The Law of Stumblingblocks
In Romans 12 and 13, Paul gives us an exhortation about how to live and act as Christians. Chapters 14 and 15 teach the mature Christians how to treat those who are "weak in faith."
Whereas in the earlier chapters Paul focused upon the distinction between the believers and the unbelievers, justified and unjustified, Paul ends his epistle by distinguishing between mature and immature Christians. Paul begins chapter 14 by telling us,
1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
Mature Christians ought to help the weaker ones grow up into the full stature of Christ, realizing that we all started our Christian journey as spiritually immature. So rather than pass judgment upon these children, let us assist in their growth.
2 One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
The contrast here appears to be whether or not one ought to be a vegetarian. It goes back past Moses all the way to Adam and Noah. Adam's diet was said to be "every plant yielding seed" and "every tree which has fruit yielding seed" (Gen. 1:28). In other words, whatever fruit that can reproduce itself and bring forth LIFE was given to Adam as food.
Later, after the flood, God added meat to Noah's diet, for Gen. 9:3 says,
3 Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. 4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
Noah himself understood the distinction between clean and unclean animals long before Moses, because these categories determine how many of each were brought into the ark. Genesis 7:2 and 3 says,
2 You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; 3 also of the birds of the sky by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.
The question is this: Since Noah understood the difference between clean and unclean animals, did God really add ALL ANIMAL MEAT to his diet? How are we to take Gen. 9:3, saying, "every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you"?? Did God add all animal meat to Noah's diet, only to restrict their diet later in the days of Moses?
There were people in Paul's day who believed that it was necessary to adhere to the Edenic diet in order to be able to return to the perfect Edenic state. They argued that the perfect will of God was to be vegetarian, even though God allowed men to eat meat at a later time. No doubt many of these tried to connect vegetarianism with being perfect. Others probably believed that it was simply a more perfect life style.
The bottom line is that these passages do not give us the answer. Hence, it is a matter of opinion, personal leading. and perhaps even a matter of science and common sense. What is the proper contrast in Romans 14:2? Was Paul contrasting vegetables with clean meat? Or was Paul contrasting vegetables with all meat, whether clean or unclean?
The text of Gen. 9:3 itself is vague enough to cause differences of opinion. But Paul, too, is somewhat vague in in Romans 14. Hence, the lack of biblical information makes this a matter of conscience and personal leading by the Spirit.
Since faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), each person must pray and hear from God individually, and then act upon that word by faith. Paul's admonition is neither side of this dispute ought to break the bond of love between the brethren, nor should one side view the other side with contempt.
In Rom. 14:4, Paul says,
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
In other words, each believer is the servant of Christ and is answerable to Him alone. Paul allows the Church to judge its members on moral issues, particularly where one has wronged another (1 Cor. 6). But insofar as diet is concerned, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17).
Food that was Created to be Eaten
In 1 Timothy 4:3, Paul criticizes . . .
3 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. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
We know, of course, that God pronounced all created things "very good" (Gen. 1:31). Even the unclean animals were created for a very good purpose. The question is their purpose for being created. Were they created as "food" or for another purpose?
Science shows us that the unclean animals are called to keep the earth clean by their own dietary habits. Hyenas eat dead animals to prevent the spread of disease and the smell of rotting flesh. Crows eat "road kill" for the same reason. Shrimp and crabs keep the bottom of the oceans clean. Clams and oysters filter water to keep it clean.
Scientific observation shows that God did not create all animals to be food for us. Some were created to be sanitary custodians of the earth. In other words, the unclean animals were created to keep the rest of the earth clean.
The biblical words clean and unclean are not meant to be scientific terms, but nonetheless they are scientifically accurate. Such science was certainly observable in ancient times, and it is likely that Adam understood this from the beginning—if not by divine revelation, then certainly by observation.
So in 1 Tim. 4:3, was Paul telling us that God had indeed created all animals to be food for us? Or was Paul saying that we should not abstain from those foods which God has created to be eaten? The basis of Paul's argument is given in verse 5, where he says that these foods are "sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." Were all animals sanctified for food? Which animals were set apart for divine service? Which foods were sanctified by the word of God?
