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. 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, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 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. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 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. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Today we deal with verses 5-9 of Romans 14. You may remember that one of the most striking things about verses 1-4 was how Paul used huge theological truths to minimize little church squabbles. The issue in verse 2 was “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.” So there are tensions between meat eaters and vegetarians. The issue probably was not nutrition or animal love, but whether meat was associated with sinful behavior like sacrifices. At any rate some Christians felt free to eat the meat (Paul calls them the strong), and some did not (Paul calls them the weak). And his main point was negatively (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, for God has welcomed him.” And positively (verse 1), be accepting and welcoming to each other in spite of such matters. That was the situation and the exhortation.
Huge Theological Truths to Provide the Right Framework for Disagreements
Now admittedly this is not a very big deal. Good grief! Eating meat or not! But such things have led to bitter feelings, and break down of relationships, and split churches and terrible disrepute coming on the name of Christ. So in itself the issue is small. But what it can become, without a right framework of thinking, is terrible. So Paul uses huge theological truths to give that right framework. That’s what this whole chapter is about.
Paul pulled out three big truths to handle this little problem. 1) In verse 3b he says that we should not pass judgment on a brother in such things “for God has welcomed him.” The very meaning of being a Christian is justification by faith. God has justified the brother by faith. He stands righteous and accepted by God. Beware lest you treat him any other way. 2) In verse 4a he says, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” So his second big truth is that your brother will give an account for his life before his own Master, and it isn’t you. Judgment is coming. Better take heed to yourself. 3) In verse 4b Paul expresses his strong view of the perseverance of the saints—the disagreeing and imperfect saints—we will be made to stand in the judgment. “And he will be upheld [literally: be stood (by God)], for the Lord is able to make him stand.” The future of believers is not up for grabs. God will keep us and make us stand at the last day.
All of those huge theological truths are brought out by Paul to give a framework for handling our little differences over non-essentials that can do such big damage without a God-centered way of thinking.
Now today in verses 5-9 Paul does the same thing. He brings up minor differences, tells us to make up our minds (even if we differ) and then puts the whole minor thing in a massive context of life and death. You start to get the idea that Paul’s solution to being ruined by small things is to get the really big things front and center.
Disagreements About Certain Days
Verse 5: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.” That’s the first issue. Disagreement about how to think about and what to do on certain days. My plan is to address next week the relation of this verse to the issue of Sabbath-keeping and the Lord’s Day. For now let’s just see it as a broad reference to celebrations people disagree about.
I have known Christian people who rejected the celebration of Christmas and Easter and all birthdays for religious reasons. Paul had to deal with a whole range of such issues in the Galatian and Colossian churches. Galatians 4:10-11, “You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” Colossians 2:16-17, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” So the first issue he brings up today is what to do about disagreements in the church over what to think about certain days and what to do on those days.
Disagreements About Certain Foods
The other issue he brings up is the old one of eating certain things or not. You see it in verse 6b: “The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
Each One Should Be Fully Convinced in His Own Mind
So in this text we have two kinds of disagreements among Christians: What to think about certain days, and whether to eat certain foods. What is Paul’s counsel? In verses 1-4 his counsel was, Don’t despise each other and don’t judge each other. God has received the brother, the Lord will be his judge not you, and God will make the brother stand. Here he says something different. He says (verse 5b), “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” This is remarkable because it seems to make the problem worse not better. Let’s be sure we see it. 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.”
This is not what I would have expected. He is not saying as a kind of concession, Each one can have his own conviction. He is saying, Each one should have his own conviction. It’s a command, not a permission: “Let each one be fully persuaded in his own mind” (hekastos en tö idiö voi plërophoreisthö). It’s the same word used in Romans 4:21 where it says that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced (plërophorëtheis) that God was able to do what he had promised.” It’s the same idea that we find in Romans 14:23, “Whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” In other words, minor matters do not call for mushy faith or flimsy convictions. They call for clear faith and full conviction.
Doesn’t This Make the Problem Worse, Not Better?
Now the reason this is not what I expected is that this seems to make the problem worse not better. Here you have groups in the church disagreeing over what days are sacred and what do on those days, and disagreeing over what foods should not be eaten. And their feelings are strong about this, and they are starting to say things and do things relationally that are destructive to true fellowship (despising, judging, not accepting), and Paul comes along and instead of saying, “Lighten up, these things are minor and don’t merit strong convictions,” he says, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” That looks to me at first like trying to put out a fire with a bucket of gasoline: “OK all you squabblers over less important issues, let’s all get a firm conviction! No wafflers here. No fence-sitters. No shilly-shallying. Everybody come to a clear conviction! Everybody take a stand.”
Therefore I conclude from what Paul says that the way for disagreeing Christians to get along with each other in a truth-honoring, Christ-exalting way is not to breed indecisiveness on minor issues. The answer to judgmentalism and despising others and not accepting others is not vacillation, wavering, indecisiveness, and uncertainty about what to do. That might create a kind of peace. People without opinions tend to be able to get along pretty well. But evidently Paul does not believe the solution to Christian disagreement is for all of us to become wishy-washy—even on the minor issues! When Paul weighs the risks of the mindset that can’t come to a conviction and stand for it, versus the risks of the mindset that has convictions on all minor matters, he chooses the second set of risks. In fact, he advocates for the second set of risks: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
So what is Paul’s remedy for the tensions created by strong-minded Christians who have firm but differing convictions about non-essential matters? How does Paul keep firm convictions about minor matters from becoming divisive? If he’s not going to solve the problem of division by telling us to lighten up, what is his solution?
