The focus of this morning’s passage might seem to be how we look at and how we judge one another. But I believe the thrust of what Paul is saying is something different, what Paul is talking about is our unity, how we should not quarrel about things and how we should not judge one another.

So we have an exhortation not to quarrel over or judge one another about certain things, and his reasoning as to WHY.

Paul uses two examples to illustrate the kind of things we quarrel and judge one another about. The first being what we eat (specifically meat which is unclean or sacrificed to idols), the second being how we view one day (although this is not specified, my feeling is that this is the Sabbath).

Food – to eat or not to eat?

In Paul’s day, Christians were judging one another based on what they ate. Paul recognises that some eat everything, others only eat certain things. There is a parallel in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where some people were quite happily tucking into food sacrificed in the pagan temples, especially when they were invited to eat with unbelievers. In both the Romans and the Corinthians text, Paul makes the point that what we eat and drink is a matter of conscience.

In the Corinthians text, he says it explicitly: “eat whatever is sold in the market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:25), AND that we should not allow others to determine what we eat: “why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” (1 Corinthians 10:29).

In today’s Romans passage, Paul says that one person believes he may eat anything, another doesn’t and neither one is to pass judgement on the other (Romans 14:2,3).

Nowadays, what we eat doesn’t hold the significance it did for the Romans (or the Corinthians for that matter). Other faiths still have dietary laws, (e.g. Hindus won’t eat beef, Jewish people will only eat Kosher food, Moslems will only eat Halal food), but the Christian is free to eat whatever he wants. In Mark 7:19 and the parallel in Matthew 15:10 & 11, Jesus declared all food clean for us. He said it is not what goes into the mouth which makes us unclean, but what comes out of it! Mark comments: “thus he declared all foods clean”. The dietary laws given to the Jews were a reminder that their sin was a barrier to fellowship with God (because they were intended to speak to keeping oneself pure), and Jesus, through his death on the cross makes possible the forgiveness of sins. Hebrews says quite distinctly ceremonial laws of Judaism are no longer required to make us clean; Jesus has done that once for all.

There is a real parallel in our world in churches today. Not around eating; the focus has switched from food to alcohol. I have travelled and ministered in various countries around the world. One characteristic of many of the countries I have visited is that there is a very strong aversion to alcohol there which, generally speaking, just doesn’t exist in Western Europe. In Uganda, India, South Korea, Brazil, The United States, even in Australia, Christians simply do not drink alcohol at all, and people who do are regarded as ‘weak’ or not really Christian. Here in the UK, and in France and other European countries where I’ve ministered, you will occasionally encounter someone or even a whole church (or church stream) which has made a choice to not drink, but by and large, there is a much more relaxed attitude towards alcohol here. So for example, New Wine (the Christian camp/conference put on every summer) actually had a bar in the main venue which was opened after the end of the worship service. In Europe, this is partly down to a culture which grew in an area where for much of the last 2,000 years the only drinks that were safe were fermented (esp. beer and wine).

I am NOT making any comments one way or the other about this, except to say that whatever side of that particular issue you stand, it is NOT a Biblical thing to judge someone who sits on the other side.

One Day – or every day?

Secondly, Paul references our attitude towards what he describes as “one day” (Romans 14:5) “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”. For those who had a Jewish background, observation of Sabbath would have been deeply ingrained into them. Much of the New Testament is written to believers to teach them that under the New Covenant of Jesus, regulations applicable to the Old are NOT binding on us. Jesus actually talks about the Sabbath and says: “the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27), and he goes on to declare that He is Lord of the sabbath (Mark 2:28). Paul writes:“But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” (Galatians 4:9–11 (NIV)).

We have, since that time, developed a culture where the ‘weekend’ is very important. In previous generations, Sunday was set aside as a day to worship God which was imposed on everyone, shops were closed, no one was permitted to do any business, Sundays were viewed in much the same way as the Jews viewed the Sabbath. I remember in my youth when the society around us started to do such things as open for business on Sundays, there was a ‘keep Sunday special’ campaign which sought to protect Sunday as a day of rest. In large part it failed and most shops now open, and it is becoming less the case that NO-ONE works on Sundays, it is usual for everyone to take a day off at least once a week. Even those who don’t work on Sundays rarely go to church. Instead it is generally used for socialising, for playing sports and such like.

Some Christians treat Sunday as pretty much like any other day, they are content to go to the shop, they have no issue with working and so on. Others refuse point blank to do anything other than use the day as an opportunity to focus on God and worship Him, they will not go to the shop – even for essentials, they will often refuse to work a job which might require them to work on a Sunday. How each views the other is in view here. Like his advice about food, Paul’s instruction is that each person’s use of the day is between him and God. He says we should be ‘fully convinced’ in our own mind how we observe the day.

Unity

This is the crux of Paul’s point here, summarised in Romans 14:1 (ESV): “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”

The whole point of the next few paragraphs are about not quarrelling and how we should and should not judge one another, and the reasons for that. Quarrelling and judging one another is something which is not right for any believer. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, He calls us to love one another. Earlier in his letter Paul had called us to ”live at peace with one another” (Romans 12:18). And much of the New Testament contains exhortations and advice on how to do just that.

The thing is this, quarrelling and judgementalism are symptoms of disunity, and disunity damages witness. More importantly, Jesus desires that we are united. In John 17, he prays for the Disciples: “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11 (ESV)). He then turns His attention to us: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, (that’s US!) that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20–21 (ESV)).

