By Mike Willis
We have been studying Romans 14 to see whether or not inherently sinful conduct is under discussion in this chapter. This chapter has be-come a battleground for fellowship. In every generation, those who have introduced things unauthorized have used Romans 14 to appeal for unity with those who oppose their unauthorized practices. The same appeal is being made today with reference to loose teaching on divorce and re-marriage. Some among us who believe the truth on divorce and remarriage are teaching that we can have fellowship with those who teach false doctrines on divorce and remarriage, and with those who receive into the fellowship of their local congregations brethren who are guilty of adultery (Matt. 19:9); they are appealing to Romans 14 to justify their looser fellowship.
So far in this series, I have shown that Romans 14 does not contain instructions that can be applied to sinful practices. We have shown that this is true by (a) refuting the alternative views on Romans 14 and (b) examining the textual evidences that point to the chapter being limited to authorized liberties. In this article, I intend to show that the instructions given in Romans 14 demonstrate that this chapter cannot be applied to matters inherently sinful.
The Instructions of Romans 14
1. Receive one another just like Christ has received you (14:1; 15:7). The word “receive” is translated fromproslambano which Thayer defines in the use of Romans 14:1 and 15:7 to mean “to receive, i.e., grant one access to one’s heart; to take into friendship and intercourse.” He continues, “God and Christ are said to proslabesthai (to have received) those whom, formerly estranged from them, they have reunited to themselves by the blessings of the gospel, Rom. xiv.3; xv.7” (548). The sense of the word is given in the modifying clause “as Christ also received us” (15:7). Christians are to receive one another just like Christ has received us (15:7). Whatever limitation one imposes on the meaning of “receive” with reference to brethren receiving one another (to make it mean something less than to “receive into one’s fellowship”) destroys itself on the phrase “as Christ has received us.” We are to receive one another just like Christ has received us.
Does Christ receive us so long as we are continuing the practice of our sin, defending it as an act of righteousness, and encouraging others to join us in the practice of our sin? If not, then we should not receive others who are doing those things. Does Christ “receive” us in the sense of treating us like a brother but less than “fellowshipping” us? If not, then this is not the sense of “receive” under discussion in Romans 14.
If Romans 14 “tolerates contradictory teachings and practices on important moral and doctrinal questions” (as taught by Ed Harrell in Christianity Magazine [May 1990]), then our obligation according to Romans 14 is to receive those who are so teaching and practicing. That would apply to those who are involved in adulterous marriages as well as those who de-fend people in adulterous marriages by teaching that these marriages are scriptural. In this event those congregations that refuse fellowship to the brother who divorces his mate for any cause and marries another stand condemned as guilty of violating Romans 14:1, for not receiving one’s brother. However, Romans 14 cannot be limited to this sin alone. My second article demonstrated that those who have constructed a list to limit which sins Romans 14 includes have not logically sustained their position. Hence, logically the application of Romans 14 to any sinful practice leads to the conclusion that we receive those who continue in the practice of every sin. If this instruction cannot be applied to such sinful conduct, then sinful conduct must not be under discussion in the chapter.
2. Do not engage in doubtful disputations (14:1). The Amplified Bible reads, “but not to criticize his opinion or pass judgment on his scruples or perplex him with discussions.” The instructions of Romans 14 therefore teach one (a) not to criticize the conduct of the other and (b) not to become involved in discussions trying to prove one is right and the other is wrong. When we apply these instructions to matters inherently sinful, we have the ridiculous position that a Christian cannot criticize the conduct of the sinner and cannot enter a discussion with him to show him wherein his sin lies. If this is the case, Paul violated his own principles when he rebuked the Corinthian fornicator (1 Cor. 5) and entered into disputations with the false teachers at Galatia (Gal. 1-4). If this instruction cannot be applied to such sinful conduct, then sinful conduct must not be under discussion in the chapter.
3. Do not condemn (14:10,13). Paul asks, “But why dost thou judge (krino) thy brother? . . . Let us not therefore judge (krino) one another any more.” Thayer defines krino in this usage to mean “to pronounce judgment; to subject to censure.” Can these instructions be applied to matters inherently sinful? If so, a person who condemns his brother for drunkenness is acting in violation of Romans 14. He is “judging” (“pronouncing judgment; to subject to censure”) his brother and Romans 14 says, “Let us not therefore judge one another.” However, Paul would stand condemned as a hypocrite for violating his own principle in his “judging” those who went to law with one another before unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:1-8). If this instruction cannot be applied to those practicing such sin, then Romans 14 does not pertain to sinful conduct.
