Exposition of Romans 14, 15 (2)

It is well to bear in mind that the real problem-child in these Chapters under consideration is the weak brother or sister. If there were not this weak brother there would be no problem which calls for a solution of loving understanding. 

Such is the starting-point of Paul in this 14th Chapter of Romans. Wherefore Paul writes in this first verse of Chapter 14, “But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not to doubtful disputations.” The latter phrase is paraphrased by some scholars as follows: “yet not for decision of scruples.” The problem is the weakness of the brother. However, this problem must not become a mere issue of right and wrong of the over scrupulousness of the weak brother or sister. The weakness of the weak cannot be the norm of the life of the church; it cannot become the water level of spiritual life of those who are free in Christ from the condemnation and curse of the law. The weak must become stronger, to be sure; but this cannot become an accomplished reality by accepting them, and then “go to work on them” to bring a swift and final end to their scruples. 

There is a vast difference between the problem and the solution. 

Such an attitude and conduct on the part of the strong would simply be destructive in the church. It would be destructive of Christ’s work and of God’s soteriological designs for the weak, yet, redeemed brother. 

Hence, the warning finger! And thus also we have demonstrated here the area of adiaphora (things indifferent) in the church. If there would be no area of adiaphora here on, earth in God’s church there simply would be no acceptance of the weak by the strong, but it would be simply a question of everything or nothing. And, if such be the case, then the strong can accept the weak only to make them toe the mark. But now Paul signals another course of action in the arresting sentence, “But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not to doubtful disputations”! 

We spoke above about indifferent things, matters which have been designated in the church in the New Testament dispensation as matters of “adiaphora.” 

It may be well to say a few words about this rather strange sounding term. At least those who have not studied theology in a formal sense, and who have not taken a course in the History of Dogma and of the Creeds of Christendom, may find this term a new and strange one. 

Permit me to remark, first of all, that the term “adiaphora” is not found in the formal, technical sense in the New Testament Scriptures. It is a term which was employed in a technical sense by the ancient Greeks. Aristotle in his Logics used the term in reference to “all individual objects which have no logical differentia.” And we are told that the Stoic philosophy considered the “ta adiaphora” as the res media, things which are objectively indifferentes, that is, things neither good nor bad. Such is the technical sense of the term amongst the Greeks. See Lidell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon. 

This conception of the Stoics cannot be the conception of the Word of God. Objectively there are really no things which are “neither good nor bad.” Fundamentally all things are sanctified in Christ. Every creature of God is good and nothing is to be rejected, for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. I Timothy 4:4

In the Word of God there is a definite distinction between the “things that differ.” However, the things “differing” are ethically qualified by the new relationship in which we stand to Christ. It is our basic, new relation to Christ which spells the difference between what is permissible and not permissible in the matter of “adiaphora.” The area of adiaphora is really the area where the church here on earth has not yet a full understanding in the details of how to work out her salvation! And also in this matter of adiaphorathe strong have a sympathetic understanding of the weak, knowing the weaker will grow stronger in certain aspects of life, in applying the full implication of the gospel-truth of justification by faith. 

Had this matter been one of unbelievers and enemies of the Cross sneaking into the church to spy out the liberty of the saints in Christ Jesus Paul would have spoken in harsher tones, and would have used his heaviest artillery. Thus he does in the case of those who would rob the Galatian churches of their freedom in Christ. Then the matter would not be one of “adiaphora” but rather one of the truth versus the lie, of works versus grace. In that case it becomes an “either-or” proposition. Then he that does not gather scattereth; he that is not for Christ is against him. 

However, such is not the case here in this Chapter. Paul is not dealing with an “either-or” situation. He is dealing with the weak and the strong. Both are for Christ. Both have learned to say with Paul, “I died, and what I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself in my behalf.” Both are living members of Christ’s body, engrafted into Christ by a true faith. And both will one day be in glory in the perfected state. 

The question is, therefore, not one of receiving the “weak” in order to make a decision on “scruples,” but rather that of finding a formula for living together in one church, so that he, who has much grace and is strong in faith, has no abundance, and he, who has little, has no lack. All things must be done for edification. 

