20 Dec 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 14:13b-23. b) Do not offend or destroy the weak person.
In this section as in the previous one it is our relationship to the weak which is mainly in mind. In spite of three ‘one another’ verses (13a, 19, 15:7), which speak of reciprocal duties between the weak and the strong, the chief emphasis throughout is on the Christian responsibility of the strong towards the weak. The argument moves on, however, from how the strong should regard the weak to how they should treat them, that is, from attitudes (not despising them or condemning them) to actions (not causing them to stumble or destroying them).
*Instead* of passing judgment on one another, Paul writes, *make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in your brother’s way* (13b). There is a play on words in the Greek sentence, which contains a double use of the verb *krinein*, ‘to judge’. ‘Let us therefore cease judging one another, but rather make this simple judgment…’ (NEB). The judgment or decision which we are to make is to avoid putting either a hindrance (*proskomma*) or a snare (*skandalon*) in our brother’s path and so causing him to trip and fall. But why? Paul goes on to lay two theological foundations for his exhortation, in addition to the four developed in verses 1-13a.
(i) Welcome him because he is your brother for whom Christ died (14-16).
Before deploying this argument for not harming the weaker brother or sister, however, Paul explains in very personal terms the dilemma which faces the strong. It is created by two truths in conflict with each other. First, *as one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced*, as strong Christians are when they have a good doctrine of creation (1 Tim.4:1ff.) *that no food is unclean in itself* (14a). Paul’s reference to the Lord Jesus probably does not mean that he is actually quoting him, although he is sure to have been familiar with Jesus’ controversy with the Pharisees over the clean and the unclean (Mk. 7:14ff.) and with the risen Lord’s word to Peter not to call unclean what God has made clean (Acts 10:15,28). The reference seems to be more general (‘All that I know of the Lord Jesus convinces me that…’ REB), and is also a claim to be in close personal union with Christ as his disciple and specially as his apostle. However he came to his conviction, it was that no food was in itself unclean. *But*, and this is the second part of the dilemma, *if anyone regards something as unclean*, because his conscience tells him it is, *then for him it is unclean* (14b), and he should not partake of it. Verse 14 refers, of course, to ceremonial or cultural (not moral) issues, for Paul is quite explicit that some of our thoughts, words and deeds are intrinsically evil.
The paradox, then, which faces the strong, is that some foods are both clean and unclean simultaneously. On the one hand, the strong are convinced that all foods are clean. On the other, the weak are convinced that they are not. How should the strong behave when two consciences are in collision? Paul’s response is unambiguous. Although the strong are correct, and he shares their conviction because the Lord Jesus has endorsed it, they must not ride roughshod over the scruples of the weak by imposing their view on them. On the contrary, they must defer to the weaker brother’s conscience (even though it is mistaken) and not violate it or cause him to violate it. Here is the reason: *If your brother is distressed* (feels grief and even pain) *because of what you eat*, not only because he sees you doing something of which he disapproves, but because he is induced to follow your example against his conscience, *you are no longer acting in love* (15a), no longer walking the path of love. For love never disregards weak consciences. Love limits its own liberty out of respect for them (1 Cor. 8:9ff.) For to wound a weaker brother’s conscience is not only to distress him but to ‘destroy’ him, and that is totally incompatible with love. *Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died* (15b).
Already twice Paul has referred to the weaker Christian as a ‘brother’ (10); now he repeats the epithet four more times (13, twice in 15, 21), and adds the poignant description *for whom Christ died*. Did Christ love him enough to die for him, and shall we not love him enough to refrain from wounding his conscience? Did Christ sacrifice himself for his well-being, and shall we assert ourselves to his harm? Did Christ die to save him, and shall we not care if we destroy him?
Tomorrow: Romans 14:14-16 (i) Welcome him because he is your brother for whom Christ died. (continued).