In Ezekiel 4, the Law was pictured as clean food, while the traditions of men were pictured as "dung." Thus, the prophet was instructed to eat food cooked with (or "over") dung, rendering the food unclean from a ceremonial standpoint. The prophet was thus identifying with the people themselves, because the priests were feeding them the traditions of men instead of the word of God.
In other words, the priests studied, or "ate," the word of God, and then, after they had processed it and digested it, they eliminated and fed it to the people. The result was that they were feeding their "dung" to the people. This was not the word of God at all, but the traditions of men. Hence, Jesus said in Mark 7:6-8,
6 … Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 7 But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." 8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the traditions of men.
The Pharisees ought to have learned from nature and the manner in which birds feed their young. The mother bird goes out and eats food, then returns to the next to regurgitate it into the mouth of her little ones. The food is thus predigested, so it is nutritious and easier for the little ones to assimilate.
A mother bird would never eat to the full and then defecate the fully processed food into the mouths of her offspring. Neither should religious leaders and teachers do this to their students.
Jesus then took this to a new level of teaching when He said that merely hearing (i.e. "eating") the traditions of men did not defile a person.
15 There is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man… 18 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; 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
In other words, the body is made to handle those things which cannot be digested, for they are eliminated through the proper "gate." It is only when they come forth from the wrong gate (the mouth) that we are defiled, for this is contrary to nature. So it is also with spiritual things. One can read or listen to traditions of men without being defiled, but if we digest and assimilate those traditions, they will soon come out of our mouths, and then we are defiled.
No doubt eating unclean meat cannot defile us spiritually. But this leaves unanswered the question of physical, bodily health.
Observing Holy Days
In Romans 14:5 and 6, Paul gives us a second example where we ought to be tolerant of other believers. The first was in regard to the food we eat, and the second is in regard to the days that men treat as holy days.
5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
In regard to the observance of days, the contrast is between those who observe holy days and those who consider EVERY DAY to be holy. The NASB translation (above) says, "another regards every day alike," but the word "alike" is added according to the opinion of the translators. The Emphatic Diaglott simply reads, "another esteems every day." It is not that these men have lowered their esteem for the "holy day," but rather than they have upgraded their esteem of every day.
In other words, every day is a holy day to them, and they treat it as a new opportunity to serve God and be led by the Spirit. Instead of reserving a single day each week for divine purposes, these people strive to serve God every day equally. For example, one does not have to wait for a Sabbath day to study the Word; one can study it every day.
This enthusiasm for searching the Word daily seems to have started on the day of Pentecost, for we read in Acts 2:46, 47,
46 And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
I have noticed over the years that when people really become excited about the Word of God or by prayers actually being answered, it is hard to keep people from wanting to meet daily (or nightly). Prayer meetings often become a ritualistic duty that three or four people are willing to endure once a week. Yet when they see prayers answered, they want to schedule prayer meetings all the time, and the room is crowded.
One can only imagine the euphoria that was started with the events of Pentecost. It caused many of the early Christians to meet daily. Perhaps they also came to understand the significance of the three Sabbaths (7th day, 7th year, and Jubilee) and to see how these were linked to the three main feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
The Jubilee Rest
In Isaiah's commentary on the Jubilee, he tells us in Isaiah 58:13, 14,
13 If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word, 14 then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth...
Paul comments on this in Hebrews 4:9-11, saying,
9 There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest...
How does one cease from his own works and enter into God's rest? It is done by following the example of Jesus Christ, who said in John 5:19,
19 ... Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.
Again, we read in John 5:30,
30 I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
Again, we read in John 8:28, 29,
28 . . . I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak those things as the Father taught Me. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.
These give us Jesus' example of living in the Jubilee Rest that Isaiah prophesied. Jesus did not do His own works, nor did He speak His own words. If we do this, we too cease from our own labor. This is the highest form of Sabbath revealed in Scripture.
Jesus did nothing of Himself, but did only what His Father did, and spoke only what His Father spoke. Jesus was the great Amen of God. The Greek term, "truly, truly," is actually the translation of the Hebrew words: "Amen, Amen." John records this phrase 25 times for a total of 50 Amen's. It is the Amen of Jubilee.
