In Romans 14:1-12, Paul charges mature believers to cease quarreling over disputable matters by focusing instead on the indisputable attributes of God.
March 23, 2023
Speaker: David Mitchell
Reading: Romans 14:1-12
Good morning, everybody. Great to be with you. My name is David and I’m grateful to be able to worship together with you this morning. So if you’ve been here at Vintage or haven’t, what we’ve been doing over the last year or so is moving through the book of Romans. And this morning, we’re beginning in Romans chapter 14. The text will be up on the screen in just a second also.
So Romans chapter 14, verses 1-12 say, “Accept the one whose faith is weak without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another whose faith is weak eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does. And the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant to their own master, servant stand or fall, and they will stand for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another, another considers everyday alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord. For they give thanks to God. And whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God, for none of us lives for ourselves alone. None of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord. And if we die, we die for the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be both the Lord of the dead and the living. You then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Why do you treat them with contempt for we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written, as surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me. Every tongue will acknowledge God. So then each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”
So if you’re coming into church this morning, we understand as we worship together, we are bringing in all these kinds of different challenges, right? Challenges in relationships, challenging work, challenging finance. And then, the preacher gets up and starts talking about meat and vegetables. And if you’re new to Vintage, you might be like, oh, this is one of those keto diet churches, or this is one of those Atkins diet churches, or whatever it is.
And you may think, wait, was this Paul 2000 years ago giving his hot take on a diet or something like this? Actually, I think there’s more depth to it than that. But Paul is stepping into this church in Rome. And what he’s dealing with is division. And he’s dealing with the fact that the Jews and the Gentiles are hostile toward one another. And rather than focusing on things that really matter in the kingdom, they’re focused on things that don’t matter.
This passage then, Romans 14, is, I think, about elevating our perspective. D.L. Moody, who was a boot and shoemaker from Massachusetts in the mid-1800s, became a follower of Jesus and a preacher. And he said the great tragedy in life is not failing but is winning at things that don’t matter.
And I think what Romans 14 is talking to us about is this reality that sometimes we can be so focused on things that don’t matter that we lose sight of the things that do.
Now, what Romans 14 is not saying is that nothing matters. Romans 14, if we read it naively or childishly, we might say, oh, this is just Paul saying, “Hey, if you believe this about God, and somebody else believes something else about God, just let it go.”
This isn’t the Big Lebowski. “That’s just your opinion, dude,” if you’ve ever seen that line. If you haven’t watched the movie, don’t watch it because you’ll judge me for knowing that line.
But the point is, we can read Romans 14, and in our naivety or our childishness, say, “Oh, this just means nothing matters.” And yet Romans 14 comes, of course, on the foundation of Romans one through 13 where Paul has been very explicit and very clear about what does matter in the kingdom.
See in Romans 14, he says do not quarrel over disputable matters. Disputable matters are those things that are still in question, whether it’s a debate about where one of us might believe one thing or one of us might believe another. In the case of Romans 14, it was about eating meat or eating vegetables. We’ll come back to that in a little bit.
But he’s saying don’t fight over disputable matters. But he can say that because he has laid the foundation of indisputable things. But in Romans chapter one, Paul has spoken about God’s indisputable holiness. He says of those who turn from God, it says, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the created being rather than the Creator who is to be forever praised, amen.”
In chapter one, he speaks about God’s indisputable holiness. In chapter two he speaks about God’s indisputable kindness. He says in verse four, “Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
Indisputable holiness, indisputable kindness. In chapter three we read about His indisputable grace. In four, His indisputable faith or our indisputable faith. In chapter six, His indisputable love. In chapter eight His indisputable forgiveness. And at the end of chapter eight, His indisputable victory, where it says that we are more than conquerors through Christ who has loved us.
And so the point of Romans up to this point is to say, church, our faith is built on indisputable things. We must not fight over disputable matters. That Romans is about this invitation to say that we were called, we were invited to be reconciled with God. And Paul is pleading with them not to live in a divided church.
That we may very well live in a world that is divided, but we were never called to serve in a church that is divided. And Romans chapter 14 is urging us on the foundation of faith, that is, on indisputable things, to not quarrel over disputable matters.
And so he goes into verse one, he says, “Don’t quarrel over disputable matters.” Notice how what he doesn’t say is, “Don’t have disputable matters.” He says, “Don’t quarrel over them.”
In other words, what Paul is showing us in chapter 14 is amongst believers — these Jews and Gentiles — amongst the weak and the strong, amongst the mature in the faith and those who are newer to the faith, there are disputable matters. The problem comes when we quarrel and fight over those things and divide over those things.