Our unity does a number of things:

  1. It reflects the very nature of God (I’ve just referenced John 17 where Jesus says: ”that they may be one as you and I are one”)
  2. It is a form of witness. ”That the world may believe that you have sent me”, it is also implied in John 13:35: ”By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
  3. It shows our maturity. ”until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 (ESV)).
  4. It enhances worship. ”May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5–6 (ESV)).

Note our unity with other Christians is not optional.

  1. It is a calling from God: ”to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2 (ESV)).
  2. It is commanded by Christ: ”a new commandment I give to you …” (John 13:34).
  3. It is a consequence of being filled with the Spirit. See Ephesians 4, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 all of which put it differently …
    1. Ephesians 4 reaffirms unity as a calling , and exhorts us to make “every effort” to keep the unity of the Spirit, he lists some of the things that unite us: one Spirit, one body, one lord, one faith one baptism one Lord and Father (Ephesians 4:4–6).
    2. Romans 12 tells us that our unity is contrary to the “pattern of the world”, and 12:5 tells us that we “belong” to one another.
    3. 1 Corinthians 12 very eloquently shows us how important we are to one another in the body.

In fact if you claim to be filled with the Spirit, but you are unwilling to try to work in unity with other Christians, I would suggest that either you are not as filled with the Spirit as you think, or it may not be the Holy Spirit you are filled with. Unity is is NOT is a choice. We are united with one another whether we like it or not. Choice only comes in our decision whether or not to walk in that unity.

WHY should we make that choice?

In nutshell, our motivation (the ‘why’) for how we relate to and how we view others is God himself. Note what Paul says …

  1. V3: “for God has welcomed him”.
  2. V4: “It is before his own master (God) that he stands or falls”.
  3. V4: “the Lord is able to make him stand”.
  4. V6 (twice): “in honour of the Lord”.
  5. V6 (twice): “gives thanks to the Lord”.
  6. V8: “we live to the Lord”.
  7. V8: “we die to the Lord”.
  8. V8: “we are the Lord’s”.
  9. V9: Christ is “Lord both of the dead and of the living”.
  10. V10: “we will all stand before the judgement seat of God”.
  11. V11: “as I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God”.
  12. V12: “each one of us will give an account of himself to God”.

There are a number of motivations Paul lists here.

God is our master and we should all obey HIM.

V4: “It is before his own master (God) that he stands or falls”.

When Paul says: ”Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls”

The implication of Paul’s point here is that some were judging others as if they were the master. Paul is saying, we are all servants in the church, not of one another, we are servants of God. I know the context is money, but in Luke 16 (and the parallel verse in Matthew 6), Jesus says we cannot serve 2 masters. We are to serve God and only God, and an evidence of that is that we obey Him, and only Him. Earlier in his letter, Paul has said ”don’t you know you are servants of the one you obey?” (Romans 6:16).Obey God and you show yourself to be HIS servant.

Jesus says: ““Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46 (ESV)).

John writes that our love of God is shown in our obedience to our master: ”By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2–3 (ESV)).

Even when we are subject to a human master, we should understand that ultimately God is our master. Colossians calls servants to be obedient to masters because it is God they are serving: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24 (ESV)).

We honour GOD in our actions.

In V6 Paul twice uses the expression: “in honour of the Lord”.

Paul says that however we live, whether we eat meat or not, whether we observe a special day or not, we are honouring the Lord. The root of honour according to Paul here is ‘giving thanks to the Lord’, he says: ”The one who observes the day, observes it in honour of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honour of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honour of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:6 (ESV)).

Frequently honour and glory are coupled in Scripture. Glory speaks to the inherent qualities of something, honour speaks to our recognition of those qualities. So, in the Bible we are called to honour our parents (Deuteronomy 5:16; Mark 7:10), honour the elderly (Leviticus 19:32), honour those in authority (1 Peter 2:17), honour those in leadership in the church (1 Timothy 5:17). Ultimately, all honour is given to Jesus. Revelation 4:11 describes the 24 elders worshipping the Lord: ”Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 5:12 describes myriad and thousands of angels saying: ”Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!”

Honouring God doesn’t just happen in moments of what is called worship in today’s church, it doesn’t just happen when we sing songs to Him, supremely it is shown when we live our lives HIS way. If you really want to honour God, don’t just sing a song TO God, live a life FOR Him!

We will all answer to God anyway.

V10: “we will all stand before the judgement seat of God”.

V11: “as I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God”.

V12: “each one of us will give an account of himself to God”.

The references to how we will be judged by God are many, there are three in this one passage alone. Ultimately, the understanding that every single person will stand before God should give us the freedom to be far more gracious than anyone else. We don’t have to call people to account. We don’t have to be like Kier Starmer who just a few weeks ago at the Labour conference declared: “don’t forget and don’t forgive” the Conservative Party, or Greta Thunberg who screamed at the UN global climate summit a couple of years ago: “we will never forgive you!”. Living a life full of unforgiveness is no life at all, it is a prison.

We don’t have to judge people for anything – God will do that.

Leaders will be judged: ”Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)).

But so will everyone else. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says this: ”For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV)).

Whether people believe God exists or not will not change the fundamental reality that every single person on this planet. Everyone who has ever lived, everyone who lives now and everyone who will ever live will one day face the judge of all the earth.