We already touched upon chapter 14 when discussed chapter 13. The matter of liberty with regard to what is clean to eat and what is not is the subject of this chapter. It may seem strange to many of us that apostle Paul would devote an entire chapter, in fact a good part of the next chapter as well, on the matter of eating. But this topic had not only a very large historical importance for Christians then, but also illustrates important principles of liberty and brotherly respect and discretion we have toward others in Christ.
The matter of what food can be regarded as clean was a very important one for Jews in the Old Testament time, and continued to be so in the New Testament time when Jews became Christians. In the Old Testament, God clearly commanded Jews not to eat certain kind of foods because they were regarded as unclean. The reasons for the law regulating the cleanness of food are primarily spiritual, although in some cases they might also be health related. The rich spiritual meanings of what food is clean or unclean in eyes of God can be found in the book of Leviticus in Old Testament, and will not be discussed here.
It was difficult for Jewish Christians to accept other Christians eating food that was not considered as clean according to the Levitical laws. These other Christians were Gentiles who had no such observation. And because in Rome both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians lived close to each other and often gathered together for worship, this matter of eating had a very heavy bearing on the peace and unity among Christians. That was the background of what apostle Paul was addressing in chapter 14 of Romans.
The guidance of the Holy Spirit given through apostle Paul, however, goes far beyond the eating itself, but touched upon a very essential matter of our faith and Christian living. This matter is how we regard another person in faith.
It is important to note that the emphasis of the guidance of the Holy Spirit on this matter is not firstly about Christian brotherly love, as many tend to think when interpreting this chapter. Brotherly love is another matter, purely at a different level, but not the basic focus here. It is first of all about fundamentally what constitutes kingdom of God, and what judicial position each of us stands before God and stand in relation to each other.
To put it plainly, the Holy Spirit is essentially telling us straight that we should shut up judging another, not because it is an unloving thing to do (it is not, but we are not at that level to even bring in love on this matter), but simply because we don’t have a right to do so from a legal and judicial point of view. It is simply not right (versus being not good) to do so.
We often confuse the matter of “right” and “good”, and wishfully talk about being “good” when we are not even “right”. We treat the matter of “good” very basely. But God sees “good” on top of “right”. ”For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.” Romans 5.7. See how God sees a good man beyond a righteous man.
Jesus who was on Mount of Transfiguration was the righteous man (in fact, the perfect man), but Jesus who was crucified on the Mount of Golgotha (the Cross of Calgary) was the good man. The righteous man is able to save himself, but the good man is able to save others as well. And thank God our Lord is not just perfect and righteous, but is also good.
It is simply not right to judge another brother in the Lord. Here also note that apostle Paul was not referring to just any person, but another one who is a Christian brother. It is not about social relations, but about our spiritual relations.
Why? Because this other person belongs to God and is a servant of God. It is not right to judge even a servant of another person, much more so to judge a servant of God. Judging another one’s servant was a quite serious matter in a time of Romans because it was a basic etiquette in that society to show respect to another one’s servant; it was a disrespect to the master to show disrespect to his servant. Everyone who is saved is called into a heavenly service in the kingdom of God (everyone, not just those who are in a full-time ministry), and is a servant of God. That person deserves deep respect from others by virtue of his relationship with God.
Often we think of another Christian and evaluate that person’s conduct and status as if we were discussing an academic matter of what’s good and right in our eyes, or as if we were evaluating the qualities of another fellow human being, but we fundamentally forget that person is attached to a far greater authority. He belongs to God. He may be right or may be wrong, or I may be right or may be wrong in my estimate of him, but I fundamentally don’t have a right to judge him. Not only because it is not nice to judge, but because I simply have no right to do so. He belongs to God,and only his Master can judge him.
But he’s not just a servant of God. Christ died for him. Christ died for him! Think about it. The Lord died for him. One could buy a servant with a sum of money, but Christ purchased the life of that person to redeem him by shedding His blood for him and dying for him. If knowing that we ought to respect the Master by respecting His servants isn’t a strong enough reason to stop us from judging another, isn’t knowing what price the Lord has paid for that person enough?
Another aspect of chapter 14 of Romans is the teaching for us to focus on things that truly matter to God and His Kingdom. Consider God’s kingdom and mind things that really matter to the kingdom. We live for the kingdom and the King, not for ourselves.
What a warning it is to us that one can be religious yet actually living for himself but not for God! We tend to be misguided into thinking that showing religiosity is to demonstrate piety to God. It can be just the opposite. We focus on things that are trivial and doubtful for the sake of our sense of religion and comfort, but avoid and even destroy things that are truly important and sure to the service and work of the kingdom of God. May it never be.
But apostle Paul goes beyond just avoiding doing things we don’t have a right to do. He moves beyond obligation and toward brotherly love. He would not only refuse to judge his brother (which would be a wrong thing to do), but also will restrain himself from doing anything which may be lawful to do but could still hurt the faith of the brother. This is more than a good attitude of a co-servant, but in the spirit of stewardship, and the spirit of brotherly love. This is maturity. What a servant our Lord has got in Paul. Let us all learn from Paul. But before we learn about “good”, make sure that we are “right” in the first place.