As In Chapter 12, Paul Had Insisted Principally Upon Moral And Religious Duties, And In Chapter 13., On Those Of A Political Character, He Here Treats Particularly Of The Duties Of Church Members Towards Each Other, In Relation To Matters Not Binding On The Conscience. There Are Two Points Specially Presented: The First Is The Manner In Which Scrupulous Christians, Who Make Conscience Of Matters Of Indifference, Are To Be Treated, Vers. 1-12; And The Second, The Manner In Which Those Who Are Strong In Faith Should Use Their Christian Liberty, Vers. 13-23.
Scrupulous Christians, whose consciences are weak, are to be kindly received, and not harshly condemned, ver. 1. This direction the apostle enforces in reference to those who were scrupulous as to eating particular kinds of food, and the propriety of neglecting the sacred days appointed in the law of Moses. Such persons are not to be condemned —
1. Because this weakness is not inconsistent with piety; notwithstanding their doubts on these points, God has received them, ver. 3.
2. Because one Christian has no right to judge another, (except where Christ has expressly authorized it, and given him the rule of judgment;) to his own master he stands or falls, ver. 4.
3. Because such harsh treatment is unnecessary; God can and will preserve such persons, notwithstanding their feebleness, ver. 4.
4. Because they act religiously, or out of regard to God, in this matter; and, therefore, live according to the great Christian principle, that no man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself, but whether he lives or dies, belongs to God, vers. 6-9. On these grounds we should abstain from condemning or treating contemptuously our weaker brethren, remembering that we are all to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, vers. 10-13.
As to the use of Christian liberty, the apostle teaches that it is not to be given up or denied; that is, we are not to make things sinful which are in themselves indifferent, ver. 14. But it does not follow, that because a thing is not wrong in itself, it is right for us to indulge in it. Our liberty is to be asserted; but it is to be exercised in such a way as not to injure others. We must not put a stumbling block in our brother's way, ver. 12. This consideration of others, in the use of our liberty, is enforced —
1. From the great law of love. It is inconsistent with Christian charity, for our own gratification, to injure a brother for whom Christ died, ver. 15.
2. From a regard to the honor of religion. We must not cause that which is good to be evil spoken of, ver. 16.
III. From the consideration that religion does not consist in such things, vers. 17, 18.
4. Because we are bound to promote the peace and edification of the church, ver. 19.
5. Though the things in question may be in themselves indifferent, it is morally wrong to indulge in them to the injury of others, vers. 20, 21.
6. The course enjoined by the apostle requires no concession of principle, or adoption of error. We can retain our full belief of the indifference of things which God has not pronounced sinful; but those who have not our faith, cannot act upon it, and therefore should not be encouraged so to do, vers. 22, 23.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 1. Him that is weak in faith receive, but not to doubtful disputations. This verse contains the general direction that weak and scrupulous brethren are to be kindly received, and not harshly condemned. Who these weak brethren were, and what was the nature of their scruples, is matter of doubt. Some say they were Jewish converts, who held to the continued obligation of the ceremonial law. But to this it is objected, that they abstained from all flesh (ver. 2,) and refused to drink wine (ver. 21;) things not prohibited in the law of Moses. Others think they were persons who scrupled about the use of such flesh only as had been offered in sacrifice to idols, and of the wine employed in libation to false gods. But for this limitation there is no ground in the context. Eichhorn, Einleitung 3. p. 222, supposes that they were the advocates, of Gentile birth, of the ascetic school of the new Pythagorean philosophy, which had begun to prevail among the heathen, and probably to a certain extent among the Jews. But it is plain that they held to the continued authority of the Jewish law, which converts from among the heathen would not be likely to do. The most probable opinion is, that they were a scrupulous class of Jewish Christians; perhaps of the school of the Essenes, who were more strict and abstemious than the Mosaic ceremonial required. Asceticism, as a form of self-righteousness and will-worship, was one of the earliest, most extensive and persistent heresies in the church. But there is nothing inconsistent with the assumption that the weak brethren here spoken of were scrupulous Jewish Christians. Josephus says, that some of the Jews at Rome lived on fruits exclusively, from fear of eating something unclean.
Weak in faith i.e. weak as to faith (πίστει.) Faith here means, persuasion of the truth; a man may have a strong persuasion as to certain truths, and a very weak one as to others. Some of the early Christians were, no doubt, fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and yet felt great doubts whether the distinction between clean and unclean meats was entirely done away. This was certainly a great defect of Christian character, and arose from the want of an intelligent and firm conviction of the gratuitous nature of justification, and of the spirituality of the gospel. Since, however, this weakness was not inconsistent with sincere devotion to Christ, such persons were to be received. The word (προσλαμβάνομαι) rendered receive, has the general signification, to take to oneself; and this is its meaning here: 'Him that is weak in faith, take to yourselves as a Christian brother, treat him kindly;' see Acts 28:2; Romans 15:7; Philemon 1:15, 17.
