Him that is weak in the faith receive ye. — In this verse, and onwards to the 13th of the following chapter, the Apostle, as in the 8th and 10th chapters of First Corinthians, establishes the duty of mutual forbearance among Christians. The subjects of dispute often vary, but the principles here laid down are always the same. The discussion in this chapter regards things in themselves indifferent, as the observance of certain days, and the abstinence from certain kinds of food; the errors, however, into which we may fall respecting them, are represented as springing from weakness of faith, to which every evil that appears among Christians may be traced.
We may here remark that, though faith is the gift of God, yet it is on that account no less a duty. Repentance and every good work are also gifts of God, Acts 5:31; 2 Timothy 2:25; Ephesians 2:10. All men, notwithstanding, are bound to believe, to repent, and to obey, under pain of God’s most awful displeasure.
Calvin, Dr. Macknight, and Mr. Stuart, and others, with almost general consent, take it for granted that the weak are the Jewish, and the strong the Gentile, believers. There is no ground in the text for this opinion. Many of the Jews might be fully instructed in the points which are here treated, and many of the Gentiles might be weak with respect to the defilement of meats offered in sacrifice to idols. Why should it be thought that the Jewish believers in general should be uninstructed, and that every Gentile believer should be fully acquainted with his duty respecting meats? Some of them might in this easily adopt the prejudices of the Jews, and others might have prejudices of their own. To confine what is left general by the Apostle, must be useless, and in some cases very hurtful. Faith. — Faith here regards the doctrine of the Gospel as a whole.
Improper views of any part of it always imply something defective with respect to its nature. But partial ignorance may be consistent with so much knowledge as is connected with salvation. Dr. Macknight paraphrases this as referring to the Jewish Christian who is weak in the faith concerning meats and days. But how does this consist with the 2nd verse, which represents the weakness as confining itself to eating herbs?
This was no injunction of the Mosaic law. The weakness referred to is weakness of any kind, and will apply to anything in which it is discovered. The meats and days are particular instances adduced as illustrations of the general truth; but that truth applies as directly to weakness of any kind now, as to a weakness of a particular kind at that time. Receive ye. — That is, into the Church, to the fellowship of the brethren, in all the ordinances of Christ’s house. Doubtful disputations. — The phrase in the original is variously rendered and explained. The meaning seems to be, that when they should receive a weak brother, they should not press him to receive their views by harassing discussions on the points on which he is ignorant. Such conduct would either tend to wound his mind, or induce him to acquiesce without enlightened conviction. Disputation seldom begets unanimity. If a statement of the will of Christ from the Scriptures has not the effect of producing conviction, lengthened discussions are more likely to increase prejudice than to resolve doubts. While, therefore, it is greatly important that believers, who have inadequate views of any part of Divine truth, should be taught more fully the way of the Lord, it is also true that the most likely way to effect this is to avoid disputations with them on the points in which they are weak. This observation is founded on experience, and it is warranted by the command of God. To push them forward faster than they are taught by the word and Spirit of God, will stumble and injure instead of making them strong. Christians seldom argue one another into their views, and more frequently each is more confirmed in his own opinion. When it is necessary to show the weak brother his errors, it is best to exhibit the truth in its evidences, to leave him to the general use of the means of edification, and to give him affectionate instructions, for the purpose of his becoming stronger in the faith, and riper in his judgment, by the internal influences and teaching of the Holy Spirit. The principles on which the Apostle proceeds are not, that the views of those who differ among themselves are equally well founded, but that they are all brethren, having in view the glory of God and obedience to His will, and that, as their heavenly Father is so indulgent to His children, that, notwithstanding their defects in knowledge, and the consequent difference in their conduct, they ought not to be less forbearing to one another.
For one believeth that he may eat all things. — ’ The Gentile Christian,’ says Dr. Macknight, ‘believeth that he may eat every kind of meat.’ But why the Gentile? The Jewish Christian might believe this as well as the Gentile, when the distinction of meats was now totally abolished. And doubtless many Jewish believers already understood this matter. This shows that the Jewish law, in its ritual ordinances, was abolished before this time, for otherwise neither Jew nor Gentile had ground for such belief.