“Each One Should Be Fully Convinced . . .” of What?
The first part of the answer comes from clarifying what we are “full convinced” of. “Each one should be fully convinced . . .” of what? I think the answer is this: I am fully convinced that what I am committed to is 1) not sinful, 2) honoring to Christ, and 3) the best way I can think of for me to act in this situation. That’s part of the solution because Paul is not saying that we must be fully convinced that our way is the only to honor God or the only way to avoid sin. It’s the best way we can see now for us to act.
Paul Returns to the Big Truths—In Three Steps
But that’s only part of the answer because, even though we may try to be theoretically open to other possible ways of behaving than the one we have chosen on this matter, it is really hard not to see other options as seriously defective and then begin to judge or despise or separate. So what Paul does mainly to answer this question is go again to the huge truths of the glory of God, life and death, and crucifixion and resurrection. Let’s watch how he does this in three steps. Let this have the effect God intends: to help you have firm convictions while believing that on minor matters Christ can and will get glory form those who differ from you.
Step 1: True Christians on Both Sides of These Issues Are Glorifying God in What They Do
First, in verse 6 Paul simply makes the radical claim that true Christians on both sides of these issues are glorifying God in what they do: “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” Now this is not easy for us to believe. We have come to our full conviction by asking, What will honor the Lord in this situation? And we have decided: Not to drink this will. Or not to eat this will. Or not to do that or wear that or go there will. And it is simply not easy for us to believe that someone who chooses the very opposite behavior that we have chosen can do it “for the honor of the Lord” and that Jesus will be magnified in their behavior.
Of course, you can’t do everything to the glory of God. You can’t murder to the glory of God or steal to the glory of God or commit adultery to the glory of God or be arrogant to the glory of God or covet to the glory of God. But there are a hundred things we can disagree on in which both ways can be done to the glory of God. So Paul’s first step in his answer is to make the radical assertion that Christians who disagree on non-essential things can both do opposite things to the glory of God. They can eat and they can abstain to the glory of God. They can eat with thanksgiving to God for what they are eating. They can abstain from eating with thanksgiving that God is able to satisfy them, even though they don’t eat.
Step 2: Things as Opposite as Eating/Not Eating and Death/Life Can Both Honor the Lord
Then, in his second step, Paul does something surprising as he tries to help us believe what seems so hard to believe—namely, that things as opposite as eating and not eating can both honor the Lord. He brings up life and death. Verse 7-8a: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.” Why does he bring up life and death like this? I think it’s because life and death are the ultimate opposites of eating and not-eating.
If you are alive you have a body that can enjoy the pleasures of life (food, drink, exercise, sex, cool fall air). But if you are dead, your body is in the grave and you don’t eat or drink or exercise or have sex or feel the cool fall air. Death (for a time, until the resurrection) is the ultimate abstaining from what the world offers. So Paul reaches for the ultimate: Life and death. And he says that both, not just one, but both, are experienced by believers “to the Lord.” That is, to the glory of the Lord. To show the infinite value of the Lord. And the point is: If life and death—as radically different, even opposite, as they are—can both display the great worth of Christ, then Christ can get glory from your little differences over meat and days. And he will.
Step 3: Through the Resurrection of Christ, Both the Living and the Dead Can Show the Infinite Value of His Lordship
Then, in his third step, Paul gives the deepest foundation for this confidence that he has. He says in verses 8b-9, “So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” When someone asks, How can a person who is alive with a body that can enjoy all this world’s good things and give thanks to God, and a person who is dead and whose body is in the grave with no ability to eat or drink or taste—how can these two radically different relationships to the world both display the infinite worth of Christ? Paul answers: Christ died and rose again from the dead to destroy the power of death and make the living and the dead his own possession. Therefore, the living lives to his glory, and the dead live to his glory. The living display his worth by how they use his creation for his glory, and the dead display his worth by how they rejoice in the superior worth of Christ over all his gifts of creation.
So here’s the sum of the matter: Paul is dealing with disagreements over non-essential matters like days and food. Instead of saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” or “Lighten up,” he says, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” He believes people with conviction and decisiveness are better risks than the other kind.
So how does he handle the risk of conflict when lots of people are “fully convinced” that their way is not sinful, and honors God, and is the best way they can see for themselves in this situation? He boldly asserts that opposite behaviors—eating and not eating—can both show the worth of Christ. To support that radical statement he says its true of the ultimate condition of opposites: life and death. And to support that radical statement he goes to the greatest event in history: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
The living display the infinite worth of his lordship by valuing him in all his good gifts. The dead display the infinite value of his lordship by valuing him above all his gifts when they are taken away.
Therefore, I do not say to you, “Lighten up.” Or, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Rather I say, “Stand in awe of the risen Christ who will get his glory from the living and from the dead and from the eaters and the abstainers and from the day-keepers and the non-day-keepers. Stand in awe of Jesus Christ. And whatever you do, whether you eat or whether you drink, do all to the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31).