How are we to live with those who are more scrupulous than us in living out our faith? By telling them to toughen up? No. Rather, we capitulate to their desires. Augustine and Aquinas show us how Romans 14 should lead us to sacrifice on behalf of our weaker, more scrupulous brothers in Christ.
14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
As we can see, chapter 14 logically follows the discussion at the end of 13. We are to live by love and put on Christ–these things we understand as consistent with living by faith. So, what are we to say about those whose walk is not quite as strong in faith? “Accept the one who is weak in faith.” As Aquinas writes we “ought not scandalize or judge them.” So, we don’t accept them just so we can purposely disagree with what we find wrong.
Now of course, this does not apply to matters of orthodoxy. But, as we shall see, it does apply to matters that are indeed doctrinal (foods, the Sabbath, etcetera).
2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
Though Paul writes that teaching others to abstain from certain foods is a “doctrine of demons” (1 Tim 4:1) and he himself publicly corrected Peter for not eating with gentiles (Gal 2:12), we can see in neither instance was he expressing vitriol for specifically eating kosher. In fact, it was said to Paul that “you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law” (Acts 21:24) and that he didn’t teach “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses” (Acts 21:21). So, here we can see Paul’s theology at work. Though we are not obligated to eat kosher, specifically in light of Christ’s fulfillment of the whole Law, those with weaker consciences who still persist in thinking eating kosher is a good work are still accepted by God.
What may we extrapolate from this? Surely, those churches which differ on the number of sacraments (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans) may all persist in performing a work which they believe is good and consistent with the faith, while another may not. Presuming that each party trusts in Christ, and not the work for by the works of the Law (or law of nature, or any work) no flesh is justified, they are respectively accepted by God.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Being that we are all sinful, we do not have a basis to judge morally those who, not in matters of heresy or sin, do not align with us doctrinally. This does not preclude lovingly correcting a man or teaching correct doctrine. However, we are not to make it a matter of division and we should remember if the man is indeed a Christian, God will make him stand. Aquinas writes:
Even though someone now falls by sinning, it is possible that he will stand again. And this will certainly happen, if he has been predestined: “Will he not rise again from where he lies?” (Ps 41:8); “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy, when I fall, I shall rise (Mic 7:8). For this reason if we see someone obviously sinning, we should not despise him and rashly judge that he will never rise again; rather, we should presume that he will stand again, not considering the human condition but God’s power.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
This is not to say that the one who regards one day above another is not in the wrong. Paul writes against Judaizers in one place:
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day (Col 2:16).
And in another he writes:
You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain (Gal 4:10-11).
So, we know where Paul stands about the Sabbath–Christians are no longer obligated to uphold the practice, because it has been fulfilled in Christ (Heb 4). However, those that continue this practice, or eat kosher, or anything in faith do so to the glory of God if there is true thanks and gratitude.
7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
“Us” is underlined because Paul is referring only to Christians, not to false brothers. We live and die for Christ, even when not everything we believe and therefore do is doctrinally correct during that life and ultimate death.
9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
He destroyed our death: “He died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and arose (2 Cor 5:15). Thus, therefore, by all the foregoing the Apostle has proved that each one stands or falls before his master, namely, by the fact that believers give thanks to God and that they live and die to the Lord and that in life and in death we are the Lord’s.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall give praise to God.”
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
Because we all stand before God to give an account, Paul directs us to seek God’s will and to live faithfully instead of “rashly judging hidden matters not committed to your judgment” as Aquinas states. Yet, these are not hidden matters, the Sabbath and foods, these are matters we actually know about! Yet even still, do not rashly judge because what is clear to one man is unclear to another, we are saved by faith and not by the perfection of our Christian walk.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
Then, does it not matter how we walk? By no means. Paul says that we should not judge, but we should be vigilant in not being hurtful to one another’s faith.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
Only if we more often took the mindset of Paul, which here is the mindset of God! Paul knows there is nothing unclean, yet we know from here and Acts 21:24 that he did not eat unclean meats. Why? Because it caused his Jewish brothers hurt, and he was hoping by God’s grace to win them over to the Gospel. He did not want to destroy with his food those weaker Jewish brothers who did not preach circumcision to the gentiles, but still did not understand Christianity well enough to see that the Law has been fulfilled in Christ in its fullness.
16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Just as Paul wrote not long ago in this letter to be one mind with others. Here, we are one mind with others even in their minor error. We bare with them, not letting what we know to be good to be spoken of as evil and a cause for dissension. The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking and baptizing at certain ages and knowing exactly how Christ is present in the elements, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. So, we should teach the truth, but be patient with the weaknesses of others, even bearing with them.
Nonetheless, Paul does not write about this being the case with matters of worship. So, just because some Christians honor the Sabbath, that does not mean we move worship to Saturday. Likewise, just because other Christians are offended when women cover their heads in obedience to 1 Cor 11, that does not mean one should not wear the covering when praying. We are to bare with others much like we bare with the government, with love but not in disobedience to God. So we compromise in all matters that do not lead us in disobedience. Surely, abstaining from food and drink is not harmful.
18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
Christ is better served by those who bear the burdens of others than who exploit their supposed freedoms as Christians. We are free to serve others and consider the needs of others greater than our own, not to edify ourselves.
20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Because we are called to serve, we should feel bad that we even entertain the notion of tearing down the work of God (other people, they are His work for He is the One who grants it to man to believe) by what we eat. Indeed all things are clean, but whatever not of faith is sin. So, if a believer is unsure if something is free for him to do as a Christian, then he ought not do it so as not to offend his conscience.
The matter is very serious for the one who doubts. Faith in Christ covers sin, but “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:26). Something done in bad faith against one’s conscience is not living by faith.
There no longer is a neat rulebook for us to follow. Christ fulfilled the whole Law and there is no prescribed set of works that we know with certainty satisfies God in every situation. So, “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Our conscience is our guide because the Holy Spirit compels us to produce His fruits.
As Augustine writes:
Nor can a man will any good thing unless he is aided by Him who cannot will evil—that is, by the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. For everything which is not of faith is sin. Romans 14:23 And thus the good will which withdraws itself from sin is faithful, because the just lives by faith. Habakkuk 2:4 And it pertains to faith to believe in Christ. And no man can believe in Christ— that is, come to Him— unless it be given to him. Romans 1:17 No man, therefore, can have a righteous will, unless, with no foregoing merits, he has received the true, that is, the gratuitous grace from above (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Book I, Chapter 7).
We must pray for His guidance then and not tear down others who, by following the leading of the Spirit (having the Law written on their hearts) reached different conclusions. We cannot tear out each others hearts and compare who has it right. There is no longer a written Law. Matters such as these are between man and God.