This seems also to imply that the prohibition of blood, in Acts 15, was only as a law of forbearance to spare the prejudices of the Jews. When the Mosaic law was at an end, there appears to have been no reason for abstaining from blood more than from flesh. Here the strong in faith believed that they might eat all things; why, then, should blood be excepted? If there had been an exception, doubtless it would have been given here. How could the strong in faith believe that they might eat all things, if one thing was forbidden on its own account? Another, who is weak, eateth herbs. — Why should this be confined to the Jewish Christians? It is not in evidence that all Jewish Christians were so ignorant. Besides, this does not apply to their law. The law of Moses did not restrict the Jews to herbs. If it be replied that they abstained from all meat, lest it should have been offered in sacrifice to idols previously to bringing it to market, it is answered that this applies to the Gentile as well as to the Jew? This, besides, does not refer to the distinction of meats by the law, but to the pollution of meats by being offered to idols. It affected the meats allowed by the law as well as the meats prohibited. The opinion, then, of the pollution of meats, by the mere circumstance of having been offered to idols as a sacrifice, before it was sold in the shambles, might as readily be entertained by the Gentiles as by the Jews. The thing that they are thus represented as guarding against, is not the breach of the law with respect to the distinction of meats, but against the pollution of meats by idolatry. This concerned the Gentile equally with the Jew; and weakness in this point might be found in the former as well as in the latter.
Ver. 3. — Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
Here the peculiar sin to which each of the two characters is respectively liable, is pointed out. The pride of knowledge is prone to hold the ignorant in contempt. ‘The weakness of ignorance is prone to condemn those who, from more enlightened views of Divine truth, are not affected by their scruples. They who could eat everything, without exception, were strong, because they had just views on the subject in question. Their temptation was to despise their brethren for their weakness. This they are forbidden to do. They who thought it unlawful to eat certain things were weak, because they had inadequate views of the subject. They, therefore, were under a temptation to judge unfavorably of the motives of their brethren.
Let us observe, it is the brethren they are forbidden to condemn, and not the thing which they did. They could not but condemn the thing as wrong which they thought unlawful. But they were not permitted to condemn those who did the thing, as if they did it from improper motives, as from the desire of gratifying the appetite, from unwillingness to practice self-denial, or from a wish to conform to the world and avoid reproach.
Weak Christians are often troublesome, by ascribing the conduct of their brethren to improper motives. The weak, then, are as liable to judge improperly as the strong are to despise them. They ought both to attend to the apostolical injunctions which are respectively given to them in this place. For God hath received him. — God had no doubt received both of them as righteous in His sight, through the righteousness of His Son. But receiving here being asserted of the one and not mentioned with respect to the other, must respect the thing in which he is condemned by this weak brother.
This implies that the distinction of meats, with the whole of the law of Moses, in all its ritual ordinances, was abolished; for the conduct of Christians could not be received or accepted by God, as far as it was in violation of His law. Receiving, then, here does not, as is generally, if not universally, explained, refer to receiving their persons through Jesus Christ, but to the particular conduct in question. The strong were received in their using things prohibited by the law, because the law was abolished.
Had not the word receiving this reference, it would be as applicable to the weak as to the strong, whereas it is here affirmed only of the strong. But though the weak are accepted with God through the righteousness of Christ, this weakness is not acceptable to Him. It is an error, and cannot be pleasing to God. And accordingly the strong, and not the weak, are here said to be accepted.
Ver. 4. — Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? — It is generally supposed that the person who condemns here is the strong believer, and the person who is condemned is the weak. But this is altogether without foundation. They were the weak who condemned the strong, and not the strong who condemned the weak, in the 3rd verse. The strong did not condemn, but despised the weak. When, therefore, in this 4th verse, the Apostle indignantly asks, Who art thou that condemnest another man’s servant? it must apply to him who was previously represented as having condemned the strong. Had it referred to the strong, it would not have been said, Who art thou that condemnest? but ‘Who art thou that despisest?’ The weak condemned the strong, as if they were not at all believers. In this they were accordingly to blame. They assumed the prerogative of God, who alone is the Judge of His own servants. To his own master he standeth or falleth. — Dr. Macknight, and after him Mr. Stuart, translate this, ‘by his own master,’ and understand the words as asserting that the person stood or fell by his Master’s sentence. But as the standing in the end of the verse appears to refer to the standing in the profession of Christianity, and not in the day of judgment, the common translation is to be preferred. The servant is said to stand or fall to his master, because it is to his master that he is accountable. Yea, he shall be holden up. — This man, who is condemned as an unbeliever, or one who would soon fall from the faith, would be held up or made to stand. It was the almighty power of God that would hold him up, and not the observance of the precepts of the Mosaic law. For God is able to make him stand. — Here the certainty of his standing is rested on God’s ability to hold him up — not on his own ability to stand. The strong are as liable to fall as the weak. Nothing can hold up either but the power of God. This is important, as showing that a man’s standing is not in himself.
