A Brief Consideration of Romans 14:1-15:7 in the context of North’s teaching on the consumption of wine

1. Religious Tolerance
   a. Different judgments, different situations
   b. The Lord’s acceptance
   c. The Church’s acceptance
2. Living ‘unto the Lord’
3. The strong, the weak and the way of love

This short study has been included as a response to North’s attack on the abstention from alcohol. The reader may immediately think that, because such a teaching has prompted my assessed need for this web page that I must, by necessity, be ‘teetotal’.

But that isn’t the case.

What is important to do, however, is to come to terms with Paul’s teaching on the relationship between brethren ‘in Christ’, to gain principles that can be applied, before we come to try and consider the war that seems to ensue within today’s Church (in certain areas) between those who promote alcoholic abstention and those who, with equal zeal, promote alcoholic indulgence.

As we’ll see, neither camp is correct because they both make a law out of a grey area (though both camps would be adamant that the issues are black and white!!).

I trust that these notes will at least help those seeking the Biblical viewpoint on these and similar areas of conflict.


This teaching subject is not as popular in today’s Church as, for instance, ‘demon expulsion’, ‘victory in Christ’ or ‘signs and wonders’. Therefore, it’s not always evident as a prominent lifestyle within the Church - but it needs to be in order for there to be a balance between ‘power’ and ‘love’.

The power that heals the sick and gives the believer victory in all things, may be the same power that destroys God’s life in another brother. In Isaiah 11:2 we see the necessity of receiving the twin ‘spirit’ of ‘counsel’ and ‘might’ - not uncontrolled or unlimited power but might tempered with the knowledge of how we might use it.

1. Religious Tolerance

a. Different judgments, different situations

To the ‘zealous’ for God, the phrase ‘religious tolerance’ may seem like a dirty word, speaking (as it can do) of a type of ecumenicalism that pervades many differing religions and sins, trying to look on the good points and so attain some sort of unity that is, in fact, no more than a compromise.

But the phrase does seem to be the best label to describe the subject that we’re going to look at even though it may immediately be misunderstood.

In Romans chapter 14, then, we find a few Scriptures (14:4,10,13) which provide us with the basis for the concept of ‘religious tolerance’. Paul writes

‘Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand...Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?...Then let us no more pass judgment on one another...’

The above speak to us regarding judgment being passed

i. On a brother.
ii. With regard to something in a brother’s life that’s of no eternal consequence.

Elsewhere (I Corinthians chapter 5 esp v.12), Paul speaks about the necessity of judgment being passed

i. On a brother.
ii. With regard to a brother’s sin (which is of eternal consequence).

and Jesus (Mtw 7:1-6) gave a warning about the dangers of passing judgment

i. On a brother.
ii. With regard to a brother’s sin that’s overshadowed by your own.

But notice the difference in the above three examples! There are a number of passages in Scripture that deal with the importance of judging/not judging, and many have sought to harmonise these passages. However, they stand alone.

The third of the passages above (Mtw 7:1-6) talks about the hypocrisy of judging a brother’s life when there’s worse sin in our own - we’re to remove sin first from our own life before we’ll see clearly to remove it from our brother’s. If we receive mercy from God, we’ll judge a brother’s similar sin with the mercy that we ourselves have received - not with condemnation but compassion. Our own judgment will either condemn or justify us seeing as we’ve put ourselves into the position of judge.

The second (I Corinthians chapter 5), on the other hand, speaks of the necessity of judging sin in the Body - that is, it’s important for believers not to allow the Body of Christ, His Church, to become tainted.

And the first (Romans chapter 14), the passage under consideration, speaks of abstaining from passing judgment on what isn’t sin but opinion.

These three individual Scriptural passages should not, therefore, be confused or harmonised - they stand alone, referring as they do to different situations.

The ‘Religious tolerance’ that we speak of in the passage under consideration has nothing to do with tolerating an individual believer’s sin, but speaks of tolerating an individual believer’s decisions that are made out of personal preference.

Therefore, in these areas, there shouldn’t be a judgment by one brother of another brother’s lifestyle (that is, where the lifestyle is not one of sin, but of religious preference). Rather, as in section ‘c’ below, there needs only be an acceptance of one another.

b. The Lord’s acceptance

Rom 14:4 informs us that if two different actions are acceptable to the Lord, then it makes for tolerance in areas where there’s no sin committed with either course - not tolerance of sin, but tolerance in areas where there’s neither black nor white. The Lord, the Master, will cause both of His servants to be justified. Morris 3 writes

‘If a servant is acceptable to his master, it does not matter what his fellows think’

That is to say, if you don’t like the youth wearing jeans, it’s your problem not theirs! So long as God accepts them this way, you’re obliged to accept them, too!

c. The Church’s acceptance

The letter to the Romans gives us both commands and instructions as to what to do with a believer who’s different to ourselves. Paul writes (Rom 14:1) that we should

‘...welcome him...’

and (Rom 14:3) that

‘...God has welcomed him’

and (Rom 15:7), finally, that we’re to

‘Welcome one another...as Christ has welcomed you...’

