A Study of Romans 14
Preaching the gospel for fifty-three years, I have heard many perversions of Romans Chapter 14. It is a serious thing to pervert any part of the gospel of Christ. Some in the churches of Galatia were perverting the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:7). Paul warned of the serious consequences of preaching another gospel, other than the one which he preached (Gal. 1:8, 9). We need be careful lest we be accursed for preaching another gospel, other than the one Paul preached in Romans 14.
A Serious Examination Of What Is Taught
We are taught to receive the weak brother (Rom. 14:1). This does not mean we are to receive every weak brother. Some weak brethren are to be rejected (Tit. 1:9-14; Tit. 3:10, 11). Others are to be "marked" and "avoided" (Rom. 16:17). The weak brother we are to receive is not a false teacher. He just simply does not understand that we may eat meat (Rom. 14:2). He does not understand that there are some days that may be regarded to the Lord, without sinning; while at the same time it it not necessary to regard these days to the Lord (Rom. 14:5, 6). These are matters of indifference! God does not care one way, or the other. It does not matter with God whether you eat meat or not. God does not care if you want to be a vegetarian, and reject meat altogether. Neither does God care if you want to eat a pork chop, ham, bacon, catfish, or rabbit (I Tim. 4:4, 5). It was wrong under the law of Moses to eat certain meats (Lev. 11). But under the law of Christ, it does not matter. "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness , and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17).
We are not to receive the weak brother to "doubtful disputations" (Rom. 14:1). This would mean we are to receive him without disputing with him about things he has doubt about, which doesn't matter one way or another. If he doubts that he should eat meat, we are not to dispute with him, trying to persuade him to eat meat. There is no need to convert him to our way of thinking, because God doesn't care whether he eats meat or not. This does not mean we should not dispute with him about things which matter with God, even though he is weak, and has doubts about things.
The strong brother, who can eat meat, should not despise the weak brother, who cannot eat meat with a clear conscience (Rom. 14:3). The weak brother, who cannot eat meat with a clear conscience, should not judge (condemn) the strong brother, who can eat meat (Rom. 14:3). He should not condemn him, because "God hath received him" (Rom. 14:3). This principle will apply to any incidental matter. It will apply to any situation where God does not care one way or the other. If God receives and endorses what someone does, I have no right to judge (condemn) that person. I have no right to condemn another person's servant if his master, or employer, receives him, and does not condemn what he is doing (Rom. 14:4). Therefore, I have no right to condemn a fellow Christian, if God accepts him. However, if God refuses to accept what he is doing, I have not only the right, but the responsibility to condemn him. Paul judged and called upon the Corinthians to judge the brother who had his father's wife (I Cor. 5:1-5). God receives a man who eats meat, therefore you have no right to judge him. God rejects fornicators, therefore you have a right, and the responsibility to judge them.
We are not to judge and set at nought our brother (Rom. 14:10), because we are all going to stand before the judgement seat of Christ. This statement is to be understood in light of the context in which it is found. This statement applies only to matters that are incidental, where God doesn't care one way or the other. A man is not to judge, or set at nought a brother for eating meat, or regarding days that God does not care whether you regard or not. However, we should judge a brother for fornication (I Cor. 5), because God cares about whether you commit fornication or not. In verse 13 where Paul says, "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", he is talking about incidental matters. He is talking about things where God does not care one way or the other. God does not care whether I eat pork or not. Therefore, I should not condemn those who eat pork. Those who eat pork should not despise me for not eating pork. Those who eat pork should not influence the weak brother, who cannot eat pork with a clear conscience, to eat pork, and thus violate his conscience. This would be putting a stumbling block in the weak brother's way. The weak brother would not be eating with faith, but with doubt (Rom. 14:23), and he that doubts is damned if he eat.
Paul says, "there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Rom. 14:14). He also says, "all things are pure" (Rom. 14:20). The context shows he is talking about meat. He is certainly not saying all things are morally pure and clean. Fornication and homosexuality are not pure and clean, no matter how much a person may esteem them to be. During the Old Testament period certain meats were unclean (Lev. 11). Now, all meats are clean (I Tim. 4:4). However, if you consider certain meats to be unclean, to you they are unclean (Rom. 14:14). If you should eat them, esteeming them to be unclean, you would sin (Rom. 14:23)
The Problem Of Eating Meat In Paul's Day
The church at Rome was made up of both Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish brethren had been taught, all their life, the law of Moses which forbad the eating of certain meats (Lev. 11). It was difficult for them to eat what they considered unclean meats with a clear conscience. The Apostle Peter fell into a trance and saw a vessel let down from heaven with all kinds of unclean creatures in it. There was a voice that came to him, saying "Rise Peter, kill and eat". Peter responded to this voice by saying, "Not so Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean" (Acts 10:10-14). The purpose of this vision was to show Peter that he was to preach to the Gentiles, and that he should not call any man common, or unclean (Acts 10:28). However, God had cleansed meats, and we should not consider any meat unclean (I Tim. 4:3-5). God did not show Peter the vision to convince him to eat meat, because God didn't care whether Peter ate the unclean animals or not. In fact it would have been wrong for Peter to eat them, because he could not eat them in faith (Rom. 14:23). God was not trying to convince Peter to eat them, and Paul did not dispute with Peter about something Peter had doubt about; trying to convince Peter to eat meats he considered to be unclean. Paul received Peter, but not to doubtful disputation (Rom. 14:1). This is what Romans 14 is about.
