I have often referred to our reading today, the fourteenth chapter of Romans, as a miracle of grace! Paul is writing to a church comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. Without going into the specifics regarding each group’s scruples, suffice it to say that both groups had very specific convictions about such things as what to eat, what to drink, and what days to observe. And these personal convictions apparently were affecting the unity of the church at Rome. So Paul found it necessary to wade in and thus we have the fourteenth chapter of this incredible book of Romans.
What is amazing as we read through this chapter is what Paul didn’t say. How easy it would have been (as we often do) for Paul to give a list of acceptable and non-acceptable practices: what foods to eat, what beverages to drink, and what holidays to keep. This would have forever settled the matter. But Paul does none of that. Rather, he appeals to the conscience of each believer to determine how God would have them to live. In other words, Paul instructs them in the fact that having received the grace of God, each man and woman must live in accordance to how the grace of God has instructed them.
The way to make this simpler is that this chapter teaches us to recognize the difference between “convictions” and “commandments”. Commandments (such as love one another, flee fornication) are non-negotiable biblical injunctions that are binding to every believer. A believer can’t say, “I just am not called to love others” or “I feel led to commit adultery.” These are clear cut commandments which make manifest the will of God. But then there are a whole host of other things the Scriptures do not speak about and must be determined by the individual believer’s conscience.
For example, there may be a believer who has a strong feeling that God does not want them to eat meat. The Bible nowhere commands believers not to eat meat but this person feels strongly in their conscience that not eating meat (for them) will please God. The same is true in matters of drinking or in keeping a special day. Perhaps a person feels, as a matter of conscience, that they are to dedicate Wednesdays to the Lord as a special day before Him. Nowhere does the Bible teach that Wednesdays are to be specially dedicated to God; it is a personal matter of conscience for that person.
The danger in this though, is that we often tend to make our disciplines everyone else’s law! I was once in a church where the pastor got rid of his television. Though he never directly said it, before long everyone’s spirituality was (subtly) determined by whether they had a TV or not (if you were really seeking God, you would throw it out). Paul, in this chapter, warns the Romans not to sit in judgment of others convictions and liberties (vs. 12-13) but to accept them, even though they have different convictions. To quote him, “Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall” (Romans 14:4, NLT).
Thus, the miracle of grace. No standard for everyone’s conscience is erected, yet everyone is reminded that there is a clear difference between convictions and commandments. The bottom line: keep God’s commandments and respect the convictions of others. There is one final point though of which Paul reminds us.. Because of our love for the brethren, we should be willing to curtail our personal practices at any time if it is offensive to others. That does not mean that I have to live my life in accordance with everyone else’s conscience. But I would rather not practice something that offends my brother than demand my right to do it, without considering how it might affect others. This is the higher law of love. “Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat” (Romans14:20).