It is also important, as it secures the standing of the true disciple. This standing is as sure as God’s power; for it is rested on God’s ability to make him stand. To say, then, that any of God’s children shall finally fall, is to say that God is unable to hold them up.
Ver. 5. — One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day. — Here what had been said respecting meats is equally applied to the observance of certain days. The Apostle takes for granted that on this subject likewise different Christians held different views. For it is of believers only he is speaking. This is a clear point, but it is one of much practical importance. It recognizes the Christianity of those who may be very inadequately acquainted with the will of Christ. It is proper, however, to remark that the Lord’s Day cannot (which shall afterwards be shown) be included in what is here said, as the Apostle is speaking of those meats and days that were peculiar to the Jewish dispensation; as when, in writing to the Galatians, he censures their observing days, and months, and times, and years, to which they desired to be in bondage, which he terms weak and beggarly elements, Galatians 4:9,10.
Ver. 6. — He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord, and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord. — This regard of days, though contrary to what had been already revealed, was, from ignorance of this fact, intended as obedience to the Lord. The persons who made this distinction, believed that the Lord required it. Therefore, though they were wrong in this, and on that account were guilty, yet they acted from a view of serving the Lord. The thing performed may be wrong, while the intention of performing it may be right. In like manner, the thing performed may be right, while the motive of performing it may be wrong. He that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. — In the same manner, the believer who did not regard the day, acted from a view of honoring the Lord, and not from thinking the observance of the day a restraint. When he gave up the day, which under the Mosaic dispensation was holy, because he believed that the Lord had made an end of that dispensation, it was honorable to the Lord. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord. — The same thing is asserted with respect to meats as was asserted with respect to days. He that eateth the thing that formerly had been forbidden, eateth to the Lord, because he believes that the Lord hath abolished the distinction. He also who would eat what he bought in the shambles, without any respect to its having been previously offered in sacrifice to idols, because he knew that the meat was the Lord’s, and could not be defiled by such an occurrence, did so out of regard to the honor of the Lord. That he acted from this view, is proved by his giving God thanks for what he did eat. Had he considered that the thing was prohibited by the Lord, he would not have ventured to give God thanks for permitting him the use of it. And he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not. — In like manner, the weak brother, who not only abstained from the things formerly forbidden, but even from everything that he considered as polluted, by being offered to idols, acted from a desire of honoring the Lord, because he thought such things were forbidden by God. And giveth God thanks. — Mr. Stuart understands this of thankfulness ‘for the light which is imparted to him,’ as he supposes, ‘with respect to making such a distinction in food.’ But the meaning undoubtedly is, that he gives God thanks for what he is allowed to eat. He shows that he eats from a view of honoring God, because, instead of looking on what he supposes to be forbidden as a restraint hard to be submitted to, he gives God thanks for what he considers to be granted to him by the Lord. There are other places in which the sacred writers exhort believers to grow in knowledge, and where they charge them as culpable if ignorant of any part of the will of the Lord.
But here the Apostle’s object is to show that those who have a reverential regard for the authority of Christ, and a true knowledge of His character, and thus call Him their Lord, ought to be received and recognized as His disciples.
Ver. 7. — For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For none of us liveth to himself: — Having stated that both parties referred to acted with a view to serve the Lord, the Apostle now extends this duty so as to embrace all Christians in all their actions. No Christian liveth to himself. As far as he lives to himself, he acts inconsistently with his character. We ought to consider ourselves as under law to God in every action of our lives. Even in temporal things, yea, even in eating and drinking, we should have in view the glory of God. To live to the Lord supposes that in all things we regard His will as the sole rule of our conduct, and His approbation as our great aim in all that we do, and that in all things we seek His glory. It supposes that we are entirely resigned to His disposal, blessing Him whether in adversity or prosperity; that we submit to His dispensations in what He gives or takes away; and, finally, that we only live to serve Him, and show forth His praise. Whether, then, the Christian lives or dies, he belongs to the Lord, desiring that He may dispose of him as He sees best; confident that, as being the object of the Savior’s love, whatever may befall him, he is safe in His hands. There is no danger, then, however great, — there is no difficulty, however arduous, — that ought to prevent us from obeying the will of the Lord. Property, character, life itself, ought to be at His service. But is it not obvious that most people have no conception of living but to themselves? Do not the mass of mankind follow their own interest to the neglect of the authority of God? Even among those who make a profession of religion, how few are there who follow the Lord at the expense of any great temporal sacrifice?
