ROMANS CHAPTER 14:1 – 15:13

THE DUTY AND CHARITY OF THE STRONG CHRISTIAN TO THE WEAK CHRISTIAN

 

Heavenly Father,

We Your children praise You, Father, and thank You for giving us Mother Church to instruct and guide us in our journey to the Promise Land of heaven.  We understand that like any human family we must focus more on the love that binds us in our faith than on our individual differences.  Beloved Holy Spirit, instill in each of us the deep desire to be tolerant and forgiving and to love each other as God the Son has loved us.  Please guide us in this week's study of Paul message of Christian solidarity in his letter to the faith community in the heart of the pagan Roman Empire.  We can identify with this community because we also live in a pagan society that is the super power of the world, and like the Roman Christians we must struggle to rise above the temptations and excesses that our affluent society offers us at the expense of our moral, ethical, and spiritual devotion to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

 

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"Paul says that we should receive the weak man in order that we might support his weakness by our strength.  Neither should we criticize his opinions by daring to pass judgment on someone else's heart, which we do not see.  St. Augustine, Commentary of Romans

 

"If we ask the Lord to forgive us we should also forgive, for we stand before the eyes of the Lord God, and we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and each must give account of himself." The Epistles of St. Polycarp, Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna

 

 "God measures out according as we measure out and forgives as we forgive, and comes to our rescue with the same tenderness as he sees us having toward others." Father Luis de Leon, Commentary on the life of Job

 

Paul concludes his apostolic teachings by addressing the necessity for tolerance guided by Christian conscience in the light of our relationship to Jesus Christ in our family obligation of solidarity and love within the Church.  Paul will use two examples of tolerance that must be guided by Christian conscience:

  1. Concerning abstaining from eating certain foods
  2. Concerning with the observance of certain holy days

 

St. Paul calls upon the "stronger" in faith to be an example of love and tolerance to their "weaker" brothers and sisters regarding these two matters that could cause dissension within the community.  Biblical scholars are not in agreement as to which group in this Roman community is the "stronger".  Some scholars believe Paul is addressing the Jews as the "stronger" since the Covenant continues through them and they have a more mature understanding of the New Covenant obligations.  Other scholars assume the "weaker' Christians are the Jews who hang on to such Old Covenant restrictions as the eating of clean and the avoidance of eating unclean animals which would render the believer unclean while their "stronger" Gentile brothers and sisters understand that under the New Covenant such requirements are no longer valid. 

 

Could it be that both groups of scholars are correct? Earlier in his letter Paul did not hesitate to take the Jews to task where they were at fault nor did he hesitate to point out the shortcomings in the Gentile Christians in his desire to urge them to be one holy people united in one visible Body in Christ Jesus.  Why should he hesitate now to name the "stronger" or the "weaker"?  Perhaps, Jew or Gentile, the "stronger" Christian is the one who understands the Holy Spirit's teaching to St. Peter in Acts chapter 10 that affirms Jesus' teaching in Matthew 15:10 when He said, "Listen, and understand.  What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean," and St. Paul's teaching that the holy days and rituals of the Old Covenant were things that, "are only a shadow or what was coming: the reality is the Body of Christ" [Colossians 2:17].

 

Please read Romans 14:1-12: Christians Must Refrain From Judging Their Brothers and Sisters on Matters Not Related to Faith and Morals

 "1 Give a welcome to anyone whose faith is not strong, but do not get into arguments about doubtful points.  2 One person may have faith enough to eat any kind of food; another, less strong, will eat only vegetables. 3  Those who feel free to eat freely are not to condemn those who are unwilling to eat freely; nor must the person who does not eat freely pass judgment on the one who does'because God has welcomed him. And who are you, to sit in judgment over somebody else's servant?  Whether he deserves to be upheld or to fall is for his own master to decide; and he shall be upheld, for the Lord has power to uphold him.  5 One person thinks that some days are holier than others, and another thinks them all equal.  Let each of them be fully convinced in his own mind.  6 The one who makes special observance of a particular day observes it in honor of the Lord.  So the one who eats freely, eats in honor of the Lord, making his thanksgiving to God; and the one who does not, abstains from eating in honor of the Lord and makes his thanksgiving to God.  7 For none of us lives for himself and none of us dies for himself;

8  while we are alive, we are living for the Lord, and when we die, we die for the Lord: and so, alive or dead, we belong to the Lord.  9  It was for this purpose that Christ both died and came to life again: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 

10 Why, then, does one of you make himself judge over his brother and why does another among you despise his brother?  All of us will have to stand in front of the judgment-seat of God: 11 as Scripture says: By my own life says the Lord, every knee shall bow before me; every tongue shall give glory to God. 12  It is to God, then, that each of us will have to give an account of himself."

 

In this portion of his letter Paul returns to the issue of passing judgment on brothers and sisters within the Christian community that he first introduced in chapter 2:1-10, and which he addressed to both Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church.  In that passage Paul warned those who judge hypocritically that they will be judged more severely: "So no matter who you are, if you pass judgment you have no excuse.  It is yourself that you condemn when you judge others, since you behave in the same way as those you are condemning.  We are well aware that people who behave like that are justly condemned by God.  But you'when you judge those who behave like this while you are doing the same  yourself'do you think you will escape God's condemnation?" [Romans 2:1-3].  In that part of his letter Paul was revisiting the teaching Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1-5 [please see Romans Lesson #4, chapter 2:1-10].

 

However, please notice that in the chapter 14 portion of his letter to the Roman Christians that although Paul is addressing the danger of being judgmental with our "weaker" brothers and sisters within the faith community, but he is not addressing sinful and immoral behavior.  Paul is referring to behavior which may indicate a lack of spiritual maturity but which in itself is not inherently harmful to the individual or to the community, or to a practice which a "weak" brother may not recognize as acceptable in a brother or sister who is more spiritually mature.  Paul will focus on two points which he teaches should not lead to controversy within the community but should be left up to the "conscience" of each believer.

