Do we always think, speak and act out of genuine faith and conviction? ‘No’, is the simple answer. Almost every day I receive many communications from Christians who think what they say is genuine! Some become rather abusive or strident if I refuse to be drawn into their way of thinking. Others retreat, saying something about ‘love’.
But, error is error, whether it is accompanied by anger, abuse, insistence, or love! Repeating what one believes does not make it true. What makes it true is scripture alone. Unfortunately, many Christians have a Roman Catholic viewpoint, that scripture can be interpreted in many ways, or that personal beliefs can be used as a supplement to God’s word. As I say later, there is only one way to interpret scripture (see my articles on this subject). Once we step out and give our own opinion, our argument is lost.
How many Christians are willing to shun other Christians simply because they hold to beliefs on non-important issues that are not accepted by them? I ask rhetorically, because I know the answer! In my own life I have been shunned because of this very reason. I am not alone in this experience. Yet, the critics often hold to major doctrinal errors themselves, which are, of course, acceptable to them!
How much error is covered-over by a sham, superficial ‘love’? I have lost count of the number of times I have been attacked or shunned under this guise! I have had contact with many thousands of Christians who have been treated similarly. Love? I do not think so. Bitterness? Probably. Ignorance? Definitely!
I used to have whole churches ignore me, even though I did nothing except move to another church! Have you known this typical behaviour? It can happen even if you have been a member for a long time. This shows just how ‘loving’ your fellow members really were. One pastor who publicly declared that he would be willing to ‘die’ for us, quickly changed his mind a few weeks later, when we moved out of his church. Then, he became abusive and commanded other members to shun us! So much for his undying love and sincerity.
Friends, these are examples of ‘love’ without truth. It is superficial ‘love’, not scriptural love. Take care that if you express ‘love’, you truly mean it, for God watches.
Verses 1 - 3
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.
We must ‘receive’ those who are weak in the faith. Who are these people, and what does Paul mean? ‘Weak in the faith’ is an interesting term, almost an odd one. Faith is the conviction that Jesus is our Saviour and Lord, and belief in everything scripture speaks of. ‘Weak’ is to be feeble in that faith, having no real strength; powerless in trust. As you can see, the two words appear to be contradictory!
But, we all know of Christians who always seem to be at odds with their claims to salvation; they are always ‘up to something’ that does not fit the Christian character; they are always questioning the truth and scripture itself. There can be many reasons for this, which I will not discuss here. The main fact is that some Christians are “weak in the faith”. I am the first to admit that I sometimes find such Christians frustrating to deal with – it is like going back to square one on every occasion! Even so, I will keep answering their questions and giving counsel until they ‘get it’… and this will happen only when the Holy Spirit prompts their soul, if they are indeed saved by grace.
We must “receive” these very weak persons. That is, ‘lead them by the hand’, welcome them into our home and show kindness, become a friend. This can be done so long as the weak Christian does not start to argue against truth, or decry it. One such person I befriended for almost two years; his constant queries and counter-arguments were draining, but I persisted and saw him slowly grow, or so I thought.
However, as time progressed, this weak Christian (?) began to go beyond mere questions and he started to express unbelief in certain vital truths. From this he began to get a little abusive. Therefore, I had to cut links. I told him that he would be most welcome again if he repented, but I have the suspicion that his declared salvation was fake, which would account for his gradual entry into heresy and unbelief. So, we must welcome and teach those who are weakest, but once they begin to argue against God’s word (“doubtful disputations”), we must shun them.
Paul gives an example of some ‘disputations’ encountered by the Roman Christians. Because they were also Jews, they were particularly susceptible to arguments over the ‘right’ food and drink. One believer, says Paul, thinks he can eat anything. Others, being ‘weak’, only eat a vegetarian diet. Neither is ‘right’, and it does not matter anyway, because both are Christians accepted by God. Even though neither are ‘right’ (or wrong), note that Paul refers to vegetarians as ‘weak’. (Note: Vegan beliefs are based on mysticism and paganism, so their beliefs are sin).
That is, the Christian who insists we should be vegetarian is without spiritual strength, which suggests that his position as a vegetarian is not in accord with God’s plan. (Many become vegetarian because of a sudden psychological dislike for meat, but, if dealt with properly, it can be overcome). This implies that when a Christian becomes vegetarian, a pastor or good friend ought to discuss it with him or her, because otherwise they become ‘weak’ as believers. What is the weakness? It is that they do not accept God’s teaching, as found in Peter’s dream of the lowered sheet containing animals. By not accepting the teaching they lay themselves open to other points of unbelief or ‘dispute’.