Jesus was criticized many times by the religious leaders of the day for not observing the Sabbath in the manner that their traditions prescribed. He did not violate the divine Law, but He certainly broke their rules, their traditions, their understanding of the Sabbath laws. Their understanding differed from His, because He was living by the third and highest form of Sabbath—that of the Jubilee and the feast of Tabernacles, which Isaiah had prophesied.
This highest Sabbath was a way of life—every day—and did not allow Him to speak His own words six days a week, or to seek His own pleasure six days a week, or to do His own will six days a week. In that sense, Jesus esteemed every day alike as "holy."
And so Paul informs us in Romans 14 that there were some who observed certain days above others, while others sought to esteem every day as holy. Neither opinion should divide us, nor should we judge each other. As believers, we have all entered God's rest on Level One through the feast of Passover. Others have attained Level Two through Pentecost. Others are striving to attain Level Three through the Jubilee (and Tabernacles).
Hence, some believers observe a weekly Sabbath. Others observe the Sabbath Year every seventh year. Still others live by the Jubilee principle, cancelling all debt and not holding men's trespasses against them. The power of forgiveness is the main basis of the Jubilee as a way of life.
So when Paul said in verse 4, "who are you to judge the servant of another?" he was advocating the Jubilee as a way of life. Paul was thinking of mature believers (overcomers) in their relationship with those less mature. He assumed that mature believers would serve God every day and make the Jubilee law a way of life at all times.
His admonition was to all believers, but Paul expected the overcomers to be more successful in putting this into practice.
Judging the Servant of Another
Paul writes in Rom. 14:7-9,
7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
This refers back to verse 4, where Paul insists that we are each the servants of God—not each other's servants. Hence, we are not "to judge the servant of another."
Believers in Christ are related and connected to each other through Christ. We are not connected to Christ through our spiritual brethren—not even through those who are in positions of authority in a denominational hierarchy. We are all directly connected to Christ through a personal relationship with Him. From the early chapters of this epistle, Paul has established the fact that our link to Christ is based upon faith—faith in the effectiveness of His death and resurrection, NOT our faith in men, fellow believers, nor in the Church itself.
Thus, if some believers are expelled from the group over issues that are not essential to one's salvation or relationship to Christ, such expulsions can never separate such believers from Christ. No man can claim to be the link between God and other men, because there is but one Mediator between God and man, and that Mediator is Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
Each believer is part of the body of Christ directly, not indirectly through the Church or through the approval of men (however spiritual and whatever their appointed position of authority). For this reason, Paul's rebuke in verse 4 is directed at those who presume to use the excuse of Church authority to judge a servant of Jesus Christ.
No Christian is the servant of the Church, but of Christ alone. Therefore, he who observes one day differently, or he who eats something not approved by the hierarchy, is living by faith in Christ as much as the others—even if their opinions are absolutely wrong.
This relationship with Christ remains unbroken whether we live or die. Death does not break our link to Christ, for nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39). Likewise, Jesus Himself said in Matt. 22:32,
32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead but of the living.
His point was to say that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were yet "living" in the eyes of God. Death did not break their relationship with God.
So even though the Church hierarchy later put "heretics" to death, their death in itself did not break their relationship with Christ, as long as that relationship had been established by faith in Christ's death and resurrection. Their faith did not depend upon the approval of men, nor upon the creeds of Church Councils.
So Paul continues his discussion in Romans 14,
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow TO ME, and every tongue shall give praise to God." 12 So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
The apostle makes it clear that we are accountable directly to God, not to any man and not even to the Church itself. "Every knee shall bow to Me," God says.
Those who are mature are to assist their brothers in their relationship with Christ. For this purpose was the Church ordained, not that they would subject believers to the Church, but that they would assist believers in their relationship with God. Any Church or denomination taking upon itself the right to determine who is a true believer and who is not has gone beyond its ordination and calling.
