Three Rules to Live By
Three rules to live by does not mean that we are adding laws. Rather, in Romans 14:13-23, Paul is trying to help us understand how we should live as brothers and sisters in the family of God. In Romans 12:1-2, he told us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, and from that point, he has been explaining how to live as living sacrifices. He discusses the Christian’s relationship to government, our unbelieving neighbors and our fellow believers. Romans 14:13-23 is a continuation of his discourse on how we are to relate to our fellow believers.
Verses 1-12 explain that we each answer to God. They conclude this thought and transitions by saying:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. ()
Paul is concluding his discourse or thoughts on judging by saying “therefore.” He has made his point that we should not judge one another. Each person will give an account of himself or herself to God. Now he is transitioning to a new thought. We should decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (or sister).
Never is a strong word, and it is used to emphasize the strength of our determination. Our determination to not hurt our brother or sister should be greater than the temptation to judge.
Saying “stop judging” is not enough. We are given something to do in place of judging. We are to replace judging with loving. Not putting a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a fellow believer requires that we 1) are observant and 2) understand our brother or sister. If we are not mindful of our brother or sister, we will not notice what might cause them to stumble, and if we do not seek to understand our brother or sister, we will not know what is a hindrance to them.
In his discussion of this subject in Romans 14:13-23, Paul gives us three rules that if we live by them, will keep us from causing our brother or sister to stumble.
1. Walk in love.
2. Pursue peace and building up.
3. Walk by faith.
Romans 14:13-16 show us that we must walk in love.
We know that if we walk in love, we will fulfill the law. However, love is about more than fulfilling the law. Love compels us to seek the good of our brother or sister.
If we seek good for our brothers and sisters, we must first understand that we are not all in the same place in our faith or walk with the Lord. In verse 14, Paul says:
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. ()
In this verse, we have Paul’s statement that he knows and is persuaded that nothing is unclean in itself. He is our teacher, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though he says it is not unclean in itself, he makes it clear that it is unclean for the person who thinks it unclean. He had the authority to say, “Grow up and eat it anyway.” But, he didn’t. He recognizes that we are all at different places in our walk.
He lays out a principle, a rule, for us to live by. He says:
This runs contrary to our way of thinking. Why should I worry about what grieves my neighbor? That is his problem! Such self-centered eating and doing what we please is not of love. To say, “that is his problem” is to despise or discount the concerns of the other. A lack of concern about what grieves my neighbor likely reflects an attitude of either judging or despising our fellow believer. We either judge or despise our brother or sister, or we walk in love.
How did Jesus view others? The second half of Romans 14:15 answers this question. It says:
Jesus loved others enough to die for them. Should we not then love them enough to be concerned about what might cause them spiritual harm? This is much deeper than “what would Jesus do?” This calls us to love like Jesus loved and selflessly give of ourselves for others. It calls on us to be observant when we are around our brothers and sisters, not for the purpose of judging, but rather for the purpose of understanding and accommodating them. This addresses a danger in our fellowship. The danger is that what we know is good can become the thing that destroys a brother or sister. This is why verse 15 says, “By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” If we put our freedom before our brother or sister’s conscience, we should remember the warning of Romans 14:16.
Paul continues from the principle of love to the idea of peace and building others up.
This is the second rule to live by, and it is found in Romans 14:17-19.
Verse 17 says:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. ()
What is this kingdom of God that Paul speaks of? Jesus preached a message of repentance saying, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Jesus is the King of Kings. He brings the kingdom with Him. Therefore, when we accept Christ, we become citizens of His kingdom. This world is divided into two kingdoms. The kingdom of man is under the control of the prince and power of the air. We have Jesus as our King. Philippians 3:19-20 says this about these two kingdoms:
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:19-20 ESV)
Setting our minds on earthly things is a practice of the other kingdom. True religion is not found in rules and restrictions and traditions that have only to do with earthly things. In another place Paul says:
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. ()
Judging or despising our brothers and sisters for what they handle, taste or touch should be a warning, a red flag, for us, alerting us to a problem in our religion. Romans 14:17 tells us that the kingdom of God is a matter of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If we are still more concerned about our food and drink than about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, then our religion is worse than useless, it is harmful.
Romans 14:18 says:
“Whoever thus serves Christ” refers back to righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit are how we serve Christ. This leads to the “so then” of verse 19. Because we serve Christ through “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” we are told to pursue peace and mutual upbuilding.
Pursuing peace and what makes for building one another up is also consistent with the law of love. Love does no wrong to a neighbor, but instead seeks the neighbor’s good and benefit. Thus, the first two principles work together: 1) walk in love, and 2) pursue peace and mutual upbuilding. The third principle, while consistent with these two, focuses on our relationship with God rather than with our neighbor. Romans 14:20-21 reviews and summarizes the first two principles. Speaking of our relationship with other believers, these verses say:
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. ()
The next two verses move from our relationship with other believers to our relationship with God, and in so doing introduce our third rule to live by: walk by faith. Romans 14:22 says:
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. ()
Here, it plainly says to keep the faith you have between yourself and God.
Building each other up does not require correcting everyone’s opinion or that we all agree on the non-essentials. Some things are better kept between one’s self and God. Eating, drinking, your schedule for devotions and prayer, and such things are among those things best kept to one’s self. This does not mean that we cannot share our practices to help or encourage someone. Sharing ideas and practices can be a part of building each other up. However, when our sharing comes from boasting, it is a problem.
Each person’s faith is first and profoundly a personal thing as we each individually grow in a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Each person needs to be convinced in his or her own heart as to their daily lives in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 14:22 says, “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” If our heart condemns us for what we eat, we hurt ourselves if we eat anyway.
When instructing his young disciple, Timothy, Paul stressed the importance of keeping a good conscience. 1 Timothy 1:5 tells us that a good conscience is one of the goals of our instruction. Then, 1 Timothy 1:19 tells us:
Rejecting or showing no regard for keeping a good conscience can lead to what is described as a shipwreck. Romans 14:22 gives us an essential element of our happiness when it says, “Blessed is the one...” Blessed is another word for happy. Do you want to be happy? Then, keep a good conscience.
Romans 14:23 warns us that if we doubt when we eat, we are condemned. This is true of any practice. Do you doubt that you are doing right when working on Sunday? Then don’t. Romans 14:23 says:
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. ()
The key here is faith. The way to become convinced in your own heart is through the word of God. Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of God. If you were raised with taboos that leave you with a guilty conscience, the way to overcome those is not by ignoring your conscience but by being renewed in your heart and mind by the word of God. This is a matter of personal growth. No one can do this for you. Romans 1:17 introduced us to the idea that the righteous live by faith. Living by faith shows in daily life in the choices we make. It seems to me that many throw away their conscience to gain a worldly life that they will only regret in the world to come.
We await a Savior from heaven, and when He comes will we be ready? Living by our three rules will help us be prepared.
1. Walk in love.
2. Pursue peace and mutual upbuilding.
3. Walk by faith.