We now proceed with our exposition of the last section of this fourteenth Chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. In this portion Paul directs a strong, concise and well-motivated exhortation to the brethren who are strong in the faith that is, to those who in good conscience can apply the doctrine of justification by faith, without any works of law, to all the spheres of life, believing that to the pure all things are pure!
We noticed in our former essay, did we not, that Paul admonishes the “weak” brethren not to judge the stronger brethren in the faith? He motivated that admonition by pointing out, that, in so doing, they would be judging the household servants of Christ Himself. Christ is their Lord. “Who art thou that judgest the servant of another,” answers Paul! To his own Lord and master the strong stands and falls. It is pure presumptuousness to judge of the stronger brethren in terms of “days” and “meats.”
Let the weak beware!
However, also the strong must be transformed in their minds, and must approve of the good, the perfect and acceptable will of the Lord. Such is also their reasonable service. They are not in any way to confuse that which is “permissible” with that which is “edifying”! Dogmatics and ethics must not be identified; true, these may not be at variance with one another, but what is permitted us in Christ Jesus and what is for edification under certain circumstances varies. All things must be done according to the standard of love for the brethren, rooted in the love of God to us.
Wherefore Paul writes, in part, in these verses 13-23 as follows: “Let us therefore not judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that no thing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou, walkest not longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died . . . Let us then follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another. . . . Happy is he that judgeth not himself in that which he approveth. But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, became he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Let us not forget that the particular problem around which Paul’s discussion revolves is that of “keeping of days” and of “eating or not eating of certain meats.” These matters are really indifferent in themselves. They are adiaphora! Some said: in Christ we are free to eat anything which is eatable, created for that very purpose by God. Others said: certain meats are unclean, no matter how eatable! The former were right dogmatically, and the latter were in that sense wrong. Hence, the former are the strong in faith and the latter are the weak in faith! However, one need not eat everything to be a Christian, nor need one abstain from meats to be a Christian. As such, therefore, meats and days are indifferent, they are adiaphora! It is our new relationship to the Lord which constitutes our being a Christian. Keeping of days and eating of meats is really non-determinative. A Christian may eat meats and may keep days—provided he does so unto his Lord. And a Christian may be a non-user of certain meats, and keeper of certain days—provided he does so unto the Lord!
Let it be well-understood!
Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s!
Hence, we should not be interested or disinterested in “days” and “meats,” but our primary concern should be our brother in Christ, and his edification. We should only be interested in his becoming rooted and founded in the faith, growing in love, holding on to the Head, Christ. Now admittedly all things do not edify! And what is permissible and what edifies by no means always coincide!
Here then we are to walk according to the rule that we are willing to lay down our life for our brother. This does not mean that the strong relinquish their freedom in Christ as proclaimed in the Gospel, but it means that the strong shall not press their full claim to the Gospel in matters which are indifferent as such if such pressing of this claim should become the occasion of stumbling to the weak. For if by such pressing of the claim of the freedom of the Gospel, in regard to matters not expressly stated in the law, and not dealing with any Article of the Christian Faith, our brother is grieved in his conscience so that he falls into sin, we are no longer walking according to the law of love! For all the law is fulfilled in one Word, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Here the rule laid down by Paul in Galatians 5:13-15 is applicable which reads, “For ye brethren were called for freedom: only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
In the verses 13-23 Paul gives various motives for a Christian conduct toward the weak brethren by the strong.
Paul insists that there must be a hearty determination and resolution on the part of the strong not to cause the weak to stumble. In the sentence, “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.” It must be their determinate judgment, taking in all the facets of the matters at hand, the evil results effecting there from, that they shall not longer judge the brother. Instead of being critical of his conduct they are to be seekers of his edification! What a boon on earth! Behold, how pleasant and how good! Writes Lange in his commentary: “The apostle uses the same word (krinein) in a changed meaning; in order to emphasize more particularly, by this antithesis the antithesis of judging . . .”
