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AI. THE WEAK AND THE STRONG (14:1-15:13)
Chapter 14 and the first portion of chapter 15 states that in every congregation there will be those that have recently come to Christ and are still weak in faith and others that are Christians of long-standing whose faith has developed and has become strong. There are also those that come from a Jewish background and others that have their roots in a heathen background. The result of these differences will be that members will not always be in agreement as to how to conduct themselves in certain areas of Christian living.
The problem will not arise in regard to fundamental issues, let us say moral issues such as getting drunk, committing adultery or murder. All members would be in agreement that these things are sinful in the eyes of God and to be avoided. There are however grey areas because of people’s backgrounds on which they may have different views. A Jew just recently converted to Christ might still want to keep the Jewish holy festival days for God’s glory although he would understand that in doing so he was not earning God’s favour to get into heaven. Members coming from a heathen background who had never ever had any part in such days would feel no urge or obligation at all to keep them; to them it would just be a burden.
Another area of possible difference and conflict, is in what to eat and what not. The Jewish laws are very strict on not eating certain animals which were considered to be unclean. Eating these would result in oneself becoming spiritually unclean before God. A Jew newly converted to Christ would therefore find it abhorable to eat the meat of a pig, horse, dog or snake, whereas Christians from a heathen background would hold no such scruples and would feel free to eat whatever God created.
A third area of conflict would be to eat meat that might possibly have been sacrificed to idols. Both Jew and Gentile Christians might feel that they were offending God in doing so, especially if they had been recently converted. The more mature Christian, however, would be so deeply convinced that there was only one God, that he would totally reject any form of idol. He would have contempt for the sacrificing of meat to so-called idols, and would therefore freely eat any meat that is put on the table, having no qualms of conscience in that regard. In our days, this might apply to so-called “Halaal” foods sold in our shops, that is foods that have been processed according to the prescriptions of the Muslim faith.
Paul puts forward two answers to these possible conflicts within the congregation. Firstly members were to understand that these were grey areas where every member was to act according to his own conscience. This was to be a matter between the believer and his Master, which is Christ. Just as in this world an outsider may not understand why a servant is serving his master in a certain way but does not interfere because he realizes that the bottom line is that it is a matter between that servant and his master in which an outsider is not to interfere.
Secondly, a Christian must never do something when he doubts whether it is the right thing to do. In such an instance the point is not whether this is right or wrong, but that in doing something believed to be wrong, he is disregarding Christ.
Since in certain areas, Scripture gives no clear-cut direction as to what is right or wrong but leaves the matter to be decided by every individual Christian, Christians must not judge one another should they have different viewpoints on these issues.
The third directive which members are to apply, is that they always have to act in love and not exercise their freedom in a way that may cause a weaker Christian to stumble and fall. In a community of Christians that are still very sensitive about eating meat that was offered to idols, it may be wrong for a Christian leader, having a deep understanding of the freedom which Christ affords us, to exercise his freedom and eat such meat. He may be creating the impression that there is no harm in sidestepping or watering down the will of God in certain areas of your life. This may cause weaker Christians to become careless in there walk with God, allowing the devil to trip them up so that their lives will be defiled and that they may gradually slip away from the Lord Jesus.
Therefore, in areas where Scripture is clear, we need to be strict; in grey areas, flexible; in all areas we need to deal with one-another in love.
Verses 17 and 18 are important: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way, is pleasing to God and approved by men.” The Law of Moses placed great emphases on what not to eat or touch, but those rules were intended as pictures of spiritual truths; they conveyed to man the fact that he was to enquire from God as to what behaviour was acceptable to Him and what not. The Lord Jesus reinterpreted these rules, pointing out that we are not defiled by the material things that flow into us from the outside, such as food and drink, but by that which flows out of us, from our innermost being, such as words and deeds that bring dishonour to His Name (Matt 15:11,18). That is why Paul also closes this portion of Scripture with the following words in verse 13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
AJ. PAUL’S PLANS AND GREETINGS (15:23- 16:27)
In closing of his letter, Paul firstly set out some of his plans for the future, namely that he was planning to go down to Jerusalem to deliver to them the funds contributed by certain congregations. After that, he intended to take the Gospel to Spain and, on his way, when passing through Rome, he was hoping to visit their congregation and impart spiritual blessings to them. He was foreseeing that he might be encountering resistance from the unbelieving Jews in Judea and therefore requested them to pray for him.
Next he conveyed greetings to quite a number of people, mentioning at least 26 of them by name with whom he had been working in the course of his ministry and that had subsequently moved to Rome, which shows what a keen interest and love he had for each and every one of God’s people.
As in several of his other letters, he cautioned them against self-centered members twisting the clear Word of God for their own benefit, thereby leading people astray and causing division in the congregation.
As regards satan, he was full of confidence that the God of peace would soon crush him under their feet.
He also mentioned a number of his co-workers that extend greetings to the congregation in Rome, then closed the letter with a doxology to God, expressing his faith in the Lord to establish their congregation by the Gospel as set out in this letter he was sending them.
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