Romans 14

“He [Paul]  writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

Paul’s teachings about the Torah of the Spirit  vs. the law of sin and death are the cause of much spiritual destruction in the Body of Messiah today.    Paul was a man whose teachings were difficult to understand in the times and culture they were written; how more so today when they have been removed from that mindset.   The warning Peter gives is that those who distort them [Paul’s Scriptural teachings] do so to their own destruction.  This is a grave matter.  

Faith

Verse 1:  “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”

What is faith?  How is it defined in Scripture?

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

Actions determine whether or not one’s faith is alive or dead, weak or strong.  People who lack faith will have no actions expressing their faith.  People of weak faith will ‘vegetable’ works while people of strong faith will have ‘meat’ works.   In the course of our spiritual walks, people of weak faith will not be at the same spiritual plateau as someone with strong faith.

“The reason the promise [of salvation] is based on faith is so that it may come as God’s free gift, a promise that can be relied on by all the seed, not only those who live within the framework of the Torah, but also those with the kind of faith Avraham had — Avraham father for all of us” (Romans 4:16).

Abraham is called the father of our faith whether we are Jew or non-Jew.   His obedience and willingness to offer his son as a sacrifice was considered the evidence of his faith.  He believed God’s promise that he would have heirs as numerous as the stars of the heavens and sands by the sea even if he sacrificed his son.  He believed in a resurrection of the dead; that if God took his son, he would revive him back to life.  That is the faith of Abraham.   It wasn’t some obscure concept to which he gave lip service, it was active and living and took him to an altar where he offered his son, his only son whom he loved.   As a symbol of his faith, Abraham received a seal of righteousness known as circumcision.  

“And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised [gentiles], in order that righteousness might be credited to them” (Romans 4:11).

Non-Negotiables

What is a disputable matter?  Perhaps we should begin by looking at what we shouldn’t dispute.

“But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, quarrels and fights about the Torah; because they are worthless and futile” (Titus 3:9).

From this Scripture it’s obvious that there are certain matters that we are not to fight or quarrel about.  God’s commandments, the Torah,  fall into the ‘stupid controversy’ category.  Accordingly, the commandments are not disputable because they are from God. They are God’s very standard of righteousness that do not and will not change until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5). 

Let’s look at the Big Ten or The Ten Commandments.    Is Number 1 disputable?  Can we worship other gods?  Is Number 2 disputable?  Can we have idols?  Is Number 3 disputable?  Should we take the LORD’s name in vain, profaning it among the nations of the world?   Is number 4 disputable?  Should we forget the Sabbath day?   Is number 5 disputable? Are we no longer to honor our parents?  Is number 6 disputable?  Can we now murder? Is Number 7 disputable?  Can we now commit adultery?  Is Number 8 disputable?  Can we now steal?  Is Number 9 disputable?  Can we now lie?  Is Number 10 disputable?  Can we now covet?

None of these are disputable including Number 4.  Because of a lawless doctrine, man’s arrogance and anti-semitism within the church, someone thought we could ‘change’ the Sabbath or even say ‘it doesn’t matter anymore’ because ‘every day is holy’ or because ‘Jesus died on the cross.’   However, according to Titus, this commandment, like all of Torah is not disputable.

According to Yeshua, all of the Torah and Prophets fall into two categories: loving God and loving our neighbor.  Therefore, nothing of the Torah is negotiable because each command falls into one of those two categories and explains the ‘how to’ love God and ‘how to’ love our neighbor.  

Disputable Matters

Verses 2-3:   “One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.”

In the Orthodox Jewish Bible, verses 2-3 state “For example, one person has emunah (faith) to eat every potential food; but the weak practice vegetarianism.”

The problem arises from potential food.  What is considered potential food by Paul?  We already know what God considers potential food from Leviticus 11, so let’s look at these verses in from a first-century cultural context.

A market is where one would go to buy their food.  There were markets for meat and markets for fruits and vegetables.  The discussion isn’t about clean and unclean foods, but whether or not one eats meat that is considered food or remains a vegetarian. 

