Bible Study with Jairus – Romans 14
What Matters Most: Doctrine or Love?
In Romans 14, Paul issues a powerful challenge to the Roman church. Amid controversies about eating food sacrificed to idols, Paul calls the believers to shift their gaze. He wants them to go a step further. He says that the reality of life with Christ transcends the realm of the physical. Romans 14:17 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.” Love and peace are what matter most. Knowledge and doctrine should never limit our ability to love and accept other believers, even those whose views differ from ours.
Clean or unclean
Romans 14 discusses several topics that were disputed in the Roman church. Paul discusses the morality of observing Jewish feasts, eating meat sacrificed to idols, and idolatry in the Roman church. Idolatry permeated society at that time. Much of the meat sold in the marketplace had been offered to idols. As a result, believers debated whether it was permissible to eat this meat. Some believed that everything was clean, and others believed that the meat was defiled by its past.
Throughout the Bible, God had demonstrated that all food was now clean. For example, God told Peter in a vision that He had made unclean animals clean. What God had made clean should not be considered unclean. In 1 Corinthians, Paul asserted that in principle, all foods may be eaten.
In 1 Corinthians 8:4-8, Paul said that idols are nothing at all; there is one God and one Lord Jesus Christ. He is the creator and the one for whom and through whom all things exist. In this sense, idols are just worthless, inanimate items. They don’t matter at all; they’re not real.
But some people don’t know this, so their consciences are defiled when they eat food sacrificed to idols. Paul explains, “Actually, food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat and no better off if we do.” (1 Corinthians 8:8 ESV). He goes on to say that we should not cause our brothers to stumble because of food (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). In Romans 14, Paul’s attitude is the same. Eating food sacrificed to idols doesn’t matter in the eyes of God. But if it causes a weaker believer to stumble, it’s best not to eat meat.
Good or evil
Romans 14:16 says, “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” This verse troubled me when I first read it. What was the “good” Paul was talking about? What was the “evil”? To answer this question, we need to examine the previous two verses. Verses 14-15 say, “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. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.”
Unwisely misapply the good thing
The word “good” in verse 14 most likely refers to the fact that everything is clean in the Lord Jesus, since God cleanses everything in Christ. It may also refer to correct doctrines about God. Perhaps it refers to the knowledge mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8. This verse says, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” The knowledge about God and the fact that everything is clean in Christ constitute the “good” Paul is referring to.
“Evil” may refer to causing weaker believers to stumble. Or “evil” may refer to the mistreatment of those who have different views. If we misapply the good thing in an unwise way, it will be spoken of as evil. Why? Verse 17 gives the answer. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The word “for” in the beginning of the verse reveals the answer. In other words, if I can paraphrase the verse, “For it is more important to keep your brother from stumbling than to prove you are right in your dogma or doctrine.”
Can you imagine the believers arguing in the Roman and Corinthian churches? Some insisted they could eat anything because all foods were clean in Christ. Others said that it was wrong to eat meat. The stronger brothers wished that the weaker brothers would grow in faith and stop worrying so much. The strong believers certainly didn’t want to give up their right to eat meat to make the weaker brothers happy!
Yet Paul makes it clear that our perfect doctrine doesn’t matter if we fail to love others with the fruit of the Spirit. The knowledge we possess is less important than the love we demonstrate. Romans 14:17 reveals the crux of the matter. The reality of the kingdom of God lies in the love and peace of the Holy Spirit, not in technical obedience.
Bearing with one another in love
Each Christian is at a different level of spiritual maturity. When another believer’s faith is weak, we must always accommodate them to keep them from stumbling. We may not have the same doctrines, but we need to learn to accept each other. But too often, we care more about right or wrong than about bearing with another in love. When others are different from us, we often point fingers and make hasty judgments. In other words, we care about our doctrines more than we care about people.
God wants us to pursue unity. True unity depends on our love and acceptance toward each other, despite our differences. We can compare this to the process of learning love and acceptance in marriage. When I first got married, an older Christian couple told us that marriage is God’s best tool to teach us about love.
Before I got married, I lived alone for many years. I was self-centered. Most of the time, I didn’t need to consider others’ feelings. My wife and I grew up in very different families, so we had different everyday habits. We each had our shortcomings. We had to learn to accept one another and learn patience and tolerance in all things. Believers in the church need to learn the same lesson. We have many differences, but we are family.
Righteousness, peace, and joy
If we only care about being right and sticking to doctrine, we may neglect to care for others. God not only cares about what we eat but how we eat it and whether the way we eat will cause others to stumble. If we stick to correct doctrines but neglect the effect we are having on others, we are not pleasing God. We must ask ourselves how the things we eat will affect others. When we combine these two aspects, our lives will be filled with righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Verse 20 says, “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.” We should never use our doctrine about food (based on the word of God) to destroy God’s love for his children (who are the work of God).