Two brothers who’ve different opinions in an area of their walk with Jesus - opinions that are neither sin nor obedience, can still share fellowship together.

They’re both accepted by God in Jesus, are therefore both disciples of Christ and are united through Him.

In times past, the Church has pushed away those who had different opinions and caused a division where there was no need for one to be made for they failed to comprehend the difference between doctrine and opinion.

2. Living ‘unto the Lord’

Having seen the area that we’ll now be covering in these notes, we need to go on and look at how these opinions (that may contradict an opinion that’s in a fellow believer’s life) are formed.

Romans again instructs us (Rom 14:10,12) as to what the end of our opinions will be when we reach the other side of the grave - we’ll be called to give an account of the way that we lived our lives (notice that the first Scripture is often used out of context to denote a vague final judgment of believers - but it rightly relates to God assessing a believer’s life in the matter of their opinions). Paul writes that ‘

...we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God...each of us shall give account of himself to God’

It’s God’s judgment upon an individual’s opinions that’s important, not a fellow-brother’s (Rom 14:3, Col 2:16). Paul appeals to the Roman Christians not to judge before the appointed time - the opinions that we have (and which influence the way that we live our lives) will have to be accounted for when we stand before the judgment seat of the Lord.

Decisions on how to live should be reached ‘in the light of Christ’, by a consideration of what Jesus would have you to do (14:6-8). But (praise the Lord!), your decision is not binding on the universal Church.

In my early years as a christian, I found that the Lord led me in to removing all christian and non-christian music from my life. This, as I have now come to realise, was extremely important for me but it wasn’t a law that God intended applying to the Church in general - incidentally, that area of my life has been given back to me now that the Lord’s purpose has been realised in my abstention from it ‘for a time’.

Notice Romans 14:6 - both the man who eats and the man who abstains do so in honour of the Lord while giving thanks to God. Their actions are totally contradictory if it were a matter of doctrine, but it’s an opinion that’s here in mind and there can be a wide variety of procedure without one course of action being necessarily sin. There are a multitude of differences in the way that the Church celebrates Communion throughout the world - some have one loaf, some more, while some will have nothing other than unleavened bread or wafers or individual crackers ‘per person’ (and there’s just as much variation in the liquid that’s drunk!) - but we’re still one Church in unity.

The whole point is that, in whatever we do, we do it ‘unto the Lord’ (Rom 14:7-8, I Cor 10:31) - our opinions should be based upon a consideration of the person of Christ.

The following questions and answers are examples of how different and diverging opinions can be ‘justified’ in God’s eyes. I’m not saying these answers should be adopted in order to be justified! I’m only giving examples of how alternative opinions can be adopted.

i. Why do you eat meat?
I believe that Gen 9:3 is the Lord’s command to give us meat to eat.
Why don’t you eat meat?
I believe that Gen 9:3 is an allowance until the restoration of the Creation in Christ which has now come.
(Both have justified their lifestyle by reference to Scripture - at least one of them must be wrong but, in God’s eyes, both are right. He justifies both ways of living before Him because the Kingdom of God is much more than the right answers to questions regarding food and drink)

ii. Why don’t you, an older person, get involved with the youth?
They’re too unholy - I don’t want to get polluted.
Why don’t you, a young person, get involved with the older people?
They’re too religious - I don’t want to get polluted.
(Both want to safeguard the life of Christ within themselves - you may think that the answers to both the questions are ‘outrageous’ - I’ve heard both, though, be given as justification for the course of action taken)

iii. Why do you wear a head-covering in church meetings?
I Cor 11:2-16 is the Lord’s universal command for the Church, so I obey it.
Why don’t you wear a head-covering in church meetings?
I Cor 11:2-16 was a local custom that, to stop offence, was adopted then. I try and make sure that I don’t offend the local customs, but wearing a covering is not one of them.
(The first time I preached this message, I was approached by a woman who believes the first course of action is God’s will for the Church - and nothing that I could do would sway her from her belief that all married women should wear head coverings. God blesses both the covered women and the uncovered, He shows no partiality)

iv. Why do you sing choruses as opposed to hymns?
Because they help me draw near to God in praise and worship.
Why do you sing hymns as opposed to choruses?
Because they teach me great truths concerning the majesty and work of God in Christ.
(Choruses and hymns are both important - but they are both only tools that we use in our service of God. Unfortunately we often opt for the one at the expense of the other and may even go so far as to express our dislike at the other because of our preference).

