Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
More is at stake in Romans 14 than whether we treat each other lovingly when we disagree about what to eat or drink or what days to celebrate. Those are the surface issues.
We saw them in Romans 14:1-2, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.” We saw them again in verse 5, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” We will see them again in verse 21, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”
Question: What’s the Big Deal?
Paul’s burden, at one level, is that we not judge and despise each other because of these disagreements. Verse 3: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats.” It all seems at first a little superficial, external, minor, unimportant—meat, vegetables, days, wine? What’s the big deal? Why bother with these non-essentials? Is Paul coming in for a landing here toward the end of the book and trying to just smooth out a few remaining relational bumps?
Up till now there have been a few hints that more is at stake than relational smoothing. Paul has elevated the whole thing immensely by introducing the most weighty truths about God and Christ and salvation. In verse 3 he tells us not to judge the weak because “God has welcomed him”—the doctrine of justification by faith not by meat and vegetables. In verse 4 he says “It is before his own master that he stands or falls”—the doctrine of the final judgment with the ominous words of standing or falling. Then he adds the doctrine of God’s persevering grace in verse 4b: “And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” And then in verse 8 he relates the issue of meat and vegetables and days and wine to life and death and the death and resurrection of Christ: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
Answer: Eternal Life Is at Stake
All this is a bit unsettling. Paul, why so serious about meat and vegetables and days and wine? The answer to this is shocking and controversial. In Paul’s mind what is at stake in this chapter is the eternal life. He foresees the possibility that some professing believers—in the judgment of charity he calls brothers—could be destroyed if the church does not learn how to love each other in these minor issues of conscience.
I will only point to this today and take it up more fully in the next two messages, Lord willing. But I want you to feel the weight of what Paul sees at stake in these verses. Just look briefly at verse 20: “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.” And verse 23: “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats.” Those are very serious words: “to be destroyed” and “to be condemned.”
I am going to try to show in the weeks to come that Paul’s point is this: If we play fast and loose with each other’s conscience so that we cause others to act against their conscience and take lightly whether they act with assurance of conviction, then we may lead someone to become spiritually calloused and to forsake the faith and perish. It’s the same concern Paul has in 1 Timothy 1:19 where he urges Timothy to go on “holding faith and a good conscience.” And then he adds with utter seriousness, “By rejecting this [a good conscience with faith], some have made shipwreck of their faith.” That’s what is at stake in Romans 14.
It raises the question of eternal security—which I believe in. It raises the question of the certain, saving effectiveness of the cross of Christ—which I believe in. So I hope you will press on with me in these next weeks. How we love each other in regard to non-essential differences is an essential issue. It can lead a person to heaven or to hell.
Today we take verses 10-13 and watch Paul deal with this huge issue of how to deal with non-huge things. He gives a command or exhortation negatively. Then he gives an argument for it. And then he gives the same command only makes it positive as well as negative. Let’s look at those three steps.
The Negative Command: Do Not Judge or Despise Your Brother
First the command in verse 10: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?” Now those are questions, but the point of the exhortation is clear: “Don’t pass judgment on your brother and don’t despise your brother.” He already said this in verse 3: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats.” So the issue is judging and despising because of disagreements on non-essential things like meat and vegetables. Some believe they are free in Christ to eat anything. Others disagree.
I take this judgment (“Why do you pass judgment on your brother?”) to mean, first, don’t be critical of yourfellow believer without the manifest affirmation of brotherly affection. In other words, I am leaving room for the biblical admonitions to correct and admonish and rebuke each other (2 Timothy 2:25; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Timothy 4:2). And, second, I take it to mean, don’t judge your brothers to be unbelievers because of these non-essential things.
And then I take this despising (“Why do you despise your brother?”) to mean, don’t treat your brother scornfully and without brotherly affection. And don’t give the impression they are not “believers.” The word “brother” in verse 10 is meant to make us feel the affection that should be there in our interactions.
So the command is clear: Don’t judge or despise your fellow believers by treating them as unbelievers or by being critical of them without brotherly affection. In other words, when judgment is needed—that is, correction or admonition or rebuke—do it the way Paul says to do it in Galatians 6:1 and the way Jesus says to do it in Matthew 7:5. Paul said, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” That is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” We all know from the Bible that we must make judgments about good and bad and right and wrong and helpful and unhelpful wise and foolish and kindness and cruelty. But there is a way to do this that is not judgmental. So that is Paul’s command in verse 10a.