Question: What "doubtful point" does Paul mention could lead to disputes within the Roman community in 14:2-3?

Answer: Whether to eat meal or to abstain from eating meat.

 

To completely abstain from eating meat and in some cases drinking wine in the ancient world was a familiar ascetic practice known in such Gentile groups as the neo-Pythagoreans and also in the Jewish sect know as the Essences.  The neo-Pythagoreans like other Hellenistic mystery religions were vegetarians and the Jewish Essences abstained complexly from wine and practiced a scrupulous regiment in regard to "clean" foods.  It may be that some Gentiles and Jews from these groups wished to continue the practice of abstaining from meat and/or wine for purely aesthetic reasons.  You may recall that John the Baptist abstained from meat and wine [Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:5; Luke 1:14-15] while Jesus did not, and the early Church historian Hegesippus [writing circa 155-180AD] noted that James, Bishop of Jerusalem abstained from both eating meat and drinking wine [Eusebius, Church History, 2.23.5].  In the modern world there are also Christians who according to their own consciences become vegetarians, abstaining from all animal products.  Jesus also taught that these small differences are meaningless and it is one's relationship with God and the desire to fulfill His plan in one's life that is important.  In Matthew 11:18-19 Jesus commented on how He and John were judged unfairly in this regard by the Jews when He said, "For John [the Baptist] came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He is possessed."  The Son of man came, eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'  Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.'"

 

But there is another reason that the subject of eating meat may have caused controversy within the Christian communities especially among the "weaker" brothers and sisters [Paul is using the Greek word adelphoi = "brothers" in the plural, which can also refer to sisters].  In pagan cities and towns the majority of meat for sale in the market place was almost without exception meat that had been offered in sacrifice in pagan temples to false gods.  To abstain from eating the meat sacrificed to idols was included in the list of requirements for pagan Gentiles to fulfill as candidates for Christian baptism that the Apostles proclaimed at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:28-29: "It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to impose on you any burden beyond these essentials:

Avoid these and you will do what is right."

 

Under the old laws of the Sinai Covenant what the faithful ate was regulated by the laws of the Covenant as to "clean" (kosher) and "unclean" animals [see the list of "clean" and "unclean animals in Leviticus chapter 11]. 

Question: What did the Holy Spirit reveal to Peter concerning the Old Covenant eating restrictions?  What did these regulations have to do with the interactions between Gentiles and Jews? See Acts 10:9-48 and 11:18

Answer: Peter's vision and the vision and conversion of the Roman gentile Cornelius had great significance in the development of the New Covenant Church.  Both events are also linked to the decision of the Council of Jerusalem concerning the admission of Gentiles into the New Covenant.  In the past the eating of "unclean" foods separated Jews from Gentiles.  To associate with an "unclean" Gentile could render the orthodox Old Covenant believer ritually impure and prevent him from worshipping at the Temple or in the Synagogue.   This was the reason the Pharisees and even Jesus' kinsmen were so scandalized when Jesus ate with Gentiles and sinners [Matthew 9:10-11; Mark 2:16; 3:20-21; Luke 15:1-2; 19:7].  In Peter's vision and later in Peter's encounter with Cornelius, God Himself would make two teachings clear to Peter:

  1. God made it clear to Peter that Gentiles are to be received into the Church without being forced to obey the Old Covenant Law. 
  2. Peter must accept the hospitality of the uncircumcised.

 

In Peter's vision God challenged Peter's legalistic scruples.  God has provided the means to cleanse the hearts of the Gentiles, rendering them no longer ritually impure through the Sacrament of Baptism.  In Jesus' encounter with sinners and tax collections He did not become ritually impure through His association with them but He had the power to cleanse them of their impurity.  This is the promise of the New Covenant that includes the Gentiles.  Even though their bodies remain uncircumcised, God the Holy Spirit will circumcise their hearts and they must be accepted into the faith community of New Covenant believers.  In Acts 10:34-35 Peter finally understands the theological significance of the vision and his encounter with this Gentile and believer tells the household of the Roman soldier: "'I now really understand,' he said, 'that God has no favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.'"

 

Question: So if the eating requirements are no longer in effect, why did the Council of Jerusalem forbid the eating of animals sacrificed to idols and the drinking of blood?  See Genesis chapter 9 and Acts 15:19-21.

Answer: It is at James Bishop of Jerusalem's suggestion that the Law of the Noachide Covenant that was applied to all Gentiles should be applied to the Gentile converts [see Genesis chapter 9:1-17]. In the Noachide Law the eating of raw flesh and blood was forbidden.  According to the Oral Tradition there were 7 laws that were imposed upon all of mankind at this time [see the Salvation History Bible Study, Lesson #3; the section entitled "Noah and the Great Flood"]. 

 

According to the laws of God concerning the humane sacrifice of animals the throat of the animal was slit and the blood drained from the body of the animal.  This was to be carried out as quickly and as painlessly as possible.  In pagan worship animals were also offered in sacrifice but they were usually strangled and the blood was not drained.  The Apostles saw two problems with eating the meat offered in pagan sacrifice:

  1. Eating meats sacrificed to idols implies sharing in sacrilegious worship'it is invalid worship but this form of pagan worship and implied communion with the false god in the eating of the sacrificed animal may still have some hold on the newly converted and could become a stumbling block for them.

