Paul urged fellow believers to be accepting of or welcoming to those in their midst who were not sufficiently grounded in the faith to have a sure conscience in relation to aspects associated with former beliefs and practices. In this context, faith does not pertain to belief in God and Christ, but the individual’s life of faith that is no longer subject to specific requirements regarding food and the observance of specific days as holy. On account of their past beliefs and practices, believers with a weak conscience had scruples and felt inwardly impelled to abstain from certain food (for example, meat that may have been offered to an idol prior to its having been sold) or to observe specific days. When being accepting, disciples of God’s Son were to avoid passing judgments regarding the reasoning or opinion of others about such matters. (14:1)
In the community of believers, one person might have the faith or confidence that everything was acceptable for food. Someone else, though, might be “weak,” unable to believe that everything could be eaten. Having scruples about eating meat, the individual would only eat vegetables. (14:2)
To be accepting of one another, believers needed to guard against being judgmental in matters that were unrelated to faith in God and Christ. Those who chose to eat a certain food were not to be contemptuous of those who did not. They were not to look down upon others as unduly scrupulous. Disciples of Jesus Christ who refrained from eating needed to avoid judging those who did eat as having made themselves guilty of sin. God has accepted both the one eating and the one who refrains from eating, and so believers should have the same welcoming spirit toward one another. (14:3)
All believers are servants of God and Christ. Therefore, regarding their relationship to one another, Paul raised the question, “Who are you to judge someone else’s domestic servant?” Such judging is the exclusive prerogative of the master. The apostle continued, “Before his own master [or lord] he stands [as approved] or falls [as disapproved].” With apparent reference to the believer, the apostle spoke with assurance, “But he will stand [or be upheld so as to remain in an approved condition], for the Lord [God, in other manuscripts] can make him stand.” Both the Father and the Son can provide the help that is needed for believers to remain in an acceptable condition. (14:4)
When it came to the observance of days, some believers regarded certain days as special. Others viewed all days in the same way. Instead of making an issue about this difference, believers should allow all to be persuaded in their own mind. (14:5)
As disciples of Christ, those who observe a specific day do so to him as their Lord. Later manuscripts include the parallel thought that the one who does not observe the day is refraining from such observance for him. Those who eat, eat to the Lord, for they give thanks to God. Their prayer of thanksgiving directed to the Father for the provision of food is made in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so the subsequent eating is done in recognition of Jesus as Lord. Likewise, the one who does not eat a particular food is abstaining for the Lord and gives thanks to God. (14:6)
As far as believers are concerned, they do not live for themselves or die for themselves. This is because they recognize Jesus as their Lord who bought them with his precious blood. (14:7)
Therefore, as Paul continued, “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. If, then, we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (14:8) There is never a time when the believer does not belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. By his own sacrificial death, he purchased all, both living and dead. Now that he lives, Jesus Christ is the Lord of all whom he has purchased. So, as Paul expressed it, “For this purpose Christ died and lived [again (‘rose up,’ according to later manuscripts)], that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (14:9)
Believers are accountable to Jesus Christ as their Lord, and his judgment perfectly reflects that of his Father. By means of his question regarding judging, Paul made it clear that a disciple of Jesus Christ is not the one who has the right to judge his brother in the matters under consideration nor is he entitled to despise or look down upon his brother. Ultimately, all must stand before God’s judgment seat (Christ’s judgment seat, according to later manuscripts). (14:10)
Paul used words in Isaiah (49:18 and 45:23, LXX) to provide evidence from the holy writings regarding accountability to the heavenly Father. “[As] I live, says the Lord, to me every knee will bow, and every tongue will make acknowledgment to God.” The expression, “I live,” is a solemn declaration indicating the certainty of all bowing before the Most High in submission and making acknowledgment of him, which would include his role as judge. (14:11) Applying the quoted words, Paul continued, “So, then, each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” (14:12; the Greek words for “then” and “God” are omitted in numerous manuscripts.) The recognition that all will have to render an account to God should serve to restrain one from judging or condemning others regarding foods and the observance of special days.
Instead of judging his “brother,” a believer should be very concerned about not putting a stumbling block or an obstacle before him. Great care needs to be exercised not to do anything that could wound the conscience of a brother, causing him to stray from the right course. (14:13)
As a believer who was “in” or at one with Christ, Paul knew and was convinced that “nothing” (with apparent reference to food) is “unclean in itself.” The item would only be unclean to the person who considered it to be such. (14:14) According to Jesus’ teaching, defilement does not result from what enters the mouth but from what proceeds from the inmost self of the individual. (Mark 7:15, 18-23) Based on what Jesus taught, Paul knew for a certainty that uncleanness did not result from eating a particular food but from yielding to wrong desires. The manner in which individuals came to view certain food, however, would determine whether it could be eaten or should be rejected as unclean.
In the community of believers, not all thought alike regarding matters of this nature, for the former background of the individual disciples and their personal growth varied and had a marked effect on their consciences. This required showing consideration for others and not insisting on doing what one might have the right to do when the specific action could be very troubling to a fellow believer. For a disciple of Christ to grieve or trouble a brother on account of the food he ate would mean that he was not “walking” or conducting himself in a manner consistent with love. Therefore, Paul added, “Do not by what you eat ruin the one for whom Christ died.” (14:15) The brother is precious to the Son of God. The fellow believer belongs to Christ as one for whom he surrendered his life. So this fellow believer should rightly be shown loving consideration.
