St. Paul’s Letter To The Romans Chapter 14

ROMANS CHAPTER 14:1 – 15:13


Heavenly Father,

We Your children praise You, Father, and thank You for giving
us Mother Church to instruct and guide us in our journey to the Promise Land of
heaven.  We understand that like any human family we must focus more on the love
that binds us in our faith than on our individual differences.  Beloved Holy
Spirit, instill in each of us the deep desire to be tolerant and forgiving and
to love each other as God the Son has loved us.  Please guide us in this week’s
study of Paul message of Christian solidarity in his letter to the faith
community in the heart of the pagan Roman Empire.  We can identify with this
community because we also live in a pagan society that is the super power of the
world, and like the Roman Christians we must struggle to rise above the
temptations and excesses that our affluent society offers us at the expense of
our moral, ethical, and spiritual devotion to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We
pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen


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“Paul says that we
should receive the weak man in order that we might support his weakness by our
strength.  Neither should we criticize his opinions by daring to pass judgment
on someone else’s heart, which we do not see. 
St. Augustine, Commentary
of Romans

“If we ask the
Lord to forgive us we should also forgive, for we stand before the eyes of the
Lord God, and we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and each
must give account of himself.” The Epistles of St. Polycarp,
Polycarp Bishop
of Smyrna

“God measures out
according as we measure out and forgives as we forgive, and comes to our rescue
with the same tenderness as he sees us having toward others.”
Father Luis de
Leon, Commentary on the life of Job

Paul concludes his apostolic teachings by addressing the
necessity for tolerance guided by Christian conscience in the light of our
relationship to Jesus Christ in our family obligation of solidarity and love
within the Church.  Paul will use two examples of tolerance that must be guided
by Christian conscience:

  1. Concerning abstaining from eating certain foods
  2. Concerning with the observance of certain holy days


St. Paul calls upon the “stronger” in faith to be an example
of love and tolerance to their “weaker” brothers and sisters regarding these two
matters that could cause dissension within the community.  Biblical scholars are
not in agreement as to which group in this Roman community is the “stronger”.
Some scholars believe Paul is addressing the Jews as the “stronger” since the
Covenant continues through them and they have a more mature understanding of the
New Covenant obligations.  Other scholars assume the “weaker’ Christians are the
Jews who hang on to such Old Covenant restrictions as the eating of clean and
the avoidance of eating unclean animals which would render the believer unclean
while their “stronger” Gentile brothers and sisters understand that under the
New Covenant such requirements are no longer valid.


Could it be that both groups of scholars are correct? Earlier
in his letter Paul did not hesitate to take the Jews to task where they were at
fault nor did he hesitate to point out the shortcomings in the Gentile
Christians in his desire to urge them to be one holy people united in one
visible Body in Christ Jesus.  Why should he hesitate now to name the “stronger”
or the “weaker”?  Perhaps, Jew or Gentile, the “stronger” Christian is the one
who understands the Holy Spirit’s teaching to St. Peter in Acts chapter 10 that
affirms Jesus’ teaching in Matthew
when He said, “Listen, and understand.  What goes into the mouth
does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes
someone unclean,”
and St. Paul’s teaching that the holy days and rituals of
the Old Covenant were things that, “are only a shadow or what was coming:
the reality is the Body of Christ” [Colossians


Please read Romans 14:1-12:
Christians Must Refrain From Judging Their Brothers and Sisters on Matters Not
Related to Faith and Morals

1 Give a
welcome to anyone whose faith is not strong, but do not get into arguments about
doubtful points. 
2 One person may
have faith enough to eat any kind of food; another, less strong, will eat only
3 Those who feel free to
eat freely are not to condemn those who are unwilling to eat freely; nor must
the person who does not eat freely pass judgment on the one who does’because God
has welcomed him.
4  And who are you,
to sit in judgment over somebody else’s servant?  Whether he deserves to be
upheld or to fall is for his own master to decide; and he shall be upheld, for
the Lord has power to uphold him. 
One person thinks that some days are holier than others, and another
thinks them all equal.  Let each of them be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 The one who makes special
observance of a particular day observes it in honor of the Lord.  So the one who
eats freely, eats in honor of the Lord, making his thanksgiving to God; and the
one who does not, abstains from eating in honor of the Lord and makes his
thanksgiving to God. 
7 For none of
us lives for himself and none of us dies for himself;

8  while we are alive,
we are living for the Lord, and when we die, we die for the Lord: and so, alive
or dead, we belong to the Lord. 
It was for this purpose that Christ both died and came to life again: so
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 

10 Why, then, does one
of you make himself judge over his brother and why does another among you
despise his brother?  All of us will have to stand in front of the judgment-seat
of God:
11 as Scripture says: By my
own life says the Lord, every knee shall bow before me; every tongue shall give
glory to God.
12 It is to God, then,
that each of us will have to give an account of himself.”


