"We see, in many a land, the proudest dynasties and tyrannies still crushing, with their mountain weight, every free motion of the Consciences and hearts of men. We see, on the other hand, the truest heroism for the right and the greatest devotion to the Truth in hearts that God has touched. We have a work to do, as great as our forefathers and, perhaps, far greater. The enemies of Truth are more numerous and subtle than ever and the needs of the Church are greater than at any preceding time. If we are not debtors to the present, then men were never debtors to their age and their time. Brethren, we are debtors to the hour in which we live. Oh, that we might stamp it with Truth and that God might help us to impress upon its wings some proof that it has not flown by neglected and unheeded." -- C.H. Spurgeon . . . "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:31, 32 . . . . .


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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Study in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans – “On the Road of Righteousness” Chapter Fourteen

~  By James Fire

Chapter Fourteen: "He Ain’t Heavy . . ."

In the entire canon of Scripture, there are those doctrines that are crystal clear with no margin for misunderstanding or misinterpretation. When Scripture speaks on the issue of adultery, or idol worship, or drunkenness; on the issues of salvation, sanctification and the nature and character of God – there are no gray areas nor the slightest hint of ‘wiggle room’ that would affect the perception of any honest student of the Bible.

There are however certain areas that are not so clear cut and precise, but allows for some leeway and this chapter is just such a chapter. It deals with conscience and convictions on different issues that largely depends on the level of spiritual development of the individual disciple. Since we are all growing at different rates of maturity in the LORD, what one may allow into their lives, another would not.

Inquiring About Indistinct Issues –

Today we have the same sort of issues; for example, is it a sin to smoke cigarettes? Or to watch a movie? Is it a sin to patronize a pub? For many of us the answer is clear because of our convictions.

A lot of these things are cultural however – for example, when I was a missionary in England, some of the brethren whom I believe to be devout and true believers, would think nothing of stopping by a pub for a beer. In that culture, beer wasn’t used as an intoxicant but merely as a beverage. 

In America, this issue is rather different however. Certainly none of us as Christians are allowed biblically, to get drunk; or use such illegal substances that would in little time, wreak havoc with our bodies and brains; or engage in pre-marital sex or to watch movies that are sexually explicit or blasphemous to the LORD. Yet to lesser degrees (and in different cultures) other activities would be allowable within the parameters of Scriptural guidance.

Then another guideline applies and that is, to be considerate of another saint’s spiritual development and whether or not any given activity would compromise their faith and cause them to sin against their own conscience; that is, to show concern and care for our brother who might be “weak in the faith” in a certain area.

Clean Conduct of the Christian, Both Strong and Weak –

Paul gets into this matter in Chapter Fourteen and in the course of these twenty three verses we will carefully examine what he teaches and learn what our conduct should be, given certain conditions and situations. We will glean from and highlight the parallel passage to this as well, that is 1 COR 8:1–13; 10:14-33.

ROMANS 14:1-3
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 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

The Bible admonishes us to be strong in the faith, to be strong in the LORD and in the power of His might (ROM 4:20; 1 COR 16:13; EPH 6:10) and we find ourselves strengthened as we grow in our knowledge of the Word of God and in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

However, there are those who are weak in faith for whatever reason: they could have issues of trust that cripples them from expressing a faith that is surrendered to the LORD or simply they are negligent of applying themselves to a regular and spiritually healthy diet in the Bread of Life and in prayer. . . or other reasons besides.

Paul here exhorts the brethren to receive, not reject those who are weak in the faith, and not to judge them harshly for their weakness. He wrote about such tender care for the saints elsewhere (ACTS 20:35; 1 THESS 5:14) and just as we all should endeavor to be mighty in word and deed, by the power of God’s Spirit and grace, we ought never to look down on others; for the most powerful among us – the LORD Jesus Christ has never done so, nor will He ever do so towards any of the saints, be they great or small.

Polytheistic Pagan's Practice – Don't Participate!

In the days of antiquity when worship of gods in various polytheistic cultures was common, and temples dedicated to such were even more so, sacrifices were incessant and then the animals sacrificed were sold for their meat. For those who were pagan, these considerations concerning such food in their diet were a non-issue, but not so for observing Jews or for Christians.

‘To eat or not to eat’; that was the question for many and for those of the church whose faith was weak, this was a dilemma indeed. For those strong in the faith, they could look upon such things and not be bothered at all, but receive it for what it was: simply beef, or lamb which was provided for by the LORD God, the Maker of all things: 
1 TIMOTHY 4:3-5
3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
For others however, they couldn’t get passed the point that such animals were sacrificed to idols and false gods, considering the fact that such false gods were representative of demonic entities (1 COR 10:20-22); this reference from 1 Corinthians deals with the participation of such pagan practices and something that Christians should not be a part of; but the consumption of meat offered to such is a separate issue and not as clear cut as “being partakers of the altar”.

For those who decide that they cannot in all good conscience partake of such, they are not to be judged or despised by those who have no problem doing so. However, there are more issues that follow:

ROMANS 14:4-6
4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks

Accountable for Actions in Accord with the Word –

Ultimately, we are all accountable to the LORD and to the Word of God; Christians have an obligation to look out for one another, and if we see any saint living improperly in light of the Scriptures, we are to exhort and admonish as one member of the body ministers to another.

