Comedian Steve Martin said, “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.” That’s not exactly what Paul has in mind in this morning’s text. But he does urge us not to judge our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have the tendency to look down on those who differ from us. This was evidently true during the first century in Rome as well. There were essentially two different groups in the church at Rome at this time. One group was made up largely of Jewish believers who were still influenced by the customs from their past in Judaism. These customs included eating only kosher foods and observing certain holy days, especially the Sabbath. The other group was made up mostly of Gentile believers who had never been exposed to the customs of the Jewish religion. The Jewish believers, while not trusting in the law as a basis for their salvation, still believed that the observance of the Sabbath and eating clean food that had been properly prepared was pleasing to God. As a result of this belief a division had arisen among the church at Rome. Jewish believers though the Gentile believers who did not observe their Jewish customs were not as pleasing to God as they were. The Gentile believers, on the other hand, looked down upon the Jewish believers as immature because of their observance of these customs.
Not much has changed in the last 1,950 years! Sure, the list has changed, but there are still needless divisions among the people of God! In the first century the list included what foods were appropriate to eat and whether or not the Sabbath should still be observed. Today the list includes things such as styles of music, television, movies, hairstyles, clothing, and Bible translations.
In this morning’s text, the apostle Paul teaches that there are some areas in which we as believers can agree to disagree. To be sure in the next section (vv. 13-23) Paul lays down some guidelines to assist us in determining the correct action in particular situations. However, he first establishes this general principle that a believer is not to judge another believer in regard to “doubtful things” or things about which Scripture is unclear one way or another. Instead, it is best to observe the following slogan passed down through the history of the church: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” In this morning’s text, Paul lays out three important reasons why a believer should not judge his or her brother or sister.
Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Romans 14:1-12
I. Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Has Accepted Him, vv. 1-4.
Paul begins this section with a command to “Receive one who is weak in the faith”! Not all believers are at the same stage of spiritual maturity and we must accept those who are believers, yet are not as far advanced in the things of God as are others. But Paul’s exhortation to receive our weaker brothers is accompanied by a qualification: “but not to disputes over doubtful things.” This qualification requires us not to be engaged in disputes with our fellow brothers and sisters about things which are not clearly spelled out in Scripture. In particular, in the church at Rome there was a disagreement over what kinds of food were pleasing to God (see v. 2). This was mainly a dispute among the Jewish and Gentile members of the church. The Jewish believers wanted to continue to observe the Jewish customs concerning the kinds of food and types of preparation that were pleasing to God. It was probably out of fear of violating their conscience in this regard that the Jewish believers were refraining from meat eating. Since they could not be sure that the meat sold in the market place had been slaughtered properly, they refused to eat meat at all. This is what Daniel did when taken into captivity in Babylon. He refused to eat the king’s meat since it was not prepared according to God’s law. In the same way, these Jews in Rome had become practical vegetarians, not for the same reasons that people become vegetarians today. I don’t know why people become vegetarians today! My view is that if God didn’t want us to eat cows, then why did he make them out of steak! The text says that “he who is weak eats only vegetables”! No wonder he’s weak if he’s only eating vegetables! No, that’s not what the text is saying. It’s describing the one who is weak in faith, not physically weak. They were weak in faith which means they had not completely experienced the freedom and confidence that comes from being justified before God by faith alone.
On the other hand, in Rome there were also Gentile believers whose conscience was not bound like their Jewish brothers. Their faith was strong enough to enable them to “eat all things”. They couldn’t understand their Jewish brothers’ hangups over food. In this situation, Paul calls on those who eat to not “despise” him who does eat and for the one who does not eat to not “judge” the one who eats (see v. 3). This morning’s text gives three reasons why we are to refrain from such an action. First, we are urged to not judge our brother because he has been accepted by God!
We are to receive our brother because God has already received him (v. 3b). And if God has received him, he belongs to God now. Therefore Paul asks, “Who do you think you are, judging another’s servant?” (v. 4) “To his own master he stands or falls.” In other words, his acceptance or rejection is in God’s hands, not yours! Paul then confirms that God has accepted him by saying, “Indeed, he will stand, for God is able to make him stand.” God has accepted the believer, why then should we reject him?