Verses 4 - 9
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.
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
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.
For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
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.
For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
Paul continues the theme, but with a different approach. He asks, ‘Who do you think you are, judging another man’s servant?’ Again, this seems to be an odd question. Why does he suddenly refer to a servant and master?
It is all logical: Paul means that every Christian is subject to his ‘master’, God. We have no right to judge one of our brethren in such things. They, too, are saved by grace, and that is the main fact to bear in mind. Some (many!) make very odd choices, but so long as they do not harm the spiritual life, or deny scripture, it is not a matter for intensity. Yet, in these days of growing apostasy and secularized beliefs (such as animal rights, environmentalism, vegetarianism, etc.) that are being used to abuse fellow believers, we must not allow what is a personal choice to be used as a means to subject others to a demanded regime.
If vegetarians (the subject of the above verses) wish to be as they are though their reasoning is not all that it should be, they may not command others to obey their peculiar habits: if God does not make the command, no man may do it on His behalf. Indeed, whilst the vegetarian argues hotly, the text tells us that God actually holds up the one who eats meat! This is because God gave us all foods for our use. The only exceptions are foods we know to be dedicated to idols, or meat that still contains running blood (not cooked enough, or, are the product of blood itself, such as ‘black pudding’; thus, eating meat ‘rare’ is against God’s command), though these two exceptions are not to do with meat itself, but with what we do with it.
Paul then gives another example of useless demands made by one Christian upon another: special days. God says that we can hold special days if we wish, or we may think every day is equal. It is up to us, says God! This has important ramifications for festivals and so-called ‘celebrations’. It even affects Sundays. Many think Sunday is the cast-in-stone rest day, but scripture merely says we must rest on the ‘seventh day’. Scripture does not actually define which day is the seventh day, whether Sunday or the Jewish Saturday! Observance of Sunday is, rather, what we might call a ‘good tradition’.
Other periods fare even less well: Christmas, Easter, and so on. They are all invented! Yet, many churches, including reformed, think they are mandatory. All these ‘other’ special days, other than Sundays, were created by Roman Catholicism, or are remnants of Jewish religion (e.g. Harvest festival). Therefore, they are not binding.
It is up to each individual if they want to celebrate or observe special days. I have no problem with Christians who wish to observe Christmas as honouring Christ, etc., so long as they observe as a matter of personal conviction, and not because (as I suspect in nearly all cases) they feel compelled by their church’s tradition, or by Romanist propaganda. Think about these things, and only return to your observations if you are fully convinced in your own mind and heart (verse 5). And, do not think less of your brethren if they do not hold to the same views. You are free to think as you prefer, and so are they. Without a definite scriptural reason for intervention, that is that!
The same applies to almost any ‘peripheral’ beliefs held by fellow Christians. Some of them might seem silly to us, but if they do no harm, leave them to it. If, however, their beliefs are unscriptural*, you are honour-bound to speak out, whether in challenge, or with direct rebuke, or public declarations and denunciations. It depends on the issue. It is not loving to leave people continue in their errors. (*Remember there is a difference between ‘unscriptural’ and ‘not scriptural’ or ‘not found in scripture’).
As verse 6 indicates, if we hold a belief, whether it is about food, drink, special days, or whatever, we “regardeth (it) unto the Lord”. Read verse six studiously, for it urges us to consider our beliefs very carefully. If we do not have a sound Biblical reason to hold the belief, then why hold it at all? And if there is a scriptural reason, and others subject it to scrutiny, that is acceptable. If their scrutiny discovers that your belief is not, after all, on a solid foundation, then you must discard it. To hold on to a belief that has no substance is like drowning in the sea because you have a rock tied to your back!
Verse seven sums it up: none of us owns our own life, and none of us dies as its owner. God owns us, and our lives are His to maintain or dispense with. If we have beliefs, they must be in accord with what God says in His word. I do not just mean in accord with what we THINK He says. I mean according to what God actually says, not what some writers prefer, or what a denomination gives as ‘official teaching’. This goes back to proper interpretation of scripture… something very few people do, including theologians and pastors. Indeed, much of my time is spent showing others that their beliefs are not true, or are badly interpreted.