Proverbs 17 verse 14 will say, “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam. So drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” It’s this picture for us in Proverbs 17 of saying a quarrel can unleash the full force of the river that is being held back. That’s the risk of quarreling.
It’s not just prodding and picking a fight. It’s not just something fun. It’s not just a pastime to quarrel. It will cause the kind of division like a dam breaking and the full force of that flow coming and wiping out all the people that stand in its path.
So Paul is speaking to us about all of these things in Romans chapters one through 13, all of these indisputable matters: God’s indisputable kindness, holiness, grace, and victory — all of that stuff can be wiped out if we end up fighting over things that ultimately don’t matter.
The challenge then it raises for us is what is a disputable matter? And what is indisputable? See, we have this tendency as humans to believe that our opinions are indisputable. Yours are disputable. It’s funny how that works, right?
In Romans 14, there’s a group who have a certain opinion about eating meat and others who talk about eating vegetables. And for them, they could very well feel these are indisputable matters. These are the most important things going on right now. But Paul has been very clear in Romans 1-13. This is the stuff that matters. Romans 14, fighting over this stuff that doesn’t matter is going to divide you and separate all of the union that God came to bring. All of the reconciliation He came to bring.
Now historically, in Romans chapter 14, what Paul is most likely talking about with regards to meat and vegetables is not the keto diet or the latest diet. What he’s speaking about is meat that has been sacrificed to idols that those believers are choosing whether they can eat or not.
He also writes about this in 1 Corinthians 8. And essentially, his argument in First Corinthians eight that he is emphasizing in Romans chapter 14 is that meat that has been sacrificed to idols is fine to eat because idols don’t exist anyway. So it wasn’t really sacrificed to anything, it was just placed on a plank for a while. Okay, that’s essentially what he’s saying. But what he’s saying is this, listen, I understand that there are some amongst your community or some amongst your church, who can’t wrap their heads around that.
Maybe they grew up in a tradition where, hey, this meat that was sacrificed to idols, it is defiled, it is unclean, I cannot eat it. And what Paul is saying is, hey, the mature person who might understand that meat was not really sacrificed to anything because the idols don’t exist. For the weaker one, the less mature one, Paul’s not hammering down on them. He’s saying, listen, it is the responsibility of the mature in the faith to bring about unity in the church.
And so what Paul will say in 1 Corinthians 8 is this. He will say, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again so that I will not cause them to fall.”
If any of you are vegetarians, next time somebody at dinner asks you why you’re a vegetarian, you can borrow that line if you want. It sounds a lot more dramatic and powerful.
But you see that in Paul. Do you see the tenacity with which he is going after unity amongst believers? He says, listen, I know that this isn’t a big deal. But if my doing that thing is going to cause my brother or sister to fall into sin, then I will never do it again.
And again, this is not a case of the tail wagging the dog. Right? This is not a case where Paul is saying, hey, we just let the sort of immature, naive believers, we just let them sort of set the rules of the road and we just let them — no, no. He’s been very clear in Romans one through 13 that there are indisputable matters about sexual purity, about how we are to worship, about the love that we are to have amongst one another, about how we are to engage with authorities. He has been very, very clear about all of those things.
He’s not saying that simply if someone goes along and says, well, hey, this is just my lifestyle choice. This is just something that I feel is right. And I’m less mature than you, so you just have to let me go. No, he’s not dealing with matters of sin and conviction. He’s dealing with these disputable matters that aren’t about a violation of God’s law, that aren’t about that.
He’s focusing on unity rather than disputes. In essence, what he’s saying is, “I don’t want to lose somebody over something that doesn’t matter.” And again, I just shared it, but he says this, he’s placing the responsibility of unity amongst the mature in the faith, which means that a hallmark of maturity is being able to discern the issues that matter and the issues that don’t. And we’ll come back to how we do that in just a few verses time.
In verse three, Paul says in Romans 14 to drop our contempt because, quote, “God has accepted them.” Two chapters before, in Romans chapter 12, Paul urges us to trust God with our enemies. And in Romans chapter 14, Paul urges us to trust God with our fellow believers.
In other words, in Romans chapter 12, God says, listen, vengeance is mine. And the reason we have such a hard time with that as believers, we don’t want to trust God with our enemies because we know He’s kind. And we don’t want Him to be kind to our enemies. And so it’s as if we stand in front of God and we say, God, listen, I’ve got this. Alright, trust me. I know what to do here.