The Argument: You Will All Be Judged by God According to Your Works
Now comes the support for this—the argument. Verse 10b-12: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? [That is, don’t do it!] For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” So two times he says we will be judged by God: Verse 10b: “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” And verse 12: “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” And in between he supports this with an Old Testament quote from Isaiah 45:23 in verse 11: “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’”
What Paul stresses in these verses is “every” and “each.” Verse 10b: “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” And the “all” is emphatic at the front of the sentence in the original language. Then verse 11, “Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Not some, but every. Then verse 12, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Each and every and all. That’s the stress. And it means that every person in the sound of my voice, as a single individual, will give a personal account of your life to God.
You will stand before the judgment seat (bëmati) of God. Just as Paul stood before the “judgment seat” (bëma) of Galio in Corinth, and just as he stood before the “judgment seat” (bëmatos) of Festus in Caesarea, so you and I will stand before the judgment seat of the Creator of the universe. You are not a statistic. You were created personally by God for a reason. And you will give an account of how you fulfilled his purpose for you on earth—namely, to trust him and love him and obey him and display his excellence in the world. You will give an individual account to God.
There are several pictures of this final judgment in the New Testament. Let’s look at one so that we can feel, I pray, the weight of it so that it will have the effect Paul wants it to have. Here is Revelation 20:12-15. Notice that there are books with our deeds written in them, and there is another book of life with the names of all those who are in Christ—the book of the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 13:8).
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
There are books in heaven with the deeds of all human beings recorded. We are all judged according to those books. But only those whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life escape the lake of fire. What does that mean? I think it means, first, that no one will be saved because of their deeds. If a person does not belong to Christ—if a person has not trusted in the blood of the Lamb, the Son of God, so that he is in Christ, clothed with Christ’s righteousness—then the books are books of condemnation. Only condemnation. As Paul said, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). No one is saved by the record of his deeds.
But does that mean that the books are useless when it comes to the judgment of those whose names are in the book of life? I don’tthink so. When Paul says in Romans 2:6, “[God] will render to each one according to his works,” he does not mean that works save us; but that works confirm that we are saved. Fruit does not make a tree good. Fruit shows that the tree is good. For the believer whose name is written in the book of life, the other books become books of confirmation, not book of condemnation.
That does not mean that there will be more good works than bad works in the books for the believers. That certainly was not true of the thief on the cross. It means that there will be recorded there the kind of change that shows the reality of faith—the reality of regeneration. There will be enough evidences of grace that God will be able to make a public display of what is in the books to verify the born-again reality of those written in the book of life. No one is saved on the basis of his works. But everyone who is saved does new works. Not perfectly, but with humble longing for more holiness.
So Paul is saying: Don’t judge your brother and don’t despise your brother because you will all be judged according to your works. The way you treated your brother will be written down and in the end brought out to show whether you were born again and trusted Christ. Were you judgmental or merciful? When James says, in James 2:13, “Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment,” what he means is what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7), and when he said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12), and when he said, “With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).
When your life extends and channels the forgiving grace of God in Christ to others, it’s plain that you are the recipient of the forgiving grace of Christ (Luke 7:47-50; Ephesians 4:32). The merciful will receive mercy in the judgment, not because mercy earns mercy, but because treating others with the mercy of Christ shows you have received and trusted the mercy of Christ. Your name is in the book.
But if you judge and judge and judge with no brotherly affection, or if you despise your fellow believer with no brotherly affection—if you are not driven by mercy and the desire to forgive—then you should tremble and seek to confirm by faith in Christ that your name is written in the book of life.
I close by repeating the negative commandment and giving its positive expression. Verse 13: “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer”—that’s the negative restatement of verse 10. Now notice the way Paul states the positive alternative. “But rather decide [the word is “judge”!] never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”
The Positive Command: Love Your Brother
Paul turns the table on “judging” by using the word “judge” in this positive way: Don’t “judge” each other, but let us “judge” among all the possible ways of relating to each other and choose this one: Do nothing to cause your brother to stumble or be hindered on his way to heaven. Simply put: love your brother, don’t judge him. You may have to correct him or admonish him or rebuke him. But let your brotherly affection show. Help him get to heaven, don’t make it harder. And whatever you do, don’t destroy him. To that we turn next week.
For now, Bethlehem, don’t stand in judgment on each other over non-essentials—meat, vegetables, days, wine, etc. Rather let everyone of us, because of the overwhelming mercy and grace and patience we have received through the blood of Christ, decide this—judge this—never put a stumbling block or a hindrance in the way of a brother.