Romans 14:13-23
Defining A Truly Free Person

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In April 2000

1.  "Therefore, let's no longer pass judgment on one another," says Paul.  This was said because there were some in the church passing judgment on each other as it says in the first half of chapter fourteen.  The origin [of their judgmentalism] was in their differences of opinions regarding whether or not to eat meat and whether or not to honor special days.  This might seem a bit humorous from our perspective.  But, if we give it some thought, we act like that too.

2.  Even though there were some who claimed we don't eat meat and there were some who claimed freedom from such a persuasion, neither of them were making their claims from an attitude of ill will.  They were not being irresponsible or insincere.  Both [types] were aspiring to be good christians and both of them definitely loved the church.  They were expected as individuals and as a church to aspire to become persons in tune with the will of God.  But still, in condemning each other and striving against each other the ironical fact was was that they were already separated from God's will.  In truth, the words "let's no longer pass judgment on one another" must surely be a call directed to us, to which we must repeatedly give heed.

A Concern Grounded In Love

3.  Well, Paul continues his statements, but we should not overlook that the first ones he is directing his comments to are "the strong."  That is, [he is directing his comments to those who] think they have not bought into anything or have been persuaded by non essentials.  They claimed to have been made free by faith.  Already in verse one of chapter fourteen, it says there in the text to "Accept the weak in faith.  You should not criticize their thinking."  Paul also spoke placing himself with the strong.  Immediately following the passage we ready today in chapter fifteen and verse one, it reads, "We strong ought to bear the weakness of those who are not strong, and we ought not to seek after our own satisfaction."  There are times when it is required of the strong first in order for people to live together.

4.  To put it in a nut shell, it is "a concern based on love."  This very thing is the key to our living together.  Thus, as Paul said before "let's no longer pass judgment on one another," he says to "the strong" to "Instead, resolve not to put before your brothers anything that will be a stumbling block or a hindrance."

5.  Sometimes when the strong say "we're free" and act like it, it is a stumbling block to the weak.  ["We're free"] is used when someone says, "My acting like this is not in the least wrong.  No one has any reason to complain as it is within my proper rights; I have a legitimate claim."  That might not be wrong.  But, it could be that an act that is not a problem for one person is a stumbling block for another person and is a hindrance to one's faith life.  Paul is saying therefore please do not set anything that will be such a stumbling block like that.  In this case specifically it means "If someone were to stumble from it, please discontinue your eating of meat."

6.  When a person thinks "We're free to eat meat" but doesn't dare to eat any, that is tantamount to giving up a part of the freedom he has. Paul is looking for that partial surrender of freedom.  When the strong say "I'm free," they mean they want a person to be so free that one could give up some of that freedom.  That's how, as I mentioned before, daring to give up a part of freedom is the same as "a concern based on love."  This is the very thing needed in order for us to live together.

7.  In regard to this matter, let's give a little more thought along the lines of what Paul is saying.  He specifically takes up this one problematic issue of "food."  His basic perspective on "food" goes like this:  "I know through the Lord Jesus and affirm that there is nothing in and of itself that is defiled [or unclean]," (verse fourteen).  This was something the Lord Jesus himself asserted in opposition to the legalism of the Pharisees.

8.  "There is nothing at all that can defile a person by entering into the body from the outside, but what comes from within a person defiles the person," (Mark 7:14).  In other words, Jesus spoke on something deep down and radical and more than just food.  "The very things that come out of a person defile the person; for, from the inside, that is from within the human heart do evil thoughts come out.  Lewd deeds, theft, the wish to kill, adultery, covetousness and greed, malice, fraud, sensuality, jealousy, evil speaking, arrogance, rashness and such, all these evils come from within and defile a person, (Mark 7:20-23).  Because of this Paul says in regard to food that "there is nothing in and of itself that is defiled."

9.  However, after [saying] that he adds the following.  "If someone thinks something is defiled, it is a defiled thing for only that person."  In other words, for the person who eats thinking, "Eating this is not a problem one bit," and for the person who eats thinking, "This will defile me; it is wrong to eat this," even though they are partaking of the same meat, the connotations are entirely different.   For the latter person, that meat has actually turned into something defiling.

10.  In this case there are no problems if the weak person gets his or her faith strengthened, gets freed from what used to have him or her in its ideological grip for so long, becomes a truly free person and comes to eat meat.  However, the faith of a weak person will not be strengthened by our passing judgment back and forth.  Paul was afraid that in the process of passing judgment on each other the weak would come to eat meat while still weak.  That is, while overpowered by an argument or influenced by it, they would start eating meat though injuring their conscience.  That's where sin gets its start.  "Since the person who eats while doubting is not acting on confident conviction, he or she is doomed by sin," verse twenty-three goes on to say.

11.  If I may speak without fear of being misunderstood, the real problem with sin is not "what you are doing or what you've done."  The problem is "daring to go against God and doing what you think is not right with God."  A person's daring to eat meat but feeling "It is not right to do so" will end up pulling that person away from God.  It will end up making that person separated from God and lost.  Therefore, Paul says, "Do not destroy your brothers over this matter of food."  It is not the food that "defiles."  Everything is clean.  But, it can become something that tempts a person to sin.  That's when it becomes evil.  Our thinking and acting like we haven't a problem may lead to inviting someone to sin.  Our acting calmly and detached may lead to pulling someone away from God.

