Romans 14

"Disputable Matters"??


Tuesday Night, July 23, 2002

Question: As I’ve been reflecting on Romans 14-15, I’ve sort of hit a bit of wall in reconciling the “whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God,” with attempting to speak Truth in various situations where major problems and sins crop up within view….Much Love to the Family there… John

Hi John, : )

Okay, let’s take a short peek. : ) Just an overview, as “Food for thought.” : )

1) Notice in Romans 14:1 (as well as Romans 1:7-13) that Paul was speaking to a local church 2) about internal squabbles over things that were “disputable” and therefore “unclear” to the majority. “Disputable” means that there could be a “dispute”—that is to say, reasons can be given honestly, thoughtfully, and conscientiously on both sides of the question, based on Truth.

1) again) The fact that it was to a local church, not “Christians in general” is very important. If you were part of the local Assembly in Rome, and knew “your leaders” and those who would “give an account for your soul” (Heb. 13:7, 17), an obligation exists to those leaders and the cohesiveness of the Local Body. The Spirit of Life must be honored above our own personal viewpoints on many issues, and talk talk talking about our view of “the Tribulation” or some such thing would be destructive to the “joined and knittedness” of the Body of Jesus.

Thus, 2) again) Keep such things which are “disputable” (there are valid points that might be made from the Scriptures “on both sides,” and it’s hard to “know for sure”) to yourself, “between you and God.” In a local assembly, it is not wise to get caught up in a lot of discussion about things that others can’t “See” yet. It is potentially divisive to the younger believers who try to figure out what things to believe to be “of Cephas” rather than “of Apollos”—when Cephas and Apollos had no such problems between each other!

3) Since the “issues” are issues of “FAITH” anyway, those with “weaker Faith” who drag along their baggage into the Local Assembly, but are legitimately in love with Jesus, need to grow in FAITH!—not “information” or even “Scripture knowledge” that you have and they do not. More trust, more abandonment, more love result in more insight! He tells “His friends” His Secrets (Jn. 15). It is “a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere Faith” (1Tim. 1:5-6), as well as a “body offered as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1-2) that result in “knowing what we are talking about and what we so confidently affirm,” and knowing “the good, perfect, and pleasing will of God.” It is “clean hands and a pure heart” which allow us to “ascend God’s Holy Hill” to See what He Sees. It is being a spiritual man, rather than driven by flesh in our personal lives and choices that allows us to “discern all things” (1Cor. 2:7-3:3). Therefore, helping one grow in faith and obedience (two inseparable entities! 1Pet. 2:8; Mat. 7:21-27; Jn. 14:15; 1Jn. 2:4, 5:2, etc.)—that is the calling of the “fathers” and “young men” (1Jn. 2:8-14), not to “inform” everyone else in their local assembly of the matters that they are messing up on, and the matters they have convictions about.

Again, these “issues” are not about anyone ignoring those who are committing sins—because everything under discussion in this chapter is related to true Believers in the Local Church who are doing what they are doing “unto the Lord” and out of conviction and love for Him, whether “uninformed” or not. There is nothing Written here about allowing others to gratify the flesh at will, and “we must not speak to them about it.” This “chapter” is about those “weaker in Faith” and Revelation who go too far in legalism, thinking he is doing it “for the Lord.” Paul is not writing about “protecting” those who indulge the flesh, and calling that “liberty.” Clearly Paul would be contradicting himself if that’s what he meant (1 Corinthians 5—“Remove the leaven from the batch”), and we know the Spirit does not contradict Himself.

4) Obviously, since Paul was not a part of that particular Local Congregation, he didn’t have a problem equipping for “works of service” and “unity of the Faith” (Eph. 4:11-16), since he did not “keep it between himself and God.” !!! He actually told them which “viewpoint” was Right, in each case, rather than just keeping it “between himself and God,” and spoke of those who saw it “wrong” as babies in Faith, and weak. Is that not “passing judgment” (Rom. 14:13)??!! Paul did what he encouraged them not to do?!

