Romans 14–15:13. Scruples. The Sticky Wicket of Christian Behavior.

Key Note: Doubtful issues of the first century. Who are the weak and who are the strong? House rules and God's rules. What is negotiable?

In this important and provocative topic, Paul talks about the interaction of two kinds of Christians. One he calls “weak in faith” (14:1), and “your brother” (14:10, 13,15) because of a sensitive conscience which may be injured by another Christian’s actions. (14:13–15). Christians with few scruples he calls “we who are strong”. (15:1). The strong are the primary focus of his teaching. Our instinctive reaction is the reverse: we think of the person with a sensitive conscience as strong, and the person without scruples as weak. However, Paul speaks of the strong as mature in faith, and confident of actions. The weak are the spiritually immature, uncertain and easily swayed.

Paul lists four kinds of doubtful issues for First Century people.
            Vegetarianism 14:2
            The celebration of Sabbath and other days 14:5
            Clean or kosher, and unclean food 14:14
            Wine 14:21
Vegetarians, Sabbatarians and Teetotalers (non-drinkers) are with us today as well.

We can add to the list of doubtful things that Paul mentions here, meat offered to idols (ICor.8–10), “blood and from what is strangled” (Acts15:29).

We use the non-biblical word “scruple” to cover such concerns as diet. The scruple is a tiny weight, about 1.29 gram, something hardly worth talking about. To the strong, four doubtful issues like diet are no more than scruples, minutia, trivia.

14:1–4 The weak brother must be welcomed into the fellowship and not bullied by arguments about eating or not eating meat. {“So you were a vegetarian! Ho Ho! Have some pork! ”} God has welcomed the brother. Do not judge God’s servant. He stands or falls before God and God is able to make him stand.

14:5–6 Another issue is religious holidays. The celebrations are for the Lord.

14:6–9 Paul links eating with living or dying. “We do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves.”
 Some of us think what we eat has a lot to do with whether we will live long or die young. Paul points out that Christ is Lord of the dead and the living. It is unlikely that diets and food supplements will have any effect on ordinary people—diabetes, the metabolic syndromes and gastrointestinal diseases excluded. Even living or dying is not to be our concern.
“Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?" (Matt.6:27)

14:10–12 We should not judge our brothers--strong judging weak or weak judging strong. God is the judge and we will all give an account before Him.

14:13–20 What we do should not be a hindrance, or injury, or cause the ruin of another. Our good should not be perceived as evil. For food we should not “make a brother to stumble,” or “cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died”, one who is “the work of God.”

14:20–23 In his first summary, Paul points out that food is all right in itself. We should be resolved in our own minds. If we are in doubt, we are in trouble, sinning.

15:1–13 In his second summary, Paul points us to Christ.
He did not live to please Himself. Christ welcomed us and we should welcome each other. Christ became a servant to the Jews to confirm the promises and with the ultimate purpose of bringing in the Gentiles.

Paul casts many “pearls” in this passage.
“…do not despise one who abstains…for God has welcomed him.” (14:3)
“Who are you to pass judgment on the house-servant of another?” (14:4)
“None of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself.” (14:7)
“Christ… (is)… Lord both of the dead and living.” (14:9)
“We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ ….So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (14:10,12)
“For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (14:17)
“So do not let your good be spoken of as evil.” (14:16)
“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and mutual up-building.’ (14:19)
            “…for whatever is not from faith is sin.” (14:23)
            “…Christ did not please Himself….” (15:3)
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (15:4)

Comments:

Some of the people with these scruples can be identified. Newly converted Jews, for example, would struggle with food not blessed by the rabbi, and would have trouble abandoning Passover, Yom Kippur and the other principal festivals that were part of their religion. They probably could not be induced to eat pork or crayfish. There are hints that some of the Romans were vegetarians. The question of wine is a surprise, considering that there were so few drink options. But Timothy was advised to drink some wine for his ailments, suggesting that he was among those who usually refused it.

Although Paul speaks to both weak and strong, most of his instruction is for the strong.
            Welcome the weak in faith. 14:1
            Don’t despise the abstainer. 14:3
            Never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14:13
            If your brother is injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.14:15
            The faith that you have keep between yourself and God. 14:22

This instruction is often dismissed with irritation. “Why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?” (ICor.10:29). There Paul is talking of food offered to idols, but his rhetorical question reflects the common attitude. It is clear that our freedom is in fact limited by the other person’s conscience.

We note that Paul speaks to individuals,  although taboos are usually the product of the group, such as the church,  and not the individual. We risk being ostracized by the group if we do not conform. So Paul insists that the “strong”, probably representing the community,  welcome the “weak”, presumably the individual new-comer.

For the Galatian church, however, the question of the celebration of days was important enough to earn Paul’s criticism. The main topic of Galatians is Judaic legalism, a stumbling block to salvation by grace.
“You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.” (Gal.4:10–11).

