The Pulpit Commentary

Romans 14:1-23 (Romans 14:1-23)

F. The duty of enlightened Christians towards weak brethren. From moral duties in general of Christians towards each other and towards all the apostle now passes to such as they owe peculiarly to each other as members of a religious community, united by a common faith. He has already ( Romans 12:16 ) admonished his readers to be "of the same mind one toward another;" but, as was remarked under that verse, this did not imply agreement of view on all subjects, such as is impossible where there are many minds. In this chapter he recognizes the impossibility, having immediately before him what was then patent, the inability of some, through prejudice or slowness of conception, to enter into views of the meaning of the gospel which to himself and the more enlightened were apparent. He by no means departs from what he says elsewhere (cf. Galatians 1:6-10 ) about no denial of fundamental doctrine being allowable in the communion of the Church; but in matters not touching the foundation he does here inculcate a large and generous tolerance. In these, as in all other relations between men on the earth together, the all-inspiring principle of charity is to rule. Who the "weak brethren" were whose scruples he especially inculcates tolerance of in this chapter cannot be decided positively. It will he seen that they were persons who thought it their duty to abstain from animal food, and perhaps also from wine ( Romans 14:2 , Romans 14:21 ); and there is allusion also to observance of certain days ( Romans 14:5 ). The views that have been taken are as follows:—

In favour of view

(a) that in the chapter before us there is no allusion whatever to idol-meats, as there is throughout so markedly in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 .; and

(b) that abstinence from all animal food whatever (and apparently from wine too) is spoken of in this chapter. Objection ( a ) has been met by saying that the ground of the scrupulosity referred to might be so well known that St. Paul did not think it necessary to mention it when he wrote to the Romans. To objection ( b ) it is replied that there might be some who, in order to guard against the risk of buying at the shambles, or partaking in general society of viands connected with heathen sacrifices, made a point of abstaining from meat altogether, and (it has been suggested) from wine too, which might have been used in libations. This is the view of Clement of Alexandria, Ambrosiastor, and Augustine, among the ancients.

View (2) is that of Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Jerome, and others, among whom Chrysostom accounts for the total abstinence from meat as follows: "There were many of the Jews that believed, who, being still bound in conscience to the Law, even after believing still observed the ordinances about meats, not as yet venturing to depart from the Law; and then, in order not to be conspicuous in abstaining from swine's flesh only, they abstained from all flesh, and ate herbs only, that their practice might seem to be rather fasting, and not observance of the Law" (so also OE cumenius and Theophylact). But this seems to be a conjecture only, and hardly a likely one. And further, it fails to account for abstinence from wine, which seems to be implied; on the part of tome at least, in verse 21.

If the weak brethren were ascetics, according to view (3), it is most probable that they were Jewish Christians who had imbibed the principles of the Essenes . These were a Jewish sect, spoken of especially by josephus, who aimed at scrupulous observance of the Law of Moses, and strict personal purity. With this view they lived in communities under rule, partaking of the simplest fare, and some abstaining from marriage. It does not appear that they were strict vegetarians when living in community; but we are told that they might only eat such meat as had been prepared by their own members, so as to be secure against any pollution, and that, if excommunicated, they were consequently compelled to eat herbs. (For what is known of them, see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2.; 8.2-5; 'Ant.,' 13.5. 9; 15.10. 4, 5; 18.1. 2, etc.; Philo, 'Quod Omnis Probus Liber,' see. 12., etc.; Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.,' 5.16, 17.) It is far from unlikely that some of these would be attracted to Christianity; and this especially as some of their principles, as described by Josephus, seem to have been endorsed by Christ himself; and, if so, they would be likely to carry their prejudices with them into the Church, and, when living outside their original communities, they might abstain entirely from flesh as well as wine. Or it might be that other Jews, Essenic in principle and feeling, had sought admission into the Church. Philo, in Eusebius, 'Praep. Evan.,' 8. fin., and Josephus, 'Vit.,' 2. 3, intimate that supra-legal asceticism, under the influence of Essenic principles, was not uncommon in Judaism in their time. The latter (c. 3) speaks of certain priests, his friends, who were so God-fearing that they subsisted on figs and nuts, and (c. 2) of one Banns, who had been his master, who ate no food but vegetables. What is still more to our purpose is that we find evidence of pious ascetics of the same type subsequently among Christians. Origen ('Contra Cels.,' 5.49) speaks of some as living in his time; and even the apostle St. Matthew, and James the Lord's brother, were afterwards credited with a corresponding mode of life. Clement of Alexandria ('Paedag.' 2.1) says of the former, "Matthew the apostle partook of seeds and acorns and herbs, without flesh." Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius ( Matthew 2:23 ), says of the latter that "he drank not wine or strong drinks, nor did he eat animal food; a razor came not upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil; he did not use the bath." It is to be observed that abstinence from ointments was one of the practices of the Essenes (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 8.2. 3). Augustine ('Ad Faust.,' 22.3) transmits the same tradition as to the abstinence of James from flesh and wine. Whatever foundation them might be for these traditions, they at any rate show that in the second century, when Hegesippus wrote, abstinence such as is intimated in this chapter was regarded as a mark of superior sanctity by some Christians. Farther, in the 'Apostolical Canons' (Canon 51.), Christians who abstained from marriage, or flesh, or wine, are allowed to be retained in the communion of the Church as long as they did so by way of religious restraint only. Against the above view of the weak brethren of the chapter before us having been ascetics of the Essenic type, is alleged the strong condemnation of persons supposed to have been of the same sort in Colossians 2:8 , Colossians 2:16 , seq., and 1 Timothy 4:1-5 , which is said to be inconsistent with the tender tolerance recommended here. But the teachers referred to in the later Epistles, though inculcating practices similar to those of the "weak brethren," appear to have been heretical theosophists, the germ probably of later Gnosticism. Their tenets may indeed, in part at least, have been developed from Esseuism; but it was no longer mere conscientious scrupulosity, but principles subversive of the faith, that St. Paul set his face against in writing to the Colossians and to Timothy. Canon 51. in the 'Apostolical Canons' above referred to may be adduced as distinguishing between the principles on which asceticism might be practised allowably or otherwise; it being therein laid down that any who abstained from marriage, flesh, or' wine, not by way of religious restraint, but as abhorring them, forgetting that God made all things very good, and that he made man male and female, and blaspheming the work of creation, should be cast out of the Church.