There is much more doubt as to the meaning of the words (μὴ εἰς διακρίσεις διαλογισμῶν) translated not to doubtful disputations. The former of the two important words of this clause means, the faculty of discrimination, 1 Corinthians 12:10; the act of discerning, Hebrews 5:14, and then, dijudication, judgment. It is said also to signify doubt or inward conflict; see the use of the verb in Romans 4:20. It is taken in this sense in our version, not to the doubtfulness of disputes, not for the purpose of doubtful disputation. That is, not so as to give rise to disputes on doubtful matters. Luther (und verwirret die Gewissen nicht,) and many others take διακρίσεις in the sense of doubt, and refer the διαλογισμοί to the weak brethren: 'Not so as to awaken doubts of thought, i.e. scruples.' Although the verb διακρίνω, in the passive, often means to hesitate or doubt, the noun διακρίσις; is not used in that sense, either in the classics or in the New Testament. It is therefore better to take the word in its ordinary sense, which gives a meaning to the passage suited to the context, not to the judging of thoughts; i.e. not presuming to sit in judgment on the opinions of your brethren. Grotius: "Non sumentes vobis dijudicandas ipsorum cogitationes." This is the injunction which is enforced in the following verses.
VERSE 2. For one believeth he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs—ὃς μὲν πιστεύει φαγεῖν πάντα does not mean, one believeth he may eat all things; much less, he that believeth eats all things, but, one has confidence to eat all things. Instead of ὃς μέν being followed by ὃς δέ, one eats all things, another eats herbs, Paul says, ὁ δὲ ἀσθενῶν, he who is weak eateth herbs. This is an illustration of the weakness of faith to which the apostle refers in ver. 1. It was a scrupulousness about the use of things considered as unclean, and with regard to sacred days, ver. 5. There were two sources whence the early Christian church was disturbed by the question about meats. The first, and by far the most important, was the natural prejudices of the Jewish converts. It is not a matter of surprise that, educated as they had been in a strict regard for the Mosaic law, they found it difficult to enter at once into the fall liberty of the gospel, and disencumber their consciences of all their early opinions. Even the apostles were slow in shaking them off; and the church in Jerusalem seems to have long continued in the observance of a great part of the ceremonial law. These scruples were not confined to the use of meats pronounced unclean in the Old Testament, but, as appears from the Epistles to the Corinthians, extended to partaking of anything which had been offered to an idol; and, in these latter scruples, some even of the Gentile converts may have joined. The second source of trouble on this subject was less prevalent and less excusable. It was the influence of the mystic ascetic philosophy of the East, which had developed itself among the Jews, in the peculiar opinions of the Essenes, and which, among the Christian churches, particularly those of Asia Minor, produced the evils which Paul describes in his Epistles to the Colossians (Colossians 2:10-23,) and to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:1-8,) and which subsequently gave rise to all the errors of Gnosticism. There is no satisfactory evidence that the persons to whom Paul refers in this passage were under the influence of this philosophy. The fact that they abstained from all meat, as seems to be intimated in this verse, may have arisen from the constant apprehension of eating meat which, after having been presented in sacrifice, was sold in the marketplace, or which had in some other way been rendered unclean. Every thing in the context is consistent with the supposition that Jewish scruples were the source of the difficulty; and as these were by far the most common cause, no other need be here assumed.
VERSE 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. There is mutual forbearance to be exercised in relation to this subject. The strong are not to despise the weak as superstitious and imbecile; nor the weak to condemn those who disregard their scruples. Points of indifference are not to be allowed to disturb the harmony of Christian fellowship.
For God hath received him, i.e. God has recognized him as a Christian, and received him into his kingdom. This reason is not designed to enforce merely the latter of the two duties here enjoined, but is applied to both. As God does not make eating or not eating certain kinds of food a condition of acceptance, Christians ought not to allow it to interfere with their communion as brethren. The Jewish converts were perhaps quite as much disposed to condemn the Gentile Christians, as the latter were to despise the Christian Jews; Paul therefore frames his admonition so as to reach both classes. It appears, however, from the first verse, and from the whole context, that the Gentiles were principally intended.
VERSE 4. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. If God has not made the point in question a term of communion, we have no right to make it a ground of condemnation. We have no right to exercise the office of judge over the servant of another.
This is the second reason for mutual forbearance with regard to such matters as divided the Jewish and Gentile converts. It cannot fail to be remarked how differently the apostle speaks of the same things under different circumstances. He who circumcised Timothy, who conformed in many things to the law of Moses, and to the Jews became a Jew, and who here exhorts Christians to regard their external observances as matters of indifference, resisted to the uttermost, as soon as these things were urged as matters of importance, or were insisted upon as necessary to acceptance with God. He would not allow Titus to be circumcised, nor give place even for an hour to false brethren, who had come in privily to act as spies, Galatians 2:3, 5. He warned the Galatians, that if they were circumcised, Christ would profit them nothing; that they renounced the whole method of gratuitous justification, and forfeited its blessings, if they sought acceptance on any such terms. How liberal and how faithful was the apostle! He would concede everything, and become all things to all men, where principle was not at stake; but when it was, he would concede nothing for a moment. What might be safely granted, if asked and given as a matter of indifference, became a fatal apostasy when demanded as a matter of necessity or a condition of salvation.
To his own master he standeth or falleth, i.e. it belongs to his own master to decide his case, to acquit or to condemn. These terms are often used in this judicial sense, Psalm 1:5, 76:7; Luke 21:36; Revelation 6:17.
Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand; i.e. he shall stand, or be accepted, for God has the right and the will to make him stand, that is, to acquit and save him. This clause seems designed to urge a further reason for forbearance and kindness towards those who differ from us on matters of indifference. However weak a man's faith may be, if he is a Christian, he should be recognized and treated as such; for his weakness is not inconsistent with his acceptance with God, and therefore is no ground or necessity for our proceeding against him with severity. The objects of discipline are the reformation of offenders and the purification of the church; but neither of these objects requires the condemnation of those brethren whom God has received. "God is able to make him stand;" he has not only the power, but the disposition and determination. Compare Romans 11:23, "For God is able to graft them in again." The interpretation given above, according to which standing and falling are understood judicially, is the one commonly adopted. It is how ever objected, that justifying, causing to stand in judgment, is not an act of power but grace. On this ground, standing and falling are taken to refer to continuing or falling away from the Christian life. God is able, notwithstanding their weakness, to cause his feeble children to persevere. But this is against the context. The thing condemned is unrighteous judgments. The brethren are not responsible to each other, or the church, or their scruples. God is the Lord of the conscience. To him they must answer. Before him they stand or fall.
VERSE 5. One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Κρίνει ἡμέραν παῤ ἡμέραν (εἶναι), judges one day (to be) before another, (i.e., better,) κρίνει πᾶσαν ἡμέραν (εἶναι ἡμέραν) to be a day, and nothing more. He has the same judgment (or estimation) of every day. As the law of Moses not only made a distinction between meats as clean and unclean, but also prescribed the observance of certain days as religious festivals, the Jewish converts were as scrupulous with regard to this latter point as the former. Some Christians, therefore, thought it incumbent on them to observe these days; others were of a contrary opinion. Both were to be tolerated. The veneration of these days was a weakness; but still it was not a vital matter, and therefore should not be allowed to disturb the harmony of Christian intercourse, or the peace of the church. It is obvious from the context, and from such parallel passages as Galatians 4:10, "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years," and Colossians 2:16, "Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of Sabbath days," that Paul has reference to the Jewish festivals, and therefore his language cannot properly be applied to the Christian Sabbath. The sentiment of the passage is this, 'One man observes the Jewish festivals, another man does not.' Such we know was the fact in the apostolic church, even among those who agreed in the observance of the first day of the week.
Let every man he fully persuaded in his own mind. The principle which the apostle enforces in reference to this case, is the same as that which he enjoined in relation to the other, viz., that one man should not be forced to act according to another man's conscience, but every one should be satisfied in his own mind, and be careful not to do what he thought wrong.
VERSE 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, etc. That is, both parties are actuated by religious motives in what they do; they regulate their conduct by a regard to the will of God, and therefore, although some, from weakness or ignorance, may err as to the rule of duty, they are not to be despised or cast out as evil. The strong should not condemn the scrupulous, nor the scrupulous be censorious towards the strong. This is a fourth argument in favor of the mutual forbearance enjoined in the first verse.
He that eateth, eateth to the Lord; for he giveth God thanks, etc. That is, he who disregards the Mosaic distinction between clean and unclean meats, and uses indiscriminately the common articles of food, acts religiously in so doing, as is evident from his giving God thanks. He could not deliberately thank God for what he supposed God had forbidden him to use. In like manner, he that abstains from certain meats, does it religiously, for he also giveth thanks to God; which implies that he regards himself as acting agreeably to the divine will.
The Lord is he who died and rose again, that he might be Lord both of the living and the dead. It is to him the believer is responsible, as to the Lord of his inner life.
VERSE 7. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself; ἑαυτῷ in dependence on himself. This verse is an amplification and confirmation of the preceding. The principle on which both the classes of persons just referred to acted, is a true Christian principle. No Christian considers himself as his own master, or at liberty to regulate his conduct according to his own will, or for his own ends; he is the servant of Christ, and therefore endeavors to live according to his will and for his glory. They, therefore, who act on this principle, are to be regarded and treated as true Christians, although they may differ as to what the will of God, in particular cases, requires.
No man dieth to himself, i.e. death as well as life must be left in the hands of God, to be directed by his will and for his glory. The sentiment is, 'We are entirely his, having no authority over our life or death.'
VERSE 8. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. The same sentiment as in the preceding verse, rather more fully and explicitly stated. In ver. 7, Paul had stated, negatively, that the Christian does not live according to his own will, or for his own pleasure; he here states affirmatively, that he does live according to the will of Christ, and for his glory. This being the case, he is a true Christian; he belongs to Christ, and should be so recognized and treated. It is very obvious, especially from the following verse, which speaks of death and resurrection, that Christ is intended in the word Lord, in this verse. It is for Christ, and in subjection to his will, that every Christian endeavors to regulate his heart, his conscience, and his life. This is the profoundest homage the creature can render to his Creator; and as it is the service which the Scriptures require us to render to the Redeemer, it of necessity supposes that Christ is God. This is rendered still plainer by the interchange, throughout the passage (vers. 6-9), of the terms Lord and God: 'He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks. We live unto the Lord; we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose, that he might be the Lord,' etc. It is clear that, to the apostle's mind, the idea that Christ is God was perfectly familiar.
Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. We are not our own, but Christ's, 1 Corinthians 6:19. This right of possession, and the consequent duty of devotion and obedience, are not founded on creation, but on redemption. We are Christ's, because he has bought us with a price.
