Sunday School Lesson May 17, 2020

Session 13

Accepting

Believers should accept and encourage other believers to facilitate unity.

Romans 14:1-12

FIRST THOUGHTS

The human body is an amazing creation. A series of systems—such as the circulatory system, the digestive system, the skeletal system, and the nervous system—all work together to keep things moving and growing. Any problem in one system can create problems in another. The body of Christ works the same way. To keep the body healthy and effective, believers must live in unity.

(In PSG, p. 113) When have you seen a breakdown in one area create another problem in a different area of your body? How might that same type of cause and effect happen in a church?

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Romans 14:1–15:13

Paul opened and closed this section of his letter with an appeal for believers to accept one another. First he urged believers to accept those who were weak in faith (Rom. 14:1), and then for all believers to accept one another (15:7). When we accept others, we reflect Christ’s acceptance of us, which will bring glory to God (15:7).

The problem Paul was addressing involved behavior that in itself was not good or bad. However, the way believers were reacting to the behavior was creating disharmony. Two problems in particular seemed to be at issue: differing dietary habits and special status given to certain days. People who disagreed on these topics were relating to each other with judgment and disdain, creating rifts in the church. Paul offered two reasons why their behavior was not acceptable. First, as servants of God, believers are responsible to God alone. Servants don’t judge servants; masters judge servants. We are responsible to Jesus alone. Second, a believer who judged another believer was usurping God’s authority as the only righteous Judge.

Rather than judging fellow brothers or sisters, believers should be diligent not to place stumbling blocks before weaker Christians. Paul’s foundational principle in this matter was that nothing was unclean in itself (14:14). Obviously, Paul did not mean that nothing was evil or harmful. But in the case of clean or unclean food, it was a matter of indifference to Paul. What was of great concern to him was the church’s attitude toward people with whom they disagreed. Since the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking but righteousness, peace, and joy, believers should be pursuing peace and building up each other. Paul stated his position this way: “Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong to make someone fall by what he eats” (14:20).

Paul assigned the primary responsibility for solving the problem to the strong in faith: “Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves” (15:1). Forbearance toward the weak did not mean catering to their every desire but rather building up their faith in the Lord. Pleasing our neighbor is always for the purpose of building him or her up (15:2).

Paul ended this section by returning to the status of the Gentiles. Because of Christ’s saving work, Jews and Gentiles were able to praise God together, confirming the promises God had made to the fathers. Paul quoted from four Old Testament passages as evidence of God’s desire that Gentiles and Jews worship together. The section ends with a benediction in 15:13.

EXPLORE THE TEXT

Stop Judging (Rom. 14:1-4)

Verses 1-3

1 Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about disputed matters. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while one who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not judge one who does, because God has accepted him.

 

Paul’s ethical admonitions in the previous two chapters had been of a more general nature. In this section, Paul dealt specifically with two groups within the church at Rome: the weak (Rom. 14:1) and the strong (15:1). Paul did not identify the two groups beyond listing three activities that were causing problems: eating meat (14:2), honoring special days (14:5), and drinking wine (14:21).

When Paul dealt with a similar issue in Corinth, he talked of those whose consciences were weak (1 Cor. 8:7). The primary concern in Corinth was related to the issue of eating food offered to idols (8:4). Paul did not mention idolatry in Romans, but his answer was the same. Food itself was not the issue (1 Cor. 8:8; Rom. 14:14). Paul was concerned with the spiritual growth of all believers.

The Greek word translated accept was used of receiving a person into one’s home or circle of friends. Paul was not talking about mere tolerance for the weak but rather full acceptance in the body. He used the same word at the end of this section, encouraging believers to accept one another as Christ had accepted them (Rom. 15:7).

The English phrase argue about disputed matters translates two Greek words. The first word describes a verbal conflict resulting from differing points of view. The second word describes the content of that thought or opinion. The context indicates that these opinions were a matter of dispute within the church. Paul urged unity in the body and acceptance of all believers. These disputed matters were not to be the source of conflict among believers.

The first point of contention Paul dealt with related to dietary concerns. Jesus taught that all foods were clean and could be eaten (Mark 7:18-19), a lesson Peter learned in a vision before going to Cornelius’s home (Acts 10:15). Some believers rightly understood they were free to eat all kinds of food. Paul drew a similar conclusion when writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:25-26).