It remains to be observed that there was diffused among the Gentiles also, through the influence of the Neo-Pythagorean philosophy, an asceticism similar to the Essenic, which Eichhoru supposes the "weak brethren" of this chapter to have been affected by, regarding them as mostly Gentile Christians. But Jewish influences are much more probable; the scruples referred to in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 . were certainly due to them; and observe 1 Corinthians 8:5 in this chapter, which cannot but refer to Jewish observances. Further, Origen, in the treatise above referred to, expressly distinguishes between Christian and Pythagorean asceticism. His words are, "But see also the difference of the cause of the abstinence from creatures having life as practised by the Pythagoreans and by the ascetics among ourselves. For they abstain because of the fable concerning the transmigration of souls;… but we, though we may practise the like, do it when we keep under the flesh and bring it into subjection" ('Contra Cels.,' 4).

- The Pulpit Commentary

Romans 14:19-21 (Romans 14:19-21)

Let us therefore follow after the things that make for (literally, the things of ) peace, and the things wherewith one may edify another (literally, the things of the edification of one another ) . For meat's sake destroy not the work of God. "Destroy," or rather, overthrow— the word is κατάλυε , not ἀππόλλυε as in Romans 14:15 —is connected in thought with the edification, or building up ( οἰκοδομήν ) before spoken of. "The work of God" is that of his grace in the weak Christian's soul, growing, it may be, to full assurance of faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9 ," ye are God's building"). Upset not the rising structure, which is God's own, as ye may do by putting a stumbling-block in the weak brother's way. All things indeed are pure ( i.e. in themselves all God's gifts given for man's service are so); but it is evil to that man who eateth with offence ( i.e. if the eating be to himself a stumbling-block. The idea is the same as in Romans 14:14 ). It is good ( καλὸν , not of indispensable obligation, but a right and noble thing to do) neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth , or is offended, or is made weak. The concluding words in italics are of doubtful authority: they are not required for the sense. For St. Paul's expression of his own readiness to deny himself lawful things, if he might so avoid offence to weak brethren, cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13 .

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Romans 14:1-23 (Romans 14:1-23)

Christian liberty.

The general treatment of the ethics of the gospel is concluded, and now the apostle deals with a particular application which the condition of the Church at Rome required. There were some there, a minority probably, who were more or less in subjection to the spirit of the old Judaic economy, making distinctions of meats and of days. And when they came together for the Christian love-feasts, the differences were of awkward consequence. The stronger ones doubted whether they should admit these, so weak in the faith, as they deemed them; the weaker ones were scandalized at the unscrupulousness, as they thought it, of the strong, or perhaps, overborne by the weight of their example, against their own convictions they joined in the common meal. Was there not grievous wrong in this? The stronger ones despising the weak, and overbearing their scruples, by disputations, perhaps by ridicule; the weaker ones, grieved in their hearts, and judging the strong, or otherwise, to their own condemnation, sinking their scruples and joining in the feast? But surely the Divine ethics of the gospel can meet this case: the apostle applies them. He will espouse, not the scruples of the weak, but their weakness, as against the Overbearing ridicule of the strong; but first, to guard himself and them, he will defend the liberty of the strong as against the censorious judgments of the weak.

