Romans 14:4 – Who are you to judge another’s household servant? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand, because the Lord is able to make him stand.
I really dislike commenting on Romans 14 because I believe it is such a widely misunderstood passage. The root of Paul’s teaching, while true, unfortunately seems to get painted as a “live and let live” philosophy about any and all doctrinal differences that believers may have about what they believe, and yet that is not actually the case.
I believe that what Paul is commenting on is the unforgiving spirit between believers who have differences of opinion about man-made tradition and practice, some things having value, but not all. These man-made traditions are not necessary for all to believe like the cornerstone doctrines of the faith.
Here Paul lists some of those differences of opinions:
Romans 14:5-6 – One person judges one day to be more important than another day. Someone else judges every day to be the same. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, and he gives thanks to God.
These issues are discussing the man-made traditions, specifically fasting on days that were considered special days that had arisen among the Jews and some believers. Some even included multiple days each week, as illustrated by the parable of Yeshua:
Luke 18:11-12 – “The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people – greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.'”
Why was he fasting twice a week? There is no command within the Torah to do so. The only fast that is commanded is that of the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. There was no other honoring of other days for fasting, whether for personal self-righteousness (as this Pharisee represents) or communal observance.
Additionally, Luke represents that the disciples of John the baptizer also fasted regularly, along with those restrictive practices of the Pharisees.
Luke 5:33 – “Then they said to him, “John’s disciples fast often and say prayers, and those of the Pharisees do the same, but yours eat and drink.”
It would seem that many Jewish believers who had been raised with these traditions, along with disciples who had come to Messiah under the ministry of John the baptizer began to carry them over into their New Covenant practices, and were encouraging others to do so, as well. Even today orthodox Jews have three other annual fast days on their traditional annual calendar that are not commanded within the Torah. This demonstrates how hard it is to kill these types of traditions.
The Jews had many restrictions and designations for honoring days that arose far above the holy calendar that God had provided in Torah. In this passage, Paul is trying to create a sense of unity between the believers. There were plenty of different traditions they had been raised in, but he was encouraging them not to judge one another about issues that were not clearly commanded in Torah.
Romans 14:1 – “Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about disputed matters.”
According to Strong’s definitions, “arguing” about these “disputed matters” is a phrase which literally means “passing judgment on discussions, considerations, or debates.” It would have been illogical and quite honestly heretical for Paul to consider legitimate commands within the Torah as being “debatable” opinions. He himself kept the Fast of Yom Kippur and the commands of the Torah (see Acts 18:21; 21:24). These have never been in question among believers in the one true God.
I believe Romans 14 is about Paul trying to minimize the unjust judgment that was going on among believers in the congregation. Those who were mistreating or arguing with others who were disagreeing over points of opinion rather than true doctrinal issues.
Romans 14:10 – But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Paul is encouraging some latitude among the believers because they were all subservient to the one true God. There should not be disputes over opinions and preferences; Paul implies those things may have been helpful to those immature believers in their new-found faith. Those who relied on these traditional practices were to be shown grace by the more mature believers for the sake of the unity of the congregations. As they were to grow in the faith, God could change their hearts as they began to recognize the futility of the man-made traditions, and that would take time.
Unfortunately, we see the same thing today among believing congregations. People will argue vehemently over how to dress when meeting together, or what time of day the meeting should take place, or what type of music should be performed. I have seen disputes over whether chairs or pews should be used or if children should be included in the meetings or separated out. ALL of these issues are non-essential to the faith and have caused strife and unnecessary divisions within the kingdom of God today.
However, if we can take Paul’s advice and learn rather to accept one another’s misunderstandings about these “debatable” issues, we can exhibit forgiveness that creates unity among God’s people that others will be able to recognize, to God’s glory and honor.
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