However, some believers did not feel the same freedom. They restricted their diet to vegetables. Paul explicitly labeled the person who held this belief as one who is weak. Although not stated explicitly, this group may have feared that meat sold in the marketplace may not have been prepared following Old Testament rules or that it may have been part of pagan sacrifice. Paul had dealt with meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians; here he was more concerned with how the two groups related to each other.

Both groups were behaving in uncharitable ways. The commands given to each appear to have been chosen with that group in mind. Those who were strong in faith looked down with disdain on those who were weaker in faith. The Greek word translated look down on in verse 3 described a person who by his attitude or manner indicated that the other person had little worth. An attitude of self-righteous pride may have caused the strong to consider those believers who struggled with dietary rules to be second-class members of the body.

On the other hand, those members who limited their diet to only vegetables may have considered themselves the defenders of orthodoxy. They may have viewed those believers who didn’t restrict their diets to be morally lax, not holding to the true standard of righteousness. Paul condemned both attitudes.

The last clause provides Paul’s ultimate reason for his commands: because God has accepted him. The word used here is the same word Paul directed to the strong a few verses earlier. The strong were to accept the weak (Rom. 14:1) because God had already accepted him. The word him could refer to the strong believer whom the weak believer is not to judge, or it could refer to both weak and strong believers. The one eating everything is not to look down on the weaker believer because God has accepted the weaker believer. By the same token, the weak believer is not to judge the one who eats anything for the same reason: God has accepted him, too.

Verse 4

4 Who are you to judge another’s household servant? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand, because the Lord is able to make him stand.

 

Paul used a rhetorical question to reinforce his admonition that believers should not judge fellow believers: Who are you to judge another’s household servant? The image of slavery reminded the weak believers of the proper lines of authority. Servants are not responsible to other servants but to their masters. Whether a slave stood or fell was an issue between the master and the slave. The generic language of slavery meant that Paul’s illustration probably was referring to the masters of earthly slaves, though Paul probably intended his audience to see a reference to God as well.

Paul reminded the weak believers that God was able to cause the believer to stand. Standing was the result of God’s grace not the result of dietary rules. As believers, we have a responsibility to accept other believers as God has accepted them and to refrain from being judgmental about their state of spiritual maturity. Obviously, matters of false doctrine and unchristian behavior must be corrected, but in matters of religious practices we need to show grace and acceptance, not judgment and disdain.

(In PSG, p. 117) What are some issues that stir debates in the church today? How do these compare to the issues pointed to by Paul?

Honor God (Rom. 14:5-8)

Verses 5-6

5 One person judges one day to be more important than another day. Someone else judges every day to be the same. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, and he gives thanks to God.

 

Paul’s second example of differences among the Roman believers related to the observance of special days. Paul did not identify which days were considered special or why. Some scholars have suggested Paul was referring to Gentile Christians who still paid attention to Roman “lucky” and “unlucky” days or to special days related to pagan feasts. More likely, Paul was referring to Jewish Christians who still observed Jewish feast days, possibly including observance of the Sabbath or special days of fasting. The same reactions of judgment and disdain seem to be at play here as well. Those believers who saw some days as more sacred than others would likely judge those who didn’t, and those who treated all days the same would likely look down on those who didn’t.

Paul warned both groups: Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. Paul did not commend one position nor condemn the other. For him, it was a matter of indifference. Each group should carefully think through their position and then put it into practice, making sure they did not react wrongly to the other group of believers. Later in this section Paul wrote, “Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God” (14:22). Paul took a stronger stance when he dealt with the Galatian believers, who appear to have linked the keeping of days with a person’s salvation (Gal. 4:9-11). But that was not the case with the believers in Rome; their issue was not salvation but fellowship.

The reason for Paul’s indifference in these matters relates to the believers’ motives. First, he addressed the motive for the weak believers who observed certain special days: they did it for the honor of the Lord. The same was said for the strong believers who ate meat and the weak believers who refrained from eating meat. Their goal was to honor Christ. In addition, both groups of believers gave thanks to God, whether they ate only vegetables or whether their diet included an array of food. Their action in seeking to honor God by the days they did or did not observe and by the food they did or did not eat should be recognized and appreciated by fellow believers, not judged or looked down on.