12.  Therefore, Paul exhorts them to please give up a part of their freedom.  In the case of the church at Rome it meant that "it is advisable not to eat meat or drink wine, or, do any thing that would tempt your brother to sin."  Even in the church at Corinth it was the same way.  In the epistle to the Corinthian disciples as well, Paul speaks as follows.  "As a result of this, if some matter of food might so much as cause my brothers to stumble, in order for it not to cause my brothers to stumble I will never put meat in my mouth from here on after," (First Corinthians 8:13).  Again we are enlightened that the words of a truly free person are defined like this.

Living In Righteousness, Peace, And Joy

13.  This kind of freedom is the freedom of a person who knows the work of God.  That is exactly where the freedom that comes by faith lies.  While always thinking of God's work, he gives an exhortation that is written here.  It comes in a series of clips.

14.  Why shouldn't you "destroy your brother over food?"  Paul says, [you shouldn't destroy your brother over food] "because Christ died for that brother," (verse fifteen).  He is thinking of God's love as revealed in Christ.  He is not looking directly at the person although he is a brother in the faith.  He has no direct relationship with him.  He keeps seeing Christ between himself and [his] brother.  Paul sees his neighbor through Christ.

15.  Thus, we too must see others through Christ.  Christ died for them as well.  That's how we must look at each other - as persons for whom Christ died.  Though a church may seem like a family and no matter how much it seems to be in unity, if it cannot see its members through Christ, the relationships in it won't hold up.  Ties between persons based on natural affection are fragile.  A loving thoughtfulness for others won't hold up therein.  People would rather not go out of their way to give up their freedom for another person.  "Christ died for that brother."  If we really want to walk according to love, we must not forget these words.

16.  In addition, Paul is thinking of the kingdom of God given through the working of God.  Paul says, "The kingdom of God is not food and drink, but is righteousness, peace, and joy which is given by the Holy Spirit," (verse seventeen).

17.  If the claim "You must not eat meat" is a measly hang-up, then the claim "You are free to eat meat" is nothing more than the same.  Because in the faith life lived under the rule of God a most wonderful thing is given.  The freedom to eat meat or whatever it might be is only a small thing in comparison to that.  It is the same for us [but] under different circumstances.  We must turn our attention first of all to the big stuff given to us by the work of God.

18.  "Righteousness, peace, and joy which are given by the Holy Spirit."  What this means has already been dealt with in this epistle.  We don't have enough time for it, but it sure would be good for us here to read together from chapters one to eleven.  Please read it again slowly at home.  I would like to repeat only one passage here.  Please open to chapter five.


"Likewise, because we have been justified by faith, we obtain peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and thanks to Christ we are lead by faith to grace and rejoice in the hope which partakes of the glory of God," (5:1-2).

20.  The definition of righteousness is a proper relationship between God and ourselves.  This is not something we [work to] possess.  It is given to us as a gift of grace.  It comes solely from Christ.  It is written just before that that "Jesus was handed over to death for our sins and resurrected so that we would be justified," (4:25).  The Lord was betrayed unto death for the sins of sinners like us.  Then he rose again from the dead so that we could enter into a righteous relationship with God and be made persons alive in the new life.

21.  Because of Christ we are given peace with God.  Therefore, as Paul continues with righteousness he speaks on peace.  Above all else, this is the peace with God.  God is no longer our enemy and we are no longer God's enemy.  Although storms may blow in our daily lives and death swoops down on us, our peace with God is unshaken.  We first have peace with God and then we are able to acquire a peace between ourselves.  That's where true peace comes a knocking.  It is when we have peace with God that we are able to have peace among others.

22.  So, because we have peace with God, there is a future for us.  We have a hope.  Because it is a peace with the One who holds the future in His hand.  That's where we have our true joy.  As for anyone who cannot turn his or her face to the future with joy, I got to say that even though he or she now has a joy for the time being it is truly fleeting.  You don't expect what God gives to be like that.  The joy that comes from the Holy Spirit is a joy that lets us face the future with hope.  Ultimately it is a joy that makes it possible for us to live rejoicing in the hope which partakes of the glory of God.  As a result, Paul says that the kingdom of God is a joy that comes from the Holy Spirit.  Because of this joy he even says, "I rejoice even in hardships."  Wherever this joy is, hardship will produce endurance, endurance [will produce] skill, and skill [will produce] hope.

23.  Living in righteousness, peace, and joy is indeed tantamount to living as the people of the kingdom of God.  If you consider this, you will understand how the hang-up that says "Since we are made free by faith, it is okay for us to eat meat" is so puny and insignificant.  When we think of the great great gift God is giving to us, all that we cling on to is undoubtedly truly petty and small.  Since that is so, even though we relinquish part of our freedom in regard to these petty and small trifles, you could say much rather that as we face ahead we should live together.  Consequently, Paul makes the following exhortation.  "Therefore, won't you try to pursue after what is useful to peace and progress among you?  Don't render void the work of God just for food," (verses nineteen and twenty).

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