In certain cases, what is good or bad is a matter of personal perception. In itself, there may be nothing wrong in partaking of a certain food, but others may regard doing so as sinful. Whenever the potential exists that something that is good or in itself acceptable could be condemned, Paul gave the exhortation, “Do not [therefore (not in all manuscripts)] let your good be blasphemed.” (14:16) Believers should refrain from engaging in any unnecessary activity that would give occasion for others to speak abusively of them.
The “kingdom of God” (the realm where God is recognized as Sovereign) does not have its focus on matters related to eating and drinking. Coming under God’s rulership involves “righteousness” or upright living, “peace” or the promotion and preservation of good relationships, and “joy in holy spirit.” The phrase “in holy spirit” may be understood to mean that the joy, or the inward sense of happiness as a beloved child of God, comes from having his holy spirit. Another possibility is that the holy spirit is the source of the righteousness, peace, and joy existing among those who are submissive to God’s rule in their lives. (14:17)
Believers who pursue the righteousness, peace, and joy that are the focus of the “kingdom of God” or his rule are slaving for Christ. As a result, they are pleasing to God and have the approval or respect of men or people generally. (14:18)
Depending on which manuscript reading is being followed, the reference is either to what disciples of God’s Son are doing (“we are pursuing the things of peace and the things [that are] upbuilding to one another”) or should be doing (“let us pursue the things of peace and the things [that are] upbuilding to one another”). To be pleasing to God and to enjoy the respect of fellow humans, believers should be found acting in a manner that contributes to and preserves peace and does not give rise to conflict, quarreling, or heated arguments. Their showing consideration for others out of love for them would have an upbuilding or encouraging effect. Believers would not be tearing others down, not giving rise to grievances by insisting on rights without giving any thought to how others might be affected. (14:19)
The “work of God” is what he is doing by means of his spirit, promoting the spiritual growth of believers. Therefore, any disregard for the conscientious feelings of fellow believers and becoming responsible for causing grief would be contrary to the divine working. To thus harm a brother would mean to tear down the very work that God is carrying out by means of his spirit. Accordingly, Paul urged, “Do not tear down the work of God on account of what is eaten.” While everything may be “clean” or acceptable for food, it would be wrong for a believer to eat something and thereby to cause a fellow believer to experience a spiritual fall. This falling could be through the individual’s being emboldened to act in a manner contrary to his own conscience or to being so grieved as to cease yielding to the guidance of God’s spirit. (14:20)
Disciples of Jesus Christ should make every effort to avoid stumbling anyone and thus prevent spiritual harm. “It is good not to eat meat nor to drink wine nor [to do] anything over which your brother trips.” (14:21) After the Greek word rendered “trips,” numerous later manuscripts add, “is made to stumble, or is weak.” Whenever allowances can be made for the conscientious feelings of others in any matter, believers would do so in expression of their love.
In their life of faith, disciples of God’s Son are in various stages of spiritual progress. Of necessity, therefore, the faith or conviction they may have respecting certain matters (like those Paul mentioned) would differ. These matters should not be made an issue among believers. The apostle gave the admonition, “The faith you have, have it according to yourself before God. Fortunate is the one who does not judge himself by what he approves.” (14:22)
This could mean that, in matters such as food, drink, and the observance of certain days, the faith believers have is their own, not someone else’s, and it is between them and God. A number of translations make this explicit in their renderings of Romans 14:22. “What you believe about these things should be kept between you and God.” (CEV) “Your personal convictions are a matter of faith between yourself and God.” (J. B. Phillips) “Keep the faith [that] you have to yourself in the presence of God.” (NAB) “If you have some firm conviction, keep it between yourself and God.” (REB) “You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God.” (NLT)
In Romans 14:22, the first phrase about faith may also (on the basis of the oldest extant manuscripts) be understood as a question. “You have faith? According to yourself, have it before God.” The meaning could be that the individual should keep hold of faith as a personal possession in God’s sight. “Within yourself, before God, hold on to what you already believe.” (NJB) Possibly this signifies that faith is a possession to be retained as one that God highly values. Even more important (as the context suggests) is letting love be the governing principle. This significance would harmonize with Paul’s words (1 Corinthians 13:2) that he would be nothing if he had the faith to move mountains but did not have love.
Believers who do not judge or condemn themselves after doing things they initially approved are fortunate. Self-doubts do not trouble them afterward, causing them to feel that they actually sinned when pursuing a certain course of action. (14:22)
The situation with those who have qualms about whether it would be right for them to do something and who then go ahead despite their doubts do not enjoy this desirable state of well-being. If, as Paul noted, the person with qualms about eating did eat, he would not be acting “out of faith.” The faith, trust, or conviction that he was doing the right thing would be lacking. Paul concluded with the principle, “Everything that is not out of faith is sin.” When individuals handle matters in a manner that does not leave them with a clear conscience, they end up with a sense of uneasiness about having done what is wrong. Any action that is not based on the conviction of faith proves to be sin, a failure to live up to the individual’s own internal sense of what is right and wrong. (14:23)