I have known Christians to study scripture all their lives, and yet still come up with error. This is partly because of being stiff-necked, but also partly because they have never examined the presuppositions they started out with. If their presuppositions are wrong to begin with, then everything that follows will also be wrong, making all their years of study useless and wasted! But, as others have noted, few will admit to error, or will even consider it, because, like many people, they do not want to think they have been in error for such a long time! The real point is not what we think, but what God says, as verse seven shows us. Frankly, it is just not good enough to lamely say “We will have to agree to disagree”!
Christ is our Lord; we are not our own lords. Even when we die we belong to Christ, not to ourselves. It will be a very sad time, when we meet the Lord, to discover that because of our stubbornness, we leave this earth with error and heresy sticking to our souls like a cancer. Look hard! There is only one way to interpret scripture. Every other way is error.
Christ came, lived, died and rose again, so that He could be “Lord both of the living and the dead.” Whatever we think of our own selves and beliefs, it is as nothing compared to the Lordship of Christ.
Verses 10 - 13
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.
For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
I can guarantee that most Christians will misunderstand this section! If they believe we should never judge the brethren, they will automatically think these verses support their belief… which they do not.
Yes, Paul is very specific: “Why do you judge your brother?” Is this proof that we should not judge the brethren? No, it does not! Do you think God would allow His word to contradict itself? Elsewhere, Christ commands us to judge the brethren (for example, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11)! So, what does this text mean? It refers only to the matter to hand - disputations over food and drink. That is all it is about, so do not apply it to everything in general.
Verses 7, 8 and 9 all begin with conjunctions, which means that all the verses are connected by the one theme, which is – food and drink (verse 6). The word starting verse 10, ‘but’, de, is also a conjunction, so what follows is an extension of what preceded it. Thus, when Paul asks why a man judges his brother, he is referring to the matter already discussed: food and drink, nothing more. He asks ‘Why do you discredit your fellow Christian for the sake of food and drink, when God says nothing about it?’
Over the years critics have tried to discredit me over many issues, for no good reason, other than that they think I ought to think as they do! If I do not, then it ‘proves’ I must be a thoroughly bad influence! Oh well. Others say that I oppose anyone who does not think as I do (by that they mean their thinking). In reality, I do not care if someone opposes what I think. What I oppose is belief that is unscriptural.
Each of us will stand before God to be judged. Leave it to Him when it comes to things that have no scriptural bearing. On that momentous day every one of us will be judged and will have to explain our thoughts, speech and actions to God, Who already knows what we are like within!
For this reason we should leave it to God. Stop judging each other in petty things, and do not act as though you were alone in the universe. As Christians we are public property! Everyone likes to watch closely to see if we fail at any point. In one company I was employed by, four decades ago, I worked with a large number of fellow designers in a drawing office. Unfortunately, we were called out on strike by the union and had to picket the place for several weeks, which turned into a few months. Mostly, this was during a very hot summer.
The others used to go to the bottom of the road at lunchtime, to have a quenching beer. I stayed on my own – they knew my beliefs. But, one blistering day, I gave in and went with them, to sit outside. After much persuasion I accepted a ‘shandy’ (for foreign readers, this is a small amount of beer diluted by lemonade). I was so thirsty I drank it. As soon as I had done so, the fellow who bought it for me pointed his finger and taunted “So, you are a Christian, eh?” The drink was only a ploy to get me to supposedly go against my beliefs, and for my fellows to taunt me.
For my colleagues this was some big thing: a Christian who said he did not drink was now drinking alcohol! It seemed to be hypocritical. Though it had been a ‘set up’, they were right. Later, I saw that there is no scriptural ban on drinking small amounts of alcohol, but, at that time, I became an hypocrite. This made me a ‘stumblingblock’ to the unsaved I worked with. And, if I had worked with a weak Christian, I would have been a stumblingblock to him, too. In that matter, then, I was foolish.
If, for example, a weaker Christian thinks it is wrong to drink, say, wine, then the stronger Christian who does drink wine should not do so in the presence of the weaker Christian. This is not hypocritical but wise. Why make him feel uncomfortable when it is unnecessary? Why eat a meat dinner if he, in his weakness, is a guest who thinks it is wrong? Of course, if the issue is vital, then we would have to obey conscience rather than try to make a weak Christian feel better. But, in small things of no consequence, we should not deliberately do what the weak Christian thinks is bad. This is because to do so is to place a stumblingblock in his way that might prevent him from learning the truth. Remember that he is weak in faith.