The truth of whether matters are “clean” or “common” as such is not at stake. It is not a question of either clinging to Christ the Head or not. It is a matter of clinging more strongly or less strongly to Christ the Head of the church, and of believing more strongly or less strongly that all things are of us, we of Christ, and that Christ is of God! I Cor. 3:23

Just one little instance in this Chapter demonstrates very clearly that Paul is not defending an “either-or” proposition here. At the same time Paul is not sacrificing the principle of the faith in Christ either. Writes Paul in verse 14: “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean of itself”! Here is no compromise of the fundamental position of the Gospel-freedom. What God shows Peter in the vision at Joppa and as recorded in Acts 10:15 stands unmoved as the Gibraltar, “What God hath cleansed make thou not common.” That food is clean in Christ is a matter of principle. Such is the position of those, who are strong in faith, at Rome. They are right, absolutely right! Otherwise they would not be strong, would they? And if they were not right, the weak could not be weak, could they? However, the use of good food in a sinful way is always sinful! And the sin is not in the food, the drink, but in the user when he uses it doubtfully. Wherefore Paul continues in verse 14; “save to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean”! 

It is very obvious is it not that ethics and dogmatics are not identical, nor is our salvation in Christ objectively and the subjective working out of it simply to be equated. There is a point in a Christian’s life when he does something that it is sin to him. Later, when he grows in faith it is no longer sin to him! Eating with unwashed hands was Levitically sin to the disciples prior to Jesus’ teaching them of the deeper and more profound implication of what constitutes the defilement of the man (mensch). Confer Matthew 15:1-20. The question of washing hands or not washing hands is “indifferent” when taken as such. However, in relationship to the Lord nothing is “indifferent,” adiaphora! 

With this formula, which is implicit in faith working by love (Gal. 5:6), the strong can have a loving understanding of the weak, and the weak can cultivate a proper understanding of the strong. The latter will, in so doing, gradually see that their being “weak” is thebasic problem. It is then not at all a question of “eating” or of “days”! What a tremendous demonstration this is of approving the good, acceptable and perfect will of God! Rom. 12:1, 2

Meanwhile the problem exists. It is not a critical situation. However, there was a concrete issue and Paul uses this occasion to teach the general principles of Christian ethics applying it to the general situation at hand. Yes, ethics cannot be equated with ethics! However, neither can it be separated. Here Paul undergirds all his ethics with the strong principles of the objective work of Christ for and in the church. 

Paul admonishes in two directions here in this situation. The simple and undeniable, fact is that the “weakness” of the weak in the faith is the basic problem. The danger, the very imminent danger is that this basic problem becomes the occasion of strife and division in the church, so that the strong will notstrengthen the weak for whom Christ died, but rather despise them! 

Hence, the warning finger! 

Receive such weak in the faith, yet not for the decision of scruples! 

Yes, it is so naturally, sinfully and psychologically true, that the strong will set at naught the weak. They will despise them from the heights of their stronger position in faith. Then their very strength becomes a pit-fall to them. They will belittle the scruples of the weak and overly scrupulous brother in the faith. It is a strange thing that when strong convictions are not tempered by love for the brother, the most strong in faith are often the least in love to the brother who is weak. Such faith is then, of course, a dead faith. It is not tempered with the proper meekness and humility. It is the faith and knowledge which puffs up, lacking love which alone can edify. How strong some churches can be in doctrine and yet how weak in walking in all good works, in spite of the very implications of that doctrine, which is at once pregnant with reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God be thoroughly furnished unto good works. 

On the other hand there are pit-falls also for the “weak” in the faith. 

Here the weak fall into the error and sin of judging their stronger, and basically more right brother! While Paul admonishes the strong he holds the weak at bay. Their very “weakness”, which they look upon as their strength, also turns the dogs loose. And, sooner than they realize it, they will be at the throat of the “strong”! They would impede thus the free course of the Spirit of grace in the life of the church.

Such “judging” on the part of the weak is indeed presumptuous. Their very weakness is that they are “narrow” in their view. They are not more narrow than the “straight and narrow way which leads to life,” but they are narrow differently. They have a tendency to make a narrow road of bondage where Christ has made a new and living way of freedom in his own blood. They make a way of bondage for themselves from which the Gospel will make them free eventually when they grow stronger in the faith which works by love. Hence, these weak really receive a very strong admonition from Paul in the following verses. 

When they grow stronger in faith they will see that things which are adiaphora in relation to themselves become very much the “things differing” in relationship to Christ! 

—G.L.