Still, however, that saint is answerable to the LORD and will be judged by no other except the LORD and His Word. Seldom should any admonition be given harshly, but always with compassion and meekness, but in the Spirit and for love’s sake regarding a brother or sister in the LORD, just as it states in the Word:
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. 3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
There are those that regard certain days as special for various observations, days that are perceived as holy; others make no such distinctions. Paul here again states that one is not to judge another for their convictions, when there are no clear evidences of sinful conduct for which Scripture gives definite admonitions and guidance.

Whether diets or days are the concern, each in accord with their conscience and convictions is able to give thanks to the LORD for the blessings contained therein and as long as they are able to do so with clarity and no condemnation in their hearts, then all is well. The LORD is able to sustain each believer in their convictions and He does not condemn where there is nothing to condemn. Again, we are talking specifically about peripheral issues that have no definitive prohibitions in the Scriptures!

ROMANS 14:7-9
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

Our lives as believers have the very Spirit of Christ as our life source; the very impulses and convictions that we have, we have because of the Spirit Who works in us – since we are so dependent on this Life that emanates from Christ Jesus (COL 3:4), we should do nothing contrary to the One Who has so graciously provided such Life – such as unjustly judging our brother.

Likewise since we are entirely dependent on Christ and His propitiatory sacrifice for our sins and look to the Cross which gloriously delivers us in the death of self and its sinful proclivities, we ought not to place ourselves as judge over our brethren, who has already been judged (as have all of us who belong to Christ) for our sins at the Cross, where our sin-bearer, the Lamb of God, took upon Himself our transgressions and the subsequent wrath of God the Father (ISAIAH 53:4-6).
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain
(See also: GAL 2:20; 1 PET 4:2).
Judge Jesus –

JESUS, the LORD of the Living and the dead, is the Maker and also the Judge of all souls (EZEK 18:1-4; 2 TIM 4:1)! There will never be a soul that He has created that won’t stand before Him for judgment; there is no escaping judgment for any soul that has ever lived or ever will live; its just a matter of location: either you will face judgment at the Great White Throne Judgment and account for your own sins and thereby be condemned – or you will face judgment at the Cross of Calvary and behold by believing faith, the Suffering Savior Who surrendered Himself willingly as our sin-bearer and received judgment for the sins of the world in our place!
JOHN 5:22-23
22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: 23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
Let us therefore honor the Son by giving Him leave to judge His saints (the members of His body) at what is known as the Bema seat where our conduct and works in His Name will undergo Divine Review! This place of judgment is distinct in manner, purpose and time from the Great White Throne judgement that occurs at the conclusion of the Millennial Reign of Christ, when once “the earth and heavens will pass away with a great noise” (REV 20:10-12).

ROMANS 14:10
10 But 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.

It is here, at the Bema seat, when at once we behold our LORD’s glorious face on that Day; whose eyes are a flame of fire, that we shall be judged – not for our sins (these have been judged already at the Cross for each believing saint) – but for works done in Christ’s Name and the LORD Himself shall determine if these are genuine works created in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit (“gold, silver, precious stones”; EPH 2:10) through us or if these are works of the flesh (“wood, hay, stubble”) our own will and self effort:
1 CORINTHIANS 3: 10-15
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
This passage speaks of the destruction of works that are not approved by Christ Jesus, the Head of the Church, and not the destruction of the persons being judged; nor is this an allusion to purgatory as the Roman Catholic Church teaches, for it’s not the soul but the works that are purged or “tried”.

Deity of the Disciple-Maker –

ROMANS 14:11-12

11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Here is a Pauline testimony to the Deity of Jesus Christ, for the apostle here declares that Jesus Christ is the Judge before Whom we saints shall stand and give account for our conduct. In the next breath he quotes from the book of Isaiah:
ISAIAH 45:21-25
21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD [YHWH]? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. 22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. 24 Surely, shall one say, in the LORD [YHWH] have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. 25 In the LORD [YHWH] shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.
Paul states that every knee shall bow before Christ, before Whom we shall all stand at the Bema seat, and relates this to the passage in ISAIAH above, thereby ascribing Deity to Jesus of Nazareth. For a TTUF series of articles on the LORD Jesus Christ and His place as a member of the triune Godhead, please click the following link to read JESUS is GOD.

Stop Your Saint-Stumbling!

ROMANS 14:13-15
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died

Paul returns to the issue of care for our weaker brethren in the LORD and to take every precaution not to “put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall” before any of our fellow saints. For the apostle to reiterate this concern, shows not only that it was a pressing matter that required his attention, but that, as the Word of God spoken to us through Paul, a matter that requires our own attention.

The issue of “clean” and “unclean” contextually speaks of how it is perceived by the individual believer; and again, this is in regards to those matters that have no clear, biblical prohibition. Such matters that the Bible does speak against in the life of the saint should be “off the table” for us and beyond any consideration for our participation.