Nay, are not many induced to act inconsistently with the character of a Christian for every trifle? And no man dieth to himself — A Christian is not to die to himself more than he is to live to himself. He has no right to yield his life as a sacrifice to his pride. This cuts off the pretensions to Christianity of all persons who, to comply with the laws of honor, risk their life, or that of their opponents, in dueling. So also is suicide here condemned. The man who dies in these ways, dies to himself, which no man has a right to do, and which no Christian will do. This shows, also, that if obedience to Christ requires it, a Christian must not decline to die to His honor. He is to risk his life rather than break any known commandment of God. He is to die rather than decline obedience to any command or institution of Christ.
When he so dies, he does not throw away his life. He devotes it for a sufficient purpose. He gives it to the honor of the Lord. He yields it back to Him who gave it, and who has a right to it. He shows also that a Christian should not only be willing to die, when God wills his death, but that he should be willing to live as long as God pleases. Christians may transgress by being unwilling to die, and they may also transgress in wishing to die. They ought to be willing to live or die as it is for God’s glory from this it also appears that the death of any Christian is precious in the sight of God, as well as his life. Every Christian, when he dies, dies to the glory of God. This accords with what is said with respect to Peter, ‘by what death he was to glorify God.’
Ver. 8. — For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
For whether we live, we live unto the Lord. — The former verse denies that we live or die to ourselves; by inference, therefore, we live or die to Christ.
But this verse makes the assertion directly which was implied in the other.
Both in life and death we ought to serve God, and endeavor to promote His glory. The end of the verse draws the conclusion. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. — Not only are we the Lord’s in giving our life at His command, but we are the Lord’s in the state of separation between soul and body. Our bodies are the Lord’s, and will be preserved by Him till the resurrection, when in glory they shall be given back to us; and our souls, in the presence of God, will have happiness and glory till that period shall arrive.
Ver. 9. — For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.
For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived. — It was the end of the death and resurrection of the Lord, that to Him, as Mediator, all power might be committed. He has received the keys of the invisible state and of death, and governs all His people both during their life and after their death, ordering all things for His own glory and their good. Christ, then, is the Lord of the living; He is also the Lord of the dead. He must then be God. This shows, also, that the dead are alive in their souls, while their bodies are dead. It is in this way that Christ reigns over them. It would be absurd to suppose that He reigns over them as mere insensible matter. ‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living,’ Matthew 22:32.
Ver. 10. — But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? for we shall all stand at the judgment-seat of Christ.
But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? — This shows, evidently, that the word judge in the 4th verse refers to the weak brother who condemned those who did eat things prohibited by the law, and not to the strong brother, for he is reproved for despising and not for judging. Here both the one and the other are brought distinctly forward, and each separately asked a question suitable to himself. The brother who thinks that it is wrong to eat things prohibited by the law is asked why he dares to take upon himself to condemn his brother who in this differed from him; and the brother who is better informed upon this matter is asked how he dares set at naught his brother who was ill instructed on this point. Mr. Stuart is certainly wrong in making both these questions refer to the strong brother. There could be no ground for asking the first question with respect to the strong brother. He is charged as despising. He might despise without condemning his weak brother as acting from improper motives. The Apostle most evidently asks the two questions with respect to different characters, and the questions are most appropriate and suitable respectively to the two characters brought into view. For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. — The Apostle gives here another reason to prevent believers from judging or despising each other. Not only are they all the servants of Christ, and brethren, but they must all appear at His judgment-seat, each to give an account of himself. This is a good reason why they should neither condemn nor despise one another. To judge one another in this manner is to invade the prerogative of Christ; and to despise one another evidences pride and ignorance of the source of all our knowledge. This most clearly shows that Christians have no authority over one another’s faith or Christian practice in this world. Both as to faith and Christian practice Christians may endeavor to enlighten one another; but when they fail, they have no authority to force others to change their views. Each Christian, however, is bound to follow the Lord fully so far as his own knowledge extends, and not to be stopped by the ignorance of his brother. He is not to do what he knows to be wrong, in order to walk with his weak brother; nor is he to avoid doing anything that he judges to be the will of his Master, in order to retain fellowship with other Christians.