When there are disagreements about issues that are not clearly spelled out in Scripture, we have a biblical responsibility to accept one another. If we fail to do so, we are disobeying the clear revelation of Scripture in order to hold onto our personal preference. A lot of what passes for Christianity are in reality cultural issues and we need to be able to discern what are clearly Biblical issues and which are merely the norms of East Tennessee culture.
Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Has Accepted Him!
II. Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Is Praised By Him, vv. 5-9.
Here in verse 5 Paul introduces another issue, the issue of the observance of days. This is in all probability again a reference to a disagreement between Jewish and Gentile believers. The Jewish believers still held to the laws regarding the observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. The Gentiles did not have any scruples at all in regard to the seventh day.
As we read in this morning’s Scripture Reading from Colossians 2:6-19 that one of the results of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was that no one could judge another in food or drink or Sabbath since Christ was the reality to which those shadows pointed! The Gentile believers in Rome no doubt understood this and realized that there was no special holy day.
Let me emphasize that this issue was not about which day of the week the church was to gather for corporate worship. This was not an issue in the early church. Believers have consistently met on the first day of the week to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. We can tell this is the case since Paul’s instruction is to basically to observe the day if you want to and don’t observe it if you don’t want to. That would have been chaotic. If I were to announce this morning, some of you can show up this coming Saturday at 10:00 am for Sunday School and 11:00 for Worship and the rest of you show up on Sunday at 10 for Sunday School and 11 for Worship, the result would be chaos. The Jewish believers were not meeting on Saturday for Christian worship, they were merely observing the laws that regulated work and travel on the Sabbath.
Again we see Paul’s exhortation in light of this possible source of division in the church in verses 5 and 6. It is to recognize that those who observe the day, observe it to the Lord and those who do not observe the day, observe it not to the Lord. In other words, God is being glorified in both instances. This is the same criteria which Paul uses to settle a slightly different issue in Corinth which also centered on appropriate food and drink. There Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
As believers we have agreement on basic principles, where we have disagreements is in the application of those principles. Later in this chapter, the apostle Paul offers some guidelines for the application of Biblical principles to the otherwise neutral areas of our Christian lives. At this point, however, Paul is concerned that where we disagree about the application of certain principles in another believer’s life we should reserve judgment if they are able to give God glory in the midst of it.
In verses 7-9, Paul adds the idea that no one lives or dies merely to himself. This is not meant as it is often taken to refer to the interrelatedness of all of mankind. Instead Paul’s emphasis is that we each live to God and die to God. The basis for this truth is the fact that Christ died and rose again to life in order that He might be both Lord of the dead and the living!
Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Is Praised By Him!
III. Don’t Judge Your Brother, For God Will Judge Him (and You), vv. 10-12.
In verse 10, the apostle Paul returns to the same question of verse 4. But here the emphasis is upon the judged as a “brother”! The question here is “Why?” The reason is “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ”! Just as 2 Corinthians 5:10 declares,
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Likewise James admonishes us in James 4:11-12,
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?
Jesus said in His “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 7:1-2,
Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
We simply don’t have access to enough information to judge our brothers! We’re like someone who has casually and occassionally watched one of the high profile trials on television. We may have formed an opinion based on our limited amount of information. Maybe our opinion is based upon ten minutes of testimony as opposed to the hours of testimony which the jurors have heard. We’re in no position to make a decision about the guilt or innocence of a person! As Oswald Chambers wrote, “There is always one fact more in every life of which we know nothing, therefore Jesus says, ‘Judge not.’”
“Studies in the Sermon on the Mount” in Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 3
Paul offers as proof of the fact that “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” a quotation from Isaiah 45:23 in verse 11 which says, “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”
The conclusion is that “each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Therefore, don’t worry about your brother or sister, they will give an account to God, not you. Additionally, you also will appear before God, so beware!
In this text, the apostle Paul has laid out three important reasons not to judge our brothers and sisters in “doubtful things”. We should not judge him because God has accepted him, God is praised by him and God will judge him and you!
Are you ready to stand before God!?! When you stand before God, you will stand alone. You won’t have to give account for your brother or he for you. But you will have plenty to account for, including this text that was preached to you today. Have you repented at the Word of God today?
Unbeliever, you too will one day stand before God! Are you ready? Are you ready? As God said to Old Testament Israel by the prophet Amos, “Prepare to meet your God!” (Amos 4:12)