Romans 14:1-15:3 is devoted to a particular situation in the Roman congregation. But its application is not limited to that time and congregation. This situation is repeated under various circumstances in different ages of the church. It pertains to adiaphora, things neither commanded nor forbidden by the Word of God. The entire section, 14:1-15:3, should be read before this text, 14:5-9, is studied in particular.
We summarize the entire section:
Verses 1-4 introduce us to the situation: The strong in faith, those who heartily believed in the central doctrine, justification by faith, had no scruples about what should or should not be eaten. The weak in faith, those who did have scruples, made rules for themselves concerning things which should not be eaten. The strong were not to despise the weak. And the weak were not to judge the strong.
Verses 5-9: The weak had scruples about some days being superior to others, about some food forbidden to them to eat, etc. The strong had no such scruples. But both the weak and the strong were to remember that they were not living to themselves but to the Lord. They were to keep themselves from running roughshod over each other's feelings and opinions.
Verses 10-12: Both the person who judged his brother and the person who despised his brother ought remember that they must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.
Verses 13-18: Do not be offensive toward each other. Don't destroy your brother with scruples about food. The Lord died for him. Don't let that which you consider good be regarded as something bad.
Verses 19-23: Avoid anything which causes your brother to sin. Don't do anything against your own conscience. If you do, it is sin, no matter whether God neither commands nor forbids it.
Verses 15:1-3: Do as did Christ. He didn't live to please Himself. You who are strong must be patient with the weak.
There are many situations in a congregation, be it of food, clothing, drink, social activities, what Christians do on Sunday, even matters of liturgy, which can be offensive to the weak, those who make rules for themselves about which God Himself has neither commanded nor forbidden. Christians must exercise patience and care in these matters. They should never do anything which might disrupt either a Christian's relationship to his Lord or the harmony in a congregation.
"The one-the other." Note contrast and comparison. This situation is still found among Christians today: one person feels that he needs a special day, devoted entirely to prayer, Scripture reading and hymn-singing for edification. Another person deems all days alike for these edifying activities. The former is weak in the faith. The latter is strong.
But now comes the second part of the verse: "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind."
Franzmann: No man may impose his own convictions on his neighbor, no more than he can live by his neighbor's convictions.
Arndt: Let him be assured that he is doing the right thing. He must not think that he has to change his way because others do differently. Let him have his convictions and live according to them.
Lenski: This, of course, does not mean that each one should be assured that he is right and the other wrong, and then that each should honor the conviction of the other. That would be the indifferent tolerance as practiced by the world.
It must be remembered that Paul is speaking about adiaphora, things neither commanded nor forbidden. There is always the danger that people, young in the faith, will call sin what is not sin. There care must be taken to practice mutual patience. By the way, Paul is not speaking about Judaizers, that is, people who insist that the works of man supplement the grace of God for salvation.
In verse 5 the distinction of persons was made with "the one - the other." In this verse it is done with "he who" and the substantival participle.
There is an added element in this verse. It is the element of eating or not eating. The person who eats everything without scruples (see verse 2) does not see any need of a prohibition of certain food on a certain day which is devoted to prayer, praise and Scripture. But the person who does not eat a certain food, i.e. meat, on a day which is especially devoted to matters sacred, looks at the matter differently.
Paul is saying that there need be no criticism or judgment of one for the other. Both do what they do for the Lord. Both thank God, each in his own way.
Franzmann: Each man in his peculiarity is united with every other man in his peculiarity in a common worship.
Stoeckhardt: As the eating so also the non-eating is done to the service and glory of the Lord. The weak abstained from the enjoyment of meat, since they thought that they were thus the better fitted for prayer and divine worship. He thanks God.
Again, explanatory. What Paul says is true of all men but is applied here especially to Christians. In Galatians 5:13 Paul tells his Galatian hearers that they have been called to liberty but warns them not to use this liberty as an occasion for the flesh but "through love serve one another." When Christians hear that they are free agents, free from the condemnation of sin, death and the devil, they are sometimes tempted to misuse their liberty. And, in this context of adiaphora, the Christian is tempted either to judge or condemn his fellow Christian in matters adiaphoral.
Paul is pointing out that such a course is wrong and sinful. I do not live and dare not even die only to myself. I am not the master of my own fate. My life and death are the most important items in my life. They are not mine nor are they to be lived as if they were.