The Church has turned millions of people away from Christ by usurping authority that it does not have—and by NOT exercising the authority that it HAS been given. The Church has often usurped power as did King Saul, and yet, conversely, it has fallen short in exercising spiritual authority as sons of God. Many speak of a "powerless church," referring to a church which does not see the power of God working in its midst. The irony is that the Church has often taken upon itself political and judicial powers that were never given to it.
13 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.
Paul was referring to the law in Leviticus 19:14,
14 You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
Paul understood that God had blinded the eyes of His people—except for the remnant of grace (Rom. 11:7). Jesus, too, recognized this, for we read in John 12:37-40,
37 But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, "Lord who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" 39 For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 "He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them."
God used a Cross as a stumbling block before the blind, for Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:23,
23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to the ethnos, foolishness.
God also claims to have hardened their hearts, in essence, plugging their ears, as we have read already in Romans 11:8-10. Hence, the message of God, though given generally to all, will not be heard unless God opens the eyes and ears of the people by a work of the Holy Spirit. So we read in Rev. 2:29 and elsewhere,
29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
It is obvious that even the churches are not exempt from this divinely-imposed deafness. The remnant of grace, then, does not include the entire body of Christian believers who are part of the Church by simple faith. Even Christians can be deaf.
We all believe that we know deaf and blind Christians. They are always living somewhere outside of our own bodies, we believe. The blind church is always the one down the street. It is the "deaf" church that we often curse from our own pulpits for not hearing our Truth. We love doing things that would cause those other "blind" churches to stumble.
It is sometimes difficult to speak the truth (as we see it) without cursing the deaf or placing a stumbling block before the blind. We treat these blind and deaf people as if they were fully and totally responsible for their own condition, instead of recognizing the sovereignty of God in this matter.
This is why it is important to understand Romans 9, as well as all the Scriptures where God takes the credit and the ultimate responsibility for the hardness of men's hearts, their blindness, and their deafness. Men have difficulty recognizing God's sovereignty unless they see also the restoration of all things in the end.
Is Unclean Food Still Unclean?
Romans 14:14-17 says,
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 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. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
There are two views about this passage. The first view is that quite literally "nothing is unclean in itself." In other words, this is said to be a general principle without limitations. The second view is that the context ought to limit this to a discussion about eating meat in general, as opposed to being vegetarian (vs. 2). In other words, we do not have to limit our diet to vegetables, because meat is not unclean in itself.
We must recognize, of course, that Paul was not speaking from a scientific perspective, but was commenting on the laws that made certain things "clean or unclean." If we interpret these statements in regard to health concerns, we are talking science, not theology. And while science is something that God created, it should not be confused with theology.
When Paul says "nothing is unclean of itself," he was stating a universal principle. What you eat will not defile your relationship with God—unless your conscience is violated. What you eat is not a moral issue, "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking" (vs. 17).
Some say that the law of clean and unclean animals was put away or changed. I do not think that is a right approach to the Law of God. In my view, it is our understanding of the Law that must change to conform to the original intent of the Lawgiver, Jesus Christ. Leviticus 11 gives us the laws regarding clean and unclean animals; but were these moral laws or health laws? I believe from a scientific perspective, they were health laws affecting our physical health only. But the theological perspective is different.
"The law is spiritual," Paul says in Rom. 7:14. The food laws, too, are spiritual and not to be thought of as carnal or evil. From a spiritual and moral perspective, the food laws were designed to teach us how to eat clean spiritual food. If we fail to understand this spiritual aspect of the Law, then we are in danger of becoming defiled morally and our relationship with God can be corrupted.
What is it we are to understand? First, that when we receive a word that is supposed to be from God (whether directly from God or indirectly through a man), there are certain rules and guidelines (laws) that God has established to keep us from becoming defiled. For example, Lev. 11:3 says,
3 Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud among the animals, that you may eat.
There are practical health reasons for following this law, but Paul was focusing upon the more important spiritual meaning. If we go to a church to hear the word of God, the spiritual "food" that the preacher dispenses is "clean" if it has a "cloven hoof" (Lev. 11:3)—that is, if it stands upon a double witness. It is clean if the preacher allows the people to ask for a double witness. But if he insists that the people accept his teaching without question, then his "food" is unclean, regardless of how true it is.
