1Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
2One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
This chapter shows us how to behave in matters pertaining to Christian conscience. Some of us are weak in faith, meaning that we are easily stumbled into sin because we can’t do something and not break faith with the Lord. This is not a necessarily a position of inferiority or immaturity, though it may indicate a lack of Biblical understanding. It is contrasted with that of a person “stronger” in faith, meaning that such a person is able to do something without it harming their walk with God. Those who are weak must be accepted and not judged for being pious, legalistic, or overly spiritual. They must follow their conscience and only act by faith. Their convictions should be welcomed, and their opinion should not be quarreled over. Sometimes those who are strong like to provoke the weak to sin or argue with them about their strict position on a matter as if they are more spiritual. This is strictly forbidden by Paul. We should not mock or challenge those who have decided by faith before God to abstain from something that they fear would cause them to stumble. In this example, some could eat meat while others only would eat vegetables because they had a problem in their consciences with eating meat that may have been sacrificed to idols (see also 1 Corinthians 10:27-33). The weak Jewish believers had trouble letting go of some of the ceremonial expectations from their heritage in Judaism while the Gentile believers didn’t want to return to the paganism that they had just repented from, let alone confuse the unsaved who were watching them.
3The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
Paul reminds the strong to not despise the weak for their abstinence, and he reminds the weak to keep from judging or looking down on those who do eat, as if they must be sinning. God accepts the strong person’s position as well as the weak person’s stand. Both do well as they follow the Spirit’s leading for their lives. There was nothing wrong with the Jewish believers still observing the Passover, for example. It wasn’t a sin issue, though Paul would have said that what they did was unnecessary, for it was only a shadow of Christ Who had now come. The Gentile believers could have eaten the meat sacrificed to idols as idols are dead anyway. But some who were weaker in faith could have been troubled by keeping the connection with their pagan past; thus, they did good to abstain from eating meat. The key was that those who ate and those who did not didn’t judge or mock one another or push one another to go against their conscience, stumbling them into sinning.
4Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
We are not to oversee the decisions of others pertaining to matters of faith and conscience. God is their judge as He is ours. We are each responsible for our decisions before Him. The Lord will give us grace to do what is right and give us the direction that we need to make proper decisions.
5One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
6He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
Some Jews still wanted to observe the feasts and ceremonies of the past. Thus, certain days were more important for them than others. To another, particularly for Gentile believers, these were things of the past. The Gentiles could have been tempted to scorn those among the Jewish believers who felt compelled before God to still observe these days. These same Jews could have been tempted to judge the Gentiles for being liberal and indulging in sin. Yet Paul’s command is to do everything as to the Lord being concerned about the state of our own hearts. We must come to a place where we decide with certainty as to what the will of God is for us in the matter, and we must do it, thereby glorifying God. To disobey the Spirit’s leading or to go against our conscience is to sin. If we can do it from faith, we should do it to God’s glory. If we cannot, we had better not, lest we sin. Again, never does this argument allow for sin that is clearly condemned in Scripture. We can never be so “strong” that we can disobey God.
7For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;
8for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Though we must each make our own decisions, we don’t live for ourselves. We are to deny ourselves, and we are live for God’s will and purposes. Whether we live or die, it is to be for the Lord. At all times, dead or alive, we will be His. This is the victory that Christ owns in that He has conquered sin and death. He is thus Lord of all, over both the dead and the living. He will also judge all, so we should leave the judgment to Him.
10But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
11For it is written,
"AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME,
AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD."
12So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
We will not give an account to Christ for our brother or sister but for our own choices while in the body. This is why we should not judge our brothers for being too stingy or look down on them for doing something that we might not be comfortable doing. They will have to defend their position to God, and so will we. We will all be judged by Christ and be rewarded according to how we lived in while in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10).
13Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way.
Rather than trying to take Christ’s job and judge others, we should rather be thinking of others as more important than ourselves. Thus, we should determine to not do something if it is going to cause the other to be tempted to go against his convictions. Thus, the person who is strong in a matter might need to limit his actions for the sake of not unduly causing a brother who is weaker to stumble into sin.
14I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Paul knew that all things were clean before God, though the Jews still viewed some animals as being unclean. For those who still thought that there were unclean animals, if they were to eat them, they would sin. Since they thought they were unclean and believed that they would sin to violate this conviction, if they did choose to violate it, they would sin. Thus they did right to abstain, even though technically it wasn’t necessary.