Again, explanatory. Paul leaves nothing to the imagination. He explains in detail. Twice Paul says: "both---and." All four conditions are present general, holding true in all cases. The verse is limited to Christians.
Note that "Lord", Christ Himself, occurs twice as a dative of relation. But in the final apodosis we have a genitive of possession. That is very emphatic. All our living and all our dying is not only in the Lord but He also is the owner of it. Therefore, if He is our Lord, our Master, the owner of all that we have and are, these differences in adiaphora pale into insignificance.
Who, in view of these circumstances, would insist on his own way and judge and despise others who act differently than he does? We are speaking of adiaphora, things neither commanded nor forbidden.
Franzmann: All that Paul has been saying since the beginning of Chapter 12, all that he has said in Chapters 6-8 is involved here. And the Lord's lordship over us does not cease at death. Our dying is no longer blind submission to an inevitable fate. . . . So then, in living and in dying we belong to Him; He never lets us go.
Lenski: Since our whole life, and even our death, thus look not to ourselves, but to the Lord, can we think of making an exception in the case of adiaphora, unessentials, such as the food one eats or does not eat? That indeed would be the height of folly.
Paul explains further. By virtue of Christ's suffering and death He became Lord of both the living and dead. He did both to be Lord of both. Do not separate either the verbs or the objects. This verse explains the previous verse. If He became Lord of my life and death by His dying and revivification, then all the lesser things in my life, in this case the adiaphoral, belong to Him too. I dare not become self-willed about them. I must live according to my conscience and not sin against my conscience but, at the same time, I must not expect other Christians to look at adiaphora in the same way that I do.
Stoeckhardt: How unseemly it would be if Christians wanted to quarrel because of the difference in eating and non-eating. The contrast between living and dying, which goes far beyond the contrast between eating and non-eating, the great contrast between death and life is for our conduct to Christ and for our relations to Christ quite all the same. We serve the Lord and are the Lord's own, whether we live or die. Much less can the lesser contrast, between eating and non-eating, be of importance for our conduct and relation to Christ. Thus it should be an easy thing for Christians to disregard such trifling matters.
There is a point at which adiaphora cease to be adiaphora. If a Christian would do a certain thing which is adiaphoral but which he would consider wrong in itself, that Christian sins although the thing in itself is not sin.
Likewise, if a Christian openly and inconsiderately does what is considered wrong by others, though it is not wrong in itself, he sins in that he violates the law of love. Finally, if a Christian makes an adiaphoron necessary for salvation, the pastor and other Christians must insist that the adiaphoron, in this instance, is wrong because it results in work-righteousness.
That is essentially the problem which Paul faced with the Galatians. Paul had Timothy circumcised lest he would offend the Jews. But he refused to permit Titus to be circumcised because false brothers insisted on circumcision as necessary to salvation.
The author of these notes wishes to cite two incidents which may be of value to the reader:
a) A certain young man who had just been graduated from the Seminary was called to a congregation which was quite conservative in liturgics and pastoral vestments. The young man dressed quite conservatively on the day of his ordination and installation. But the next Sunday he appeared in the chancel, dressed in robes which are in keeping with high church liturgics. This was very offensive to the congregation. It was indiscreet and loveless on the part of the new, young pastor. He insisted on his "Christian liberty" and this led to his eventual resignation. Tragic.
b) When the author of these notes was a child he remembers that his father would inform his children on Communion Sundays that he ate no breakfast before partaking of the Lord's Supper. He stated that this was customary in their family and this had become a matter of conviction with him and his siblings but that it was not mandatory for his children. He did not eat breakfast on those days. His children did eat breakfast on those days. Each was convinced in his own mind as to the proper course.
The Augsburg Confession, Art. XXVIII, paragraphs 58-68, Tappert pages 91-93, points out that the New Testament Sunday is not the Old Testament Sabbath Day and that Christians should beware of those who make rules and regulations concerning the kind and amount of work which can or cannot be done on Sunday.
Furthermore, Art. X of the Formula of Concord, S.D., Tappert pages 610-616, speaks of adiaphora. When an adiaphoron beclouds justification by faith, it is no longer an adiaphoron. Further instruction on ceremonies in the church is given. Both articles in the Book of Concord are worth reading. If Christians lose the correct view of adiaphora they will lose the most important doctrine, justification by faith.