I. THE DUTY OF THE WEAK . The weaker man had his scruples; his strong judgments as to this or that mode of outward living being right, and this or that wrong. And he was quick to condemn the man whose opinions and practices were unlike his own. Not so, says the apostle.

1. He has another Master. Certainly he has yielded himself to Christ, and Christ, not another, must measure the fidelity of his service. If faithful, he abides his servant; if unfaithful, he falls. But he shall not fall. The heart is right, and even if the freedom of outward observance were a mistaken freedom, Christ is not such a Master as to cast him off for a mistake. No; "he shall be made to stand." Is not this the determining principle of the Christian life? Not the minute observance, right or wrong, but the motive, makes the Christian man. It matters nothing comparatively whether we eat or do not eat, whether we observe days or observe them not, whether we live or die: "none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself." The aim of the whole life is Christ-wards, and the aim, not the details, determines the life.

2. He has another Judge. This follows from the former. If Christ be the Master now, he shall judge the service itself at the last. And if we may not measure the fidelity of another's servant, neither may we pass sentence on his deeds. No; "the day shall declare it, and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" ( 1 Corinthians 3:13 ). For it is true that the details of the life will be taken into account, but not by our brethren: "Each one of us shall give account of himself to God."

II. THE DUTY OF THE STRONG . So, then, the weak are warned not to judge the men of liberty; and the men of liberty, men of strength as they thought themselves, are to show their strength by gentleness, and their liberty by self-sacrifice. For the conscience of the weak, if erring, was to be respected, and neither were they to be grieved by a needless exhibition of the liberty of the strong, nor above all led to sin against their convictions by the example or ridicule of the preponderant party.

1. They were not to be grieved. Could the stronger ones ruthlessly cause pain to the scrupulous ones by their own seeming unscrupulousness? That was not walking in love. And for the sake of showing that they could eat meat! Away the thought: this was not God's kingdom. Let them rather know that, eating or not eating, to respect the rights of others, to have peace with all, and to rejoice with a common joy in God,— this was God's kingdom. So also would their spirit commend itself to men and to God. Christians then indeed; as Christ died for the weaker ones, so they sacrificing their liberty for them.

2. They were not to be made to fall . Let them know that, innocent as their eating of flesh might be, it was not innocent to the doubting man, and each one's conscience must approve his own deeds, or he is condemned. Nay, he falls! Oh, surely they were not prepared for that? For this was, not merely to destroy the weak brother's peace and charity of heart, but to overthrow the work of God in him! And all for the sake of meat! Better sacrifice all your liberty than this. Have your faith to yourself; have all tender solicitude for your weak brother's conscience.

Then receive the brother, care for him, sacrifice your freedom for him. For while faith, liberty, strength, are good, the best of all is love!—T.F.L.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Romans 14:21 (Romans 14:21)

A self-denying ordinance.

A society is formed for mutual help. The prosperity of the whole is a prime factor in all our working and living. Wondrous the effect of the gospel in levelling distinctions of class, in banishing national enmities, and in making Jew and Gentile realize their adoption into the same family of God, their oneness of blood, their community of interests.

I. THE STRONGER CAN HELP THE WEAKER , AND THE HIGHER STOOP TO THE POSITION OF THE LOWER , MORE EASILY THAN VICE VERSA . It is the glory of the greater to include the less. And the man of far-reaching spiritual views can accommodate himself to his less intellectual brother more readily than the latter can lay aside his prejudices and rejoice in the removal of all restrictions. Hence those in our assemblies capable of assimilating the richest food placed before them are called upon to remember the plainer fare that suits the spiritual digestion of their brethren. Those who delight in climbing to the peaks of spiritual knowledge can learn to moderate their ardour, and sit with their fellows in happy concord in the plain, because otherwise there can be no general assembly, many being devoid of the strength and agility needful for an ascent to the summit. Our exhortation and worship must ever, though not exclusively, take account of the weaker and less educated, the children and the simple.