In the meat market, there was always the possibility, especially in Rome, that meat could have been sacrificed to idols.  In some modern-day Chinese restaurants, they offer the plates of food to Buddah before taking it out to their guests.  Yes, I worked in a Chinese restaurant and this happened even though I never personally did it.   According to Paul, a person of weak faith is not going to eat the meat because they do not know if that meat was sacrificed to an idol or foreign god.  To keep their own conscience clear,  they would only eat vegetables.   A person of strong faith understands that holding a plate up to Buddah before it arrives at their table means nothing if they cleanse it from the idolatry through prayer. 

Prayer over unclean foods is not what is being discussed in this passage.  We cannot through prayer make something holy that is not holy.  We cannot pray over same-sex couples and suddenly their sexual immorality is no longer an abomination to God.   In the same way, we cannot pray over a pork roast and suddenly the roast becomes acceptable to God.  A clean food that has been corrupted through idolatry, can be consecrated back to God while an unclean food can’t be consecrated back to God because He created it unclean, unholy, not food.  

Verse 4: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

Romans 14 began with not arguing over disputable matters.  Food offered to idols is a disputable matter.   No one is can ever be positively sure that their food wasn’t  offered to an idol. I never held that plate before Buddha, but my Chinese co-workers did.   Therefore, the one who won’t eat the meat because they are not sure if there was idolatry involved is just as much a servant of God as the one who eats the meat.  Both are living according to their conscience in this matter.  Again, Paul is speaking about meat that is considered food by God, not pork, not eagle, not camel, not horse, not shrimp, not oysters.

Verses 7-9: “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Messiah died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”

Each of us has a personal walk of faith before the Lord. We must, on a daily basis, face disputable issues and determine for ourselves what God would want us to do and what He wouldn’t as we carry on in our everyday activities.  According to Paul, we do not live or die for ourselves alone.  We are part of a Body that us the Lord’s.  Every choice we make, whether we live or die, affects the Body in some manner or other and we must not destroy the work of the Lord over a disputable matter.    

Sacred Days

Verses 5-6:   “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”

First, these verses have nothing to do with God’s Holy Days found in Leviticus 23 including the Sabbath Day in the Ten Commandments.  These verses are about our personal lives and disputable sacred days   We should never interpret these verses to mean that we can choose what days are holy for the Body of Messiah and what days are not.    These verses are purely about certain cultural  and  individual life celebrations not the seventh day that God set apart ‘in the beginning’ as His holy day, as a vision of eternity to come.  

Let’s look at sacred days  in a cultural context using New Year’s Eve on December 31 to the new year on January 1.   For some it’s a sacred holiday.  They plan great parties, eat outrageous foods, and wear crazy clothing.  This is the way they bring in the new year.   For persons who own businesses, it is the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of another.  For others, it represents  a new date on the calendar they need to remember when writing checks and holds no sacred value whatsoever.     Using a more personal example,  you may consider your birthday a very sacred thing.  I may not.  With a Romans 14 viewpoint,  if you celebrate birthdays and I don’t, I am not to judge you.  It is a disputable matter and we are not to argue about birthdays.  If I celebrate the New Year with some cultural customs, you shouldn’t judge me.  It is a disputable matter and we are not to argue about those things that do not nullify God’s commandments.  We each have to be convinced in our own mind that we are serving God during these benign holidays and accept each other’s choices.

Paul’s discourse is not about the Sabbath day.  He is not talking about picking a day and using it as our own personal Sabbath instead of God’s ordained holy day.    Of course, we can all have a day off and ‘shabbat’ (rest) whenever we choose, but we are not given the authority to negate the ‘appointed times’ that are holy to YHVH which embody the past, present and future work of His Son.  We can worship God everyday of the week every moment of the day.  We should, but to use Romans 14 to negate God’s divine appointments with us is twisting Scripture to personal and even corporate destruction.  Remember Peter’s warning! 

