Those with strong faith who look down on those with feeble faith, have at once made their strong faith feeble.
An examination of Romans 14
Romans 13 ended with the statement, “Clothe yourselves with Yeshua (Salvation).” As Shaul/Paul continues his closing dialogue (Romans 13-16) he gives a voice to the halakhah of Salvation clothing. Perspective has a large part to play in understanding what it means to be weak in trust verses what it means to be strong in trust. Those with strong faith who look down on those with feeble faith, have at once made their strong faith feeble.
Context is also very important here, many have misread this text as being an admonishment against kashrut (Kosher dietary instruction); they could not be more wrong. This chapter is addressing, above all, love for one another and the outworking of that love in respect to trust issues. The Messianic Jews listening are keeping kosher, the Gentiles are not, however the food issues are not related to kashrut—as we will soon see—and the issues of trust are issues that affect both Jew and Gentile equally as human beings. This portion is addressed to the Roman ecclesia as a whole and should be understood in that context.
14:1 Now accept the one who is feeble in emunah (trust, faith), but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
Feeble trust is trust none the less. It is the birthing of strong trust (faith). This refers to those who are still unsure of the boundaries of faith regarding previous practises from prior to their receiving the gift of Messiah. Many in the Roman church were saved from idolatrous practises and therefore, in order to avoid them at all costs they may have placed wider parameters around certain practises than was absolutely necessary.
A woman once worked as a medium in a circus, she told fortunes, contacted spirits and allowed herself to be overcome by demonic forces in order to generate an income as the circus travelled from town to town. One day a revivalist preacher entered her fortune telling tent, paid her three months wages and commenced to share the Gospel with her. Overwhelmed by the generosity of the preacher and convicted of her rebellion against G-d, she received the gift of Yeshua and became born again into the family of G-d. As was befitting her commitment to Messiah, she renounced her occult practices and resigned her position as a fortune teller. Leaving the circus, she went to live in a nearby village with a family of believers.
Sometime later another circus came to town and the family the former fortune teller lived with were going to the circus to see the animals and watch the performers under the big top. The former fortune teller was appalled and said, “I refuse to go to the circus because there are fortune tellers who channel demons there.” The family, understanding that she was a new believer and that this meant a great deal to her, decided not to go to the circus. They knew in their hearts that watching big top performances and feeding the animals was not wrong, however for the sake of her young faith they decided to forgo their entertainment and remain at home.
2 One person has emunah (trust, faith) that he may eat all things, but he who is feeble eats vegetables only.
Some have suggested that this refers to Jewish believers who keep kosher, they say that the believer of feeble faith is the kosher keeping Messianic Jew. This is utter nonsense. Not only did Yeshua not teach against kashrut, He also advocated the keeping of the Torah, Shaul/Paul’s stance—as he continues to be a Pharisee (the Messianic variety)—is no different. Aside from the fact that Messianic Jews continued to keep kashrut, though many, including Shaul/Paul, had strong trust; there is also the fact that abstaining from meat has never been a kosher requirement. Therefore the present text cannot refer to kashrut.
It may refer to meat sacrificed to idols as in 1 Corinthians 8 & 10. Although Shaul/Paul is not speaking specifically about idols here, there are a number of parallels between the present passage and the passages in 1 Corinthians.
3 The 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 G-d has accepted him.
Keeping in mind that these verses cannot be referring to kashrut, we understand that the one who is eating meat here is Gentile and the one refraining is also Gentile, doing so perhaps for similar reasons to those of the former fortune teller in the previously mentioned mashlam (parable).
The point is, that neither the eater nor the abstainer are to pass judgement (an act of condemnation) on one another.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the L-rd is able to make him stand.
This text is not suggesting that we shouldn’t redirect fellow believers when we see them in perpetual sin. That type of judgement is likened to assessment or discernment of the truth in the observing of harmful practises. Passing judgment isn’t the same as making a judgment; the former condemns, the later discerns.
“He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” –Yaakov/James 5:20
Providing the person who abstains and the person that eats are convinced of their freedom to do so, they are not sinning in this situation, therefore to judge another in this context is to pass judgement (an act of condemnation) on them rather than seek to guide them for their own wellbeing.
Notice the confidence with which Shaul/Paul asserts the security of the believer, “he will stand, for the L-rd is able to make him stand.” In addition to this we observe that it is the L-rd who causes the believer to stand.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the L-rd,
Given the context of this discussion it’s unlikely that this refers to the keeping of Shabbat. However the principle taught here is applicable to the Sabbath keeping conflict that has reasserted itself among some believers today. It is most likely that the days mentioned here are seasonal occasions associated to Gentile practise prior to their coming to faith. These would be generic celebratory occasions that some may have considered too closely connected to pagan religion and idolatry and therefore refused to keep them.