The Problem Of Observing Days In Paul's Day
We have a similar problem with observing days, in the church at Rome. There were Jews who had been taught, all their lives, to do no work on the Sabbath day. The law of Moses taught they should do no work on the Sabbath day (Exo. 20:8-10). It is true the law was nailed to the cross when Christ died (Col. 2:14). Jesus abolished in His flesh the enmity, the law of Moses (Eph. 2:15). Even the ten commandments, which were engraved in stones, were done away (2 Cor. 3:3-16). It is true that "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16). In view of this, you can see what a problem Jews would have with doing any work on the Sabbath day. All their life they had been taught not to work on the Sabbath day! Now, all of a sudden they are worshiping with Gentiles, who have no problem working on the Sabbath day. It would be very difficult for a Jew to work on the Sabbath without violating his conscience. Therefore, he should not work on the Sabbath day, because it would be a sin for him to do so (Rom. 14:23). If he rests on the Sabbath day, he is regarding this day unto the Lord (Rom. 14:6). The Gentile, who does not rest on the Sabbath day, "to the Lord he doth not regard it" (Rom. 14:6). The Jewish Christian should not condemn the Gentile Christian for not resting on the Sabbath day. The Gentile Christian should not despise his Jewish brother, who does rest on the Sabbath, and thus regard that day unto the Lord. God does not care whether you rest on the Sabbath day. If Jews insist that Gentiles rest on the Sabbath day, God would care. It may have been that Jews insisted that the Gentiles observe days, etc. in order to go to Heaven (Gal. 4:10, 11). Evidently, the Galatian Christians were observing days, etc. in such a way as to be lost. Observing days, in the right way, would be just like circumcision, which was also taught by the law of Moses (Lev. 12:3). God doesn't care whether Christians are circumcised (Gal. 5:6: I Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:2). Paul had Timothy circumcised because of the Jews (Acts 16:3). Titus, being a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3). Paul was falsely accused of teaching the Jews to "forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs" (Acts 21:21). Paul never made an effort to get Jews to stop circumcising their children, stop keeping the Sabbath day, or stop any of the other customs they had observed all their lives. Paul even purified himself, along with four other Jewish brethren, paying their expenses (Acts 21:22-24). However, Paul objected when Jewish brethren taught that Gentiles were required to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). Paul would not give in to such teachers for even one hour, in order that the truth of the Gospel might continue (Gal. 2:4, 5). He referred to these teachers as false brethren (Gal. 2:4).
Romans 14 deals with Christians getting along, when they differ over things that doesn't matter with God. God doesn't care whether you eat meat, or not. God doesn't care whether you circumcise your son, or not. God doesn't care whether you rest on Saturday, or not. God cares when you judge your brother for eating meat. God cares when you despise your brother for not eating meat. God cares when you try to persuade your brother to eat meat, when he thinks it is wrong to eat meat. God cares if you destroy your brother with your meat (Rom. 14:20). You will do that, if he thinks it's wrong to eat meat, and you persuade him to eat and violate his conscience (Rom. 14:23). God cares when Christians insist that others must circumcise their sons in order to be saved (Acts 15). God cares when people insist that we must keep the Sabbath day in order to go to Heaven (2 Cor. 3).
Perversions Of Romans 14
I was a young preacher the first time I heard someone pervert Romans 14. I had preached against dancing. Some mothers had been chaperons at a dance for their children. They became very upset with my sermon against dancing. One woman, who happened to be my teacher in grade school, thought I was a young upstart preacher who knew it all, I suppose. She came to me, I suppose to try and help me. She said, "To you dancing is unclean". She then quoted the verse which says, "To him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Rom. 14:14). I responded to her by asking her a question. I asked her if this would apply to fornication? Is fornication unclean only to those who esteem it to be unclean? Of course Romans 14 is talking about meats that are unclean. The passage is not talking about moral uncleanness. Fornication is morally unclean whether you esteem it to be so or not. Lasciviousness, frequently committed on the dance floor, is also morally unclean, whether you esteem it to be so or not. My former teacher simply perverted Romans 14.