VERSE 9. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and living. The dominion which Christ, as Mediator or Redeemer, exercises over his people, and which they gladly recognize, is therefore referred to his death and resurrection. By his death he purchased them for his own, and by his resurrection he attained to that exalted station which he no occupies as Lord over all, and received those gifts which enable him to exercise as Mediator this universal dominion. The exaltation and dominion of Christ are frequently represented in the Scriptures, as the reward of his sufferings: "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow," etc., Philippians 2:8, 9. This authority of Christ over his people is not confined to this world, but extends beyond the grave. He is Lord both of the dead and the living.
VERSE 10. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. In this and the following verses to the 13th, Paul applies his previous reasoning to the case in hand. If a man is our brother, if God has received him, if he acts from a sincere desire to do the divine will, he should not he condemned, though he may think certain things right which we think wrong; nor should he be despised if he trammels his conscience with unnecessary scruples. The former of these clauses relates to scrupulous Jewish Christians; the latter to the Gentile converts. The last member of the verse applies to both classes. As we are all to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, as he is our sole and final judge, we should not usurp his prerogative, or presume to condemn those whom he has received.
VERSE 11. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess. This quotation is from Isaiah 45:23, "I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear." The apostle, it will be perceived, does not adhere to the words of the passage which he quotes, but contents himself with giving the sense.
As I live, being the form of an oath, is a correct exhibition of the meaning of the phrase, I have sworn by myself. And since to swear by any being, is to recognize his power and authority over us, the expressions, every tongue shall swear, and every tongue shall confess, are of similar import. Both indeed are parallel to the clause, every knee shall bow, and are but different forms of expressing the general idea that every one shall submit to God, i.e. recognize his authority as God, the supreme ruler and judge. The apostle evidently considers the recognition of the authority of Christ as being tantamount to submission to God, and he applies without hesitation the declarations of the Old Testament in relation to the universal dominion of Jehovah, in proof of the Redeemer's sovereignty. In Paul's estimation, therefore, Jesus Christ was God. This is so obvious, that commentators of all classes recognize the force of the argument hence deduced for the divinity of Christ. Luther says:
"So muss Christus rechter Gott sein, weil solches vor seinem Richterstuhl geschehen."
"Est etiam insignis locus ad stabiliendam fidem nostram de aeterna Christi divinitate."
"Christus est Deus, nam dicitur Dominus et Deus. Ipse est, cui vivimus et morimur. Ipse jurat per se ipsum."
Even Koppe says,
"Quae Jes. 45:23, de Jehova dicuntur, eadem ad Christum transferri ab apostolo, non est mirandum, cum hunc illi artissime conjunctum cogitandum esse, perpetua sit tum Judaeorum, quoties cunque de Messia loquuntur, tum imprimis Pauli et Joanis sententia."
This verse may be considered as in tended to confirm the truth of the declaration at the close of the one preceding: 'We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ; for it is written, To me every knee shall bow.' And this seems the natural relation of the passage. Calvin understands this verse, however, as designed to enforce humble submission to the judgment of Christ: 'We should not judge others, since we are to be judged by Christ; and to his judgment we must humbly bow the knee.' This is indeed clearly implied; but it is rather an accessory idea, than the special design of the passage.
VERSE 12.So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. 'As, therefore, God is the supreme judge, and we are to render our account to him, we should await his decision, and not presume to act the part of judge over our brethren.'
VERSE 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. After drawing the conclusion from the preceding discussion, that we should leave the office of judging in the hands of God, the apostle introduces the second leading topic of the chapter, viz., the manner in which Christian liberty is to be exercised. He teaches that it is not enough that we are persuaded a certain course is, in itself considered, right, in order to authorize us to pursue it. We must be careful that we do not injure others in the use of our liberty. The word (κρίνω) rendered judge, means also, to determine, to make up one's mind. Paul uses it first in the one sense, and then in the other: 'Do not judge one another, but determine to avoid giving offense.' The words (πρόσκομμα and σκάνδαλον) rendered a stumbling block and an occasion to fall, do not differ in their meaning; the latter is simply exegetical of the former.
VERSE 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. 'The distinction between clean and unclean meats is no longer valid. So far the Gentile converts are right. But they should remember that those who consider the law of the Old Testament on this subject as still binding, cannot, with a good conscience, disregard it. The strong should not, therefore, do anything which would be likely to lead such persons to violate their own sense of duty.'
I know and am persuaded by (in) the Lord Jesus, i.e. this knowledge and persuasion I owe to the Lord Jesus; it is not an opinion founded on my own reasonings, but a knowledge derived from divine revelation.
That there is nothing unclean of itself. The word (κοινός) rendered unclean, has this sense only in Hellenistic Greek. It means common, and as opposed to (ἅγιος) holy, (i.e., separated for some special or sacred use), it signifies impure; see Acts 10:14, 28; Mark 7:2, etc.
But to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean; i.e. though not unclean in itself, it ought not to be used by those who regard its use as unlawful.
But, εἰ μή, which seems here to be used in the sense of ἀλλά; compare Matthew 12:4; Galatians 1:19. The ordinary sense of except may, however, be retained, by restricting the reference to a part of the preceding clause: 'Nothing is unclean, except to him who esteems it to be unclean.' The simple principle here taught is, that it is wrong for any man to violate his own sense of duty. This being the case, those Jewish converts who believed the distinction between clean and unclean meats to be still in force, would commit sin in disregarding it and, therefore, should not be induced to act contrary to their consciences.
