We are continuing our study in the book of Romans with chapters 13 and 14. In addressing concerns over how one responds to the government Paul states that we should submit to the governing authorities. God is the one who brings good and order to the lives of people, and it is he that can use government as his agent for good. This does not mean that those in government even have to see themselves that way. In Old Testament, men like King Cyrus was understood by many in Israel at the time as working for their good and saw it as God’s blessing although he himself was not a man of faith or an Israelite.
It was mentioned “do we obey all government, no matter what”? The answer given in verse 4 of chapter 13 that the government is God’s servant to do good, if then a government is working for the purposes of bringing about chaos rather than order and evil not good, then our higher authority is God. The point is not to so easily disregard the governing structures.
The later part of Romans 13 speaks of the continued debt to love one another. In verse 10 “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” This reminder is made all the more immediate because the day of the Lord is near. Knowing that the time is close at hand should encourage us to seek Christ and to share that love with others through actions not just lip service.
Romans 14 begins to narrow the scope from how we respond to government and or neighbors to the responsibilities we have to one another in the body of Christ. The chapter begins by reminding believers not to pass judgement on one another in “disputable” matters. In the Roman church there were two groups of people those who were Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Those how had that law and tried to obey it and those that had great freedom. The Jewish believers had prior to accepting Jesus as Messiah practiced dietary laws and restrictions but in Christ found the freedom to eat what they chose. As stated in Mark’s Gospel chapter 7 it is not what goes into a man’s body that defiles him but what comes from within. The Jewish believers exercised their freedom to honor God.
On the other hand there were Gentile believers whose previous life involved eating or drinking what they wished and often in regards to other Pagan or cultic traditions and the self-imposed restrictions help them to separate the old life from the new life they have in Christ and also restrict their diet to honor God.
So which one is right? In these disputable matters Paul says we must let each person stand before God with his conscience clear and not to judge one another. If each is serving and honoring God Paul asks “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Then speaks of the differing thoughts as to whether one day is more sacred than the other. It matters that what is done is done to the honor of the Lord. A modern example may be in style of worship music. Are not the ones playing bluegrass, hymns, contemporary, or southern gospel doing so in their hearts to honor God? So then is one more right or acceptable?
We are in Romans given a few simple thoughts in this matter: We each will have to give an account to God for ourselves not the other person, God knows each person’s heart and he doesn’t need us to tattle. Stop passing judgement whether in your mind and heart or in public through gossip or other harmful talk. Next let the rule of love reign. Do not put a stumbling block in your brother’s way. Do not damage their faith and your witness over a disputable matters. Christ died for each of you and loves each dearly, do not harm those Christ died for.
We have in matters of faith freedom of differences in disputable matters, and with all freedom comes responsibility to our brothers. To insist in freedom that our preference is the only valid way, is to set ourselves as the standard and we come dangerously close to self-righteousness. Paul continues to return to a position of tolerance, and seeking community above preferences in disputable matters. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (v. 19-20), or for the sake of what day is sacred or what style of music. Let us as a people of God seek to move toward unity in Christ, making room for all that Christ has called his own.