Romans 14 • Handling Doubtful Things


The most repeated mis-interpretation of the Old Testament-times believer was in thinking that the sacrifices were all that was needed to “wipe the slate clean”. In reality, they were intended as the END of the process that began with repentance and changes of the heart; the sacrifices were supposed to be an external sign that one was making a sincere effort to never repeat the sin — not do it as many times as one had animals to sacrifice. The Bible is a very large book and there are still those today that tend to think of it as a set of rules which, if followed, will “wipe the slate clean.” God desires neither sacrifices nor rules-followers, but a heart that desires to follow Him evidenced by following the rules. This is most evident in the fact that we all have consciences that differ in their sensitivity. Sometimes, when people strictly follow or make new rules, they’re not trying to justify a new doctrine or bizarre behavior; sometimes it’s a visible way of establishing their conscience’s sensitivity that sees something as a sin for them that is not for you. Why are there differing views of dancing? Music? Celebrations? They’re not always about potential occultic things; sometimes it’s how to handle “doubtful things”.

Read verses 1-4

Q: What is the context in which these verses are written? (Hint: read the last verse of chapter 13.)

"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."

— Romans 13:14

A: The context is making “provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” The connection is this: we are not to make any provision for the flesh, which would include satisfying our appetites or judging one another. The word “lusts” carries with it a much broader connotation than just sex, for instance sometimes being translated as “covet

Q: When Paul writes, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith,” is this a put-down?

A: No. It is a statement of fact regarding how the Christian regards his relationship with God. The implication is that the more one relies on rules to make decisions, the more dependent they are upon the Law. Remember that the argument made by Paul in Romans to this point is that a person’s relationship with God is not based in any way upon law, but upon faith, which is really a relational thing. If a person has just come out of being under the Law, such as a Jewish Christian, they will no doubt struggle with the issue of relying strictly upon faith. That may be a hard thing for them to do.

An analogy would be someone who was in a car accident and experienced physical trauma. For a while, this person is weak; they cannot be expected to do the things a healthy person can do. But because they cannot do them is not a cause for judging. We certainly wouldn’t make fun of that person, judge or put down that person because they were “weak.” So neither do we judge the person because their faith is not at the point that they are totally free from all past beliefs. To judge that person would be making provision for the flesh. (I spent a lot of time on this point because it is SO important.)

Q: What is the example that Paul gives in verse 2?

A: The example pertains to what a person eats. The specific issue is probably eating meat sacrificed to gods.

The historical context is this: Just as you and I go out to eat at restaurants, so Gentiles would go to the temple to have dinner. Temples were often the center of the commercial world, and housed many restaurants. One of the guarantees was that the meat served there had been offered to its god. Now, this situation raises some issues. Should a Christian avoid eating at the temple because they only serve meat that has been offered to other gods, which is idolatry? Or should the Christian avoid the temple altogether because of what it stands for? Or could a Christian go ahead and enjoy a fine dinner at a fine restaurant at the temple, realizing that, because there are no other gods, the whole issue is irrelevant? And again, should a Christian avoid going to the temple to eat because it might tempt someone else to eat there who had doubts about eating there?

Application: What are some issues that we struggle with today that are similar to what these Christians struggled with? Are there any places, activities or relationships that are a part of your life which — while comfortable to you personally — may not be comfortable to other Christians, particularly new Christians that haven’t yet developed great discernment or wisdom?

Q: What is supposed to be the response of Christians toward each other regarding these doubtful things?

A: Do not judge one another and do not look down with contempt upon one another. (v.3-4)

Application: Apply this principle to the following specific issues: watching R-rated movies, drinking alcohol, smoking, one’s dress or attire, dancing, celebrating Christmas, and living a luxurious lifestyle.

Read verses 5-9

Q: What is the other example Paul gives, that was obviously an issue for the early Christians? How does Paul resolve the issue?

A: The day of worship.

Some (probably Jews) felt that the Sabbath was the only day for worship. Others worshipped on Sundays, as that was the day they customarily worshipped (the Sun God). Some early Christians kept the Sun Day because it was the day of the week Christ rose from the dead. What Paul is saying is this: If you want to worship on Sabbath, worship on Sabbath. If you want to worship on the Sun Day, worship on the Sun Day. But whatever day you worship, do so in the name of the Lord. Why? Because the only thing that really matters in the end is that it is done to the Lord and for the Lord.

Read verses 10-12

Q: What is the essential message of these verses?

A: That we will be judged, not upon whether or not we ate various kinds of meat (or meat at all), and not upon what day we worship. What God will judge us on is how we treated one another.

Read verses 13-23

Q: Besides not judging or condemning one another, in what other ways are Christians to relate to one another over these matters? What does it mean “to stumble”?

A: We are to act on the basis of love. In other words, even if we think something is okay but another Christian does not, then we shouldn’t participate in it in such a way as to cause them to “stumble.” To stumble means to do something that a person is not sure is right. For example, if a person has doubts about seeing an R-rated movie, and we talk that person into going because we see nothing wrong with it, then we’ve caused that person to sin because they were not able to do it in faith.

Q: How is “sin” defined in the context of “doubtful things”?

A: In this context, what is sin is that which is not of faith. Therefore, sin is not defined on the basis of law, but on the basis of one’s faith relationship with God.