In Romans 14, Paul is trying to teach Christians to stop judging each other regarding secondary matters of religious practice about food and holy days. Paul is talking to committed disciples and he told them to focus on peace, upbuilding and avoiding quarrels. How does this apply to us in modern society?
Freedom and Maturity
Paul explained his freedom in Christ to eat what he wanted and observe all days as holy. At the same time, he honored the sensitivity of other disciples who did not have the same freedom. They did not feel free to eat meat sacrificed to idols and felt obliged to keep specific days as special and holy. Apparently, these issues were generating judgments and quarrels among the Roman disciples.
Paul did not make a big point about who was right in the matter, rather he put his focus on the process, and how to maintain peace and build each other up. While not all had the same freedom, all needed to be free to live according to their conscience and their faith without censure. Those with less freedom should not censure those with more freedom and vice versa. Interestingly, Paul describes those with fewer religious inhibitions as the freer and thus the more mature.
Honor Faith and Conscience First
Paul makes two points. First, we should all live according to our faith and consciences, honoring the Lord in all we do. Next, Paul indicates that those living like this are accountable to God, not to other believers, regarding matters of opinion. Their master is God and should work to please Him in their lives.
Disciples who live like this should not judge or criticize other believers and shouldn’t do things to “make them stumble” (Romans 14:21, ESV). It is better for a disciple to seek peace and upbuild their brother and sister, even if in the process the disciple needs to curtail their own freedom for the sake of their brother or sister.
Relinquish Freedom to Pursue “Peace and Upbuilding”
If believers will seek to understand that their brothers and sisters are sincerely seeking to honor God, and if they will forgo their own freedom to help others not stumble then God is pleased. Our actions will lead to “peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19, ESV).
Note that primary points of doctrine were not part of this discussion. We’re not talking about whether or not Jesus was resurrected or whether or not God is good. These were givens. However, many secondary points, especially of personal practice were points of contention among the disciples. Secondary matters can be left with the Lord. The well-being of our brothers and sisters is a higher priority than personal claims to freedom or “doing what I want.”
Principles From Romans 14
- Make your decisions by faith with an eye to honor Christ in all and above all else.
- Be as generous with others, as you want them and God to be with you. After all, they are accountable to God not to you.
- Your freedom in Christ is secondary to your fellow Christians’ wellbeing.
- The mature should relinquish personal freedom for the sake of the weak.
An often used acronym for JOY is “Jesus, Others, You.” Judging and criticizing can become destructive vices in the body of Christ and should be resisted in favor of building each other up and encouraging each other.
Practical Examples to Consider: Politics and Religious Practice
Politics are a flashpoint for disagreements among Christians in today’s world. Yet politics are so much less important than maintaining the integrity of the body of Christ as we proclaim the gospel. Let each one follow their faith and conscience as they honor the Lord.
Christians disagree regarding many religious practices and secondary doctrines. Can we lead with grace and not judgment as we interact over these issues? Can we seek to understand each other first, and then can we let each person be accountable to God rather than us if we still disagree?
Romans 14 only addresses how we treat one another when dealing with secondary issues. If we can keep secondary issues as secondary issues and follow Paul’s counsel, we will avoid quarrels and build up our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is so important not to make secondary issues of religious life and practice into primary issues. Criticism and judgment of our brothers and sisters is not really helpful.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.