In a previous article we looked at the first time in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans he uses the phrase, ‘I am persuaded’. This is about the absolute security of believers; Paul is persuaded that nothing ‘shall be able to separate us from the love of God’, Rom. 8. 38, 39. We also quoted Wuest’s translation of ‘I am persuaded’ – ‘I have come through a process of persuasion to a settled conclusion’.
Now let us look at how Paul is persuaded in Romans chapter 14.
'I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died'. Rom. 14. 14, 15
We will start with an overview of Romans chapter 14, and then look at the application of what Paul is teaching in verses 14 and 15, before concluding with some personal challenges.
These verses are in the middle of the section of Romans (12. 1 to 15. 13) that teaches how believers in the Lord Jesus should live practically. It is set against the backdrop of God’s righteousness being shown in this world through Christians who live righteously.
Earlier in chapter 14, Paul deals with the subject of the Christian’s attitude to other believers who might be ‘weak in the faith’, v. 1, and concludes that no one should ‘put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s [or sister’s] way’, v. 13. The background is that some believers held convictions about what they would eat, v. 2, and others would distinguish certain days above others, v. 5. Paul is instructing the Christians not to do anything that would cause another brother or sister to fall.
In verses 14 to 23, Paul, though persuaded ‘that there is nothing unclean of itself’, v. 14, emphasizes the loving concern that Christians should have for their brothers and sisters.
Outward ritual and ceremony have no value in the things of God. But spiritual things, ‘righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’, v. 17, result in service that is ‘acceptable to God, and approved of men’, v. 18. Christians acting in a right way towards each other, at peace with one another and sharing in joy, even in view of different convictions, are pleasing to God. The Holy Spirit enables this.
The teaching from Paul about the freedom to eat anything, whilst considering other believers who may not feel at liberty to eat, may be helpful in our Christian circles today. We must respect the conscience of other believers. Offending a believer is not demonstrating love towards them.
However, the application can reach far wider than what we eat, or don’t eat. There are different views and convictions on many matters among Christians; perhaps linked with generation, culture or background. I interpret Paul’s teaching, ‘to him that esteemeth any thing to be… to him it is’, v.14, to mean that we must respect other believers’ convictions. This is providing they are convictions that are not against the scriptures; in all things, the word of God is our guide.
We must not cause others to stumble through our thoughtless actions or words. Therefore, we need to be considerate in everything that we do and say. That was Paul’s example; he was thoughtful and careful; this must have been a result of the hours he spent in prayer, study of the scriptures and his reasoning through the things of God. Surely these are the things that will best prevent us being careless and risk causing others to stumble.
Paul states very seriously that the believer that I might offend is the one ‘for whom Christ died’, v. 15. If we were constantly to look on other believers in this way, not only would it prevent us treating them wrongly, but it would create a wonderful atmosphere of love amongst Christians.
The challenge of the previous article remains. Paul constantly reflected on the truth of God and lived by his convictions. It is important for us to do the same; to reach convictions on matters by carefully and prayerfully working through the word of God. This will benefit us when difficult situations arise; it may even prevent a careless remark or action that causes offence to a brother or sister.
But also, might we resolve in our hearts to be thoughtful and careful Christians towards each other, always keeping in mind how our actions and words affect our brothers and sisters.