Romans 14:13-23 – Rather abstain

14:13 … but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 14:15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 14:16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 14:18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 14:19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 14:20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.  14:21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.  14:22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.  14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.


The purpose of the colours is to make it easy to recognise the main issues in the text.  The words in pink relate to eating and drinking.  It is easy to see that the main topic is eating and drinking.

The word in orange refer to clean and unclean.  In the context it refers to clean and unclean food.   Earlier in the chapter it was stated that “he who is weak eats vegetables only“.  The current verses are more specific and indicate that the problem relates to meat and wine (14:21).  Some people in that church believed that one should not eat meat because all meat is “unclean”.  But Paul indicates that “nothing is unclean in itself” (14:14) and that “all things indeed are clean” (14:20).   As discussed above, this does not refer to the unclean animals of the Old Testament, but possibly to food offered to idols.  As explained in 1 Corinthians, some Christians believed that offering food to idols contaminate the food, and that people are contaminated by eating such food.  As is also explained in 1 Corinthians, offering food to idols does not make the food unfit for Christian consumption because idols do not really exist.

Words in blue indicate the strong Christian can cause harm to weaker church members by eating such food.  But how can eating food that is thought to be “unclean” (unholy, contaminated) by some “hurt” and “destroy” a brother (14:15)?  Paul wrote “to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (14:14) and “He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (14:23).  Notice the words “thinks” and “doubts”.  Obviously, Paul is not saying that a person is physically harmed by eating meat.  Rather, a person would harm himself spiritually by eating something which he thinks is unclean (contaminated).  “Sin” (14:23) should be understood as anything that harms God’s creation.  It would then be possible to argue that the “weak” brother might be tempted to follow the example of a “strong” Christian and eat food that has been offered to idols. But if he eats such food with doubt in his heart (14:23) because he believes that such food has been contaminated by idols, he might feel guilty and consequently lose faith.

In the earlier part of the chapter Paul asked the believers not to judge and despise one another because of food.  In the current verses Paul goes one step further and asks Christians not to allow food to become “a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (14:13, cf. v21).  The main principle in these verses is that the “strong” (15:1) Christian, that “has faith that he may eat all things” (14:2), must not eat if eating may harm a brother:

Rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (14:13).

if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love” (14:15).

Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (14:15).

Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food” (14:20).

It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (14:21).

In other words, the “strong” Christians must abstain from meat, rather than to cause a brother to stumble (14:21).  Paul advises the strong Christian to have the faith, that one may eat all things, “as your own conviction before God” (14:22).  In other words, the “strong” Christian must rather keep this conviction to himself, and not mention it nor display it before the weaker brother.

It is important to notice that Paul does not require the “weak” brother” to stand back for the “strong” Christian.  He rather requires the “strong” to accommodate the opinions of the weaker brother (14:21-22).  This principle is made particularly clear by the first verses of the next chapter;

We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves” (15:1)

Lastly, notice that the “kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.

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