 

  1. As blood remains in the bodies of strangled animals it falls under what has been forbidden in every covenant since Noah.  It is only the blood of Christ that is to be consumed in true worship [see Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12; Deuteronomy 12:16 &23]. Also blood symbolizes life which belongs to God alone.  In the Old Covenant the blood of the sacrificed animal was offered to God [see Exodus 12:7; 24:5-8; Leviticus 1:5; 17:11;] for the covering of sins, for atonement; and restoration [Hebrews 9:18-22].  The blood that forgives and atones and establishes true communion with God in the New Covenant is the blood of Christ [John 6:53-58; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25].

 

  1. Illicit marriage probably refers to marriage too close within the kinship unit which would be considered the sin of incest and which is forbidden in the New Covenant moral law as well as in the old.

 

In an earlier letter to the Church at Corinth Paul taught on the same subject of food dedicated to pagan gods. 

Please read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.

Question: What similar message do you find in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Romans 14:1-12?

Answer: In the Corinthians passage as well as in Romans chapter 14 Paul's advice is that although we are free to do whatever our conscience tells us is best concerning food dedicated to false gods, a Christian should be guided by love and should not do anything that would hinder the newly formed faith or immature faith of a brother/ sister.  If a brother fears the possibility that eating the meat dedicated to a pagan deity or demon might have some influence over him then do not ridicule that Christian's fears but have compassion.  And if those "weaker" Christians are scandalized by such behavior, even though it is not your practice to fear such things, be tolerant of their fears, abstaining from the practice yourselves when you feel it necessary because of the scruples of a brother or a sister who is immature in the faith.  Perhaps we could compare the concerns of the "weaker" Christians in Paul's time to reformed alcoholics today who practice abstinence from all alcoholic beverages out of fear that they may fall back into sin.  It is a scruple that we as a loving and tolerant brother or sister should respect.

 

Romans 14:3-4: "3  Those who feel free to eat freely are not to condemn those who are unwilling to eat freely; nor must the person who does not eat freely pass judgment on the one who does'because God has welcomed him. And who are you, to sit in judgment over somebody else's servant?  Whether he deserves to be upheld or to fall is for his own master to decide; and he shall be upheld, for the Lord has power to uphold him."

Question: In these verses what comparison does Paul make between the weaker and stronger Christian and their relationship with God?

Answer: Both the "weaker" and "stronger" Christians are servants of God.  It is not for one servant to judge another servant but for God who is their Master to offer right judgment.  However, it is important to remember that Paul is not speaking of sin in these verses but of behavior that is neither sinful or a problem for the community as a whole.

 

 Romans 14:5-7: "5 One person thinks that some days are holier than others, and another thinks them all equal.  Let each of them be fully convinced in his own mind.  6 The one who makes special observance of a particular day observes it in honor of the Lord.  So the one who eats freely, eats in honor of the Lord, making his thanksgiving to God; and the one who does not, abstains from eating in honor of the Lord and makes his thanksgiving to God.

Paul now turns to the second issue that may be causing tension in the Roman Community.  Christians who are not securely grounded in the New Covenant faith, like Jews who are still very attached to the Old Covenant Holy Days of Obligation and the Old Covenant Sabbath, should be treated with tolerance by those who understand that those feast days are no longer valid in the New Covenant.  Paul addressed these Old Covenant practices in Colossians 2:16-17 when he wrote: "Then never let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or about observance of annual festivals, New Moons or Sabbaths.  These are only a shadow of what was coming: the reality is the body of Christ." Paul includes in this passage a mention of the Old Covenant Sabbath which was celebrated on Saturday.  For the Jews it was the only day of the week that was named and worship on this day was prescribed under the Sinai Covenant [Exodus 20:8-11; 23:12; 31:12-17; 34:21; 35:1-3; Leviticus 19:3; 23:3; Numbers 15:32-36; Deuteronomy 5:12-15]. Many Jewish Christians continued at this time to attend the Synagogue on Saturday [and the Temple liturgy if they resided in Jerusalem] and then also participated in the liturgy of the Eucharist on Sunday, which was designated as "the Lord's Day"'the New Covenant Sabbath.  Also see CCC#2174-76.

 

Paul is ambivalent about this behavior, understanding that these Old Covenant holy days only had significance because they pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ but he does not condemn Jews who still cling to the old practices because he knows as they grow in faith and understanding they too will see these former practices have no real function in the New Covenant but only point to the New Covenant or are cultural instead of religious.  So long as what one is doing is directed to honoring God and acknowledging Jesus Christ as His divine and only begotten Son, it should not be criticized.  However, Paul understands that the day will come will all these old "things" will pass away including the Temple.  In Hebrews 9:6-14, which I believe is a homily he delivered to Jewish Christians on his last visit to Jerusalem in the spring of 58AD, Paul says referring to Old Covenant worship: "Under these provisions, priests go regularly into the outer tent [the Holy Place of the Temple] to carry out their acts of worship, but the second tent [the Holy of Holies] is entered only once a year, and then only by the high priest who takes in the blood to make an offering for his own and the people's faults of inadvertence. By this, the Holy Spirit means us to see that as long as the old tent [the Temple] stands, the way into the holy place is not opened up; it is a symbol for this present time.  None of the gifts and sacrifices offered under these regulations can possibly bring any worshipper to perfection in his conscience; they are rules about outward life, connected with food and drink and washing at various times [purity rites] which are in force only until the time comes to set things right. But now Christ has come, as the high priest of all the blessings which were to come.  He has passed through the greater, the more perfect tent, not made by human hands, that is, not of this created order; and he has entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but this own blood, having won an eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkled on those who have incurred defilement, may restore their bodily purity.  How much more will the blood of Christ, who offered himself blameless as he was, to God through the eternal Spirit, purify our conscience from dead actions so that we can worship the living God."

 

All these rituals were symbolic under the Old Covenant and only pointed to Jesus the Messiah because under the Old Covenant there was no direct access to God.  Under the New Covenant Christ Himself is the way to God the Father [John 14:6 and Hebrews 10:19].

Question: What supernatural event pointed to the end of the Old Covenant rituals and purification requirements?  Hint: This event took place on Good Friday afternoon.

Answer:  The end of the Old Covenant rituals and liturgical practices were symbolized by the renting apart from top to bottom of the huge Temple curtain that separated the faithful from the presence of God in the Holy of Holies at the moment Jesus gave up His life on the Cross [see Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:45].  Paul also knows that according the Jesus' prophecies concerning the Temple in Jerusalem that the time will come when it will be destroyed because its continued existence is only a hindrance to those of the Old Covenant to keep them from accepting the more perfect blessings of the New [Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6].  Paul is undoubtedly speaking about the Old Sinai Covenant holy days and not the pagan Gentile holy days which he completed rejects when he expressed his concern for the Gentiles of the Church at Galatia who wanted to hold on to the pagan feasts and incorporate them into Christian worship when he wrote: "But formerly when you did not know God, you were kept in slavery to things which are not really gods at all, whereas now that you have come to recognize God'or rather, be recognized by God'how can you now turn back again to those powerless and bankrupt elements whose slaves you now want to be all over again?  You are keeping special days, and months, and seasons and years'I am beginning to be afraid that I may, after all, have wasted my efforts on you" [Galatians 4:8-11]. 

 

Romans 14:7-9:" 7 For none of us lives for himself and none of us dies for himself;

while we are alive, we are living for the Lord, and when we die, we die for the Lord: and so, alive or dead, we belong to the Lord.  9 It was for this purpose that Christ both died and came to life again: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living." 

 

Question: Since the time of our Baptism we no longer belong to the world and we no longer belong to ourselves.  To whom do we belong?  See 1 Corinthians 6:20

Answer: We belong to Christ!  We are no longer our own masters'He has redeemed us by the shedding of His precious blood.  In 1 Corinthians 6:20 Paul writes, "You are not your own property then, you have been bought at a price.  So use your body for the glory of God."  We have become Christ's servants, committed to Him body and soul and so we live and die for the glory of God because He is the Lord of our life and our death, and we live in the Body of Christ, which is the Church'a communion of love communicated to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Living in harmony in this communion of love if one member of the Body suffers then all suffer together'if one member is honored then all the communion of believers, in heaven and on earth, rejoice.  As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:26-27, If one part is hurt, all the parts share its pain.  And if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.  Now Christ's body is yourselves, each of you with a part to play in the whole." And commenting on Romans 14:7-9, Pope Gregory the Great wrote, "The saints, therefore, do not live and do not die for themselves.  They do not live for themselves, because in all that they do they strive for spiritual gain: by praying, preaching and persevering in good works, they seek the increase of the citizens of the heavenly fatherland.  Nor do they die for themselves because men see them glorifying God by their death, hastening to reach him through death" [Pope St. Gregory V: In Ezechielem homiliae, II, 10, quoted in the Navarre commentary on Romans page 152]. See CCC# 946-948; 953

 

Romans 14:10-12: 10 Why, then, does one of you make himself judge over his brother and why does another among you despise his brother?  All of us will have to stand in front of the judgment-seat of God: 11 as Scripture says: By my own life says the Lord, every knee shall bow before me; every tongue shall give glory to God. 12  It is to God, then, that each of us will have to give an account of himself."

 

Paul cautions the Roman faith community that we are not qualified to pass judgment on the soul of another human being because, although we have given our lives to Christ we are still fallible human beings and incapable of judging the heart of another'only God is qualified to judge the human heart.  The day will come when God will not only judge the brother with whom you have found fault but be careful because He will also be judging YOU! In verse 11 Paul affirms God's qualifications as righteous judge when he writes: "11 as Scripture says: By my own life says the Lord, every knee shall bow before me, every tongue shall give glory to God."  Paul is quoting from the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 45:23 when Yahweh instructs His prophet, "By my own self I swear it; what comes from my mouth is saving justice, it is an irrevocable word:  All shall bend the knee to me by me every tongue shall swear, saying, 'In Yahweh alone are saving justice and strength..." 

 

Please read Romans 14:13-23: Christians Must Exercise Tolerance and Charity Within the Faith Community

"13 Let us each stop passing judgment, therefore, on one another and decide instead that none of us will place obstacles in any brother's way, or anything that can bring him down. 14  I am sure, and quite convinced in the Lord Jesus, that no food is unclean in itself; it is only if someone classifies any kind of food as unclean, then for him it is unclean.  15 And indeed, if through any kind of food you are causing offence to a brother, then you are no longer being guided by love.  Your are not to let the food that you eat cause the ruin of anyone for whom Christ died. 16  A privilege of yours must not be allowed to give rise to harmful talk;17  for it is not eating and drinking that make the kingdom of God, but the saving justice, the peace and the joy brought by the Holy Spirit.  18 It is the person who serves Christ in these things that will be approved by God and respected by everyone.  19 So then, let us be always seeking the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another.  20 Do not wreck God's work for the sake of food.  Certainly all foods are clean; but all the same, any kind can be evil for someone to whom it is an offence to eat it. 21 It is best to abstain from eating any meat, or drinking any wine, or from any other activity which might cause a brother to fall away, or to be scandalized, or to weaken.  22 Within yourself, before God, hold on to what you already believe.  Blessed is the person whose principles do not condemn his practice.

 23 But anyone who eats with qualms of conscience is condemned, because this eating does not spring from faith'and every action which does not spring from faith is sin."

 

Question: In this passage Paul is asking the Roman Christians to take a pledge.  What pledge in Christian love is Paul requesting of this congregation?

Answer: He is asking the congregation to do everything possible to strengthen and encourage one another and to do nothing to injure the faith and spiritual growth of any other member of the faith community.  He is asking them to let their conscience and genuine Christian love be their guide.

 

In verse 14 Paul writes, "I am sure, and quite convinced in the Lord Jesus, that no food is unclean in itself; it is only if someone classifies any kind of food as unclean, then for him it is unclean."

Question: What Parable did Jesus teach on the subject of eating, drinking and purity in Matthew 15:10-20?

Answer: Jesus declared all foods to be clean and identified the problem with not what one eats but with one's true motives and intentions—it is what comes out of a man and not what goes into him that causes defilement.   

 

In verse 21 Paul continues what he offered in verse 14 by adding, "It is best to abstain form eating any meat, or drinking any wine or from any other activity which might cause a brother to fall away, or to be scandalized or to weaken." Paul applies this teaching to eating the flesh of animals that have been sacrificed to pagan gods and to the Jewish practices of abstaining for such food in 1 Corinthians 8:7-13.  Please read those passages.

Question:  What is Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 8:7-13?  Are there times when we should respect the "weaker" brother's concerns and abide by them?

Answer: Paul's point in this passage is that nothing is unclean or defiled in itself therefore when the "strong" eat such foods they are engaged in an activity which is not prohibited and which is not morally offensive.  However, that neutral practice can become a bad influence if it causes a "weaker" brother or sister of fall.  The moral implications for the "stronger" brother are determined by his intent and the circumstances of the situation in which he is placed in association with a "weaker" member of the faith family.

 

But Paul wrote in Romans 14:20: "Do not wreak God's work for the sake of food.  Certainly all foods are clean; but all the same, any kind can be evil for someone to whom it is an offence to eat it." Paul wants Christians to be sensitive to the feelings of others in this regard but he will give a warning that can be applied to the "weaker" Christian who becomes obsessed with what is pure and impure when he writes a letter of instruction to his disciple Titus, "To those who are pure themselves, everything is pure; but to those who have been corrupted and lack faith, nothing can be pure'the corruption is both in their minds and in their consciences.  They claim to know God but by their works they deny him; they are outrageously rebellious and quite untrustworthy for any good work" Titus 1:15].

 

Question: What are the key verses in Romans 14:13-23 that convey Paul's message of tolerance, solidarity and right worship?

Answer:  You may have another choice but Romans 14:17-18 seems to sum up what Paul has been teaching in this chapter: "17  for it is not eating and drinking that make the kingdom of God, but the saving justice, the peace and the joy brought by the Holy Spirit.  18 It is the person who serves Christ in these things that will be approved by God and respected by everyone."

 

22b"Blessed is the person whose principles do not condemn his practice.

Question: Paul offers a beatitude'a blessing for those who hear these words and act upon them as well as a warning.  What is Paul's blessing?  And what "practice" is he referring to?  What is the warning?

Answer: Verse 22 "Within yourself, before God, hold on to what you already believe.  Blessed is the person whose principles do not condemn his practice." This blessing is followed by a warning in verse 23: "But anyone who eats with qualms of conscience is condemned, because this eating does not spring from faith'and every action which does not spring from faith is sin." Those who do not follow their "principles," meaning their conscience or convictions in these matters of eating such foods as related to faith are guilty of the sin of hypocrisy.  Do not be a hypocrite'be sincere and truthful.  If one says or does one thing but believe the opposite, this person's action is not prompted by what he truly believes as a Christian nor by a sincere effort to help a weaker brother   As in all things for the Christian what he commits as "practice" must be determined by the will of God in his life.  Every Christian has the obligation first and foremost, to discover what God's will is in every aspect and practice in his life and to be obedient to what he has discerned in God's will.  Pope Pius XII in his homily of March 23, 1952 reminded the Church of every members obligation to seek right practice in the Christian life according to the will of God, "To man in his ignorance and weakness, the Divine Savior has brought his truth and his grace'the former to show him the way that will take him to his goal, the latter to give him the strength to reach that goal. What this means in practice is that one should accept the will and commandments of Christ and bring one's life into line with them'that is, all the internal and external acts involved in human decisions."

 

But Paul also offers a warning in verse 23: "But anyone who eats with qualms of conscience is condemned, because this eating does not spring from faith'and every action which does not spring from faith is sin." Paul is using the word "faith" to refer to the certain conviction of the Christian's conscience which dictates that something is acceptable and not contrary to faith or not to be done and avoided because it contradicts Christian faith'anything that does not support faith is therefore inherently sinful.

 

15:1-13: Christ, Our Example of Christian Love and Unity

 

In this final teaching portion of his letter to the Roman Christians Paul appeals again for Christian unity and harmony based upon the example that Jesus set for us in His love and unity which was motivated by giving glory to God.  Paul establishes this unity in a threefold purpose of Christ's ministry to serve the Covenant (circumcised) people of God = the Jews, "for salvation comes from the Jews." John 4:22c:

 

Please read Romans 15:1-13:  Christ is Our Example of Christian Charity, Acceptance, and Solidarity

"1 It is for us who are strong to bear with the susceptibilities of the weaker ones, and not please ourselves.  2 Each of us must consider his neighbor's good, so that we support one another.  3 Christ did not indulge his own feelings, either; indeed, as Scripture says: 'The insults of those who insult you fall on me.'  4 And all these things which were written so long ago were written so that we, learning perseverance and the encouragement which the scriptures give, should have hope. 5  Now the God of perseverance and encouragement give you all the same purpose, following the example of Christ Jesus, 6 so that you may together give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one heart. 7  Accept one another, then, for the sake of God's glory, as Christ accepted you.

8  I tell you that Christ's work was to serve the circumcised, fulfilling the truthfulness of God by carrying out the promises made to the fathers, 9 and his work was also for the Gentiles, so that they should give glory to God for his faithful love; as Scripture says: 'For this I shall praise you among the nations and sing praise to your name.' 10  And again in another place it says: 'Nations, rejoice, with his people', 11 and in another place again: 'Praise the Lord, all nations, extol him, all peoples.' 12  And in Isaiah, it says: 'The root of Jesse will appear, he who rises up to rule the nations, and in him the nations will put their hope.' 13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your faith, so that in the power of the Holy Spirit you may be rich in hope."

 

Question: How many times does Paul quote the Old Testament Scriptures in Romans 15:1-13?

Answer: Paul quotes the Septuagint translation of Old Testament Scriptures 5 times.  Those complete passages are found in Psalm 69:10*; 18:49*; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1*; and Isaiah 11:10 [*in some translations the Psalms quotation may be different; i.e. in the New American the 69:10 passage is found in 69:11 & Psalms 18:49 is 18:50].  The New Jerusalem Bible quotations:

1. Psalm 69:10

"I mortify myself with fasting, and find myself insulted for it..."

2. Psalm 18:49

"For this I will praise you, Yahweh, among the nations, and sing praise to your name."

3. Deuteronomy 32:43

"Heavens rejoice with him, let all the children of God pay him homage!  Nations, rejoice with his people, let God's envoys tell of his power!  For he will avenge the blood of his servants, he will return vengeance to my foes, he will repay those who hate him and purify his people's country." The literal translation of this final line is "he will perform the rite of expiation over his people's country"

4. Psalm 117:1

"Alleluia! Praise Yahweh, all nations, extol him, all peoples..."

5. Isaiah 11:10

"That day, the root of Jesse, standing as a signal for the peoples, will be sought out by the nations and its home will be glorious."

 

Question: How are the "strong" identified in the first two verses of Romans chapter 15?

Answer: As those who carry their own burdens and then in Christian love also willingly offer to carry the burdens of their "weaker" brothers and sisters.

In Romans 15:3 Paul calls upon the Roman Christians to look to Jesus as their example of Christian love and self-sacrifice and to willingly offer themselves to bear the burdens of others.  Jesus did not seek to please Himself.  In the whole of His ministry Christ, who was "strong," made Himself weak and humble for our sake, "But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross." Philippians 2:6-7.   Our love and charity for each other must be inspired by every aspect of Christ's love for us'including our willingness to take up the Cross and follow Him.  St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, "Love seeks union, identification with the beloved.  United to Christ, we shall be drawn to imitate his life of dedication, his unlimited love and his sacrifice unto death.  Christ brings us face to face with the ultimate choice: either we spend our life in selfish isolation or we devote ourselves and all our energies to the service of others." [St. J. Escriva, Friends of God, 236].

 

In Romans 15:3 Paul again turns to the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament quoting Psalm 69:10, "I mortify myself with fasting, and find myself insulted for it" and then adds in verse 4 what will become the central hermeneutical principle and the goal of Biblical exegesis of Scripture study for New Covenant believers.

Question: What is the central principle for Scripture study that Paul sets down in verses 4-7?

Answer: That all Scripture'and in this case Paul is referring to the Old Testament although the New Testament when the canon is set by the Church will be included in this rule'must be read and studied in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ!  "4 And all these things which were written so long ago were written so that we, learning perseverance and the encouragement which the scriptures give, should have hope. 5  Now the God of perseverance and encouragement give you all the same purpose, following the example of Christ Jesus, 6 so that you may together give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one heart."

 

All Scripture'everything previously written'is not written only for its meaning to those in whose generation in which the inspired writer wrote it down, but is primarily meant for the instruction for those who come to embrace the New Covenant in Christ: "Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were described in writing to be a lesson for us, to whom it has fallen to live in the last days of the ages."  1 Corinthians 10:11.  Paul's point is that all Christians can look to every Old Testament passage for instruction which includes the Palms passage he just quoted. Psalm 69:10 is a lament of David the anointed of God who is upright in God's sight but suffers from the tribulation of the unjust who rebel against God level their wrath again him'it is a suffering he accepts as a servant of God: "for I am eaten up with zeal for your house, and insults directed against you fall on me" (verse 9) .  As applied to Jesus of Nazareth these words reveal that Jesus, the anointed of God, willingly gave Himself up to sufferings and bore the taunts uttered by the enemies of God for our sake.  The psalm continues in 69:21-23, "to eat they gave me poison, to drink, vinegar when I was thirsty.  May their own table prove a trap for them, and their abundance a snare; may their eyes grow so dim that they cannot see, all their muscles lose their strength"'you will remember that Paul quoted Psalm 69:32 in Romans 11:9-10.  Paul's point is that these verses from Sacred Scripture read in the light of Christ and His Passion will provide the kind of "encouragement" and "perseverance" that will give the Roman Christians'and all of us, the hope we need to endure in faithfulness of "one heart" to the glory of God the Father even when we, like Yahweh's beloved David, and like Yahweh's beloved Son Jesus Christ, suffer for our faith in living a life of obedience to God. Christ "did not indulge his own feelings"[15:3] and neither should we.  As Christians we must be united in love so we can also be united in tribulation.  Also see CCC# 108; 117; 128-29.

 

Romans 15:7-10:" 7  Accept one another, then, for the sake of God's glory, as Christ accepted you. 8  I tell you that Christ's work was to serve the circumcised, fulfilling the truthfulness of God by carrying out the promises made to the fathers, 9 and his work was also for the Gentiles, so that they should give glory to God for his faithful love; as Scripture says: 'For this I shall praise you among the nations and sing praise to your name.' 10  And again in another place it says: 'Nations, rejoice, with his people'.."

 

The literal translation of Romans 15:7 is a repeat of Romans 14:1: "Welcome one another..".   However, in 14:3 it was God's welcome'now it is Christ's welcome for the sake of God's glory! 

Question: In Romans 15:7-13 Paul defines the ultimate mission of the Church.  What is that mission?

Answer: The true mission of the One Holy and Apostolic universal Church is to bring the Gospel of salvation to the nations of the world so that God's name will be glorified through all the earth and that His Son, Jesus Christ is recognized universally as God's gift to humanity. Both Jewish and Gentile Christians are to accept one another, united as one people in this mission as citizens of a Kingdom that is governed by the rule of Christ the King! 

 

Question: Why in Romans 15:8 does Paul say it was necessary for Jesus to come as a servant to the circumcised?  Who are "the circumcised"?  See Matthew 15:24.

Answer: In Matthew 15:24 Jesus said he was sent to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel."  He had to come to redeem mankind as a Jew and to minister to them to confirm and fulfill God's promises thereby giving evidence of God's faithfulness and truthfulness as spoken to the patriarchs.  It would be the mission of the faithful Jews to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentile nations [see Matthew 28:19-20].

Question: In Romans 15:8 Paul defines Jesus' mission as a three-fold mission.  How is that mission defined?

Answer: To manifest the faithfulness/ truthfulness of God by bringing salvation to the Jews and to the Gentiles.

  1. Paul sees the first purpose of Jesus' ministry as showing God's fidelity and trustworthiness.    Even though man repeatedly turned away from Him, God never abandoned the human race and that fidelity was confirmed in the sending of His Son to redeem mankind. 
  2. The second part of Jesus' mission is to confirm the promises God made to the patriarchs [see Genesis 12:1-3; 17:6-8; 22:15-18; 26:3-6; 28:14; Micah 7:20; Acts 2:39; 3:25].  According to Paul in Romans 11:13-24 both Jews and Gentiles share in these promises as the spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham.  It was on the promises made to the unity of the Church that Paul based his appeal to disregard their ethnic backgrounds in Romans 11:28-29.
  3. The third is that the Gentiles can now praise God and glorify Him for the mercy He has manifested to them because they too have been called into the New Covenant in Christ by the faithful remnant of Jewish Christians who have brought them the Gospel of salvation.  The "vessels of wrath" have become the "vessels of mercy" [see Romans 9:22-23] and are therefore now able to glorify God for His mercy extended to them.

 

Once again Paul turns to Scripture to make his point.  In Romans 15:9 and 10 Paul quotes Psalm 18:49 and Deuteronomy 32:43.  The key to understanding this part of Paul's letter is of course revealed to us by Paul in Romans 15:4-7'that all Scripture must be applied for our instruction in the light of Jesus Christ.  Psalm 18 is a triumphal hymn of deliverance in which David, the servant of God and God's anointed King praises the works of Yahweh who had delivered him and given him victory from all his enemies.  In this Psalm David addresses God with the title "Rock": "Yahweh is my Rock and my fortress, my delivered is my God.  I take refuge in him, my Rock, my shield, my saving strength, my stronghold, my place of refuge." Psalm 18:2.  The psalm ends in a promise to praise Yahweh among the Gentile nations, "For this I will praise you, Yahweh among the nations, and sing praise to your name.  He saves his king time after time, displays his faithful love for his anointed for David and his heirs forever." Psalm 18:49-50.  As heirs of Christ we are also heirs of King David and it is to us God displays His faithful love.

 

The connection to Deuteronomy 32 is in the title "Rock" that is unique to God in the Old Testament and the reference to God's name being praised in the Gentile nations.  Deuteronomy 32 is also a hymn and is called the hymn or Song of Witness.  It is the hymn Moses was commanded to teach the children of Israel to sing from that day forward.  It is a hymn which celebrates the unique power of the One True God who is Israel's Rock.  The title "Rock" applied to God is used 5 times in the hymn [see 32:4, 16, 18, 30, 31].  Rock is used two additional times but not in reference to Yahweh.  The hymn ends with a prophecy of all nations coming to worship the One True God and a promise of a final judgment.  This hymn was sung at every liturgical Sabbath celebration.  In linking these two passages Paul is linking God's promise to the "fathers" like David and His promise to bring in the Gentile nations'promises that are being fulfilled in the ministry of the Romans as the Body of Christ continuing Jesus' ministry.  Deuteronomy 32:43 in its complete translation reads: "Heavens rejoice with him, let all the children of God pay him homage!  Nations, rejoice with his people, let God's envoys tell of his power!  For he will avenge the blood of his servants, he will return vengeance to my foes, he will repay those who hate him and purify his people's country." The literal translation of this final line is "he will perform the rite of expiation over his people's country..."  Christ performed the rite of expiation and through the sacrifice of the Mass He continues to apply His sacrifice to every generation of every nation on the earth who comes to Him in faith and finds sanctuary in His Body which is the Church. 

 

Note: It is His title "Rock" [see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4] that Jesus will pass on to St. Simon making him the "Rock"= Peter [Petros in Greek in the masculine form] upon whom His Church is founded [or Kepha or Kefa in Aramaic or as Paul renders his Aramaic name transliterated into the Greek form Cephas in Galatians 1:18; 2:9, 11, & 14 and 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:33; 9:5].  The only man in sacred Scripture to be referred to as "rock" was Abraham in Isaiah 51:1-2, the physical father from whom the Old Covenant people were hewn; while Simon-Peter is father from whom the spiritual children of the New Covenant are hewn.

