If our knowledge of Romans is restricted to ‘The Romans Road” (3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9; 8:1) then we will have a grasp on grace but only a tunnel vision of it. To look wider at the concept of grace, we need the whole book of Romans to chew on and meditate over. Grace doesn’t set us free to do whatever we want. “Whatever we want” is what got us all into trouble to begin with! (see Romans 2-3). Romans 6 and 7 taught us to follow God because of his great love for us and not simply because he sets the rules. Chapter 6 describes our salvation as ‘baptized into his death’. We don’t have a water ritual in mind here but the Spiritual baptism where we are overwhelmed and totally overcome by the gospel. We die with Christ so that we may live a new life.
This new life is one that pursues peace wherever it is possible (12:18). It is a life, not of commands but of love (12:9, 13:8-10).
Grace, therefore, does more than set us free from the penalty of sin, it shows us a better way. We will dress ourselves in the LORD Jesus Christ (13:14). He is our redeemer, He is our Commander and Chief, and He is our example.
My first observation needs to be about the heading provided by the NIV (and most other translations): “The Weak and the Strong”. One way to study the bible is to constantly judge whether the titles given are good ones or not. Always assume that you can improve on them – not because they are always wrong but because we should never assume that they are right! Read through the passage a few more times and ask this simple question: is this chapter REALLY about weak and strong Christians? Could you do better than this? When it comes to the “Meaning” section of your study, see if you can improve on this very narrow view of the passage.
Here’s how I’ve divided up the chapter in my mind. What do you think of this structure?
- 1-4 Accept the one whose faith is weak because God has accepted them.
- 5-9 Whatever you do, do it for the Lord and give thanks to God.
- 10-12 Each of us will stand before God’s judgement seat. It is God who will judge.
- 13-21 Make peace, not war! We are to pursue peace and building up one another.
- 22-23 Have an audience of one: God is the only observer you need to be concerned with.
“Whose faith is weak.” Notice that the description of the weak and “strong” faith is a bit enigmatic. It seems that those who regard all days as the same and as all food as acceptable are the strong in faith but is it that straight forward? The passage does not persist in the language of ‘strong vs weak’ but in everyone to serve God as his servant or slave. All of us have the challenge before us to mature in our trust of God – not by what we do but by how we relate to the Judge of all. I’m sure that every reader will assume that they are the strong who need to take care of the weak – is that what you assumed?
“Disputable matters.” We sometimes refer to these matters as “grey areas”. They are areas of Christian faith that Christians may fall either side of the argument and still be called a brother or sister. God does not call us to disagree but to peace. Paul doesn’t tell us not to discuss them but not to quarrel over them. Examples of a disputable matter might be: alcohol in moderation, styles of church services, how Christ will return (pre-milleniulism, post-millenialism or a-millenialism), and which way the toilet roll goes. Then again, discussions on WHAT is a disputable matter could turn into quarreling about a disputable matter! Is infant baptism a disputable matter? Paul gives two examples: what one is allowed to eat and whether some days are special days to the Lord or not.
Paul shows in verse 14 where he stands on food matters. What matters to him, however, is not his personal conclusion on the matter but on whether it really matters to everyone! Is our salvation based on a decision or awareness of this? Paul is convinced for himself that what he eats, is not a salvation issue for him. But he is very concerned to make sure that what he eats isn’t something that will cause another Christian to trip over in their faith. See 1 Cor 8:9-12; 9:22.
“For God has accepted them.” Paul began verse one with the command for us to accept one another who are of the faith – whether their faith is strong or weak. The strength of their faith does not make them righteous. It is God who makes righteous and he makes all righteous by faith.
“To their own master, servants stand or fall.” We all stand on the same side – no matter what minor issues we may be divided by – we are all servants of the one true God. He is our Master and we are his servants (slaves). A slave doesn’t judge over another slave because they are both slaves. The master is boss and decides who stands and falls. And it is the Lord who makes us stand (notice grace in that little phrase at the end of verse 4).
“Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” On the one hand, this little phrase teaches us that we are free to decide what we are able to do and/or not do. This is often referred to as Christian freedom: being freed by God’s grace to live without the burden of the Law. On the other hand, we are being warned here not to just wander around doing whatever we feel like doing, but to be fully convinced that we are able to do or not do it. It’s the “fully convinced” bit that I suspect we need to pay more attention to. Christians ought to think things through properly. It doesn’t make any sense, actually, for a Christian not to be a thinker. After all, we are being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (12:2). Christians, more than anybody else, ought to be making decisions according to their trust in God the Father rather than on what everybody else is doing. Divorce and remarriage, sexual morality, and the way we speak are just three areas that I see Christians being led by the way of this world rather than the wisdom of God. Christian freedom, I say again, is not about being free to serve yoursef – we are, after all, slaves to God. This is where the following verses take us…
“…does so to the Lord…does so to the Lord…does so to the Lord…” Whatever conclusion you make in your own mind about the way to live, it must be in service to the Lord. The alternative is to do so in service to yourself (or somebody else!).
