4 Who are you to judge another’s domestic servant? He stands or falls by his own lord; and he shall stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person considers one day over another, and one considers all days [equally]; let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one observing the day observes for the Lord, and the one eating eats for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and the one not eating abstains from eating for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God.
We started this week reading 1 Corinthians 8, since there are a lot of parallel ideas there. While the context of 1 Corinthians 8 is different (whether or not to eat food sacrifice to idols), the attitude Paul advocates is the same. Our understanding of both Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 is enhanced, I think, by reading both.
Having told the omnivore not to hold the vegetarian in contempt, and the vegetarian not to judge the omnivore, Paul draws an analogy with the social custom of the day. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s house and presume to “judge” his household slave (Greek oiketês). You are not his master, so it is not up to you to speak to his position in the household or to his relationship with his master. The one to whom the slave belongs alone has the authority and the right to speak to these things. Likewise, as Christians, we were bought with a price. Christ is our Lord, and he has declared his judgment upon us by clothing us with his righteousness, and forgiving our sin. No-one else’s judgment matters. Our standing before God is based on the merit of Christ, and any attempts to make us fall will fail, because we stand by the grace of God and in His power.
I think it’s important to note here–and I won’t tire of repeating this–that our acceptance of a person is based on the fact that God has received them. But, implicit in God receiving them is the fact that they have been made acceptable to God. This means, God has changed their heart, causing them to recognize and repent of their sin, and turn to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. If they are truly Christians, then we have no right to demand that they take the same position as we do on secondary matters in order to be right with God. They already are right with God–anything else is a matter of Christian growth and maturity.
In verse 5, Paul brings up another case in point: having regard for particular days. Some people put certain days above others, some regard all days as of equal importance. If we bear in mind the Jew-Gentile conflict behind the letter, it’s not hard to see what this refers to. Clearly, the Jewish Christians were still holding to Jewish feast days, and, as with their vegetarianism, looking at their observance as some kind of indicator of their piety. In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul warns the Gentile church about those who would judge them by what they eat, drink, or for not observing feast days. This sounds like a similar situation, though it’s possible the Judaizers in Colossae were outside the church (note, Paul doesn’t address both groups as he does in Romans).
Paul’s use of the verb “to judge” (Greek krinô) is meant here to indicate discernment, or preference, not necessarily condemnation. Paul’s admonition at the end is particularly interesting. He doesn’t tell the Jewish Christians to stop celebrating feast days, nor does he tell the Gentile Christians to start celebrating them. Rather, he says that each must be fully convinced in his own mind. This is a matter of conscience, not so much of practice. If a believer is fully convinced by the Lord through his study of Scripture that he should observe the Jewish feast days–or perhaps his conscience is still bound by the traditions he grew up with, even though he knows and understands the gospel–then he should follow his sanctified conscience.
There is, I think, a subtle message here that needs to come out: Christians have a duty to be educated in their faith. This doesn’t mean every Christian should have a seminary degree, but that every believer needs to take time to study their faith, read the Scriptures and apply them to their life (being transformed by the renewing of the mind), be under the preaching of God’s Word every Lord’s Day, and participate in Sunday School, small groups, Bible studies–whatever opportunities the church provides for becoming more aware of what the Bible teaches and how that impacts life.
In verse 6, we possibly have the earliest reference to Christians giving thanks for their food at mealtimes. Both those that eat meat and those that don’t eat meat give thanks to God. Both sides of the day-observance issue take the position they take for the Lord. That is, it’s not a matter of personal pride, or selfish gain; it’s all about the glory of God and wanting to honor Him in what they do. If the vegetarian believes he is accomplishing this by abstaining from meat, then that’s what he must do.
In our discussion, we talked about issues of Christian liberty, and how Christian leaders should teach freedom in Christ, but practice it with extreme caution. It seems to me that, as much as Paul rejoiced in the liberty he had in Christ, he would sooner be bound to the Law than cause his brother to stumble. Freedom in Christ is both freedom to act, and freedom not to act. The Christian minister may have the freedom to drink alcohol, for example, but for the sake of those in his congregation that struggle with substance abuse, it would be wise for him to abstain.
Clearly, when two people hold diametrically opposed views on a secondary matter, one of them is wrong. The wrong position may not be clear, in which case discussion may sharpen and deepen one another’s understanding of Scripture, but there may never be agreement. And that’s okay: Christian brethren can disagree in love on secondary issues. However, the issue may be one in which the correct position is clear in Scripture. Paul evidently believed the Jewish Christians were wrong. But he doesn’t tell them to change. Rather, he wants an atmosphere of loving unity to pervade the church, where their agreement on the essential points forms the basis of their fellowship. Within that kind of atmosphere, the “weaker” can be encouraged, taught, and brought to a full appreciation of Christian liberty. People who feel maligned and judged are far less open to being corrected.
We’ll continue from verse 6 next time.