Verses 7-8

7 For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

 

Paul returned to the issue of ownership, a point he had introduced a few verses earlier: “Who are you to judge another’s household servant?” (Rom. 14:4). He began with the simple, negative observation that no one lives or dies for himself. This statement could be taken to mean that all actions influence or affect other people. While this statement is true, Paul was making a point about the way we relate to God, not the way we relate to other people, as verse 8 makes clear.

Rather than living or dying for oneself, Christians live and die for the Lord. Living for the Lord surely means that every aspect of our lives (what we think, what we feel, what we desire, what we do) is done for the Lord. Christ is to be in control of every aspect of the way we live, with everything done for Him. Dying for the Lord may indicate that the believer’s attitude toward death should reflect the hope that we have in Christ who has conquered death. While this statement is true, Paul may have had something broader in mind. Just as Christ is to control every aspect of the believer’s life, He also controls every aspect related to the believer’s death. He sets the time and the circumstances of our deaths according to His purpose. As with our lives, so every aspect of our deaths belongs to Christ.

Paul ended this thought with a summary statement: Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. We belong to Him because He bought us. As Paul told the Corinthian Christians: “For you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). As Christ’s own possession, we are to order our lives in accordance with His will and purpose for our lives. Our goal in life must be to honor Him no matter the cost.

In what ways can we turn arguments about things that don’t matter into opportunities to honor the Lord?

Remove Obstacles (Rom. 14:9-12)

Verse 9

9 Christ died and returned to life for this: that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living.

 

Jesus died and returned to life … that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living. Paul’s more common way of expressing this truth was to use the word “raised” or “resurrection” rather than returned to life. He may have been closely linking Jesus’ death and return to life as a single redemptive event. He made a similar point when addressing the Corinthian Christians: “And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).
 

Whether the Roman Christians were “weak” or “strong,” they all had one thing in common. They claimed Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The thing they shared was infinitely more significant than any differences that might separate them. Jesus’ death and resurrection unifies believers.

Verse 10

10 But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

 

The English word despise translates the same Greek word that was rendered “look down on” in verse 3. Paul commanded believers not to judge or despise because God had accepted both the weak and the strong believer; fellow church members should accept him or her as well (14:3). In verse 10, Paul charged those who judged other believers with usurping the authority that belongs only to God. All believers will one day stand before the judgment seat of God. At that time, God, who knows the heart, will judge the activities of believers. Again, Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). Rather than judging others, we need to remember our position as those whom God will judge.

Verses 11-12

11 For it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God. 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

 

Paul supported his claim with a quotation from Isaiah: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God. Paul’s introductory clause as I live, says the Lord is not found in the text of Isaiah. However, the passage in Isaiah begins with an oath: “By myself I have sworn” (Isa. 45:23). The phrase as I live, says the Lord was often used as an oath formula (Num. 14:21,28), so Paul may have been paraphrasing the beginning statement of Isaiah 45:23. The passage in its context is a plea for people to turn to God and be saved, a plea based on God’s sovereignty (Isa. 44:22). Turning to God involved bowing a knee to His authority and praising the God to whom we pledge our allegiance. God’s irrevocable truth is that everyone will appear before Him in judgment. Paul used the same quotation from Isaiah in developing his Christ hymn in Philippians 2:10-11.

Paul’s conclusion in verse 12 summarizes his earlier contention that all of us will stand before God’s judgment seat (Rom. 14:10). At that time, each of us will give an account of himself to God. The shift from “we will all” to “each of us will” highlights the individual nature of that experience. The knowledge that God will require from us an assessment of what we have done should cure us of the desire to judge or look down on fellow believers.

(In PSG, p. 120) Which action do you consider to be more divisive: judging others or looking down on others? Explain. 


key doctrine

The Church

Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes, with each member being responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord (Col. 1:18).

 

 

 

 

bible skill

Use multiple Scripture passages to understand a major doctrine.

Read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and 10:25-33. What problem was Paul addressing in these verses? How is the problem Paul addressed in Romans 14 similar to the problem in Corinth? How is it different? What insights about the problem in Corinth apply to the situation in Rome?

 

biblical illustrator

For additional context, read “The Kingdom of God: Paul’s Understanding” in the Spring 2020 issue of Biblical Illustrator. Available at LifeWay.com/BiblicalIllustrator.

 

 

 
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