Verse 10-11:  “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”

In an effort to ‘prove’ Romans 14 is about unclean foods suddenly becoming clean, many are really judging God’s Word that says not to judge.  They have contempt in their hearts about God’s Torah and those of His people who have chosen to obey the commandments.  Some even go so far as to judge a person’s justification through Yeshua which is a serious accusation of someone’s heart condition.  What most believers forget about in these verses is that WE WILL ALL STAND BEFORE GOD’S JUDGMENT SEAT AND GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF OURSELVES TO GOD.  Whether or not we are in Messiah, saved, born again, whatever we want to call it, stand before God and give an account of our lives.  There is a judgment coming and The Judge will make His Judgement through His Laws.  According to Yeshua, the rewards he brings with him to give to us will be based on our works.  If someone wants to stand before the Creator of the Universe, the Lawgiver,  the LORD of the Heavenly Armies and say, “I ate unclean foods becasuse of my freedom in Christ,”  then so be it.  They will receive their just reward.   However,  I would rather be told I was too zealous for the teachings of God than to hear my Beloved say,  “Depart from me, I never knew you, you worker of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

Verses 13-16 “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Yeshua, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.”

I looked up the word food in Romans 14:14 and Strong’s said ‘Not in Greek’ meaning that the word food was not found in the original Greek manuscript.   Consequently, the NIV put ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ in the translation.

Romans 14 was never about unclean food becoming clean, but what individuals consider unclean for their personal lifestyle  – a disputable matter.  It is about a matter of conscience when it comes to a disputable matter but not about obedience to the commandments of God.   For example, I may watch you gut a clean animal after killing it and that procedure seems unclean to me and I would never do that.   Of course, touching the carcass of a dead animal is unclean and the Torah says to wash afterwards which most people probably do.  You may see me eat sushi and think, ‘oh that’s unclean’.   Even though the salmon is a clean fish, it’s uncooked and you would never eat uncooked fish.  It has become unclean for you so you eat vegetables.  

“The Spirit expressly states that in the last days some people will apostatize from the faith by paying attention to deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teachings come from the hypocrisy of liars whose own consciences have been burned, as if with a red-hot branding iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3).

Let’s look at Timothy in some detail.   Some people will apostatize from the faith.  The word apostatize means to ‘fall away from the apostle’s teachings’.  Some will fall away from what the apostles, like Peter, James and Paul actually taught.  They will listen to deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.

In the Garden, haSatan asked Eve, “Did God really say not to eat from that tree?”  This is haSatan’s motive of operation – to make us question God’s Word.  Eve was deceived because she ‘questioned’ and her disobedience has caused all of us to live outside of Paradise waiting for a restoration of all things.   Whether it’s real food like pork or horse that defiles our physical bodies or whether it’s a spiritual food like idolatry and arrogance that defiles our spiritual bodies, we must put our faith in God’s Word and His desire for us to be blessed by Him and obey His commandments.   Eating the ‘wrong food’ removed us all from the Garden of Eden and into a fallen world. 

Even more, these teachings come from the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences have been burned.  Every human being has a conscience, but when it is seared as with a branding iron, it loses all sense of right and wrong, good and evil.  It is from a great deception and a falling away from an apostolic foundation that people are forbidden to marry (like catholic priests and nuns) and abstain from certain foods (like vegans who won’t touch anything from an animal).   According to Paul’s admonition to Timothy, it is only those who know the Truth that see these deceptions.  They keep their consciences from being seared by holding onto the Truth. 

What is Truth?

In John 17:17, Yeshua says (quoting from Psalm 119:160), “Sanctify them by your Truth.  Your Word is Truth.”  The Word of God, the Holy Scriptures are the Truth.  When we negate the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings as the Biblical foundation for the Gospels and the Epistles, we end up being deceived and twisting the Scriptures to our own destruction.   In fact, we create a Jesus that is lawless and a faith that is not of our father Abraham. 

The truth is Romans 14 is not about abolishing God’s commands about clean and unclean because there are people with weak faith.  Romans 14 is saying that we are all at different stages of spiritual growth and understanding of the Word.   As such, we have to bear with one another as we grow together in the disputable matters which do NOT include arguing about the Torah.  