And Romans chapter 12, quoting the words of God saying, “Vengeance is Mine” is saying, listen, those enemies you have outside of the church, you need to trust them with Me. And in Romans chapter 14, He’s saying, “Listen, those amongst the church who you have some difference of opinion about, you have to trust them with Me.”
And this isn’t about matters of sin. We’ll talk about that in a minute. This is about those matters where we have to trust that if they are truly a disciple of Jesus, then they are responsible for listening to the voice of God, for reading the Word of God, and being directed by their master.
In Matthew chapter 20, Jesus will tell a parable about an owner of a vineyard. And in the morning, a group of workers show up at 9 AM. And the owner of the vineyard says, I’ll pay you a denarius to work for a day in the vineyard and they say, great deal.
And then at 12 PM, there’s still more work to be done. So the owner of the vineyard goes back out and recruits another group of workers and says, “I’ll pay you a denarius also.” And then at 3 PM, he goes out again, recruits another group and says, “Hey, I’ll pay you a denarius also.” And at the end of the day, all of the workers come out of the field and the master of the field, the owner of the field, pays each of them a denarius, just like he had agreed.
And guess what the 9 AM shift folks think? Hey, we worked longer hours, we worked harder, we deserve more. And the master rebukes them for that. And there’s a lot that we can glean from that parable. Well, one of the most important things is this, it is that it is not your responsibility or my responsibility to question how God the master deals with his servants. They are His servants.
And it is very easy to feel like the 9 AM shift and say, wait a minute, I worked longer hours, I worked harder, I deserve more. And the problem with that, the comparison of that is that we lose sight of the indisputable kindness and holiness and sovereignty of God.
And so in Romans 12 verse three, when it says, “do not show contempt, for God has accepted them,” it means understanding our posture towards one another in the church. Again, this is to believers who are at risk of division to believers, not to somebody who has fallen into sin, but to somebody who is sincerely pursuing the lordship of Christ, who has declared Him as Lord, who has said He is my master, I’m seeking His voice in my life, right? This is not a matter of sin and conviction. It says you can move toward them but must not move toward them in contempt. You must move towards them in love.
John Gottman, the famous relationship expert, studied relationships and what divides people, what unites in marriages, friendships, etc., for 30 years or so. In his lab, they call it the Fight Lab, which just sounds great, right? But in the Fight Lab, they bring couples in and study them.
And one of the things that he and his team have found over the last 30 years is that the number one predictor of a relationship breaking apart is contempt. If you see evidence of contempt, he describes it as sulfuric acid to love. Sulfuric acid, historically, was known as the oil of vitriol. It will corrode and destroy even the most powerful and strong things that it comes into contact with.
And so again, church, he doesn’t begin Romans 14 and say you won’t deal with disputable matters. He’s very clear on that. He says, don’t quarrel over disputable matters, and don’t show contempt because contempt will be like sulfuric acid. And no matter how strong the metal is, no matter how strong the bonds are between a church and a community, it will slowly corrode and ultimately cause division.
We have to remember as well, again, we’ve spoken about this reality of trusting God with your enemies in Romans 12 and in chapter 14 trusting God with His servants. We do see this example in John chapter 16 where Jesus speaks about the Spirit, the advocate, coming. He says, “It is better for you that I leave. If I go, I will send Him that is the Spirit to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”
So what this passage is predicated upon is that everyone who is spoken about in this passage is seeking the voice of God and listening to the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God has the power to convict. And if conviction is needed, then a lot of what my job is as a fellow believer is to guide and love that person to the voice of God. Trusting that the Spirit of God will convict them when needed.
Now we do see examples in Scripture, we see in 2 Samuel 12 this example where David has fallen into sin, a gross and terrible sin. And Nathan comes to him in 2 Samuel 12 and speaks to him using the story and analogy that convicts David of his sin. So we do have examples of where those fellow humans approach others who have fallen into sin and bring about conviction. But what’s critical to understand is 2 Samuel chapter 12, verse one begins with, “The Lord sent Nathan to David.”
This wasn’t just Nathan showing up of his own accord or in his own opinion or in his own sense of self-righteousness. This was a man being sent on assignment by God. And, again, Romans 14 isn’t speaking about the conviction of sin. It’s speaking about disputable matters. But I think that principle is still so helpful for us. Because if you’re anything like me, I can look around at the problems of the world or the problems in the church, I can look at the speck in your eye, ignoring the plank in my own eye, and be so driven to go and fix those things that I miss and drown out what the Spirit of God is trying to convict me of.
