Excerpt: Strong Christians may harm weaker brethren spiritually by eating meat that the weaker brother regard as unholy. Strong Christians must abstain from meat, rather than to cause a weaker brother to stumble, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking.
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.
EATING AND DRINKING
The purpose of the coloring is to make it easier to see 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 words 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 expand a bit and indicate that the dispute was about both 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 in the article The meaning of koinos in Romans 14, the Greek word koinos, translated as “unclean” in Romans 14, does not refer to the unclean foods of the Old Testament. Koinos is not defined by the Bible. It means “common” and is anything that some people think is not appropriate for the set-apart people of God. In Rome, it possibly referred 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.
Notice the words “thinks”, “own conviction” and “doubts” in the quote above. These words confirm that Romans 14 deals with issues that are not explicitly prescribed in the Bible, but matters of opinion. As stated by verse 1, “accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions“. And with respect to “days”, verse 5 indicates “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.“
RATHER ABSTAIN FROM EATING AND DRINKING
Words in blue indicate that strong Christians can “hurt” and “destroy” their weaker brothers (14:15) by eating meat which such weaker brothers think is “unclean” (unholy, contaminated).
“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).
Paul is not saying that a person is physically harmed by eating meat. Rather, a person harms himself spiritually by eating something which he considers to be unclean (contaminated). “Sin” (14:23) should be understood as generically 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 suffer spiritually.
In the first verses of the chapter Paul asks the believers not to judge and despise one another because of food. In the current verses Paul goes further and asks the strong 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, that has believes that one may eat all things, to rather keep this conviction to himself, and not mention it nor display it to the weaker brother (14:22).
It is important to notice that Paul does not require the “weak” brother” to adjust his ways for the benefit of the “strong” Christian. He only 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“.
ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
ROMANS 9 AND 11
- 1-4 – The dispute in Rome was not over the Law of Moses.
- The meaning of the word “unclean” (koinos)
- Why new Christians feared eating meat sacrificed to idols.
- 5-6 – Is the Sabbath is optional?
- 7-13 – God will judge all people by their deeds.
- 13-23 – Rather abstain from meat than causing a brother to stumble.
For a more complete description of these articles, see the List of available articles on Romans. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.