ONLINE CHURCH BULLETIN
WHAT ROMANS 14 DOES NOT TEACH, PART 1
John "made straight the way of the Lord" (Jn. 1:23; cf. Isa. 40:3). The phrase "make straight" was sometimes used of engineers who preceded kings traveling though their kingdoms. In those days', roads were uneven and dangerous, so workers removed rocks, filled in holes, leveled uneven places, and cut trees so the path would be clear for the king's chariot.
A similar idea is found in 2 Timothy 2:15: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." The word dividing (orthotomeo) means "to make a straight cut." It, too, is sometimes used of engineers leveling a roadbed. It can also mean "to dissect," and refers to expounding correctly the divine message. Thus, if we are to properly understand God's Word, we must "level the field" and "cut away" false ideas and prejudices.
Romans 14 is one chapter that often "needs the road way cleared." Robert R. Taylor, Jr., observed, "Romans 14 is ... one of the most abused, misused, misapplied, misapprehended, and misunderstood chapters of the whole Bible."'
What does Romans 14 not teach?
ROMANS 14 DOES VOT TEACH TOLERANCE FOR DOCTRINAL ERROR. Paul wrote, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him" (14:1-3). Some have used this to "justify" practically anything they want to do in religion. In Pendleton's Commentary on Romans, for example, he used it to rationalize using mechanical music in worship. 2 Others have concluded that those who oppose missionary societies, handclapping, and drama in worship are the "weak" brethren and that when they become "mature," they will accept these practices.
Romans 14 does NOT treat such doctrinal deviations are indifferent or inconsequential (Gal. 1:8; Acts 15:5). Paul is dealing with the eating of meats and honoring of days-matters of indifference to God. He had given no earlier New Testament instruction on them; these were not being practiced in worship. In matters pertaining to worship, Jesus said, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:24). Notice four key words: worship, must, spirit, and truth.
No apostle ever placed right and wrong side by side and preached tolerance. Paul is not saying that the strong and intelligent are never to voice their convictions. (He voiced his in verse 14.) To the contrary, we are commanded to help others see deviations from the Master's will so they may change to please Him (Acts 18:26; Jas. 5:19, 20). We must do so "in meekness... considering ourselves lest we also be tempted" (Gal. 6: 1). Paul commanded that we be "set for the defense of the Gospel" (Phil. 1: 17), and by his example showed we are to tolerate false practices "no, not for an hour" (Gal. 2:5). God's Word says we are to "hate every false way" (Psa. 119:104, 128) and "contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 3). God promises to punish those who add to, or take from, His Word (Rev. 22:18, 19). Romans 14 teaches that we must hold our criticism to matters of doctrine, and hold our tongues in matters of opinion.
ROMANS 14 DOES NOT TEACH THAT IT IS SINFUL TO JUDGE OTHERS. It teaches that it is sinful to judge others in matters of opinion. "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? ... why dost thou judge thy brother" or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ ... Let us not therefore judge one another any more" (I 4:4a, 10, 13). It is wrong to unfairly judge others (Mt. 7:1, 2). It is wrong to judge "according to the appearance"' (Jn. 8:15). It is wrong to judge others if we are guilty of the same things (Rm. 2:1, 2). It is wrong to prematurely judge others (I Cor. 4:5). But it is not wrong to judge others.
In fact, it is impossible to be a faithful Christian and not judge others. He that is "...spiritual judgeth all things..." (I Cor. 2:15). Jesus said, "Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" (Lk. 12:57). He also commanded us to, "Judge righteous judgment" (Jn. 7:24b). He told us to "inspect the fruit" of others (Mt. 7:16, 20), and complimented the church at Ephesus for trying "them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars" (Rev. 2:2).
Christians must judge doctrine (Rm. 16:17; 1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:1-4; Tit. 1: 13; 2 Jn. 9-11). The learners in Berea were commended for judging whether the things Paul preached "were so" (Acts 17:11). Those in nearby Thessalonica were commanded: "Prove 4 all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thes. 5:21). To the Ephesians he said, "Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord" (5: 10). The marginal rendering of the first phrase of Philippians 1:10 reads: "Try things that differ." We are to "try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I Jn. 4: 1).
Christians must judge morals. If one speaks out against abortion, homosexuality, adultery, drunkenness, immodesty, or other moral misdemeanor, one often says, "You can't do that. You're judging." That is meant as a "you-should-be-ashamed-of-your-self-put-you- in-your-place-end-of-discussion" putdown. Sure, one is making a judgment, but making righteous judgment, according to the Word. Paul passed judgment on a fornicating brother in Corinth (I Cor. 5:3; cf. Acts 13: 10). He wrote the same church, "...if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? ... Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?" (I Cor. 6:2, 5). Strong Christians "by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil' (Heb. 5:14).
Yes, we can (should) judge others, but we must use God's Word as the standard of judgment. In matters where the Word does not give precept or principle, we should leave the judging to God.
Jacksonville Church of Christ
Vol7/August 29, 2002, page 2