Jonathan enjoys a beer once in a while. Has for years. Pre-Christian and since. Mark believes drinking is a dangerous habit that dishonors the Lord. They each argue with the other over who’s right.
When I first read today’s text (about Christian liberty and personal convictions) I thought it a non-issue today. Then I read John Calvin:
“He who proposes to summarize gospel teaching ought by no means to omit an explanation of [Christian liberty]. For it is a thing of prime necessity, and apart from a knowledge of it, consciences dare undertake almost nothing without doubting; they hesitate and recoil from many things; they constantly waver and are afraid. But freedom is especially an appendage of justification and is no little avail of understanding its power.”
Okay, Brother John. I’ll take your word for it. But I just haven’t seen many 21st century Christians “hesitate and recoil” from drinking wine or dancing or working on the Sabbath (Sunday). But, maybe there’s more here than meets the eye.
Paul does seem to say “Jonathan” and “Mark” go all the way back to the church in Rome.
“Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them” (14:1-3).
The Greek proslambabesthe means “receive hospitably, welcome”. But it’s not Paul’s emphasis in this sentence. “ . . . those who are weak in faith” is. He uses the word (in a different form) of Abraham, who “who did not weaken in faith” as he considered his circumstances (4:19). Here the “weak eat only vegetables” in contrast to other Christians who “believe in eating anything”. Meat-eaters “must not despise (look down on, condemn)” veggies-only eaters. And veggies-onlys “must not pass judgment (sit in personal judgment on, criticize, condemn)” meat-eaters.
Why must meat-eaters welcome veggies-onlys? Because “God has welcomed them.” He receives them as true believers in Christ.
Who are “those who are weak in faith”? The veggies-only believers (like Mark, who believes drinking is wrong) are “weak in faith”. They’re “weak in faith” in that they brand certain secondary issues, issues on which the Bible is silent, as immoral.
Douglas Moo (New Testament professor Wheaton graduate school) explains: “Paul is not . . . simply criticizing these people for having a ‘weak’ or inadequate trust in Christ as their Savior and Lord. Rather, he is criticizing them for lack of insight into some of the implications of their faith in Christ. These are Christians who are not able to accept for themselves the truth that their faith in Christ implies liberation from certain OT/Jewish ritual requirements. The ‘faith’ with respect to which these people are ‘weak’, therefore, is related to their basic faith in Christ but one step removed from it. It involves their individual outworking of Christian faith, their convictions about what that faith allows and prohibits”.
The “strong”, then, understand that their faith in Christ implies freedom from certain ritual requirements. Jonathan believes his beer-drinking neither commends him to or condemns him by God who has justified him by faith in Christ.
It’s likely that this belief regarding certain foods are a carry-over by Christians Jews from the Old Covenant. In this case, the thinking is, “Meat will bring God’s disapproval, so I’ll eat veggies only”. This, obviously, is creating disunity, opposite to the “one Body” and “genuine love” Paul is calling for. So he confronts the judgment-passers . . .
“Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (14:4-9).
Did Paul fling his question at the meat-eaters, who were passing judgment on the scrupulous veggies-only crowd? More likely, he’s aiming at both. The ones they are judging are not their servants, but the Lord’s. Before him they will either stand (in their devotion to Christ) or fall (in their devotion to Christ).
We’re now shown another secondary issue over which the Roman Christians have difference—the observance of certain days. Paul makes this (obviously implying the same for food practices) a matter of conscience. Observe or not. Eat or not. Both “the weak” and “the strong” are doing it to thank God and honor him.
In other words, both are (or should be) practicing their liberty or abstinence to the Lord. They are living out their submission to his lordship. And disagreeing brothers just respect that. Jonathan is not Mark’s lord, nor Mark Jonathan’s.
So, Paul explained to the Corinthians, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
“Why do you pass judgment on 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. For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then, each of us will be accountable to God” (14:10-12).
Why do we dare to judge our brother, when we will all stand before God’s judgment seat (Greek baymati—“judicial bench”, used of Pilate’s “judgment seat” when he judged Jesus—Matthew 27:19)? “ . . . each of us will be accountable to God.”
This is why judging our brother is wrong: God alone is judge. We must all give a personal account in his court.
* * *
Having walked this far through Romans 14, I see abstinence as a misunderstanding of justification by faith, as Calvin warned. But Paul doesn’t correct that misunderstanding. Instead, in the remainder of the chapter he’ll call the “strong” to relinquish his freedom for the good of the weak. And in today’s text he reminds us we’re all the Lord’s servants and accountable to him. So, Brother John, I get your point; but I don’t think it’s Paul’s.
Which brings me (with trepidation) to the judgment seat of Christ (bayma). Paul has referred to it earlier–
“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:9,10).
” . . . what is due him” refers to recompense or rewards. Judgment at Christ’s seat, therefore, doesn’t concern justification (which is by grace through faith), but how we’ve lived our lives as Christians. In Romans, the issue is personal moral choices as the Lord’s servant. In 2 Corinthians, the issue is more general–making it our aim to please him in all things.
Honestly? Accountability at the bayma hides in the back of my head. Not often do I think, “I’m accountable for what I do today. How I live will affect my eternal reward”. Eternal reward, however, doesn’t motivate me so much.
The thought of standing before Christ does. It’s like final exam day. It doesn’t determine heaven or hell. But standing before Jesus as he judges my life frightens me. And makes me fear judging my brother.