Summary: Unity in Christ is a mark of the believer.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you (Matthew 7.1-2). Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? … “Purge the evil person from among you.”… Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Cor 5.12b, 13b; 6.2-3)
There are major points of doctrine that cannot be compromised without doing a grave injustice to the truth of salvation by grace alone. The theology upon which the church is built is unquestionably important. Tradition or the practice of worship, on the other hand, can vary widely and ought not to be a point of bickering within the body of Christ. Sadly, Christians are often guilty of confusing what is non-negotiable with things that, while stemming from biblical convictions, do not violate the essential doctrines of grace. Indeed, sometimes practices in worship are merely a matter of taste or tradition. A critical spirit in the church is not a small matter. Paul strongly warns the Romans, Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God (14.20). The unity of the body of Christ in the Holy Spirit ought to be a testimony to non-Christians. When the body of Christ divides itself over nonessential matters it does a disservice to the saving work of Christ. Not every point of practice in Christian living is spelled out in Scripture. There is room in Scripture for Christians to disagree regarding some practices. The Westminster Confession of Faith under the heading of “Holy Scripture” (section six) makes this clear: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”
THE PROBLEM (14.1-4)
Paul contrasts the Roman believers as strong or weak in their faith. Clearly he believes that one’s liberty in Christ permits him to eat meat and that the more conservative view of the vegetarians fails to appreciate the full import of the new covenant paradigm. Nevertheless, all believers are united to Christ by faith. Though Paul might wish that the weaker brothers might enjoy the freedom they have in Christ, he is more concerned that the body of Christ not be fragmented over non-essential doctrines. There are three points of dispute alluded to in this passage: the eating of meat (14.2), the observance of days (14.5), and the drinking of wine (14.21). Apparently, the majority of the believers in Rome had no qualms about eating all kinds of meat, whether kosher or not. The weaker brothers (possibly Christians with a Jewish heritage) felt constrained by Mosaic dietary laws. Paul counsels the “strong,” that is, those who eat meat, ought to accept the weak, that is, those who are vegetarians. And for their part, the “weak” ought not to pass judgment on the brothers who eat meat. In short, there is no place for criticizing one another on these matters.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? Paul’s question is an emphatic indictment against both groups. Both groups are believers saved by grace. Both are sustained in their faith by the sovereign work of their Master. The servant is accountable to the Master not to the other servants. If they are compelled by conscience and the “good and necessary consequence” of Scripture (at least as they understand it), then constraining them to act contrary to their beliefs would be a disservice to the persevering work of God’s grace.
Paul commands both parties to act according to their principle. Because he is truly free, he resists compromise and procures freedom for everyone. His effort focuses upon the unity of the community which remains in effect when the strong do not despise the weak and when the weak do not judge the strong. For whatever reason those who abstained renounced meat, the conduct of both parties was prescribed by their faith, and this provided both with the tendency to make their rule normative for all. … Paul posits only one statement against scorning those who abstain; such is dealt with quickly because it clearly contradicts Christian behavior. On the one hand, love does not permit the strong to disdain the weak. On the other hand, the prohibition against judging has to be substantiated because the weak combats in the name of God what he regards to be sin. But he is in conflict with God with his judgment, for the one who is free acts according to his faith and God accepted the believer. … The one who judges another presumes on what is not his right, for it is not his prerogative to decide, as if he were his master, about the one who is free. … Faith bears in mind that the Lord is able to keep the one who believes him from sin and from falling. (Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, pp. 253-54)