So, again, as we said earlier, this raises the challenge of saying, well, how do we navigate things that are disputable? Chapter 14, verse five says this, “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” It’s this Greek word. That’s the true pronunciation, I believe. Dustin had it. I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
It means to be fully persuaded. Each of them should be fully persuaded. The reality of the New Covenant, the reality of the Kingdom of God is that you and I were never called to be persuaded by the speaker. Never called to be persuaded by the worship leader. We were called to be fully persuaded by Him and His voice.
And Romans chapter 14 doesn’t let any of us off the hook. If we are fully committed disciples of Jesus, Jesus will say, my sheep hear my voice. But for Romans 14 to make sense, for it to fit in context, each of us has to take responsibility for being fully persuaded by Him.
To spend time with Him. Now, are you going to get things right all the time? No. Have you ever noticed how you can be persuaded about something that maybe you have been convinced about for five years, 10 years, 15 years? And the Spirit of God has gently persuaded you to understand that your opinion was wrong?
In chapter two of Romans, it says, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness.” Remember, Romans 14 verse three says, “Don’t show contempt to others.” Back in Romans 12, i says, “Do you show contempt towards His kindness.” It says, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
That’s the power of his kindness. Then chapter 14 verse nine says, “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” As servants of Jesus, we’re called to obey His voice.
That doesn’t mean that we become ignorant or dismissive of the wisdom and counsel of others. But it does mean that first and foremost that as His servant, we are accountable to what the master has to say to us.
And so again, back in that parable in Matthew 20, we see this quarreling that begins when it’s like, hey, how dare you show kindness to these servants who came after me? How dare you show such generosity towards them?
And Romans 14 is reminding us that ultimately, we are each responsible before God as His servants to listen to His voice as our master.
And lastly then, verses 10 through 12 say this, “You then, why do you judge your brother and sister? Why do you treat them with contempt for we all will stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written, as surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow, every tongue will acknowledge God. So then each of us will give account of ourselves to God.”
This reality, this invitation speaks about the fact that we live in community. The entire letter of Romans is this letter that in and of itself is miraculous. It is written to a community of believers — Jews and Gentiles — who have been so hostile and divided towards each other for thousands of years that it is a miracle that they can sit in the same room together.
And to that group, he lays this foundation of the indisputable things, the things that they are not to waver over, the things that they are to be united on, the things that really matter. And in Romans 14, he says, listen, are you going to let all of that go for a dispute over meat and vegetables?
And I can read that in 2023 and think of how ridiculous that might sound. But I have to look in the mirror and think about how often I’ve allowed division to come into my heart over matters that are much smaller than that.
Where again, Proverbs 17 says that quarreling is like the breaking of a dam, the full force of that river coming, not only taking you out, but taking everyone else out around you.
And he ends Romans 14 by talking about our individual account of ourselves to God. That whether we are mature in the faith or immature in the faith — and by the way, maturity and immaturity in the faith, are maybe somewhat correlated to the age of how long we’ve been following Jesus, but not completely. You could be like me, following Jesus for 30 years or so, and still find plenty of areas of your life where I’m childish and immature.
But this invitation to consider this account before God says it is my responsibility to seek unity amongst the kingdom. It’s not that we don’t have disputable matters, we must not quarrel over them or divide over them. We must not be driven by contempt. And we must live through the perspective that we live before Him.
Again, if there’s matters of sin, of course, move in, not with contempt, but move in with love. Knowing Romans chapter two, that it is the kindness that leads them to repentance. And we must live through the perspective that each of us in this room, if we call ourselves servants of Jesus, we must learn to listen to the voice of the master. We must learn to be fully persuaded.
Jesus will say in the gospels to those around him, “Why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and yet not do the things that I tell you?” And that’s the invitation of Romans 14. Let’s stand together and pray.
Father, we come before You. And first of all, we worship You and thank You that our faith is built on indisputable things. Your indisputable holiness, indisputable kindness, indisputable love, and grace. That we in Christ have an indisputable victory that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. And we worship You for that. And we pray that we would have the tenacity and the maturity and the focus to hold on tightly to those things that matter.
But God, we ask that where there is division amongst us, where there is contempt in our heart, that You would stop us in our tracks and convict us of that. Help us to trade contempt for love. Help us to trade impatience for kindness. And help us to move towards one another with a posture of love that helps each of us wherever we’re at in our faith to grow into deeper and deeper places of maturity.
We’re in it, Jesus, for the long haul. We’re not here just for one Sunday or one week or one month. We are here to follow You for all the days of our life. And we want to do that by listening to Your voice and being guided by You, our master. So today we call You Lord, Lord and we way God, we are committed to doing the things that You ask us to do. We love You and we worship You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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