All truth is established by two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15). The people must also "chew the cud," because those who hear the word must be given the opportunity (and the right) to reflect upon it, to meditate, and to pray over it and assimilate it properly.
Sometimes a preacher gives people the right to "chew the cud," but the people refuse to do so. Such people are ready to hear the man—perhaps because he enjoys a good reputation or a sparkling personality—but they are unwilling or unable to hear God's voice through the man. That, too, renders the food unclean, regardless of how true the teaching is.
This is what happened when the Israelites refused to hear God directly and wanted Moses to go up the mount and then tell them what God said (Ex. 20:18-21). Though Moses' words were truly from God, the people refused to "chew the cud." Hence, even the divine revelation through Moses was unclean to them and defiled them.
Clean fish are those with fins and scales (Lev. 11:10). The fins signify divine guidance, even as a fish uses fins to guide itself in the water. Scales signify divine protection by putting on the full armor of God, even as the scales of a fish protect it from the elements. Apart from such guidance and protection, any spiritual food we eat may render us unclean.
Among fowls of the air, those birds which eat dead carcasses are unclean. Lev. 11:13-19 gives no particular reason, but it is plain that the unclean birds are the scavengers which were created to keep the earth clean of dead and rotting flesh. These are birds that eat dead flesh without first draining its blood. Blood was forbidden as food (Lev. 17:12), because its purpose was to make atonement for our souls (Lev. 17:11).
The spiritual law says that we are not to be bloodthirsty, but to live at peace with our neighbors, as Paul says in Rom. 12:18. We are not to follow the example of Esau (Edom), who was unclean by reason of his violent nature (Ezekiel 35:6). Thus, if we use truth to destroy others, the "food" is unclean. And, of course, if we destroy our fellow believers with our "truth" about food (Rom. 14:15), we are rendered unclean.
Of the creeping things, the unclean insects are those that crawl on the ground like babies, never trying to leap upward into new truth (Lev. 11:21). When churches are designed to keep people spiritually immature, continually feeding them the "milk" of the word and never moving on into the strong meat (Heb. 5:11 to 6:3), then even the "milk" is defiling to them.
In all of these things, it is not so much the "meat" of the word itself that defiles men, but their relation to it. How it is prepared, dispensed, and received are the issues. Hence, in understanding the spiritual law, we can see that from a moral perspective, the physical food is not the issue.
The physical nature of the food is a health issue. We can apply the terms "clean and unclean" either way, of course, but Paul was writing from the moral and legal perspective. He was not writing a book on health.
Lev. 11:44 gives us the purpose of the food laws, saying,
44 . . . Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth.
The common Jewish understanding of this in the first century was that men must abstain from eating unclean meat because eating it would make them unclean in the sight of God. Paul reinterprets this according to his understanding that "the law is spiritual." Nothing was unclean in itself (physically), he says. What defiles us is not the meat itself, but our inability to eat spiritual food at the local synagogue (or church) in such a way that the food would be clean.
Lev. 11:47 gives us the final reason for these food laws:
47 To make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten.
The whole idea is to learn how to discern the voice of God and to eat the meat of the Word in a lawful manner. When we can discern the heart of God in giving the food laws (over and beyond the health concerns), we are then able to make this distinction and rightly divide the word of truth. It is of vital importance that preachers and teachers allow the people to chew the cud and ask for a double witness. It is equally important that the people receive the word in a lawful manner, both chewing the cud and waiting upon God for a double witness either from within or through an outside source.
If we practice these principles laid down in Leviticus 11, the spiritual food that we ingest will not defile us but will edify us and build the Kingdom.
Being at Peace with All Men
Paul considered the issues of food and holy days to be matters of conscience, rather than clear mandates of Scripture. His most important concern was that Christians should not fight over these issues but show love to each other and live peaceably. These two issues were the primary ways in which we could "be at peace with all men" (12:18) and to fulfill the Law, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (13:9). So Paul writes in 14:17, 18,
17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
Recall Paul's earlier mandate in 12:1 "to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God." Toleration in the non-essentials is important. Too often our "pet doctrines" receive higher priority than simple love. Being a living sacrifice involves the ability to sacrifice one's own personal revelation on the altar of love. Only by this heart attitude can we fulfill the mandate that Paul's sets forth in Romans 14, where we are not to use our "truth" as a stumblingblock to our fellow believers.