The reason for such determination is, as we have repeatedly pointed out, not that anything is unclean of itself. Writes Paul in verse 14: “I know and am persuaded by (in) the Lord Jesus that there is nothing common (koinon) of itself.” Paul knows and is persuaded perfectly up till the present moment (pepeismai) not simply by a subjective feeling. He is persuaded that nothing is common, profane, unclean in a religious sense, and, therefore, unusable in the temple of God upon the altar of consecration and prayer. For all things are of us, we are of Christ and Christ is God’s, I Cor. 3:23. The foundations stand. Paul does not sacrifice sound doctrine for practical considerations! This is placed on the foreground.
However, there is the “infirmity of the weak” which must be considered. And such consideration does not grant the weak the correctness of their position, but it commiserates with their weakness. It seeks to make them stronger. Not their view must be raised as standard of conduct, but they themselves must be saved; the work of God in them must not be destroyed. Tenderly their weak conscience must be considered until it grow stronger in the Lord.
Besides the matter of eating or not-eating is really not the important, the essential matter in the Kingdom of God. The strong should not get too excited over this individual matter. For the “Kingdom, of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” One cannot equate the right to eat of meats and not to keep days with the “Kingdom of God.” Conceivably it can have nothing at all to do with the Kingdom of God.
What is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is certainly a Kingdom in which Christ is King. He entered into this Kingdom to be Lord of the living and of the dead, through His death and resurrection. This Kingdom came at Pentecost in its principal fulfillment and will be consummated in the age to come. It is not of this earth according to the good confession which Christ made before Pontius Pilate. It is heavenly. Flesh and blood cannot inherit it, no more than corruption can inherit incorruption!
Now the nature of this Kingdom is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Only what the Holy Spirit puts into our hearts belongs to this Kingdom.
There are in the main two schools of interpretation of the clause “Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Firstly, there is the school of exegetes from Chrysostom down to Grotius, Meyer, which makes at best this righteousness to consist in a walk of sanctification through the operation of the Holy Spirit, or at its worst simply some moral virtues. Writes Charles Hodge: “Paul does not mean to say, that Christianity consists in morality; that the man who is just, peaceful and cheerful, is a true Christian. This would contradict the whole argument of the epistle.”
We concur with the latter writer, Charles Hodge.
We believe that “righteousness” is here the righteousness of God in Christ, which Christ merited for us on the Cross of Calvary, so that we are righteous before God and heirs of everlasting life. And, further, that “peace” is here the peace which is ours with God and with our neighbor, since we have been justified by faith, so that we have inner tranquility of conscience, being free from the curse of the law. And that the “joy” here is that fruit of the Holy Spirit, the eternal blessedness which eye hath not seen and ear hath not heard and which hath never entered into the heart of man!
Such is the nature of the Kingdom of God. Such it must also become more and more in the hearts of both the “strong in faith” and in the hearts of the “weak in faith.”
Now, admittedly, anything which stands in the way of this Kingdom thus being established in the hearts of the weak, causes them to stumble, is a pit-fall for them. And, again, only when we thus conduct ourselves that the righteousness, peace and joy of Christ, merited on the Cross, becomes the portion of the weak, or when we do not interfere with this their salvation and joy, do we strive for the things that make for peace! Only thus do we serve Christ, His cause and His work in the saints. And only then do we edify when we so conduct ourselves that the weak brother lays hold on this righteousness in Christ by faith. Then too will he have peace with God, whether he eats or eats not (and not merely when he eats not). And the pure joy of Christ, the eternal joy shall be his portion here more and more.
This joy in our hearts is the “work of God.” Let us by our eating meat not destroy it, nor do anything which might cause the brother to backslide to his own eternal destruction!
Rather let us be fully convinced in our own mind that when we eat we eat unto the Lord. Happy is the man who does not condemn himself in this respect. Here are motives of psychiatry! Here are the inner conflicts of conscience often. Blessed is he who has not experienced it.
For all that is not out of faith is sin!
More about this in the next installment.