VERSE 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. Instead of δέ, but, which is found in the common text, Griesbach, Lachmann, and Tischendorf, on the authority of the majority of the Uncial MSS., read γάρ, for. As this verse, however, does not assign a reason for the principle asserted in ver. 14, but does introduce a limitation to the practical application of that principle, the majority of commentators and editors retain the common text. The sense obviously is, 'Though the thing is tight in itself, yet if indulgence in it be injurious to our Christian brethren, that indulgence is a violation of the law of love.' This is the first consideration which the apostle urges, to enforce the exhortation not to put a stumbling block in our brother's way. The word (λυπεῖται,) is grieved, may mean is injured. Either sense suits the context: 'If thy brother, emboldened by thy example, is led to do what he thinks wrong, and is thus rendered miserable,' etc. Or, 'If thy brother, by thy example is injured (by being led into sin), thou walkest uncharitably.' This use of the word, however, is foreign to the New Testament. It is a moral grievance of which the apostle speaks, a wounding of the conscience.
Destroy not (μὴ ἀπόλλυε.) These words have been variously explained. The meaning may be, 'Avoid every thing which has a tendency to lead him to destruction.' So De Brais, Bengel, Tholuck, Stuart, and many others. Or, 'Do not injure him, or render him miserable.' So Elsner, Soppe, Flatt, Wahl, and others. There is no material difference between these two interpretations. The former is more consistent with the common meaning of the original word, from which there is no necessity to depart. Believers (the elect) are constantly spoken of as in danger of perdition. They are saved only, if they continue steadfast unto the end. If they apostatize, they perish. If the Scriptures tell the people of God what is the tendency of their sins, as to themselves, they may tell them what is the tendency of such sins as to others. Saints are preserved, not in despite of apostasy, but from apostasy. 'If thy brother be aggrieved, thou doest wrong; do not grieve or injure him.'
For whom Christ died. This consideration has peculiar force. 'If Christ so loved him as to die for him, how base in you not to submit to the smallest self-denial for his welfare.'
VERSE 16. Let not your good be evil spoken of; that is, 'Do not so use your liberty, which is good and valuable, as to make it the occasion of evil, and so liable to censure.' Thus Calvin and most other commentators. This supposes that the exhortation here given is addressed to the strong in faith. The ὑμῶν however, may include both classes, and the exhortation extend to the weak as well as to the good.
Your good, that special good which belongs to you as Christians, viz., the gospel. This view is taken by Melancthon, and most of the later commentators. "Laedunt utrique evangelium cum rixantur de rebus non necessariis. Ita fit ut imperiti abhorreant ab evangelio cum videtur parere discordias."
VERSE 17. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. This is a new reason for forbearance. No principle of duty is sacrificed; nothing essential to religion is disregarded, for religion does not consist in external observances, but in the inward graces of the Spirit. It has already been remarked (ver. 4), that with all his desire of peace, no one was more firm and unyielding, when any dereliction of Christian principle was required of him, than the apostle. But the case under consideration is very different. There is no sin in abstaining from certain meats, and therefore, if the good of others require this abstinence, we are bound to exercise it. The phrase, kingdom of God, almost uniformly signifies the kingdom of the Messiah, under some one of its aspects, as consisting of all professing Christians, of all his own people, of glorified believers, or as existing in the heart. It is the spiritual theocracy. The theocracy of the Old Testament was ceremonial and ritual; that of the New is inward and spiritual. Christianity, as we should say, does not consist in things external.
Meat and drink, or rather, eating (βρῶσις) and drinking (πόσις.) The distinction between these words and βρῶμα and πόμα, is constantly observed in Paul's epistles.
Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. These words are to be taken in their scriptural sense. Paul does not mean to say, that Christianity consists in morality; that the man who is just, peaceful, and cheerful, is a true Christian. This would be to contradict the whole argument of this epistle. The righteousness, peace, and joy intended, are those of which the Holy Spirit is the author. Righteousness is that which enables us to stand before God, because it satisfies the demands of the law. It is the righteousness of faith, both objective and subjective; peace is the concord between God and the soul, between reason and conscience, between the heart and our fellow men. And the joy is the joy of salvation; that joy which only those who are in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost ever can experience.
VERSE 18. For he that in these things serveth Christ, is acceptable to God and approved of men. This verse is a confirmation of the preceding. These spiritual graces constitute the essential part of religion; for he that experiences and exercises these virtues, is regarded by God as a true Christian, and must commend himself as such to the consciences of his fellow-men. Where these things, therefore, are found, difference of opinion or practice in reference to unessential points, should not be allowed to disturb the harmony of Christian intercourse. It is to be observed, that the exercise of the virtues here spoken of, is represented by the apostle as a service rendered to Christ; "he that in these things serveth Christ," etc.
which implies that Christ has authority over the heart and conscience. Instead of ἐν τούτοις, many of the oldest MSS. read ἐν τούτω, referring to πνεύματι: 'He that in the Holy Spirit serveth Christ.' This reading is adopted by Lachmann, Tischendorf, and many others. The external authorities, however, in favor of the common text, are of much weight, and the context seems to demand it.
VERSE 19. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things whereby one may edify another. That is, let us earnestly endeavor to promote peace and mutual edification.