19 So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 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.
All Believers are living stones in the temple of God. Many of these stones are yet rough and misshapen, but we are not to "tear down the work of God" while He works with them. Many of those "stones" will correct their views in time and through peaceful discussion of truth with the brethren.
In moral issues, many will be corrected at the Great White Throne, when "every knee shall bow to Me" (Rom. 14:11). Jesus tells us in Luke 12:46-49 that they will receive "few" or "many" lashes of God's whip, according to His judgment. But it is not our place to whip another person's servant (Rom. 14:4).
Paul says in verse 19 above that clean food is actually "evil for the man who eats and gives offense." In other words, it is not the food itself that is clean or unclean, but the person's usage of it that makes it good or evil. Clean food is actually evil to anyone who destroys or tears down his brother over food. This is consistent with the spiritual application of the food laws of Lev. 11:13, where we are admonished not to be bloodthirsty in dispensing or eating spiritual food.
John Hilker (now deceased) was a friend who pastored a church in Minneapolis for many years. I recall a story he told about food laws. He himself observed the food laws literally, but his mother disagreed. One day when John was at her house for dinner, she deliberately served pork chops. John said, "When they passed the plate around, I took a small pork chop and ate it without saying anything about it. Our conversation continued on other topics, and my mother never served me pork chops again. She just wanted to know that she was more important than a pork chop."
I was blessed to know Pastor Hilker as a friend in my formative years in the 1970's. I have never forgotten that story, for it showed that the wisdom of God resided in him. He knew how to eat food without giving offense. Though I too try to follow the food laws literally, I have learned in my travels to eat what is set before me.
21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
By the way, the word for "stumble" is the same as the word for "offense." The "rock of offense" is the same as a "stone of stumbling," or a stumbling block. To offend someone is to cause them to stumble, and we ought to be careful about doing this. The Bible holds both parties responsible when someone stumbles—first the one causing the offense, and also the one who stumbles (if he is in the wrong or reacts in an ungodly manner). Thus, correcting our brethren must always be done in love by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
Faith comes by hearing. We all hear differently, and we ought to give people room to hear the word of God that contradicts the word that we ourselves have received. Our revelation does change over the years as we grow. Revelation is only as good as the condition of our hearts and our level of spiritual maturity. It is good to have conviction and even to be able to discuss one's beliefs passionately. Yet love is measured by our ability to think unselfishly of others and to disagree without being judgmental.
Love does not force one's self upon another. To force one's viewpoint upon others is a form of rape. This is forbidden in the food laws of Leviticus 11, for it denies others the right to "chew the cud" and wait for the double witness of the "cloven hoof." If we followed these laws, we would understand that forcing our truth upon them would violate their rights and their integrity as fellow servants of Christ. As Ben Franklin once said, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."
23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Again, it is not the food itself that is Paul's focus, but rather the faith of each person. Faith comes by hearing, and each person must "eat" the word properly, listening to the voice of God as prescribed in His laws on clean and unclean food. Of course, there is always "doubt" while one chews the cud. The purpose of such meditation is to come to a clear knowledge of the word that God is speaking. Yet each ought to continue chewing the cud until the food can be assimilated. They should chew the cud until they are satisfied that they know the will of God for their own lives—and then walk according to that conviction by faith.
If God later reveals something different, then one should also have the ability to set aside the earlier belief and walk with God in the new way.
Romans 15:1 then sums up the principle of toleration.
1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.
Paul was repeating his admonition in 14:1, where he spoke of those "weak in faith" whose conscience would be violated if they ate certain food, whether "meat" in general or unclean meat in particular. It appears from Paul's situation that he had in mind the culture of Judaism and Jewish Christians. It is hard to escape the connection. Paul considered the Judaizers to be "weak in faith," while the Greeks in general enjoyed a stronger faith. As we will see shortly, Jewish "weakness" was manifested and even proven by their intolerance.