Verses 14 - 18
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.
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
These verses prove that Paul is referring only to food and drink. He says he is absolutely convinced by Christ that nothing is unclean “of itself” (verse 14). What makes something ‘unclean’ is the perception of the person that it is unclean. So, says Paul, if one Christian really and truly thinks eating a particular food (not just meat) is wrong, do not deliberately eat it when in his company. Why make him upset just for the sake of eating a particular food? It is more loving to refrain, than to upset him for no real reason and possibly give him a bad impression of you as a fellow believer. Then, “your good (will be) evil spoken of” and any gains you may have obtained will be dashed. You can always attempt to show a more Biblical stance at a later date.
If the issue is not important, do not upset your fellow believer; he is ‘weak’ and requires the Spirit to change his mind. Besides, heaven is not founded on food and drink (verse 17), but on being right with God, commended and accepted by Him, and having the presence of the Holy Spirit within. When we serve Christ fully, then, we are acceptable to God, and when we do what is right and do not set out to upset our fellow believers, they, too, commend us.
As I have already said, this is a specific teaching to do with non-essential things. The same does not apply to vital things, such as doctrine and behaviour. If these are a problem we must never appease weak fellow believers by accepting their heresy or bad teaching. Rather, we must speak out and oppose what they say. And, as I have said before (because it is scriptural), if what they believe and do is said or done in public, our rebuke or opposition must also be public.
Verses 19 - 21
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
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.
Let us, then, says Paul, do what leads to peace (conducive to harmony), and let us edify each other: build each other up, encourage growth in wisdom, holiness, etc. That is, we do not concentrate on petty things or things that really do not matter, but keep on teaching truth in the hope that their weak state of spirit and mind will turn to what is true and genuine. In my own ministry, I attempt to do this, not always successfully; the aim is to edify without talking much about what is trivial or non-essential; things that do not interest me anyway.
Eating food does not destroy the work of God. Salvation is not ruined because we eat a beef sandwich, or eat only root vegetables! All things are pure, inoffensive in themselves, but can become a source of trouble if they are insisted-on by over-zealous adherents, whose refusal to accommodate the weaker Christian makes what they do offensive (in this case, eating foods thought to be ‘wrong’, knowing that eating them will lead to upset). If we eat or drink anything that offends the brethren, then we should not do it in their presence, if by doing so we cause them to be shocked enough to become weaker or less amenable to true doctrine.
Verses 22 & 23
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Paul asks ‘have you got faith?’ Then “have it to thyself before God”. Again, this specifically speaks of the food and drink issue. If you truly think something is good to eat (or not) then obey your conscience (here called faith) and do it (or not do it) according to your conviction… but keep it to yourself and do not attempt to impose your belief onto others, perhaps causing problems or even grief. If you eat or drink something you tell others is not permitted, then you are ‘damned’ for not following what you believe to be something of faith. And anything not of faith is sin.
In this text ‘damned’ does not mean loss of salvation. It means you will be judged for being so hypocritical.
Note the important statement here: “whatsoever is not of faith is sin”. Do you act in faith? Does everything you do come from a basis of faith? If not, you sin. How? Well, faith is a gift of God; He gives each of us a measure of faith, as we already know from previous texts. The faith we are given is the faith that enables us to work for the Lord in any capacity and whatever we do in life. Whatever we do must arise out of our faith, which is, really, equal to a command of God. If we act without this command, we act without God’s command or leading. Therefore, if we act without the command inherent in faith, we sin.
How many Christians think, speak and act without God’s prompting through faith? I am willing to say, most do. I say it from observation and experience. Am I wrong? I do not think so, for fewer and fewer Christians today appear to do anything, let alone do what is right, for the proper reasons. At times, that goes for me, too, for I am just as liable to sin, acting personally and not from God. I pray that I do so infrequently, but I am making a pertinent and very sad point: none of us is true at all times, though we may wish to be.
So, let us do what Paul says: love each other and try to feed each other truth, help and care. However, do not think that love alone is enough. As we saw in the last study, God expects love to be matched by truth, because love without truth is not real love, but is a deception.
© September 2009