Here, Shaul/Paul is saying that providing these days are being observed for the glory of G-d, that they are valid expressions of worship. After all, every day belongs to G-d and there is no day upon which it is wrong to worship Him.
It should be noted here regarding the Shabbat, that the keeping of it is to be a sign between HaShem and the children of Israel. While Gentile believers are welcome to keep Shabbat, it is not incumbent upon them. Therefore the principle of this verse can also apply to beliefs surrounding the keeping of Shabbat and yom rishon (Sunday/resurrection day) worship.
“So the children of Israel shall observe the shabbat, to celebrate the shabbat throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’ It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days HaShem made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labour, and was refreshed.” –Shemot/Exodus 31:
and he who eats, does so for the L-rd, for he gives thanks to G-d; and he who doesn’t eat, refrains from eating for the L-rd, and gives thanks to G-d.
Again, eating, like the observing of days and indeed like any soul action, is to be done as an act of worship. Therefore it is motivation that is the issue here and not the act itself.
“Present your souls as a living sacrifice.” –Romans 12:1
7 For not one of us lives to himself, and not one dies to himself; 8 for if we live, we live in the L-rd, or if we die, we die in the L-rd; therefore whether we live or die, we are the L-rd’s. 9 For to this end Messiah died and lived again, that He might be L-rd both of the dead and of the living.
As those who have accepted Messiah we now live and die according to His good purpose. He holds the keys to death and hades, He was dead and is now alive. In Him we live and move and have our being.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother (or sister)? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of G-d. 11 For it is written,
“As I live, says HaShem, every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall give praise to G-d.” (Yeshaiyahu/Isaiah 45:23)
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to G-d.
Note that here, unlike elsewhere in Romans, the reference to, “brother,” is singular and generic, thus referring to the subject of Shaul/Paul’s argument. This is not a specific reference to Shaul’s, “brothers—Israel.” Therefore a, “brother,” here can refer to anyone.
Because we must all give account before HaShem at the judgement, we are wise to show chesed (grace, mercy) toward one another.
13 Therefore let us not judge (pass judgement on) one another anymore, but rather determine this—“not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”
This is a midrash (teaching illumination) on Leviticus 19:14, “You shall not curse the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind.”
The rabbi’s interpret the word, “iver—blind,” as referring to those unstudied in the Torah. (Sifra to Leviticus 19:14, Bava Metzia 75b, Avodah Zarah 21b-22a). In this context both those feeble in trust and those prideful in their strong trust could be considered, “iver—blind,” unstudied in Torah. Why? Because Messiah is the goal of the Torah and it is Messiah who sums up the Torah with the instruction to, “love your neighbour as yourself.” Failure to love your neighbour is an act of mistrust.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Yeshua that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Shaul/Paul, is not advocating moral relativism, nor is he invalidating (for Jews) Kashrut. Unclean (tum’ah) here refers to the contextual issues regarding the Gentile non-kosher diet/observance and therefore is not an abdication of Kashrut. Furthermore, neither Yeshua nor any of the writers of the Brit ha-Chadashah ever teach that kosher instruction has been made invalid for Messianic Jews.
15 For 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 Messiah died.16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
Place your brother’s wellbeing before your own freedom. Don’t flaunt your freedom in front of those who are struggling to find theirs because if you do you may cause them to sin by speaking against that freedom.
17 for the kingdom of G-d is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and shalom and joy in the Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Messiah in this way is acceptable to G-d and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for shalom and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of G-d for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
Neither wine nor meat are prohibited in a kosher diet. Therefore this is again not referring to kashrut.
The point is to, “Help your fellow believers out by showing some grace and not making silly accusations or flaunting your freedom regarding issues that have no real significance in the kingdom of G-d.”
The Talmud says:
“It was taught: if there are things which are allowed but which some treat as prohibited, you must not permit them in their presence.” –N’darim 15a
22 Keep the emunah (trust, faith) which you have (be it feeble or strong) as your own conviction before G-d. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from emunah (trust, faith); and whatever is not from emunah (trust, faith) is sin.
The condemnation spoken of here is self-condemnation, the act of doing the devils job for him. It is not G-d who condemns us through our lack of trust (our doubt), it’s us.
Finally, because all that we do in Messiah is born of the trust we place in Him, any action born of doubt is an action of mistrust which is rebellion, the root of all sin.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.