His purpose in Romans 14 and 15 was to promote peace between the two groups without actually accusing them by name of fighting over these issues of food and holy days. Paul had already torn apart the Judaizers (in his epistle to the Galatians) when the Greeks were being pressured to undergo circumcision. But in issues other than justification, Paul was tolerant.
Though Paul does not tell us outright which position he lived by, he certainly would not call one group "weak in faith" if he himself identified with that group. He was really admonishing the Greek believers—who presumably were stronger in faith—to tolerate their Jewish brethren.
2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me."
Paul was quoting Psalm 69:9, which says,
9 For zeal for Thy house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach Thee have fallen on me.
John 2:17 quotes the first half of this verse, while Romans 15:3 quotes the last half. John connects it to the cleansing of the temple, when Jesus appeared to be most intolerant of this temple desecration. When Jesus cleansed the temple the second time toward the end of His ministry, the priests then made their final decision to have Him executed (Mark 11:18).
In other words, the crisis came to a head when Jesus could not tolerate their banking practices in the temple; and the religious leaders could not tolerate Him anymore. In fact, Psalm 69 itself is one of the main messianic prophecies of the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. So it is amazing that Paul would quote the verse from this particular psalm to support the idea of toleration.
The portion that Paul quoted says that the religious leaders had reproached (defamed) God Himself, but they took out their anger upon Jesus. The reproaches "have fallen on Me." Jesus came to do the Father's will and to manifest His character, but such character was not tolerated by the religious leaders.
Jesus was willing to die, however, and went as a lamb to the slaughter. In that He did not try to defend Himself against them, Jesus gave us a rather extreme example of toleration. In dealing with Jewish viewpoints which he considered non-essential, Paul pointed to Christ's example of a lamb-like character. Of course, keep in mind that Paul applied this to food and holy days, whereas in his letter to the Galatians, he was dealing with essential points of justification by faith alone. Paul was fully intolerant of the idea that a covenant relationship with God required physical circumcision, as if men had to convert to Judaism.
4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance [patience] and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; 6 that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul was quoting Psalm 69 to set forth Jesus as our example of perseverance. Seeing how Christ's death worked out for good in the long run, His example gives us encouragement and hope, even in the darkest hour, that all things do indeed work together for good. To be patient with people is to be tolerant of differences. Patience is the ability to persevere as one body without becoming angry or discouraged.
The Principle of Servanthood
7 Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the ethnos to glorify God for His mercy. . .
Christ has become a servant to both "the circumcision" and "the ethnos," in order that they might all praise and glorify God. He is our Example. Tolerant people are those who consider themselves servants of others, for they do not feel insulted or offended when others do not submit to their view of truth.
This ties again into the principle of dispensing clean spiritual food. If we believe that we have a truth that is clean food for others, we are to dispense it as servants, not as lords. The servant allows others to examine the food, chew it by meditation, and gives them the right to decide truth for themselves.
Christ died on behalf of both the circumcision specifically and the nations (ethnos) in general. Paul then gives four Scriptures to prove His point.
9 . . . as it is written, "Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the ethnos, and I will sing to Thy name" [Ps. 18:49]. 10 And again he says, "Rejoice, O ethnos, with His people" [Deut. 32:43]. 11 And again, "Praise the Lord all you ethnos, and let all the peoples praise Him" [Ps. 117:1]. 12 And again Isaiah says, "There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the ethnos, in Him shall the ethnos hope" [Is. 11:10].
Paul's divine commission as a minister to the ethnos (Acts 26:17) comes out here once again, for he cannot help but quote some of the Scriptures he had used so often in his ministry which showed that Christ was the ruler of all nations equally. On account of this commission, Paul had been hated by his old colleagues among the Jews, testifying in Acts 26:19-21,
19 Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem, and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the ethnos, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. 21 For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.
Paul knew very well the spirit of intolerance, for he himself had been afflicted with that spirit in earlier times when he persecuted the church (Gal. 1:14). It is interesting how God often puts us on the receiving end of our own actions in order to correct us and to teach us by experience the sad consequences of not having the mind of Christ.