Years later, I heard a preacher pervert Romans 14:23. He was preaching against mechanical instruments of music in worship. He quoted (Rom. 14:23) "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin". Mechanical instruments of music in worship do not belong in Rom. 14. The only way you can put mechanical music in Rom. 14 is to prove God doesn't care whether we use them or not, which you cannot prove. Then you could use Rom. 14:23 to show that it is permissible to use them, but if a weak brother has doubt about using them, he would be damned if he worshiped with them.
In recent years, I have heard numbers of other perversions of Romans 14. I have heard preachers use this passage when dealing with those who teach error. Some use this passage to tell us we should not judge, or condemn, a preacher for teaching false doctrine on the subject of marriage and divorce. We are to receive such preachers without disputing with them, since Paul said "receive, but not to doubtful disputation" (Rom. 14:1). When you use Romans 14 to argue that we should receive, and not dispute with false teachers, you are perverting the passage. You are teaching another gospel, other than the one Paul preached. You are, if you do not repent, going to be "accursed" (Gal. 1:6-10). Now, this is true, unless you can prove God does not care whether you divorce your wife, or not. Does God care when a person divorces their companion (Mal. 2:15, 16; Mt. 19:6)? Does God care what we preach about marriage and divorce? John the Baptist told Herod it was not lawful for him to have his brother Philip's wife. Herod had married her, but John said she was Philip's wife. Therefore, every time Herod went to bed with Herodias, he went to bed with his brother's wife. Every time Herod had sex with Herodias, he had sex with his brother's wife (Mt. 14:3-12). Did God care about what Herod and Herodias were doing? Did God care what John the Baptist preached about their situation? Some would argue that God didn't care, because they were alien sinners. Isn't it a shame that John the Baptist did not know that God didn't care? If some of our brethren had been there, in place of John, they would have told Herod to just be baptized, and then everything would be alright. I suppose Herodias would have suddenly become the wife of Herod, and no longer been the wife of Philip. No, my dear friends. John preached the truth. God does care what alien sinners do. God cares when you sleep with any woman other than your lawful wife. Marriage and divorce does not belong in Romans 14. Those who teach false doctrine on marriage and divorce are not to be received on the bases of the teaching in Romans 14. They should be marked and avoided (Rom. 16:17). They, after the first and second admonition, should be rejected (Tit. 3:10).
Others have included some of Paul's teaching in I Cor. 11 in the category of incidental things. The part they include is the part that has to do with a woman covering her head, when she prays or prophesies. I suppose some wish Paul had included this part, i.e. a woman covering her head in Romans 14, with eating meat. They argue that God does not care whether a woman covers her head or not. If this is true, then they are right to include the covering with eating meat, and observing certain days, as Paul taught in Romans 14. If they are right, then I am the weak brother who should be "received and not to doubtful disputations" (Rom. 14:1). Also, as the weak brother in Romans 14 was not to be despised (Rom. 14:2); then I should not have been despised. Bro. Bill Cavender, a long time friend, did not take this position; because he disputed with me on the covering, and recommended that people get their head out of the sand, and dis-fellowship preachers who teach what I teach on the covering. Those who have stopped my support, because of what I teach on the covering, do not believe the instructions in Romans 14 apply. If they apply, how could you receive a weak brother and get his support cut off? Or how could you keep a congregation from supporting someone, because he believes the teaching of Paul about the covering is still in force? This would not be receiving him, would it? If you think God doesn't care whether a woman covers her head while praying; then you need to ask yourself the question: Does God care whether a man covers his head while praying, or preaching? I can hear someone right now saying, "It says prophesying, not preaching". This is true, but what difference does it make? Would it be wrong for him to veil his head while receiving the message directly from the Holy Ghost, and speaking it; and not wrong if he receives the message indirectly from the Holy Ghost, and speaks it? Does God care if a woman shaves her head? Does God care if a man has long hair? I fear that many who place Paul's teaching in I Cor. 11, in the same category as that of Romans 14; are thinking only of the veil for a woman, and not for the man as well. The instructions of the Holy Spirit in I Cor. 11 do not belong in Romans 14. To place them there is to pervert Romans 14.
Others have placed the war question in Romans 14. If you can prove God doesn't care for a man hating his enemy (Mt. 5:43, 44) then place it there. Others have placed various other things in Romans 14. Any incidental thing you can bring up belongs there. If God doesn't care one way or the other, then it belongs in Romans 14. To place things that matter with God in Romans 14, is to pervert the word of God. Certainly, we do not want to be guilty of perverting what Paul taught (Gal. 1:6-10).