In this section of Romans, Paul has been discussing how we are to live in light of the Gospel. In Romans 13, he discussed how we are to treat and respond to the authorities that God put above us and also to our neighbors. Now, we are discussing our brothers and sisters in Christ. How do we treat one another? How do we love one another? More importantly, how do we love one another when we are a church full of opinions?
Paul states that there are two kinds of people: the weak and the strong (the strong is spoken more of in Romans 15). The weak brother is weak in the faith (14:1), though this isn’t to say he has less faith than someone else. It’s the person’s faith in the Gospel that is weak. How much freedom in Christ do we really have? Are we truly free to eat whatever we want? Do we still observe the High Holy Days? Before the Gospel there were restrictions on food and there were days set apart. Now under the Gospel, what are the rules? Are there any limitations?
Paul answers: “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men,” (Romans 14:17,18). Look at all of that freedom! Yet, if a person abstains from eating meat because they feel that they ought to, then let them be. It’s between them and God.
The tension found in Romans 14 isn’t about doctrine. It isn’t about sin. It’s a matter of opinion. We see this too in the church today. We have traditions that we call holy, but is that really true? Is attending church Sunday morning more holy than attending Saturday night or Sunday night? Are we sinning when we attend church in a rented space and not in a cathedral? When we put it in this context, it may sound silly, yet how many churches have been divided, how many people have left and accused a church of sin, because of the day or place they meet to worship God?
Paul reminds us that if it’s opinion, it’s not something worth arguing about as this creates division and we are called to be unified as we are One Body (Romans 12:5).
So what do we do?
Remember that God chose and accepted your brother and sister (14:3), and more importantly, we are not God. God is the one who make us stand or fall (14:4). We are not in control over other people. We encourage, we pray, we love, but we do not force or manipulate someone to agree with our opinions.
So this is my prayer for our church: God help us to “pursue the things which make for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (14:19).