II. IT IS SAFER TO ERR ON THE SIDE OF SELF - REPRESSION RATHER THAN OF LIBERTY . Every man endowed by the Spirit with a clearness and amplitude of vision that discriminates between the essential and the non-essential may refuse to have his freedom compulsorily narrowed by others. But he does well, and acts in the spirit of Christ who "pleased not himself," if he spontaneously renounces part of his privileges, in order that he may remove a possible stumbling-block from his brother's path. And there is a danger of man's natural tendency to self-assertion leading him to a violation of conscience. "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in the thing which he alloweth" implies the possibility of insisting on freedom with low motives. An instructive tradition of Christ is recorded by Codex Bezae after Romans 14:4 in Luke 6:1-49 .: "On the same day he beheld a man working on the sabbath, and said unto him, Blessed art thou if thou knowest what thou doest: but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed and a transgressor of the Law." To disregard days and unclean food without a perception of the reason found in Christ's universal cleansing and sanctification is not to justify, but to aggravate, the offence. To act against a conscientious feeling is always wrong. Many a man who boasts of his ability to pass unscathed through a fiery ordeal is being singed and maimed by his recklessness.

III. TO HARM A BROTHER IS TO WOUND CHRIST . "Destroy not thy brother, for whom Christ died." See in the weakest member of the community the face and form of thy Lord! The essence of Christianity is self-abnegation; love makes the sacrifice welcome. Christ in us is our better self. and self-love wards off self-injury. The leader of a band anxious for its prosperity end progress feels a pang when any element of discord or weakness is introduced. Jesus Christ is the sensitive Head of the Church, and the inefficiency of any member is a grief to him; the suffering of any limb impairs his joy. Could we more often place ourselves in thought in his position, we should quickly abate aught that lessens the unity and power of the body of Christ. Every pastor of a flock, every teacher of a class, has to think of the effect of his example, lest what he might enjoy without risk himself should exert a dangerous influence on others. It is more blessed to yield than to receive a concession.—S.R.A.

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Romans 14:13-23 (Romans 14:13-23)

Deference to weak consciences, not condemnation of them.

Having taken his readers up to the judgment-bar of Jesus, the only Lord of the conscience, he now proceeds to show how we are to help weak brethren. It will not be by condemning their scruples, but by following Christ in seeking their salvation. We are to defer to conscience so far as our weaker brother's spiritual interests are concerned, and surrender meat or wine, if by our total abstinence we can promote his salvation.

I. WE ARE BOUND TO CONSIDER WHETHER OUR MANNER OF LIVING MAY NOT BE A STUMBLING - BLOCK TO OUR WEAK BROTHER . Having taken his readers to Christ's judgment-bar, he now asks them to examine themselves as to the influence of their mode of living. Is their freedom an offence to the weak? Then in the spirit of the Master, who gave his life to save the weak brother, they ought to surrender their freedom in deference to their scruples. Surely, if Jesus surrendered life for the weak brother, dying to redeem him, we ought to be ready to surrender meat or to surrender wine, if by so doing we can promote our weaker brother's welfare. Paul's position was a noble one. He knew that nothing was unclean of itself. He was none of your squeamish and scrupulous individuals. He could eat whatever was set before him; he could drink without the least excess. But he was ready to surrender both meat and wine for the weak brother's sake. And this is the very spirit of Christ. It is here that we base our temperance reformation; not on partaking being a sin, but being inexpedient in view of the weak brother's dangers. £

II. DOUBT AS TO OUR DUTY SHOULD LEAD US TO ABSTAIN RATHER THAN INDULGE UNTIL WE ARE FULLY PERSUADED IN OUR OWN MINDS . The apostle wants every man to be fully persuaded in his own mind as to his course of action. One who is not, one who has no real faith in the course of action he is pursuing, is self condemned. Paul wishes to bring all such to the side of abstinence. Better abstain from meat or drink until such times as the path of duty is clear. Now, there are multitudes that act quite differently. They go on indulging themselves because they have not made up their minds. Now, this is moral indifference, and deserves reprobation.

III. THE DEATH OF CHRIST IS THE GREAT MORAL LEVER WITH CONSCIENTIOUS SOULS . The apostle bases his whole plea for the endangered brother on the death of Christ for him. If Christ died for him, we should surely abstain for him. The death of Jesus is thus seen to be the great moral leverage for the world. Into the midst of things indifferent —for "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost"—the self-sacrifice of our Master enters and compels conscientious souls to make some sacrifices for the sake of the brethren. Their edification becomes our aim, since the things are indifferent. We are not selfishly to assert our liberty, but self-denyingly we are to forego it, and bind ourselves to abstinence for whatever may be a brother's snare. If we could get such a deference to conscience practised in the Christian Church, society would very soon be regenerated.—R.M.E.

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