The things which make for peace, is equivalent to peace itself (τὰ τῆς εἰρήνης==εἰρήνην; and things wherewith one may edify another, is mutual edification) (τὰ τῆς οἰκοδμῆς==οἰκοδομήν. This verse is not an inference from the immediately preceding, as though the meaning were, 'Since peace is so acceptable to God, therefore let us cultivate it;' but rather from the whole passage: 'Since Christian love, the example of Christ, the comparative insignificance of the matters in dispute, the honor of the truth, the nature of real religion, all conspire to urge us to mutual forbearance, let us endeavor to promote peace and mutual edification.'
VERSE 20. For meat destroy not the work of God. This clause is, by De Brais and many other commentators, considered as a repetition of ver. 15. "Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died."
The work of God then means a Christian brother; see Ephesians 2:10. Others refer the passage to the immediately preceding verses, in which the nature of true religion is exhibited.
The work of God, in that case, is piety, and the exhortation is, 'Do not, for the sake of indulgence in certain kinds of food, injure the cause of true religion, i.e. pull not down what God is building up.' The figurative expression used by the apostle, μὴ κατάλυε, pull not down, carries out the figure involved in the preceding verse. Believers are to be edified, i.e. built up. They are the building of God, which is not to be dilapidated or injured by our want of love, or consideration for the weakness of our brethren.
All things (i.e., all kinds of food) are pure; but it is evil (κακόν, not merely hurtful, but sin, evil in a moral sense) for that man that eateth with offense. This last clause admits of two interpretations. It may mean, It is sinful to eat in such a way as to cause others to offend. The sin intended is that of one strong in faith who so uses his liberty as to injure his weaker brethren. This is the view commonly taken of the passage, and it agrees with the general drift of the context, and especially with the following verse, where causing a brother to stumble is the sin against which we are cautioned. A comparison, however, of this verse with ver. 14, where much the same sentiment is expressed, leads many interpreters to a different view of the passage. In ver. 14 it is said, 'Nothing is common of itself, but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean;' and here, 'All things are pure, but it is evil to him who eateth with offense.' To eat with offense, and, to eat what we esteem impure, are synonymous expressions. If this is so, then the sin referred to is that which the weak commit, who act against their own conscience. But throughout the whole context, to offend, to cause to stumble, offense, are used, not of a man's causing himself to offend his own conscience, but of one man's so acting as to cause others to stumble. And as this idea is insisted upon in the following verse, the common interpretation is to be preferred.
VERSE 21. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. That is, abstaining from flesh, wine, or any thing else which is injurious to our brethren, is right, i.e. morally obligatory; (καλόν, id quod rectum et probum est.) The words stumbleth, offended, made weak, do not, in this connection, differ much from each other. Calvin supposes they differ in force, the first being stronger than the second, and the second than the third. The sense then is, 'We should abstain from every thing whereby our brother is cast down, or even offended, or in the slightest degree injured.' This, however, is urging the terms beyond their natural import. It is very common with the apostle to use several nearly synonymous words for the sake of expressing one idea strongly. The last two words (ἢ σκανδαλίζεται ἢ ἀσθενεῖ) are indeed omitted in some few manuscripts and versions, but in too few seriously to impair their authority. Mill is almost the only editor of standing who rejects them.
There is an ellipsis in the middle clause of this verse which has been variously supplied. 'Nor to drink wine, nor to (drink) any thing;' others, 'nor to (do) any thing whereby,' etc. According to the first method of supplying the ellipsis, the meaning is, 'We should not drink wine nor any other intoxicating drink, when our doing so is injurious to others.' But the latter method is more natural and forcible, and includes the other, 'We should do nothing which injures others.' The ground on which some of the early Christians thought it incumbent on them to abstain from wine, was not any general ascetic principle, but because they feared they might be led to use wine which had been offered to the gods; to which they had the same objection as to meat which had been presented in sacrifice.
"Augustinus de moribus Manichaeorum, 2:14, Eo tempore, quo haec scribebat apostolus, multa immoliticia caro in macello vendebatur. Et quia vino etiam libabatur Diis gentilium, multi fratres infirmiores, qui etiam rebus his venalibus utebantur, penitus a carnibus se et vino cohibere maluerunt, quam vel nescientes incidere in eam, quam putabant, cum idolis communicationem." Wetstein.
VERSE 22.Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth. Paul presents in this verse, more distinctly than he had before done, the idea that he required no concession of principle or renunciation of truth. He did not wish them to believe a thing to be sinful which was not sinful, or to trammel their own consciences with the scruples of their weaker brethren. He simply required them to use their liberty in a considerate and charitable manner. He, therefore, here says, 'Hast thou faith? (i.e., a firm persuasion, e.g., of the lawfulness of all kinds of meat) it is well, do not renounce it, but retain it and use it piously, as in the sight of God.' Instead of reading the first clause interrogatively, Hast thou faith? it may be read, Thou hast faith. It is then presented in the form of an objection, which a Gentile convert might be disposed to make to the direction of the apostle to accommodate his conduct to the scruples of others. 'Thou hast faith, thou mayest say; well, have it, I do not call upon thee to renounce it.' By faith here seems clearly to be understood the faith of which Paul had been speaking in the context; a faith which some Christians had, and others had not, viz., a firm belief "that there is nothing (no meat) unclean of itself."