Each of the above four examples are ‘living to the Lord’ (Romans 14:8, I Cor 10:31) - we’re adopting a way of life that has, as its central consideration, the person of Christ. Each answer puts Him in our thoughts, even though the answers are, on occasions, total opposites.

Our fifth consideration is in the same form as the other four, but we’ll see in it how the apostle goes on further to show us a better way of living:

v. Why do you drink alcohol?
Because I know that God has the power to prevent me from returning to my former state as an alcoholic/prevent me from becoming an alcoholic.
Why don’t you drink alcohol?
Because I know that I would put myself in a position where I might tempt myself to return to my former way of life and so dishonour Christ.

But, better than both these answers, is

I abstain because I never know when I might be putting a stumbling block in front of a brother and so destroy the work of Christ in him.

This is the way of love (I Cor 13:13-14:la, Rom 14;15a) and it’s the greatest way of all. In the next section, we’ll develop Paul’s argument concerning this way.

3. The strong, the weak and the way of love

Paul indicates that there are three ways of living your life before God - either as someone who’s considered strong in faith, as someone who’s considered to be weak or - and this is a totally radical concept to most of the Church (judging by what I see around me) - a third way known as ‘the way of love’.

The ‘strong’ is the brother who through the revelation of Jesus Christ has perceived that there are certain things which are of no relevance to his walk with Christ (for instance, whether he eats or abstains from food and drink - Rom 14:17). The strong freely partakes of those things around him with a clear conscience, and doesn’t sin by his actions (14:22).

The danger for the strong believer is that he may stumble others around him.

The ‘weak’ is the brother who’s not had as great a revelation of the work of Jesus or he who hasn’t fully thought it through. For him, there are many things that he considers to be sin (14:14b) and for that person to participate in them would be for him to mar his conscience and bring himself into condemnation. For condemnation is the result of doing something that we know to be against the will of God in Christ for us (14:23).

The danger for the weak believer is that he may cause unnecessary division within the Church.

But both ways of life aren’t flawless - we would have expected Paul to uphold the strong and rebuke the weak but he does neither. Rather, as we’ve already seen, he justifies both because they both act from faith and then proceeds to show that the way of love is God’s way (14:15a), a way that doesn’t depend on strength of faith or depth of knowledge.

Paul wrote (I Cor 8:1-2, 10:23, 13:13-14:1, 13:8)

‘...we know that "all of us possess knowledge". Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up...“All things are lawful” but not all things build up...So, faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Make love your aim...Love never ends...as for knowledge, it will pass away’

Love compels the strong to bear with the failings of the weak in faith (Rom 15:1) so that a brother isn’t stumbled through something that in itself isn’t a sin (Rom 14:13,15b,20a, I Cor 8:9,11-13, 10:32). Paul wrote (Rom 14:15)

‘If your brother is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love’

Strength of faith is futile if there’s no love to adapt the way you live for the sake of your brother (14:21). It’s even possible that strength of faith may be counted as evil if it stumbles and leads astray a fellow believer (14:16).

Love will mean that we always consider how we may benefit our brother by building him up in Christ, encouraging him to grow in stature into Jesus so that he develops to reach mature manhood.

It means that we’ll not live dogmatically to ‘our way’ irrespective of others around us, but we’ll consider how we might please others for their spiritual benefit. Adapting our way of life (though not reverting into a life of sin) for others will mean that we safeguard ourselves from becoming a cause of stumbling/temptation (Mtw 18:6) while being the spiritual spark that ignites a believer’s life to be on fire for God.

When it comes to the subject of alcohol, the strong believer may glory in the provision of God that he has the strength of faith to drink but he should rather be applying the wisdom of God that instructs him when it’s best to abstain. It’s the strong who hold the solution to the problem.

Finally, then, it’s not how strong we are that’s as important an issue as who we live for. If we live for ourselves (15:1b), we may be strong in faith but we’ll be deficient in love. If we live for Jesus and the brethren (for Jesus - II Cor 5:15, for the brethren - I Cor 10:24,33, Rom 15:la), even though we may be weak in faith, we’ll be abundantly overflowing in love, living as Christ lived who didn’t please Himself (15:3, Eph 5:2) but thought of others’ needs before his own.

And it’s love that is the way of Christ.

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