15For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
Those who are strong in a matter should not hurt their brother by offending him and making him uneasy and uncomfortable. If a brother is stumbled, this then violates the law of love because we have made ourselves to be more important than others. We are not to endanger or run roughshod over a brother who is loved by God so much that Christ died for him. The welfare of our brother is to be so much more important than exercising our liberty before God. Thus, Paul would become as a Jew when with the Jews so as to not stumble them needlessly. Their salvation was more important than him making a point about the cleanliness of pigs. Salvation was of far greater importance than food, and salvation could come to the Jews even if they still kept some of the ceremonial customs. When he was with the Gentiles, he could eat the unclean meat without causing them harm. Thus, he would become all things to all people for the purpose of winning some (1 Corinthians 9:20-23).
16Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
If we find ourselves in the position where something is acceptable for us, it is thus a good thing for us. Yet, if we abuse our liberty in the matter so as to offend the party for whom it is not acceptable, then what is a good thing will be denounced as an evil thing.
17for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
We will cause unnecessary division and hurt among brothers, and we will offend those who need the gospel for the sake of making a mere point about something to eat or drink. The kingdom of God is what is important and whether or not a person is in the kingdom, regardless of whether or not they eat meat or vegetables. The kingdom consists of those who love one another despite issues of faith and liberty in the Spirit. The kingdom is about being made righteous before God, finding true peace, living peaceably with others as we can, and having joy unspeakable from the Holy Spirit. These are the issues, and their centrality must be honored.
18For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
Those who prefer the interests of others ahead of their own freedom serve Christ. This is acceptable to God, and approved by men in that it is common courtesy and respect for others. Exercising our freedom at the expense of our brother’s conscience will cause strife and division. Thus, we are to do what we can to keep the peace and edify one another. We will not be able to encourage others in the Lord regarding matters pertaining to the kingdom if we have offended them or caused them to sin by our behavior at the dinner table.
20Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
It is never worth offending a brother in the Lord simply to prove a point that indeed God has given us liberty to do something that their conscience is telling them to refrain from. In this case, the meat was acceptable and the feasts didn’t need to be kept, but those who were free to do these things were not to exercise their liberty at the cost of leading their brothers astray. Even though these things were clean for the strong, they would become evil if they exercised their liberty to eat the meat so as to offend their weaker brothers.
21It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
A guiding principle in determining issues pertaining to Christian liberty and conscience is that we don’t do anything if it might cause our brothers to stumble. Thus, even though a person might have freedom in their conscience to eat certain things to do certain things, they may need to limit their freedom so that the main thing, the gospel, can be kept the main thing. There is no point in creating disunity among believers just so that we can indulge our liberty. Thus, the goal isn’t to liberalize the church but to refrain from anything that might be a hint of immorality (Ephesians 5:3). This does not mean that we should create legalistic standards and watch over one another as judges to make sure that we are all keeping the rules, so to speak. It means that we should all walk before God according to His leading but never at the expense of a brother in the Lord.
22The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
Our faith is individual, though stemming from an historic confession and body of doctrine. We each are led of the Spirit since we are sons of God (Romans 8:14). Thus, we need to follow His leading, not His leading of someone else. Thus, some decisions in the Christian life are personal. We shouldn’t create absolute standards where the Bible does not give them. We each are to walk before God for ourselves knowing that God will judge us individually for what we do, depending upon whether it is of faith or of the flesh. But we must operate under conviction. If we have doubt about doing something because our conscience is not at peace, we need to not do it. If we are unsure if we are doing wrong, we should not be doing what we are doing. If we want the joy of the Lord in our lives, we should follow the leading of the Spirit, exercising our freedom in Christ, only being mindful of times where we need to limit our freedom so that we don’t stumble our brothers.
23But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Another guiding principle in matters pertaining to Christian liberty is that we must be able to do what we do with certainty that we are following the Spirit’s leading and the will of God. We are not to waffle around in doubt, wondering if we are serving God or the flesh. If there is any doubt that what we are doing is not a result of faith, then we ought not to do it. If we violate our conscience or doubt the Spirit’s leading and still eat, we will have sinned.
There are no absolute legalistic standards that should be drawn in the church. There are, however, principles that govern how our liberty in Christ should function. We must be sure that what we are doing is from faith and not of the flesh, we must not stumble one another, and we must do what we do with certainty that we are honoring God. There are times to limit our freedom and times not to. We must always seek the welfare of our brothers above our own liberty, and we must keep the emphasis on the gospel and the kingdom so that needless offenses don’t impede their progress and growth.