Romans 14: The Law of Liberty and the Law of Love
"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Romans 14:17
As Christians, we experience a newness upon hearing and receiving the Gospel, and we are drawn to love. Our love for one another should bind us closely together in a true fashion of unity. Unfortunately, dissent has often been a major issue among believers. Even in this age, there seems to be a constant quarreling among Christians as it pertains to social, political, and economical issues. While there are some areas of the Bible where certain activities are explicitly addressed, this is not always the case. In chapter 14, Paul’s instructions to the Romans specifically focus on the “gray” areas of Christian living.
Paul begins this portion of his letter to the Romans by exhorting them to not “quarrel over opinions”. In this verse, the Greek word for “opinions” is διαλογισμός (dialogismos), and in this sense, it means “a position, opinion, or judgement reached after consideration.” Paul specifically uses this verbiage to define the difference between essential and nonessential matters among Christians. In verses 2 and 5, Paul addresses those nonessential areas where flexibility is permitted. These areas include any matters relative to food or drink (v. 2) and any matters relative to the appropriate time in observing Jewish holidays (v. 5).
Thoroughly examine Paul’s position here. He is not in any way inferring there can be flexibility on every issue. To help us better understand the implications presented in the text, we can employ the principle of interpreting implicit Scripture by explicit Scripture. In Galatians, Paul explicitly chastises Gentile Christians for “turning to another gospel.” These Christians started to believe in justification by works of the law (Galatians 1:1-7; 3:15-16). Paul holds a firm position on this particular issue because it is an essential element of the Gospel. We are justified solely by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Any deviation from this fact creates space for a false gospel. Thus, we can conclude that Paul’s teaching to the Romans is not permissive of compromise on essential doctrines but rather on nonessentials.
In the remaining verses of chapter 14, Paul highlights Christian fellowship and how we should operate with one another. The weight of Paul’s admonishment hinges on v. 9 where Paul points out that Christ died for all Christians; therefore, as spiritual siblings, we have no place in judging our brothers and sisters when there is a nonessential doctrinal disagreement. Paul continues his rebuke through further probing in verse 10 saying, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?”
This line of questioning is a bit rhetorical. Paul follows up by citing Isaiah 45:23:
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
His message here is simple: Christ alone is the Judge of His people. We are not.
Paul then segues into his next major point. Although it is not our place to judge our brothers and sisters on nonessential matters, we should not use our spiritual liberties as an opportunity to cause others to stumble (v. 13). In the spirit of Christian fellowship, we should seek to walk in love with one another.
In verse 15 Paul provides a practical example of walking in love. If we are on the side of understanding spiritual liberties (i.e. the stronger in conscience), then we should not seek to tear down and violate the conscience of those who are weaker. Doing so causes them to sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (v. 23). Simply put, there is no harm in refraining from a specific nonessential activity if it will prevent stumbling as well as promote unity and love between brethren. Paul’s sentiments in this portion of his letter to the Romans are also echoed in his letter to the Corinthians. The Scriptures say:
"Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ." 1 Corinthians 8:8-12
The overarching message in this chapter rings loud and clear. We should be careful to not destroy the harmony amongst believers, which has been secured by the work of God. Simple things should not cause disunity among Christians. Those who are stronger in conscience should seek to give up their rights. However, the strong should also seek to safeguard the faith against legalism that can be inadvertently imposed by those who are weaker in conscience. The Kingdom of God and His work are rooted not in food or drink, but rather in a life lived in righteousness, peace, and joy, all by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today, I encourage you to receive the message written by our dear brother Paul. As a Christian, I challenge you to assess the disputable matters of your life. Are there any areas where you can give up your freedoms for the sake of Christian unity and love? How can you serve your brothers and sisters in Christ while maintaining fidelity to the Gospel? Remember, we should aim to live in Christian harmony with our spiritual siblings. Pursue righteousness. Pursue peace. Pursue joy. And most importantly, purse the greatest of these: love!
Portia Collins is a Christian Bible teacher, blogger, and a true “southern girl” at heart. She is undeniably passionate about teaching, discipling, and helping women grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In 2016, Portia founded She Shall Be Called (SSBC)—a women’s ministry dedicated to helping women become biblically literate. Although she is a full-time working wife and mom, she is never too busy to enjoy a few of her favorite things. She enjoys cooking traditional southern dishes, getting lost in a good book, and blogging. Portia and her husband, Mikhail, have a daughter and currently live in the Mississippi Delta.