I like what a rabbi once told me about Romans 14. From his perspective, no one is greater or less than another in this walk of faith as we all entered the Kingdom as a newborn baby and need to grow into maturity from milk to meat.  As we encounter babes, we need to treat them as babes and not expect them to eat meat because they will choke on it and maybe even die! Toddlers, he said, will always throw tantrums, give them a chance to mature a little more by giving them vegetables!   

Verses 17-18 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Messiah in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.”

The message of the gospel is not about eating and drinking, but about restoring the Kingdom we lost.   We are to teach the message of righteousness, peace and joy in God’s Kingdom, as his family.  To argue about food and the dietary laws is nothing more than refuting the essence of the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15:19-21:

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

The first Jewish believers in Jerusalem made judgements concerning gentiles (non-Jews) who were coming to faith in Messiah Yeshua. These judgement still have relevance today because they are all instructions from Torah.   Gentiles are to abstain from food (what God created to be food) polluted by idols.    This is part of the dietary Torah and discussed above regarding idolatry which was common in the gentile markets.   Gentiles are to abstain from sexual immorality.  This includes everything in Torah from incest to rape to homosexuality.    Gentiles are to abstain from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  These instructions also comes from Torah.  God said we are not to eat blood as ‘the life is in the blood’ (Leviticus 17:11).  This is why the blood is drained from meat which makes it ‘kosher’.  Again, these two commands are found in Torah.  

The last sentence culminates the point of the Council in Jerusalem.   The ‘law of Moses’ or the Torah has been preached in every city and read in the synagogues on every Sabbath from the beginning.  This means that gentiles who put their faith in Yeshua were going to synagogue on Sabbath and hearing the Torah taught.  They were growing in their faith from those four foundational steps into a deeper understanding of Torah.   This practice continued well into the second century until the Roman church separated itself from its Biblical roots.  Today, no one goes to synagogue and the Torah is considered nullified.     We wonder what is wrong with our culture when those who should have the deepest connection to the master of the Universe preach a lawless message of salvation.  

Verses 19-21 “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.  It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.”

Again, the word food in Romans 20 has no Greek equivalent and therefore food does not belong there.  Some translator put a word in Paul’s letter that changed the meaning of his discourse to support a false doctrine.  This false doctrine has become a huge stumbling block that keeps non-Jews from entering into the fullness of an obedient walk of faith.  This false doctrine has told Christians that it’s okay to eat unclean foods as part of their ‘freedom from the law’ in Christ.   Consequently, they destroy any work that God might do in the lives of the Jewish people to whom they are called by Paul to make envious; they also destroy any work of sanctification that God might do in their own life. 

In regards to disputable matters, these verses mean ‘let it go.’  Don’t argue about wine, meat and vegetarians.  If our family has guests who don’t drink wine, we don’t drink wine.  If we are with people who do drink wine, we drink wine.  If we have vegetarians at our home, I make a vegetarian meal.  We don’t want to make anyone stumble for we don’t know personal issues that they may need to overcome.   If we force wine on a former alcoholic, we could make them stumble into sin.  If we force meat on a vegetarian, we may make them sick.  We are not to stumble our brothers and sisters,  but edify one another in a relationship of peace and understanding.

Romans 22-23:  “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.  But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

When it comes to disputable matters, keep your personal views between yourself and God so that you don’t condemn others or yourself.  When we become so staunch in our disputable matters we can bring condemnation on ourselves as we grow from a weak faith to a strong faith.  We may even find that one day we are ‘free’ to do something that we always thought we could not because the Spirit has given us new understanding in that area.  

Faith Foundation

If what we do or do not do does not come from faith in God, our actions are sin pure and simple.   We cannot use obedience to Torah as a way to justify ourselves before God.  We cannot use disputable matters to justify ourselves with others.   Our justification has to be through our faith in Yeshua who is the Word of God in the flesh.  Our faith has to be in the One who showed us the Way to God, the Truth of God’s Word and the Life that comes from following him in the light of God’s Torah. 

©2015 Tent Stake Ministries Book Nosh

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