Have it to thyself, (κατὰ σεαυτὸν ἔχε,) keep it to yourself. There are two ideas included in this phrase. The first is, keep it privately, i.e. do not parade it, or make it a point to show that you are above the weak scruples of your brethren; and the second is, that this faith or firm conviction is not to be renounced, but retained, for it is founded on the truth.
Before God, i.e. in the sight of God. As God sees and recognizes it, it need not be exhibited before men. It is to be cherished in our hearts, and used in a manner acceptable to God. Being right in itself, it is to be piously, and not ostentatiously or injuriously paraded and employed.
Blessed is he that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth. That is, blessed is the man that has a good conscience; who does not allow himself to do what he secretly condemns. The faith, therefore, of which the apostle had spoken, is a great blessing. It is a source of great happiness to be sure that what we do is right, and, therefore, the firm conviction to which some Christians had attained, was not to be undervalued or renounced. Compare Romans 1:28, 1 Corinthians 16:3, for a similar use of the word (δοκιμάζω) here employed. This interpretation seems better suited to the context, and to the force of the words, than another which is also frequently given, 'Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself, i.e. give occasion to others to censure him for the use which he makes of his liberty.' This gives indeed a good sense, but it does not adhere so closely to the meaning of the text, nor does it so well agree with what follows.
VERSE 23. But he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. That is, however sure a man may be that what he does is right, he cannot expect others to act on his faith. If a man thinks a thing to be wrong, to him it is wrong. He, therefore, who is uncertain whether God has commanded him to abstain from certain meats, and who notwithstanding indulges in them, evidently sins; he brings himself under condemnation. Because whatever is not of faith is sin; i.e., whatever we do which we are not certain is right, to us is wrong. The sentiment of this verse, therefore, is nearly the same as of ver. 14. "To him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean." There is evidently a sinful disregard of the divine authority on the part of a man who does anything which he supposes God has forbidden, or which he is not certain he has allowed. The principle of morals contained in this verse is so obvious, that it occurs frequently in the writings of ancient philosophers. Cicero de Officiis, lib. 1, c. 9.
Quodcirca bene praecipiunt, qui vetant quidquam agere, quod dubites aequum sit, an iniqunm. Aequitas enim lucet ipsa per se: dubitatio cogitationem significat injuriae.
This passage has an obvious bearing on the design of the apostle. He wished to convince the stronger Christians that it was unreasonable in them to expect their weaker brethren to act according to their faith; and that it was sinful in them so to use their liberty as to induce these scrupulous Christians to violate their own consciences.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. The fellowship of the saints is not to be broken for unessential matters; in other words, we have no right to make any thing a condition of Christian communion which is compatible with piety. Paul evidently argues on the principle that if a man is a true Christian, he should be recognized and treated as such. If God has received him, we should receive him, vers. 1-12.
2. The true criterion of a Christian character is found in the governing purpose of the life. He that lives unto the Lord, i.e. he who makes the will of Christ the rule of his conduct, and the glory of Christ his constant object, is a true Christian, although from weakness or ignorance he may sometimes mistake the rule of duty, and consider certain things obligatory which Christ has never commanded, vers. 6-8.
3. Jesus Christ must be truly God,
1. Because he is the Lord, according to whose will and for whose glory we are to live, vers. 6-8.
2. Because he exercises an universal dominion over the living and the dead, ver. 9.
3. Because he is the final judge of all men, ver. 10.
4. Because passages of the Old Testament which are spoken of Jehovah, are by the apostle applied to Christ, ver. 11.
5. Because, throughout this passage, Paul speaks of God and Christ indiscriminately, in a manner which shows that he regarded Christ as God. To live unto Christ is to live unto God; to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ is to give an account unto God; to submit to Christ is to bow the knee to Jehovah.
4. The gospel does not make religion to consist in external observances. "Meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if we eat are we the better; neither if we eat not are we the worse," vers. 6, 7.
5. Though a thing may be lawful, it is not always expedient. The use of the liberty which every Christian enjoys under the gospel, is to be regulated by the law of love; hence it is often morally wrong to do what, in itself considered, may be innocent, vers. 15, 20, 21.
6. It is a great error in morals, and a great practical evil, to make that sinful which is in fact innocent. Christian love never requires this or any other sacrifice of truth. Paul would not consent, for the sake of avoiding offense, that eating all kinds of food, even what had been offered to idols, or disregarding sacred festivals of human appointment, should be made a sin; he strenuously and openly maintained the reverse. He represents those who thought differently, as weak in faith, as being under an error, from which more knowledge and more piety would free them. Concession to their weakness he enjoins on a principle perfectly consistent with the assertion of the truth, and with the preservation of Christian liberty, vers. 13-23.
7. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. It is wrong to do anything which we think to be wrong. The converse of this proposition, however, is not true. It is not always right to do what we think to be right. Paul, before his conversion, thought it right to persecute Christians; the Jews thought they did God service when they cast the disciples of the Savior out of the synagogue. The cases, therefore, are not parallel. When we do what we think God has forbidden, we are evidently guilty of disobedience or contempt of the divine authority. But when we do what we think he has required, we may act under a culpable mistake; or, although we may have the judgment that the act in itself is right, our motives for doing it may be very wicked. The state of mind under which Paul and other Jews persecuted the early Christians, was evil, though the persecution itself they regarded as a duty. It is impossible that a man should have right motives for doing a wrong action; for the very mistake as to what is right, vitiates the motives. The mistake implies a wrong state of mind; and, on the other hand, the misapprehension of truth produces a wrong state of mind. There may, therefore, be a very sinful zeal for God and religion (see Romans 10:2); and no man will be able to plead at the bar of judgment, his good intention as an excuse for evil conduct, ver. 23.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. Christians should not allow anything to alienate them from their brethren, who afford credible evidence that they are the servants of God. Owing to ignorance, early prejudice, weakness of faith, and other causes, there may and must exist a diversity of opinion and practice on minor points of duty. But this diversity is no sufficient reason for rejecting from Christian fellowship any member of the family of Christ. It is, however, one thing to recognize a man as a Christian, and another to recognize him as a suitable minister of a church, organized on a particular form of government and system of doctrines, vers. 1-12.
2. A denunciatory or censorious spirit is hostile to the spirit of the gospel. It is an encroachment on the prerogatives of the only Judge of the heart and conscience: it blinds the mind to moral distinctions, and prevents the discernment between matters unessential and those vitally important; and it leads us to forget our own accountableness, and to over look our own faults, in our zeal to denounce those of others, vers. 4-10.
3. It is sinful to indulge contempt for those whom we suppose to be our inferiors, vers. 3, 10.
4. Christians should remember that, living or dying, they are the Lord's. This imposes the obligation to observe his will and to seek his glory; and it affords the assurance that the Lord will provide for all their wants. This peculiar propriety in his own people, Christ has obtained by his death and resurrection, vers. 8, 9.
5. We should stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and not allow our consciences to be brought under the yoke of bondage to human opinions. There is a strong tendency in men to treat, as matters of conscience, things which God has never enjoined. Wherever this disposition has been indulged or submitted to, it has resulted in bringing one class of men under the most degrading bondage to another; and in the still more serious evil of leading them to disregard the authority of God. Multitudes who would be shocked at the thought of eating meat on Friday, commit the greatest moral offenses without the slightest compunction. It is, therefore, of great importance to keep the conscience free; under no subjection but to truth and God. This is necessary, not only on account of its influence on our own moral feelings, but also because nothing but truth can really do good. To advocate even a good cause with bad arguments does great harm, by exciting unnecessary opposition; by making good men, who oppose the arguments, appear to oppose the truth; by introducing a false standard of duty; by failing to enlist the support of an enlightened conscience, and by the necessary forfeiture of the confidence of the intelligent and well informed. The cause of benevolence, therefore, instead of being promoted, is injured by all exaggerations, erroneous statements, and false principles, on the part of its advocates, vers. 14, 22.
6. It is obviously incumbent on every man to endeavor to obtain and promote right views of duty, not only for his own sake, but for the sake of others. It is often necessary to assert our Christian liberty at the expense of incurring censure, and offending even good men, in order that right principles of duty may be preserved. Our Savior consented to be regarded as a Sabbath-breaker, and even a "wine-bibber and friend of publicans and sinners;" but wisdom was justified of her children. Christ did not in these cases see fit to accommodate his conduct to the rule of duty set up, and conscientiously regarded as correct by those around him. He saw that more good would arise from a practical disregard of the false opinions of the Jews, as to the manner in which the Sabbath was to be kept, and as to the degree of intercourse which was allowed with wicked men, than from concession to their prejudices. Enlightened benevolence often requires a similar course of conduct, and a similar exercise of self-denial on the part of his disciples.
7. While Christian liberty is to be maintained, and right principles of duty inculcated, every concession consistent with truth and good morals should be made for the sake of peace and the welfare of others. It is important, however, that the duty of making such concessions should be placed on the right ground, and be urged in a right spirit, not as a thing to be demanded, but as that which the law of love requires. In this way success is more certain and more extensive, and the concomitant results are all good. It may at times be a difficult practical question, whether most good would result from compliance with the prejudices of others, or from disregarding them. But where there is a sincere desire to do right, and a willingness to sacrifice our own inclinations for the good of others, connected with prayer for divine direction, there can be little danger of serious mistake. Evil is much more likely to arise from a disregard of the opinions and the welfare of our brethren, and from a reliance on our own judgment, than from any course requiring self-denial, vers. 13, 15, 20, 21.
8. Conscience, or a sense of duty, is not the only, and perhaps not the most important principle to be appealed to in support of benevolent enterprises. It comes in aid, and gives its sanction to all other right motives, but we find the sacred writers appealing most frequently to the benevolent and pious feelings; to the example of Christ; to a sense of our obligations to him; to the mutual relation of Christians, and their common connection with the Redeemer, etc., as motives to self-denial and devotedness, vers. 15, 21.
9. As the religion of the gospel consists in the inward graces of the Holy Spirit, all who have these graces should be recognized as genuine Christians; being acceptable to God, they should be loved and cherished by his people, notwithstanding their weakness or errors, vers. 17, 18.
10. The peace and edification of the church are to be sought at all sacrifices except those of truth and duty; and the work of God is not to be destroyed or injured for the sake of any personal or party interests, vers. 13, 20.
11. An enlightened conscience is a great blessing; it secures the liberty of the soul from bondage to the opinions of men, and from the self-inflicted pains of a scrupulous and morbid state of moral feeling; it promotes the right exercise of all the virtuous affections, and the right discharge of all relative duties, ver. 22.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans