will give account to Him for every movie I watched, every book I read, everything I ate or drank.  So, I had better make sure that every decision I make today honors my Lord Jesus Christ.

It is not that I do not have to answer for my actions, but that I will answer to Jesus.  I must live every day of my life in the knowledge that my Savior will call me to account for my decisions.  I make decisions on disputable issues not on the basis of your rules, nor even on the basis of my own pleasure and desire.  I am to make my decisions with a deep respect for the Lordship of my Savior.  That will lead to true holiness.  Jesus is an effective Lord who does his job well.  He holds me accountable and by his Spirit moves me to walk in his ways.  We don’t need to attempt to control other believers on disputable issues because each of us already has such an effective and empowering Lord who will guide us into all righteousness.

We must remember the ministry of the Holy Spirit who dwells in every believer.  Holy is not His first name, it is His job description.  He dwells in and works in every believer.  He uses the Word of God to produce the work of God in us and to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.  In these Personal Space issues, I trust the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God to lead me.  I also trust the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God to lead others.  I must accept that, in this world, we will not all agree on all these issues.  Paul said that it is okay.  One person can do one thing, and another to do another.

So, in disputable matters – lifestyle issues on which the Bible does not speak clearly – each of us is free to make our own decisions about what is right.  Our goal is to please our Lord Jesus Christ with every decision, every action, and we must remember than one day we will give account to Him for everything we have done since our conversion.  On these issues, God has given us liberty under the Lordship of Christ.

Limits on Liberty

But that liberty is not absolute.  Romans 14:13-23 describes at some length the limits of our liberty in Christ.  Verses 19-21 tell us that the edification of the Body of Christ is more important than the expression of my personal freedom.  “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.  Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.  It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The Christian does not express his freedom in a way that damages another believer.  His primary purpose is “mutual upbuilding” and is willing to give up his exercise of freedom to help another.

Is there any exercise of Christian liberty that is worth damaging another believer?  For the believer, the glory of God and the good of our brothers and sisters is a much higher value than personal comfort or earthly pleasure.  So, we do not use our liberty to live as hedonists.  We embrace and enjoy our freedom, but our highest value is building others up in Christ.

We are warned in verse 13 not to put a “stumbling-block” or a hindrance before our brothers and sisters.  I am not to exercise my freedom in such a way that a brother or sister could be cause to fall into sin.  We may not be controlled by the opinions and judgments of others, since we answer only to Christ.  But we are moved to limit our freedom if the exercise of that freedom could in any way cause spiritual harm to another.

We have a casino in downtownSioux City.  I have never been there, but I understand that they have an affordable, high-quality buffet.  It is okay for a Christian to go into a casino to get a good meal at a good price?  That seems like a modern day equivalent of the meat-sacrificed-to-idols controversy of the early church.  There are Christians who feel no guilt in their conscience about going to a casino to eat a good meal.  But imagine that I have a friend who was a compulsive gambler before he was saved.  I would not invite him to go to the casino for a meal.  I would not flaunt my freedom to eat there in front of him.  I would not want to encourage him to go where he could be tempted to sin.  A Christian cares more about other Christians than his own freedom on disputable issues.

So, we learn from Romans 14 that Christians are allowed to have different opinions on these disputable matters.  Each of us must go to the Word and follow our conscience under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  If two people come to two different opinions, they should respect each other’s right to disagree.   Those who participate in an activity should not disdain those who do not, and those who do not should refuse to judge and condemn those who do.

1 Scott Shaffer September 2, 2011 at 10:03 am

Nice job.

Regarding your casino example and causing a brother to stumble, I’d add that we don’t want to pressure a brother to eat there if by doing so he would violate his conscience, whether he had a gambling problem or not.

2 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 12:19 pm

People are more important than pleasure!

3 Scott Shaffer September 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Amen!

4 Josh C September 2, 2011 at 10:03 am

Good thoughts on the passage. As one of my NT professors stated, this final discussion about Jews and Gentiles accepting one another in the body of Christ is the focus of the entire book of Romans, argued theologically for most of the book and then spelled out in direct application in 14-15.

I am grateful also for newer translations that use the phrase “stumbling block” rather than “offense” in passages like this. We are called to restrict our liberties in love for our brothers in situations where we would be putting a brother in a situation that would provide a great temptation for them, i.e. not putting a stumbling block in front of them. The older translation of “offense” was used by some to claim others should restrict their liberties in any case they were “offended”, i.e. they just didn’t like it. That is clearly not what Paul means by “offense”; otherwise, he would have caved to the stricter Jewish laws every time because they “didn’t like” the Gentile food and worship day. He meant a situation that puts a brother face-to-face with temptation, a stumbling block.

5 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I think you are right that the Jew/Gentile issue is at the heart of this. The issues of course are more universal.

6 Bill Mac September 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm

And in response to the idea that OT Laws are still binding on Christians, we have to keep in mind that while the early church was begun by Jews, it quickly became dominated by Gentiles; people who would know nothing of Moses or the Law. It is highly unlikely that these Gentile churches would even have copies of the law or worry about them.

7 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I don’t disagree Bill. But the key here in Paul’s argument is the one that is most often forgotten – Follow your conscience and keep your opinion to yourself.