Ver. 11. — For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
For it is written. — This passage from the Old Testament, Isaiah 45:23, the Apostle adduces as importing that all shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. It is remarkable that the Apostle so frequently quotes from the Old Testament in support of what he teaches, though in reality his own authority was equal to that of any writer of the Old Testament. But this proves that the Old Testament and the New are given by one Spirit, and harmonize in all their parts. It is also an example for us in proving and teaching any truth contained in the word of God. If the Apostle confirmed what he taught by the authority of the Scriptures, shall any man now, or body of men, presume to make the authority of their office stand in the place of the word of God? As I Live. — The Apostle does not take the words literally; but as the Holy Ghost spoke by him, we are assured that he gives the true meaning I have sworn by myself , is substantially the same with as I Live. Uninspired translators must not be indulged with a like liberty, for it is only when they translate exactly that there is an assurance that they translate correctly. Saith the Lord. — The Apostle, by the addition of these words, shows that in the passage he quotes it was the Messiah who, in the preceding verse, said, ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else,’ Isaiah 45:22. Every knee shall bow to Me. — As in Philippians 2:10 the same thing is asserted with respect to Christ personally, this is also applicable to Christ personally and directly. In judgment all will bow to God, seeing they will bow to Christ. Every tongue shall confess to God. — This is substantially the same with ‘unto Me every tongue shall swear.’
In the Epistle to the Hebrews we learn that God swears by Himself, ‘because He could swear by no greater;’ and thus Jesus Christ, in here swearing by His life, of by Himself, gives, according to that declaration of the Apostle, a proof of His divinity. In the preceding verses of this chapter it is always to Jesus Christ that Paul refers when he says the Lord. It is by Him that we shall be judged at the last day; it is to Him that Christians are entirely devoted, which, were He merely a creature, would evidently be a violation of the law of Him who says, ‘I am a jealous God,’ and ‘My glory I will not give to another.’ ‘The Father judgeth no man; but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him.’
So then. — Consequently then, or by consequence then. This is an inference which the Apostle draws from the passage quoted from the Old Testament. Every individual of the human race must give account of himself to God. This applies to believers as well as to others. And though all their sins are blotted out through the blood of atonement, they should not indulge themselves in sin. The fact of a future judgment ought to have a constant influence on our conduct. Standing before the judgment-seat of Christ, of which the Apostle had just before spoken, is here represented as giving an account to God.
Ver. 13. — 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.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more. — This dissuasive appears to be now addressed to both the parties. The Apostle having declared what was peculiarly adapted to each, now declares what is equally applicable to both. Judging or condemning was in a peculiar sense the fault of the one; but both of them in a more extended sense of the word might be said to judge or condemn one another. The strong brother who despised the weak virtually judged him or condemned him. Paul now takes them both together, and addresses them with the same caution. He extends the exhortation to himself, and to the whole body of Christians. They are not to usurp authority over one another, nor to usurp the right to judge for one another in any matter. But judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block, or an occasion to fall, in his brother’s way. — The word judge is here used in an allusive sense, and not in its proper or literal sense. Instead of judging, we ought to do another thing, which is not properly judging, but called judging, in allusion to the word immediately going before. This is similar to the expression, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.’ The Scriptures abound with instances of this figurative way of speaking. Instead of judging one another, Christians are to avoid doing anything that will have a tendency to stumble one another, or cause any to fall into sin. This is peculiarly applicable to the strong, who, by an improper use of their liberty, might ensnare their weak brethren.
Ver. 14. — I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
I know, and am persuaded — This clearly refutes the opinion of those who argue that at the time of writing this Epistle the law was not abolished, and that it was not in this state that the different parties were to forbear with respect to one another, but that the Jew was still to keep the law till its abolition should be explicitly announced. But that it was abolished, is perfectly clear from this chapter. The Apostle knew himself, and here he teaches others, that the Mosaic dispensation was abolished, yet enjoins the strong and the weak to forbear mutually with each other. By the Lord Jesus. — That is, Paul knew this by the teaching of the Lord Jesus. Calvin is unquestionably mistaken in applying this, not to the teaching of the Lord Jesus, but to the cleansing of meats by the Lord Jesus. He says, ‘The Apostle adds, in the Lord Jesus, because His kindness and grace is the cause why all creatures are blessed to us by the Lord, which were otherwise cursed in Adam.’ This is no doubt a fact, but it is not the thing here taught. Paul is here asserting that his knowledge of the abolition of the distinction of meats was not obtained by his own searching into the nature of things, but was a revelation from the Lord Jesus. This doctrine was not a private opinion of his own, but the revealed will of his Master. Nothing unclean of itself. — This undoubtedly shows that there is nothing unclean in blood more than in anything else. The Apostle here asserts of everything that could be used for food, that there is nothing unclean in itself. When blood and other meats were prohibited by the law, it was not because there was anything in themselves that rendered them unclean. It was the will of God, because they were of a typical nature, and therefore all their uncleanness ended when Christ came. Why, then, it may be asked, was blood prohibited in Acts 15? Evidently as a law of forbearance, because of the prejudices of the Jews. This is expressed in the very passage. ‘For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach Him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath-day.’ It would still be a duty to avoid these things, if we were in such situations that it would give offense to the Jews. That such is the true view of the matter, is evident from this, that though the Jews were prohibited from eating things strangled, they were not prohibited to give them or sell them to strangers.
