In Romans chapter 14 verse 1 through twelve, is relevant to every local congregation of Christians. Paul, in the face of specific situations refuses to come up with a list of rules on how to deal with those situations. Rather, he will give principles that are always to be observed. The wisdom of that is manifold because you can never come up with a comprehensive rule to deal with every particular situation in life. So you have to have some basic principles that are able to be applied in multiple circumstances.

Mutual forbearance in the body of Christ.

Verses 1 through 4 give us a call for mutual forbearance in the body of Christ. Paul gives us the specific example of differing views on meat with in the congregation in Rome. Paul instructs strong Christians to welcome weaker Christians, but not to quarrel with them about their particular issues or scruples.

Paul goes on to describe two groups in this passage. One is meat eating and the other is vegetarian. If we take his words literally, one person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. Paul goes on to say, if you look at verse 3, that the ones who are eating this meat should not hold those brothers who are abstaining from meat in contempt, and that those who are not partaking of the meat should not despise those who are partaking of the meat. They are both free to do their conscience in this area, Paul says, because God has accepted them.

I want you to understand that in verse 3 that Paul's major concern here is that those who are abstaining from the meat, do not pass judgment on those who are partaking of the meat. In this case, he is concerned that the "weaker" brothers not become the Lord of the conscience of the stronger brothers. Paul is concerned here that the fellowship not be held hostage by the scruples of those who are weaker brethren.

In verse 4, Paul then brings in a thunderous principle: God is our master and so we don't have a right to pass judgment on His servants.

Paul is not asking for a sweeping restriction on the exercise of our judgment. He is, however, asking for us to restrain ourselves in matters that are indifferent. To refrain from judging one another in those areas.

We should not be too quick to take upon ourselves the role of judge and master. We should refrain from it. We should be ready to give as much room as we possibly can to the consciences of our brothers and sisters in Christ. God is our master and therefore we need to remember that as we practice judgment with regard to those in the body of Christ.

Mutual forbearance because what we do we do for the Lord.

In verses 5 through 9, Paul calls us to mutual forbearance in the body of Christ because we belong to the Lord. We should do everything as unto the Lord. Therefore, God's children are not to stand over one another in judgment, in spiritual scruples, because we live for God.

Look again at verse 5, as Paul moves on to a second illustration regarding the observance or the estimation of days. One person, he says, esteems one day above others while another person treats all alike. Both, he says, should be fully convinced in their own minds. Paul, in this passage, is not talking about a difference of the status of the Christian Sabbath, or Lord's day (Sunday). He goes on in verse 6 to say, if you observe the day, do so for the Lord and not with your eye primarily on others. Likewise one ought either to eat meat or not eat meat with thankfulness to God. Paul is wanting to focus us on what our heart motivation is for doing whatever it is we do.

Then in verses 7 and 8, Paul articulates the second huge principle in this passage; no Christians lives or dies to, or for himself; we serve a higher master. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. We live for the Lord, we belong to the Lord, we have been united to the Lord, and in light of that grand reality we ought to treat one another with forbearance and magnanimity.

Notice that in addressing the differences, one group that wants to observe a day, another group that doesn't; one group that eats meat, one group that abstains, Paul refuses to say, in this situation, "Here is the answer. Eat meat without misgiving, or don't eat meat at all, or observe that day, or don't observe that day." That's not the answer that he gives. The answer that he gives is, "No Christian lives for himself. Whether he lives or he dies, he belongs to the Lord." He refuses to set up a specific rule to solve the issue.

He appeals to this general principle. He longs for the Christian to be captive to God's word and to God's will and he presses home this great principle of God's ownership of us.

In fact, he goes on to say in verse 9 that it was for this very purpose that Christ died and rose. What purpose? That he would be our Lord. He lived, He died, He rose again in order that He might be our Lord. Notice how Paul drives home the point that it's not just that God is our Lord, but it's Christ who is our Lord. Christ is the Lord. Our attitude toward other believers must be governed by the realization that we live for God and that we belong to Him and that Christ is Lord.

Mutual forbearance because God will judge and we will give account.

If you look at verses 10 through 12, Paul brings this particular argument home. He calls us here to a mutual forbearance in the body of Christ because God will judge and we will give an account. In verse 12, Paul again reiterates that we will give an account of ourselves and so, rather than spending time judging others in these areas, we should be preparing for the general accounting. We may have a tendency to be to quick to judge and so we need to remember that we will be judged.

Now, there is one major thing I want you to see from verses 10 through 12, and that is this: For Paul, the final judgment is a significant factor in our present Christian living. The final judgment is to be a significant part in our thinking and in our behaving.

Some Christians would say that if we use anything but grace as a motivation to the Christian living we are in danger of falling into works righteousness. I want you to notice that Paul is grounding our motivation in this passage in the apprehension of God's final judgment. Everything is under girded by grace and what the Apostle Paul has said in the book of Romans. That reality of grace, however, does not set aside these other considerations in the Christian life. In this passage Paul reminds Christians that God will judge, you will give an account, so before you pass judgment to quickly remember that on the last day you will not be the judge, but God will be the judge.

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.