4. Do not set at nought your brother (14:3, 10). These verses read as follows: “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. . . . But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” The word exoutheneo is translated “despise” (14:3) and “set at nought” (14:10). The word is defined by Thayer to mean “to make of no account, to despise utterly.” There are some who are to be treated like “a heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:17); there are some concerning whom Paul wrote, “with such a one no not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11). These are brethren who persist in the practice of their sin. Did Paul violate his own teaching in Romans 14:3, 10 when he commanded brethren not to receive brethren involved in sin? If Romans 14 applies to things inherently sinful, he did. If the instructions of Romans 14:3, 10 do not apply to those continuing in their practice of those things inherently sinful, then Romans 14 does not include sinful conduct.
5. Do not put a stumbling block in front of another (14:13). Romans 14:13 says, “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” This makes perfectly good sense when applied to authorized liberties. Romans 14:13 is instructing the man who can eat meats without violating his conscience not to conduct himself in the exercise of his liberty in such a way as to encourage a man who cannot eat meats without violating his conscience to sin against his conscience. Try applying that to sinful conduct. On the one hand, let us assume that the “strong man” is the man who cannot commit fornication and the “weak man” is the one who commits fornication from a clear conscience. Then Paul is telling the man who abstains from fornication not to practice his abstinence in such a manner as to cause his brother to abstain from fornication. On the other hand, let us assume the “strong man” is the man who commits fornication without violating his conscience (Does anyone believe that Paul could call such a person a “strong” Christian?), and the “weak man” is the man who abstains (Is the man who abstains from fornication the weak man?). Then we have the absurd position that Paul is saying that one can commit his fornication so long as he does it in such a manner as not to cause his brother to stumble. If the instructions of Romans 14 do not fit such sinful conduct, then the context is not discussing sinful conduct and is limited to matters of authorized liberties.
6. Bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves (15:1). In Romans 15:1, Paul wrote, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” I can understand these instructions when they are applied to matters of authorized liberties. Paul is instructing the man who thinks he can eat meats to forego the exercise of his liberty for the sake of his weaker brother. He should not be so selfish in pleasing himself that he destroys his brother for whom Christ died for the sake of doing something that is a matter of indifference. Let us see if this instruction will fit sinful conduct. On the one hand, what is the result if we assume that the “stronger brother” is the one who does not believe that he should commit fornication and the “weaker brother” is the one who commits fornication without violating his conscience? In that case, Paul is instructing the stronger brother not to press his abstinence views to the point that he censures and condemns his weaker brother; he should bear with the infirmities of his weaker brother, accepting him in his practice of sin. On the other hand, we must consider the result if we assume that the “stronger brother” is the one who can commit fornication without violating his conscience (does anyone believe that Paul could call such a person a “strong” Christian?) and the “weak man” is the man who abstains (is the man who abstains from fornication the weak man?). In that case, we have the absurd position of Paul instructing that the strong man can commit fornication so long as he does not cause a brother to violate his conscience by following this example. If the instructions of Romans 14 do not fit such sinful conduct, then the context is not discussing sinful conduct and is limited to matters of authorized liberties.
7. Please one’s neighbor (15:2). In Romans 15:2, Paul instructs, “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.” That makes sense if one is applying this to matters of authorized liberty. In that case, Paul is teaching the principles by which he lived in 1 Corinthians 9. He relinquished his liberties in order to win more people for Christ. When we apply this to sinful conduct, we have the absurd position that one can practice his sin so long as he does it in such a way as not to destroy his brother. Hence, if he can practice his sin without enticing his brother to sin, he has God’s approval in continuing his sin. If the instructions of Romans 14 do not fit such sinful conduct, then the context is not discussing sinful conduct and is limited to matters of authorized liberties.
8. Keep it to yourself (14:22). In Romans 14:22, Paul wrote, “Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” This passage is teaching the obligations one has in connection with his personal liberties. If a person chooses to eat meat, he should quietly practice what he wishes to do. He should not start a campaign to teach every other person in the congregation to act as he acts. The same is true for the one who chooses to abstain from meats. When we apply this to sinful conduct, we reach absurd conclusions. The man who believes he can commit fornication is then instructed to practice his fornication in such a manner as to keep his brother from being encouraged to violate his conscience by committing fornication. So long as he can commit his fornication without causing others to sin, Paul is saying, “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in the fornication which he alloweth.” On the other hand, if we assume the stronger brother is the one who abstains from fornication, Paul is saying, “Keep your belief that fornication is sinful to yourself. Don’t preach it and condemn your brother who practices fornication.” If the instructions of Romans 14 do not fit such sinful conduct, then the context is not discussing sinful conduct and is limited to matters of authorized liberties.
Those who apply Romans 14 to include sinful conduct gut the chapter of any relevant application. After teaching that Romans 14 includes sinful conduct, they are unwilling to abide by the instructions given in the chapter about how to treat those practicing the sinful conduct they say is under discussion. By their unwillingness to apply the principles of Romans 14, they give silent testimony that Romans 14 does not apply to sinful conduct. The instructions of Romans 14 make good sense when they are applied to matters of authorized liberties (things God allows but does not demand). These are the only matters under discussion in Romans 14.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 21, p. 2
November 2, 1995