 

Paul concludes by quoting Psalm 117:1 and Isaiah 11:10. Psalm 17 is the shortest of the Psalms: "Alleluia!  Praise Yahweh, all nations, extol him, all peoples, for his faithful love is strong and his constancy never-ending." It is one of the Hallel Psalms [113-118] and was sung during the sacrificial feat of Unleavened Bread which Jesus celebrated with His disciples and during which the Eucharist was celebrated for the first time in history.  Isaiah 11 is a messianic poem promising of the coming of the Davidic messiah from the "shoot" of Jesse, the father of the great King David and the ingathering of all the dispersed tribes of Israel from the Gentle lands into which they had been scattered which would usher in the reestablished united Kingdom of Israel'"That day, the root of Jesse, standing as a signal for the peoples, will be sought out by the nations and its home will be glorious. When that day comes, the Lord will raise his hand a second time to ransom the remnant of his people, those till left, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, Cush and Elam, from Shinar, Hamath and the islands of the sea.  He will hoist a signal for the nations and assemble the outcasts of Israel; he will gather the scattered people of Judah from the four corners of the earth." 

Question: When was the first time God ransomed the faithful remnant of His covenant people?

Answer: Jews today would probably identify the Exodus out of Egypt as the first "ransoming" of Yahweh's people but surely that was not a faithful remnant but was instead the majority of the children of Israel in the 12 different tribes.  However, the return from the Babylonian captivity was indeed the return of only a faithful remnant. 

Question: Reading the Isaiah passage "in the light of Christ"'if the return from Babylon was the first return then what would be the second ransom of the remnant of His people?

Answer: The second would be the faithful remnant who were ransomed with the blood of Jesus Christ the promised Davidic king of Isaiah's prophecy would through the New Israel of His Church bringing all the scattered people of God's covenant back into one reunited Kingdom of Heaven on Earth'the Universal Church. 

Question: How is Paul applying these Old Testament passages to the Roman church and what is his message to them?

Answer: In the past only the Israelites could be considered God's Holy People, a priestly people chosen by God [Exodus 19:5-6]. But with the coming of the Messiah the Gentiles now also have become united to the Israelites as one Holy People.  In continuing the mission of the Messiah it is the duty of the Church to continue as One Covenant people of one heart [15:6] to draw in the Gentile nations, as was promised in the books of the prophets, and the scattered Jews and Israelites, as was promised to the "fathers" like David, into the New Israel of the universal Catholic Church'the united Kingdom of Heaven on earth'the Kingdom of the new Davidic King, Jesus of Nazareth. 

 

To complete his teaching Paul offers a blessing to the Roman faith community that sums up the main themes he set forth in his letter: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your faith, so that in the power of the Holy Spirit you may be rich in hope."  It is a blessing that can be applied to all of us who seeking God's will for our lives every day.  And if we make the commitment to live our lives joyful in the Spirit, faithful to the Sacraments of our faith handed down to us by our brothers and sisters of the universal Body of Christ, like these early Roman Christians who walked the path of salvation nearly 2,000 years before us, then we can be 'rich in hope' that every step we take in this life we will walk hand in hand with the Savior who will bring us safely to the gates of heaven and our eternal salvation!

 

A question for group discussion:

Question: What differences have you noticed in Catholic Christians in their practices of worship or piety that should be accepted with tolerance and understanding within the Parish community?

Answer: In Catholic communities today some abstain from eating meat on Fridays, others perform some act of charity to honor the day Christ died for us on the Cross and others may fast on both Fridays and Wednesdays.  The Church leaves such acts of private devotion entirely up to the believer.  Another example of tolerance of differences that should be exercised in the faith community today could be that some Catholic brothers and sisters offer special acts of piety in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.  Some in adoration prostrate themselves others may cover their heads while still others may simply kneel.  None of these practices are in error but each reflects a posture of love and devotion.  Some may kiss a brother or mother on the cheek and another may give a warm embrace'what is the difference?  It is the expression of love that counts and the differences in the expression of that love does not deserve judgment.  We must be tolerant of individual acts of devotion and service within the Church and honor and respect each brother or sister's individual spiritual gifts and acts of charity and devotion and avoid spiritual envy.  Some in the community are "stronger" and are able to work many hours for the growth and prosperity of the community, others are still maturing in their faith and give what they can, while others may be committed to other "works" outside the faith community to which God has called them'including spending hours caring for young children, and still others may be working quietly for the community in ways that are not obvious but still contribute to the spiritual health of the faithful'such as a quiet and secret commitment to praying for the needs and growth of the Parish and the Church.  St. Terese of Liseaux, known lovingly as "God's Little Flower," expressed this diversity within the community with the sentiment that each Christian is a "flower" of beauty designed by God to grow in His garden'some are strong sun-flowers, large and vigorous, while others are shy violets but, but, praise be to God, each of us makes up the fragrant bouquet of believers that compose the Body of Christ!

 

Catechism references for Romans chapter 14:1-15:13 [*indicates Scripture quoted in citation]

14:

1971*

15:5-6

2627*

14:7

953

15:5

520*

14:9

688

15:13

162*; 2627*; 2657

14:17

2819

 

 

14:21

1789

 

 

 

Resources used in Romans chapters 14- 15:

The Interlinear Bible Greek-English, volume IV

The Teachings of the Church Fathers, Ignatius Press

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Liturgy of the Hours

Chrysostom's Commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Romans

Romans, Joseph Fitzmyer

Romans, Brendan Byrne

Navarre Commentary'Romans

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture'Romans

Strong's Concordance

Modern Catholic Dictionary

Homilies of the Gospel of Matthew, St. John Chrysostom

Caesar and Christ, Will Durant

Church History, Bishop Eusebius

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.