The parallel passage for this issue is found in 1 COR 8:1–13; 10:14–33 and we shall ‘cherry pick’ verses from this text:

In this passage to the Corinthian church, Paul firstly speaks on the fact of the matter; there is, in truth, only One Creator God, the Maker of heaven and earth, and beside Him there is no one else (ISAIAH 45:5-6,21). There are however idols that among the pagans are considered as legitimate gods (of the pantheon of different cultures, be they Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, etc.) and there are some Christians whose knowledge is not mature, and whose conscience is bothered by such “offerings” made to these false gods.

If they should see another sitting in the temple of such a pagan god (not for the purpose of worship, but the meat served from such sacrifices often took place in these temples), they could become bold and join in, only later to be defiled and have their conscience wounded (1 COR 8:4-11); Paul took such situations very seriously because in verse 12 he states:
1 CORINTHIANS 8: 12-13
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
In the Greek, to “wound” (tupto) refers to a blow, from a cudgel; to pummel, repeated blows, to strike with hammer or hand, to smite, or beat, to deliver a series of such.

Such violent damage done to the saint, using this word metaphorically should be highly offensive and repugnant for us as children of God who should love each other as Christ loves us (JOHN 13:34-35).

Communing with Deity or Devils –

In 1 CORINTHIANS 10 Paul describes the communion we have at the LORD’s Table among the saints before the LORD Himself (vs. 16-17). Likewise under the Old Testament, Israel was a partaker of the altar before the LORD (vs. 18). He then relates the fellowship that the church has with the LORD, and that which Israel had also with YHWH in the worship of each, each had communion with the Holy GOD.

The association of pagans and their own altars dedicated to idols is a matter of concern, for while some saints were partaking of the meat, others were doing likewise but also participating in the worship of idols! Paul stated emphatically:
1 CORINTHIANS 10:20–21
20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. 21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.
Paul considers the actual eating of meat offered to idols as a separate issue from the worship of idols; and here is the dilemma for the weaker saint: they had trouble differentiating from the eating of such meat offered in pagan temples with the actual worship.

In their spiritually weaker condition, they believed that by eating such meat, they were guilty of worshiping false gods. Other saints had no trouble making this distinction and could readily partake of such with a clear conscience before the LORD.

Paul went on to say that if a saint were invited to a feast, to go ahead and eat what is set before them without questioning where it came from (i.e., “was this animal sacrificed to pagan deities?”) but if another saint, whose faith is weaker, points out the fact that the meat offered on the dining table had previously been laying on the altar of Diana (or other false god), then for the sake of the one who revealed this, refrain from partaking in order to safeguard the weaker brother’s conscience (1 COR 10:24-30).
1 CORINTHIANS 10:31-33
31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: 33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
The same can be said today of drinking alcohol (which is in fact prohibited to elders, strictly limited for deacons but allowed for saints in general with the provision that the same are never intoxicated or “buzzed”), smoking, watching certain movies (that are not blatantly immoral in any way – which would include most of Hollywood’s productions I suppose!), etc. For example a saint recently delivered from alcohol would be stumbled if they saw you drinking a beer; another who was ensnared by pornography would be stumbled if you were to be seen watching a film where women were wearing two-piece bathing suits; another who was involved in the occult could be stumbled if you were playing with a Magic 8 Ball, and the list goes on.

The ‘rule of thumb’ is, that if you are aware of a saint’s weaknesses then show loving care and tact in what you allow yourself while in their company and to forbid such things for yourself out of a love for the LORD Who purchased that saint with His own blood!

ROMANS 14:15-18
15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. 16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.

We can sometimes insist on our own liberties at the expense of others, perceiving their weakness as “their problem” but we ought not to make such a distinction as members of the same body of Christ. Their problems are, in a sense, all of our problems that name the Name of Christ, who are born of His Spirit.

The old expression holds true: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” While we might focus on ourselves, we would be better off to walk in love and seek after that which edifies the body (other saints) “the kingdom of God in all righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost”.

If we desire acceptance with God and approval of [godly] men, then this course of action commends itself to us who love the LORD.

ROMANS 14:19-23
19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. 20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. 21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. 22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

Peace among the household of God should be a common commodity, a thing that is scarce among the spiritually lost, and yet if we do not allow the PRINCE of PEACE His rule in our hearts as well as our conduct (“in lowliness of mind, esteeming others better than [ourselves]” (PHIL 2:3) how then can there be peace? Note the contrast in this last portion of our text: we can either edify (that is, “to build up or to strengthen”) or we can destroy – “the work of God”.

Once again Paul states that some of these issues are indistinct and must be left for the conscience of each individual believer: for those who don’t condemn themselves in the things that they allow, they are pure of any guilt or wrong conduct.

For those who participate with a weak conscience, he is condemned by the same. “…whatsoever is not of faith is sin” that is, what ever conduct we may follow, we must do so according to our faith in God and His Word; any conduct outside of such faith invariably leads to sinful conduct and thus condemnation.

So ends the 14th chapter of Romans and we are that much nearer now to completing our journey On the Road of Righteousness! May the LORD bless and encourage all of us as we walk in the Spirit upon this righteous road until it leads us to Himself, the Author and Finisher of the Faith!

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