Had the thing been unlawful in itself, they would not have been permitted to give to strangers that which it was unlawful for themselves to eat. Dr.
Macknight justly remarks, ‘It is observable that in this discourse, which is intended to show that under the Gospel all sorts of food may be used without sin, there is no exception of blood and things strangled.’ But he is wrong in his inference from this fact. ‘May we not from this infer,’ he says, ‘that the prohibition of these things to the Gentile converts, mentioned Acts 15:29, is to be understood of such Gentiles only as had been proselytes?’ This is forced and unnatural. But to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it as unclean. — This is self-evident truth, which has no exception. For if a person does what he thinks God forbids, he is guilty with respect to God as really as if the thing had been actually prohibited by God. Persons in ignorance ought to be instructed, but they ought never to be encouraged to do what they themselves judge to be contrary to the will of God.
Ver. 15. — But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died.
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. — The weak brother would be grieved in his mind when he should see the strong eating meat which he considered unclean. Now it is not love that will prompt us to do anything to afflict another. If, then, the strong loves the weak brother, would he, for the sake of his appetite, eat anything that would grieve him? Self-denial in such matters is the result of love, and when any one will not abstain from gratifying his appetite to avoid hurting his brother, it shows that he is deficient in love. Destroy not him with thy meat. — This supposes that the weak brother may, by the example of the strong, be induced to do what he is not persuaded is lawful; and thus, though the thing be in itself lawful, it is sin in him, and consequently its tendency is to bring him into condemnation.
It is not, indeed, possible that this can ultimately be the case with any one for whom Christ died; but this is a warning to avoid doing anything that in itself tends to destroy him. For whom Christ died. — If Christ died for the weak brother, how unlike Christ is this strong believer, who will do what he knows will destroy his brother, if he follow his example without having his knowledge! The love of Christ in giving His life for this brother, and the indifference with respect to him which is manifested by the person who should thus abuse his liberty, are here set in strong contrast.
Let not then your good. — Their good appears to be their liberty of disregarding the distinction of meats, and the law in general. This was a good thing to them, because the law was in itself a yoke and a grievous burden. They were doing what was good and right in itself in using this liberty, but they should be careful to use it in such a way as not to be the occasion of being represented as if in what they did they were regardless of the authority of God. This is a decisive distinction between the dispensation of Christ and that of Moses. It was an advantage to be delivered from the peculiar restraints of the ceremonial law, but it would be no advantage to be delivered from any part of the dispensation of Christ. This shows the sovereignty of God, in subjecting His people in one dispensation to burdens which He removes in another. Be evil spoken of. — Their good would be evil spoken of, when their neglect of the distinctions of the law should be ascribed to the indulgence of appetite, and when their conduct should embolden the weak to do what was contrary to their conscience. Then. — That is, since some of the brethren were so weak as to judge those who did eat certain meats to be influenced by improper motives, then, in order to avoid this, they ought to decline the use of their liberty.
Ver. 17. — For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink. — This imports that the service which belongs to the kingdom of God, and which He requires from all His subjects, does not consist in abstaining from, or in using, any kind of meats. The typical dispensation of the Old Testament enjoined a distinction of meats. Men are peculiarly prone to cling to externals in religious worship. It is, then, of great importance to attend to this decision of the Holy Ghost by the Apostle Paul. The distinction of meats has nothing to do in the service of God under the New Testament. This settles the question as to blood. If the eating of blood is still prohibited, it cannot be said that the kingdom of God is not meat and drink. But righteousness. — This is not the righteousness of God which is imputed to the believer, as is evident from the following verse, but the righteousness of which he is the subject. Righteousness sometimes refers especially to the duties which we owe to men, but in its most comprehensive sense it includes equally our duty to God; and there is no reason why it should not here have its most comprehensive meaning. Peace. — This is a criterion of a true servant in the kingdom of God.