The problem comes when you try to do what some have done – impose your convictions on these issues on others. We have a Lord, we don’t need self-appointed lords running around trying to control others.

8 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm

(and the “you” there is general – I’m not speaking particularly to you, Bill).

9 Christiane September 2, 2011 at 10:51 am

In the Church it is always good to understand that the PERSON is to be more important to you than any differences you may have with him on points of view.

10 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 11:43 am

This is probably the most violated and ignored set of commands in the church.

11 Mark September 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Dave, I would say half ignored because people love to quote the ‘do not cause a brother to stumble’ portion as a way to bind others’ conscience. :)

12 Josh C September 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm

That’s what I was trying to get to in my comment above about older translations using the term “offend”.

As one pastor said, Christians aren’t called to be professional weaker brothers.

(We also aren’t called to be arrogant stronger brothers either.)

13 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Yep

14 Max September 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Thanks Dave for adding this to your other great post this week (i.e., “I Have a ‘Gospel’ Problem”). Good stuff!

There is certainly a difference between being contentious and contending for the faith. A lot of noise in the blogosphere that is more contention over opinions, than brothers contending for the Main Thing. While some choose to fuss about traditions and traditions of men, may the Church within the church focus on “the common salvation … and earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). Always doing so in a spirit of humility and concern for the welfare of others “snatching them out of the fire … hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 1:23). I Praise God that he violated my personal space!

15 Benji Ramsaur September 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Dave,

I think you are being rather Pauline here…and that’s a good thing :)

I like the distinction you made (revelation/reasoning) between what is disputable versus what is not. I never thought about it that way.

While I think that distinction could possibly be sharpened (I could see someone saying “Well, isn’t the Trinity [a fundamental of the faith] based on reasoning from revelation?), I think it gives us a good starting point on which to think about what is disputable and what is not.

We have revelation and then we have reasoning based on revelation.

Stealing being a sin is a matter of revelation.

Whether drinking alcohol in moderation is a sin or not seems to be a matter of reasoning based on revelation.

Stealing is a tad “closer” to the text I’d say. Good stuff Dave.

16 Max September 2, 2011 at 4:52 pm

“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you” (Matthew 16:17). The church Jesus builds is based on revealed Truth, not the teachings and traditions of men. My thoughts, my opinion, my reasoning must be filtered by Truth + Spirit of Truth for it to become revelation knowledge in word and action.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8).

17 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 4:54 pm

I think Isaiah 55:8-9 are key to understanding doctrine. We have to understand that there is much we cannot understand because God’s ways and thoughts are beyond ours.

18 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Your point about the Trinity is interesting – got to think through that. My knee-jerk response would be that the disputables of this passage have to do more with lifestyle choices (eating, drinking, observing special days, etc) than with doctrinal issues.

19 Josh C September 2, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I would not define the Trinity as “reasoning from revelation” in the same sense. “Trinity” is simply the title we give to a set of truth statements that are clearly revealed in Scripture.

-The Father is God.
-Jesus is God.
-The Holy Spirit is God.
-There is one God.
-The Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit are unique persons that can relate to each other.

As opposed to something like cocaine addiction, where we would have to take a Principle from a passage where Paul talks about not being mastered or controlled by anything, as well as a Christian’s affirmation of Christ’s Lordship (rather than cocaine), as well as our duties to provide for family, work hard, not be violent (all of which would be violated under cocaine addiction).

20 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm

that makes sense. Each individual piece is clearly revealed. All we are reasoning is the relationship between each of those truths. I like that.

21 Josh C September 2, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I wouldn’t even say we are reasoning between the truths as much as just coming up with a short hand word to cover all of them.

22 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Not really gonna argue, but there’s been a truckload of reasoning that has gone on throughout church history in the attempt to nail down the interrelationships of the members of the Trinity.

23 Benji Ramsaur September 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm

They seem to assume that not acting as Lord over others carries with it the assumption that people will run wild, that they will live profligate and licentious lives. Really? Is Jesus not good enough as a Lord that I need to help him in the process of sanctification?

I think this is the bottomline issue concerning why [sincere] people feel the need to impose more nonbiblical rules on other Christians.

I think they believe that they have to “hedge” others in (with detailed rules, ya know…rules with “teeth”) lest they run off into sin.

However, I think this is to miss the shift that Galatians talks about with the coming of Christ:

A shift from the babysitter like law of Moses treating Israel like immature children to the adult status the saints have of being indwelt sons of God.

This does not mean that everything is thrown up to subjectivity (notice Paul’s mention of “clarity” in the first part of Gal. 5:19, for example).

However, it does mean that if we do not take seriously the change that has happened when Christ came, then we will treat other Christians in a belittling way (whether intentional or not) and thus bring about harm in our relationships with other believers.

24 Dave Miller September 2, 2011 at 4:49 pm

The wisdom of your comments gives me an uncontrollable urge to encourage you to post here!!

25 Christiane September 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm

DAVID, the beginning of that chapter 55 of Isaiah reminds me of a Psalm, 63, this:

“O God, You are my God;
I earnestly search for You. My soul thirsts for You;
my whole body longs for You in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.

( from Psalm 63)

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