In this portion of his letter Paul returns to the issue of
passing judgment on brothers and sisters within the Christian community that he
first introduced in chapter 2:1-10,
and which he addressed to both Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church.  In that
passage Paul warned those who judge hypocritically that they will be judged more
severely: “So no matter who you are, if you pass judgment you have no
excuse.  It is yourself that you condemn when you judge others, since you behave
in the same way as those you are condemning.  We are well aware that people who
behave like that are justly condemned by God.  But you’when you judge those who
behave like this while you are doing the same  yourself’do you think you will
escape God’s condemnation?”
[Romans 2:1-3].
In that part of his letter Paul was revisiting the teaching Jesus gave in the
Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1-5 [please see Romans Lesson #4, chapter


However, please notice that in the chapter 14 portion of his
letter to the Roman Christians that although Paul is addressing the danger of
being judgmental with our “weaker” brothers and sisters within the faith
community, but he is not addressing sinful and immoral behavior.  Paul is
referring to behavior which may indicate a lack of spiritual maturity but which
in itself is not inherently harmful to the individual or to the community, or to
a practice which a “weak” brother may not recognize as acceptable in a brother
or sister who is more spiritually mature.  Paul will focus on two points which
he teaches should not lead to controversy within the community but should be
left up to the “conscience” of each believer.

Question: What “doubtful point” does Paul mention
could lead to disputes within the Roman community in 14:2-3?

Answer: Whether to eat meal or to abstain from eating


To completely abstain from eating meat and in some cases
drinking wine in the ancient world was a familiar ascetic practice known in such
Gentile groups as the neo-Pythagoreans and also in the Jewish sect know as the
Essences.  The neo-Pythagoreans like other Hellenistic mystery religions were
vegetarians and the Jewish Essences abstained complexly from wine and practiced
a scrupulous regiment in regard to “clean” foods.  It may be that some Gentiles
and Jews from these groups wished to continue the practice of abstaining from
meat and/or wine for purely aesthetic reasons.  You may recall that John the
Baptist abstained from meat and wine [Matthew 3:4;
Mark 1:5; Luke 1:14-15] while
Jesus did not, and the early Church historian Hegesippus [writing circa
155-180AD] noted that James, Bishop of Jerusalem abstained from both eating meat
and drinking wine [Eusebius, Church History, 2.23.5].  In the modern
world there are also Christians who according to their own consciences become
vegetarians, abstaining from all animal products.  Jesus also taught that these
small differences are meaningless and it is one’s relationship with God and the
desire to fulfill His plan in one’s life that is important.  In Matthew
Jesus commented on how He and John were judged unfairly in this
regard by the Jews when He said, “For John [the Baptist] came, neither
eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He is possessed.”  The Son of man came,
eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of
tax collectors and sinners.’  Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.'”


But there is another reason that the subject of eating meat
may have caused controversy within the Christian communities especially among
the “weaker” brothers and sisters [Paul is using the Greek word adelphoi
= “brothers” in the plural, which can also refer to sisters].  In pagan
cities and towns the majority of meat for sale in the market place was almost
without exception meat that had been offered in sacrifice in pagan temples to
false gods.  To abstain from eating the meat sacrificed to idols was included in
the list of requirements for pagan Gentiles to fulfill as candidates for
Christian baptism that the Apostles proclaimed at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:28-29:
“It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to impose on you
any burden beyond these essentials:

  • You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols
  • From blood
  • From the meat of strangled animals and
  • From illicit marriages.

Avoid these and you will do
what is right.”


Under the old laws of the Sinai Covenant what the faithful
ate was regulated by the laws of the Covenant as to “clean” (kosher) and
“unclean” animals [see the list of “clean” and “unclean animals in Leviticus
chapter 11

Question: What did the Holy Spirit reveal to Peter
concerning the Old Covenant eating restrictions?  What did these regulations
have to do with the interactions between Gentiles and Jews? See Acts 10:9-48 and 11:18

Answer: Peter’s vision and the vision and conversion
of the Roman gentile Cornelius had great significance in the development of the
New Covenant Church.  Both events are also linked to the decision of the Council
of Jerusalem concerning the admission of Gentiles into the New Covenant.  In the
past the eating of “unclean” foods separated Jews from Gentiles.  To associate
with an “unclean” Gentile could render the orthodox Old Covenant believer
ritually impure and prevent him from worshipping at the Temple or in the
Synagogue.   This was the reason the Pharisees and even Jesus’ kinsmen were so
scandalized when Jesus ate with Gentiles and sinners [Matthew
; Mark
; 3:20-21; Luke 15:1-2; 19:7].  In Peter’s
vision and later in Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, God Himself would make two
teachings clear to Peter:

  1. God made it clear to Peter that Gentiles are to be received
    into the Church without being forced to obey the Old Covenant Law.
  2. Peter must accept the hospitality of the uncircumcised.


In Peter’s vision God challenged Peter’s legalistic
scruples.  God has provided the means to cleanse the hearts of the Gentiles,
rendering them no longer ritually impure through the Sacrament of Baptism.  In
Jesus’ encounter with sinners and tax collections He did not become ritually
impure through His association with them but He had the power to cleanse them of
their impurity.  This is the promise of the New Covenant that includes the
Gentiles.  Even though their bodies remain uncircumcised, God the Holy Spirit
will circumcise their hearts and they must be accepted into the faith community
of New Covenant believers.  In Acts 10:34-35
Peter finally understands the theological significance of the vision and his
encounter with this Gentile and believer tells the household of the Roman
soldier: “‘I now really understand,’ he said, ‘that God has no favorites, but
that anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is
acceptable to him.'”

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