Having peace with God, he endeavors to have peace with the brethren and with all men. Nothing is more unlike the spirit of genuine Christianity than a contentious disposition. Joy in the Holy Ghost. — The joy of a Christian communicated by the Holy Ghost cannot be comprehended by any other.
He rejoices even in the midst of trouble, and is often most happy when the world thinks him most miserable. Joy is the immediate effect of receiving the Gospel, which is glad tidings of great joy, as announced to the shepherds on the birth of our Savior. It springs from a sense of reconciliation with God. We see it exemplified in the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost, in the eunuch, and in the jailer at Philippi, as soon as they received the truth. Joy is enjoined again and again as the duty of believers. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.’ ‘Rejoice evermore.’ ‘These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.’ Our Lord dwells much upon it in His last discourse with His disciples, which contains everything calculated to impart joy to their minds, and in which He so often promises to send them the Comforter. ‘These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy in you might remain, and that your joy might be full.’ He had spoken to them that their joy might be full, but He makes no such addition when He refers to His joy in them, for it was already full. This joy in His people is an everlasting joy, neither capable of increase nor diminution; but their joy is variable according as they are exercising faith in Him, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. Joy is one of the great blessings of His kingdom. In this passage peace is placed before joy, while joy is elsewhere put before peace, as in the following chapter, ver. 13, and especially in enumerating the fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22. The first feeling on receiving the knowledge of the Gospel of salvation will be joy, and peace or tranquillity of mind will immediately succeed the agitations of the troubled conscience. However, where the one exists, there will the other be found, and in an equal proportion. Peace and righteousness are here traced up to joy in the Holy Ghost, which shows, as in other places, that it is in effect before the others.
For he that in these things serveth Christ. — Here the Christian is said to serve Christ by righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Christ, then, must be God. Is any but God to be served? Are we servants or slaves to any but God? Here we are represented as the slaves of Christ.
What is the service of God? Is it not righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost? And here this service is considered the service of Christ.
Can there be any doubt, then, that Christ is God? Acceptable to God — Every righteous man is pleasing to God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him. Then without faith it is impossible to live righteously, to live in true peace, and in the joy of the Holy Ghost.
These are the things in which God is honored. What a contrast between this account, as given by Paul, and the religion of the Church of Rome at the present time! If men abstain from meats, and observe the laws of the Church, they are acknowledged as members of that Church, though they should live unrighteously, though they should be agitators or disturbers of society, though they should have no joy in believing. How unlike, then, is the Church of Rome now to that of Rome addressed by the Apostle! Approved of men. — When Christians live as becometh the Gospel, they have a testimony from their very enemies. The conduct here recommended is eminently useful to society, and cannot but command the approbation even of the most ungodly.
Ver. 19. — Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace. — Since, then, meats have nothing to do in the religion of Christ; for ‘meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse,’ 1 Corinthians 8:8; and since He is served by righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, let us pursue the things of peace. We are not only to live peaceably with all men, and especially with the brethren, but we are to pursue peace. Even should it fly from us, we should follow it. The things of peace. — That is, we should follow all things that tend to produce peace, and avoid everything, as far as our duty to God permits, of a contrary tendency. And things wherewith one may edify another, — the things of edification. — That is, such things as will have a tendency to increase the faith and establishment of each other. We are not to have an eye merely to our own growth and stability, but also to the growth and stability of the whole body. Christians in general are not sufficiently aware of this duty.
Ver. 20. — For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offense.
For meat destroy not the work of God. — The believer is here called the work of God, in a like sense as believers are elsewhere called the building of God. Dr. Macknight understands it of ‘that which God is working in the heart of our brother, namely, faith and holiness.’ The other sense seems to be the true one. The reason which he gives for not applying the word to persons, is not to be sustained: ‘For if,’ says he, ‘the Apostle had been speaking of persons who, on account of their regeneration, are called the work of God, he would have used the word poi >hma , as he does Ephesians 2:10.’ Why should he be confined to this word? The other word is equally applicable. Mr. Stuart alleges that, as referring to the internal work of faith, it is a possible meaning, though he prefers the other.