“…give thanks to God…and gives thanks to God.” Someone who eats whatever they want is doing so to the Lord when they are giving thanks to God. Someone who abstains from eating certain things is doing it to the Lord when they give thanks to God. Otherwise, they are either living for themselves to indulge the sinful nature or they are being chained to the Law. Eating freely or obstaining both find their joy and pleasure in doing so to the Lord. Both are sinful if they are without regard for the grace of God.
“whether we live or die”. Paul is using a metaphore here and not talking about whether to stay alive or not (that is taken up in Philippians 1:18-26). We have been buried with Christ. This is an image of death and describes the type of life we are to live – following Christ. Living might be describing the freedom of treating every day the same and of all food as good. Dying might be referring to the sacrifice of giving certain days to God and abstaining from certain foods (like bacon!). Whether we eat bacon or not, whatever life choices we make, be sure that it is for the LORD because we belong to Him.
“For we will all stand before God’s judgement seat.” Receiving the grace of God that makes us righteous and justified in Christ does not mean that God is no longer our judge. Grace makes us clean from sin, not free from judgement. In Christ, we will be judged “not guilty” – but we will be judged. God is our Master, and we belong to him. God is our Judge and we will all, whether we have turned to him or not, be judged by him. Sober living is needed (Romans 12: 3). See Matthew 12:36, 1 Peter 4:5; Hebrews 9:27.
“Stop passing judgment on one another.” This is such a misused piece of scripture. “Don’t judge me!” is a modern comedic cry to let me be me. The truth of the verse is that God is judge and he is the only being we are to fearful of – judgement from others can’t be stopped, we can only train ourselves to treat others as fellow slaves. This isn’t telling us to cease discerning altogether. We make decisions all the time and often it is about how to act around other people. I won’t go on about this point except to say that we must always use scripture in it’s context.
“You are no longer acting in love.” This is a key phrase here. The end game is for us to act in love as the previous section of Romans instructed.
“Do not … destroy someone for whom Christ died.” The pointy end of this passage is that we can, in the strength of our faith, destroy a brother or sister in Christ. It may be a strong faith, but it is not a mature one. See also verse 20-21.
“…the kingdom of God is…of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” There are four elements here that describe the what the kindgom of God must be – this is not all of it, but these are four qualities of the kingdom. RIGHTEOUSNESS – what Romans 1-8 consists mostly of. How do we get right with God and stay there! Without righteousness, we can’t be a part of the kingdom. PEACE – God has called us to this. Peace with God and peace with our fellow man. The kingdom of God is not described as hostility, quarreling or harm. See verse 19. JOY – John Piper has taken this element of the kingdom of God and shown quite convincingly that JOY is what the kingdom of God is all about. Joy is about knowing God who is king of the kingdom. HOLY SPIRIT – the Spirit is the means by which we are able to enjoy and be part of the kingdom of God. Romans 8 is a beautiful chapter on the Trinity – without the Spirit, Christ would not have raised from the dead, we could never be raised from the dead, and Christ could not dwell within us.
Living at peace not only serves Christ appropriately, but gets along with other people more likely. It’s a win-win.
Don’t put things ahead of the kingdom of God. See Matthew 6:19-34.
“everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Remember Romans 1:17 : ‘For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Someone has said, Christianity is about a faith that leads to faithfulness. We are saved by grace through faith (eph 2:8) – this faith is much more than turning to Christ in repentance, it is turning to God to rule in your life. If someone is persuaded by another slave to go their way and it appears to them to be against God – then they have not trusted in God but in their fellow slave. Let’s be clear who our master is and serve him only! What following him looks like is between you and God.
- My Master is God and God alone. It is not me. It is not you. And my Master commands me to be your servant.
- Martin Luther said: “For although I am free as all men, I have made myself a slave to all.”
- Judge all areas of you life – your work, your home, your recreation, your worship – be certain of all the things that you do, that you are doing them for the Lord and giving thanks to God. Is there any areas of your life that you have not yet examined?
- Be certain of who has the following titles in your life: Judge, Master, slave. Who are you serving?
- Being “strong” in the faith can lead you to pride. Reflecting on the grace that God has shown to you in the Lord Jesus Christ will lead you to joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.
- Practice being thankful for all the things that God gives us. Share them in your group…list as many things to be thankful for as possible.
- Let’s learn how to live in peace with one another. What are practical ways to live at peace when others do or talk in ways you don’t approve of?