The Fundamentalists of the’20’s through’50's had a Code, a list of forbidden practices:
           * Dancing
            *Playing card games and gambling
            *Going to theater or movies
            Belonging to Masonic lodges and other secret societies
            Using tobacco or alcohol
            Dressing expensively, immodestly, with jewelry and hairdos
            Working on Sunday
            Sex outside of marriage

Some of these (*) might be called scruples, since they are not forbidden in Scripture, but all of the code has been defended on Biblical grounds. Some, like the Masonic lodges and the major portion of the Hollywood movie industry are known to be anti-Christian. The gambling industry attracts organized crime and taxes the poor and the foolish.

The Code became a legal test of a Christian' moral life and even a test of salvation. One often quoted verse was IICor.6:17. “Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean ; then I will welcome you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

The Christian Code was defective because it left out such important matters as racial justice,  greed, gluttony and judgmentalism. It also tended to be excessive: my grandmother could not wear her wedding ring in her church. In some congregations, couples could not marry without the approval of the elders. And the necessity of making an appearance of righteousness led to hypocrisy.

In any case, in the 1850’s and 1860’s these prohibitions disappeared.
Also the NT instructions on women’s dress—hair, clothing and jewelry--(ITim.2:9; IPet.3:3) and hair length and covering (ICor.11:2–16) were discarded as culturally determined and irrelevant.

The reason given was simple: none of these things pertain to salvation.

If we believed that following the Code and not doing these things made us Christians, we were sadly mistaken. We cannot please God by doing rules. Legalism is not the way to Heaven. Gal.3:2

If we believe that we can do all these things because we are Christians, we are also sadly mistaken.
“This is the will of God, your sanctification.” (I Thes. 4:3). “...and strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb.12:14)

When the barricades fell, they were not revised or set up in a retreat position. They were simply dismantled. The fact that this list of forbidden practices was misused does not really challenge the validity of the concerns. In effect,we were left with no group exhibiting a weak conscience. Ironically we are all “the strong”, untroubled by scruples. And the Church fell silent for 50 years on moral and many social issues. Unfortunately, many Christians are disappearing into the World, having lost all moral distinctives.

Meanwhile the list of dangerous practices has grown.
            Yoga and meditation exercises (Hindu)
            Martial arts (Buddhist)
            Computer games that glorify sex and violence
            Ouiji boards, and  Tarot cards (spiritist)
            Premarital sex
            Lyrics of rock and hip-hop.
            Tattoos and body piercing (Lev.19:28)
            Pornography, telephone and Internet sex
            Recreational drugs
            Fetishes and amulets (Animist)
In Hindu countries, Christians must still contend with meat offered to idols.

A Christian home should have two sets of rules for the children: God’s rules (the commandments of Scripture), and house rules. God's rules are not negotiable. House rules need not be enforced with the same conviction.

God’s rules include:
You may not steal a toy from Walmart.
You must not hit your sister on the head.
You must obey your parents.



House rules are, for instance:
Do not stick the screw-driver in the light socket.
Brush your teeth every morning.
Make your bed.
Put your dirty clothes in the hamper.

Does the Church have any teaching role in morality? One useful way of thinking about a list of morals is their role in teaching children. No one should think of them as means of salvation. The intent would be to make sure that the young learn discipline and are not pulled into practices that would hamper their growth and spiritual development. One way or another, young believers need to be informed of moral dangers, with appropriate explanations. Some of them can inform the rest of us about the pit from which we were dug.

Can we draw lines between the negotiable and the non-negotiable?
*What is our basic theology? Our basic theology is not negotiable.
*Where is the line between basic theology and essential moral principles? Essential moral principles (the Ten Commandments) are not negotiable.
*What are the non-negotiable moral rules? The Puritans believed they should do only what the Scripture permits. The Anglicans believed they could do anything that the Scripture did not forbid. The Russians Communists said people could do only what the Party permitted. Americans believe they can do anything that the government does not forbid—anything that is legal is therefore moral.
*Can the Church regain a teaching role in morality?
*Where is the line between necessary moral principles and matters of opinion?
*What practices can be generally seen as nonsensical, to be simply disregarded?

The bottom line of Paul’s teaching is that we may not do anything that would cause a Christian with a sensitive conscience—often a new believer, newly rescued from a sinful life—to fall away. That would be an offense against Christ. (Rom.14:15)

We are free from all; we are slaves to all.

Paul’s three rules from his teaching on meat offered to idols are useful.

Think of your weak brother. ICor.8:9–10
Think of the non-Christian you seek to win. ICor.9:19–21
Think of yourself, and your own vulnerability.(ICor.10:14–22


        Song for the week:
            "Let the Beauty of Jesus be seen in me
            All His wonderful passion and purity
            O Thou Spirit Divine, all my nature refine
            Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me."