Wednesday, December 06, 2017

11. Concentrated Romans (14:1-15:13)

See the bottom for the whole series.

Romans 14:1-15:13
  • This section finishes showing the Romans what a transformed mind looks like. It also finishes the main body of Romans. In particular, these two chapters deal with Christian disagreements.
  • Paul postures the discussion between the "strong" and the "weak." We should not, however, miss the rhetorical strategy here. In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul's intention is to move the Corinthians more toward the behaviors of the "weak." Positioning himself with the strong makes them more sympathetic to the course of action he suggests.
  • 14:2-6. Paul mentions some issues that Christians disagreed about. Some apparently only ate vegetables in their avoidance of meat that had been sacrificed to an idol. Jews and presumably some conservative Gentiles kept the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday. Those who have such convictions often believe everyone should have their convictions.
  • Paul tells the "strong," those who do not have those convictions, not to look down on those who have them. Other Christians are God's servants, not ours. They report to him.
  • 14:7-12. Here is one of the key principles of this unit. We all stand or fall before God. I do not stand or fall before you or even my church. I stand or fall before God. I live for the Lord. I die for the Lord. 
  • Each of us will give an account to God. We will all stand before the judgment seat of God (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). As 14:5 says, "Let each person be fully convinced in his/her own mind."
  • 14:13-18. What is the logical consequence of of this principle ("therefore")? It is that believers should stop judging each other for their personal convictions. In the flow, his focus is not on the weak judging the strong--those with convictions judging those without them. He is especially telling those without convictions not to judge those who have them!
  • "I have been persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but if someone thinks something is unclean it is unclean" (14:14). Paul probably does not entirely mean this. It is doubtful that he would say that murder is a matter of personal conscience or the man sleeping with his father's wife in 1 Corinthians 5. This is a discussion that relates to those "in the Lord" and Paul might not consider those who would do such things to be in the Lord.
  • However, Paul does take a relativist position on the disputable issues in question. He is not a "realist" when it comes to such moral issues. When it comes to the Jewish Sabbath or meat offered to idols, it is a matter of personal conviction. There is no universal or absolutist position on these. 
  • So if you think the meat is unclean, it is unclean to you. If you think God requires you to observe the Jewish Sabbath, then you must observe it.
  • Paul's view, as in 1 Corinthians 8-10, is toward those who might stumble because of someone else's freedom. It is interesting that Paul writes this chapter from Corinth to Rome and a copy of the letter would have perhaps been made to stay with him. Is it not likely that the Corinthians would have heard Romans read to them?
  • Our rights and freedoms are not the final issue. More important than whether my conscience is clear is the effect my actions have on others. I may feel free to do all sorts of things. But if my freedom causes another Christian to stumble, I have failed.
  • This is the second principle of the chapter. The first was, "Be fully convinced in your own mind" (14:5). The second is, "Do not put an obstacle or stumbling block before a brother or sister" (14:13).
  • 14:19-23. We reach the conclusion. There should be peace between believers. We should build each other up. "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that will cause your brother or sister to stumble" (14:21).
  • A third principle is in 14:22--you can be wrongly convinced.
  • So these are the three take aways: 1) be fully convinced of your own convictions, 2) make choices on how to act on your convictions with others in mind, and 3) remember you can be wrongly convinced.
  • 14:23 gives us perhaps the most revealing description of sin in the New Testament: "Whatever is not of faith is sin. In other words, sin is overwhelmingly a matter of intention. If you knowingly do something that conflicts with your allegiance to Christ, you have sinned. It is not the act that is really the sin. It is not the food, because all food is clean (14:20). Sin lies is in the intention in relation to your faith.
  • 15:1-2. So the "strong" should not bully the "weak." They should want to build them up.
  • 15:3-6. Jesus didn't use his strength to overpower his persecutors.
  • Interesting statement on a purpose of Scripture in 15:4. Scripture gives us examples of endurance and encouragement that gives us hope. This seems to be the primary purpose of its teaching for Paul.
  • The church should live with that endurance and encouragement in mind. It glorifies God for us to embody this focus of the teaching of Scripture.
  • 15:7-13. Therefore, believers should consider each other legitimate, even when they disagree on various convictions. Jesus came as a Jew to fulfill God's promises to the fathers, but also that the good news might reach the Gentiles. There's perhaps some hint here that the Jew/Gentile divide relates in a broad way to the divide over convictions.
  • These verses end with an almost hymnic chain of verses from the Old Testament in which Paul saw an indication that the Gentiles would eventually come to faith (Ps. 18:49; Deut. 32:43; Ps. 117:1; Isa. 11:10). 
  • 15:13 is a doxology that concluded the letter body of Romans. 
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31
6. Romans 4:1-5:11

II.2 What about Sin?
7. Romans 5:12-6:23
8. Romans 7:1-8:39

II.3 What about Israel?
9. Romans 9-11

III. Transformed Minds
10. Romans 12-13

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