His observation, however, that faith is called the work of God, John 6:29, has no weight in confirming Dr. Macknight’s opinion. Work of God in that passage signifies not the work which God works, but the work which God enjoins. The question was, ‘What shall we do that we might work the works of God?’ This surely is the work which God enjoins, not the work which God works. When, therefore, in answer to this question, Jesus replies, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent,’ the work of God must also refer to the work which God requests. But it may be asked, How can this be, seeing faith is not a work?
The reply is quite obvious: it is in an allusive sense only, as has been already observed, that faith is here called a work. The word is used merely in reference to the word in the question. It is not a work, but it is the thing that God enjoins in order to salvation. The Scriptures abound with examples of this manner of speaking. Dr. Macknight observes ‘that the Apostle’s words, so interpreted, imply that the truly regenerated may be destroyed.’ But as it is contrary to the whole current of Scripture that the truly regenerated can eternally perish — for who shall separate them from the love of Christ? — it must be understood in the sense already explained, of tending in itself to his destruction. All things indeed are pure. — Every kind of meat is here declared to be pure. This at once shows that the abolition of the law had already taken place, and that blood is not in itself unclean. But it is evil for that man who eateth with offense. — Some understand the offense as referring to the man who causes another to stumble, and some to the man who stumbles through offense. Calvin appears to understand it in the former sense. But the other meaning appears to be the right one. The meaning of ‘with offense’ seems to be, that the eating by the person referred to is Occasioned by the stumbling block which was laid before him.
Ver. 21. — It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
It is good. — The Apostle here extends the duty not only to the things that were prohibited by the Mosaic law, but to every kind of flesh, and even wine, and every other thing that might be the occasion of causing a weak brother to stumble. Nor anything. — The expression in the original is elliptical; and this elliptical translation is preferable to that of Dr.
Macknight and Mr. Stuart, who supply the phrase to do. Without doubt, the words to be supplied, as left out by ellipsis, are to eat or to drink. This is the very way in which Mr. Stuart himself, in his Commentary, supplies the ellipsis. Why, then, does he translate on another principle? The Apostle declares that it is wrong to eat or to drink anything that would be the occasion of bringing sin upon our brother. Whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. — The first of these words may refer to stumbling without falling; the second, to falling by a stumbling block; and the third, to the effect of this upon the person who is stumbling — he becomes weak.
Ver. 22. — Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. — It is of no importance whether we read this as a question, with our version, or as a declaration of a known fact. The meaning is substantially the same. Mr. Macknight does not seem justifiable in representing the word translated have as a command to hold fast this faith. The man who has faith should not disturb his weak brother with an unseasonable declaration of his faith in this matter. His belief in this point is correct; and let him rejoice before God in his privilege; but let him not wound the mind of his weak brother by an injudicious exercise of his privileges. He is accountable to God for his faith in this matter as well as in all others. But he is not to intrude it upon his weak brother. Calvin well observes, ‘This passage is evidently perverted and misunderstood when it is adduced to support the opinion that a person may observe foolish and superstitious ceremonies without danger, provided his conscience is pure and undisturbed before God. The context clearly confutes such a misconstruction.’ A Christian may forego his liberty with respect to meats and drinks, but he has no right to practice what God has not enjoined, nor to avoid practicing what God has instituted. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. — That man is happy, and he only can enjoy peace in his conscience, who acts according to the persuasion which he has of the lawfulness of his conduct. And happy is it for the Christian when his just views are not acted on in such a manner as to stumble others.
Ver. 23. — And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
And he that doubteth is damned if he eat. — That is, he that doubteth whether it be right to eat the meats forbidden by the law, is in this condemned, although the thing itself is lawful. The reason is obvious. The person does not fully believe that the thing is right, and consequently by eating he thinks he may be offending God. This shows us that in the things of God we ought not to do anything concerning which we are in doubt. To observe any ordinance of God with doubts as to its being an ordinance of God, is to commit sin. To obey God acceptably, we must have a conviction that we are doing the thing which He has enjoined. Calvin observes on this passage, ‘For if we are not allowed to take a single mouthful of bread with a doubting conscience, how much greater caution ought to be used in transactions of the highest importance?’ For whatsoever is not of faith is sin. — That is, whatsoever is not done with a conviction that it is agreeable to the will of God, is sinful in the doer, although it should be right in itself. This is the generalization of the preceding doctrine. It applies not merely to meats, but to everything. If any person be convinced that a thing is contrary to God’s law, and yet practices it, he is guilty before God, although it should be found that the thing was lawful.