For example, “As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced no food is unclean in itself” (Rom. 14:14). Ahhh! Paul has not “kept it between himself and God” on the very matter that he instructed them to hush up about! Why? What’s the difference? Paul was “extra-local” and an “equipper” and “master-builder.” He was not being “divisive” or arrogantly trampling on the unity there because of his “stronger Faith,” but rather equipping them in Understanding while emphasizing character in his Teaching in this letter to his friends. LIFE IN CHRIST is not “about” things like “food and drink,” and Paul would not let them focus or divide over such things, even if there is a “right and wrong” in God’s Sight. Paul was saying that rather than “food and drink,” rights and wrongs, the Real Deal is about “righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost!” (Rom. 14:17). As an “equipper,” Paul did take on and correct many “errors” in virtually every letter he wrote. Clearly Paul didn’t believe that whatever anyone believed or practiced was automatically right before God, and anything different should just “be kept between him and God.” Paul surely didn’t do that! : )

With character and Life as the substance of their oneness together, patience in daily life is mandatory in the local assembly. This is what Paul was saying. He was not saying that it is okay to be “weak in Faith” and “believe anything you want”! Is “weaker faith” okay with God? Is Paul saying that “weaker faith” is fine, so leave them alone? No way. Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to PLEASE God.” Weaker Faith brings less pleasure to God! What true Christian would allow that of himself, or of others who wear Messiah’s name?

So, what is the point being made here? It is this: Patience is in order for those who are, according to Paul here, clearly passionate about obeying God—but just misguided on HOW to do so. : ) This was the topic of the Chapter. We all “GROW in the grace and knowledge” and it is a process—just as children are expected to grow in aptitude and understanding and coordination and wisdom. Therefore, those in the congregation might, by your taking daily “liberties” right in their face (Amplified, vs.15), be “pained” or have his “feelings hurt” or be “injured” unnecessarily. This would be “no longer walking in love.” And yet for Paul to raise the issue and Instruct and Encourage towards Jesus’ Best and Highest was not similarly unloving or divisive or flaunting of his liberty, as it would have been for Believers in that local church to flaunt their liberty in their brothers’ and sisters’ faces, when there is not yet mutual Understanding and sufficient Growth to comprehend what is happening.

Instead of just going ahead and doing whatever they pleased, even if it was confusing and frustrating to other honest and diligent Disciples, Paul encouraged those in the Local Assembly to be patient and to help one another to grow in Faith and Love and Obedience so that they would eventually see (Php. 3:15-17). Then the topic, any topic, would no longer be a “hot button,” but be easy to discuss without offense. This, as opposed, to creating cliques and divisions and “heroes” of various topics. All such “building” around topical conformity and “issue” agreement, rather than on total surrender to Jesus (“Faith”) is a house built on the “sand.” “Here’s the right thing to believe about this and that. Agree, okay? Then you can be part of us, and we can be unified.” That is nonsense, of course. Matthew the tax collector, and Simon the zealot, settled their differences on Jesus, not the intellect. As they “beheld Him” they were “transfigured, by the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2Cor. 3:17-18).

Once again, a reminder that we are not talking about overlooking sin in others’ lives—or many other Scriptures must be thrown out to do so. God is not a liar, and HE is not confused. Romans 14 is speaking of those who are passionate about doing ALL Father desires, and simply don’t understand how much is “baggage” and “shadow” (Heb. 8:5, 9:23, 10:1; Col. 2:16-17, 20-23) in their “belief system” and how much is truly Father’s Desire, fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

5) Paul also encouraged those in the Church in Rome to not be man-pleasers, but to find conviction on these matters (Rom. 14:23, 14:5b), knowing that the very search will benefit them, and benefit all.

6) In addition, arrogance and judgment were unacceptable during that Holy search, since all of those involved are passionate about pleasing God, and “do so to the Lord, giving thanks to God” in a very Vertical way. This is the basis for patience, trust, and love as the Process of growth unfolds.

Well, there are some thoughts about it, with just the few moments I have right now… Hope they shed a bit of Light on the Chapter—and let’s keep chatting about it as much as you’d like!

In Jesus, with you all, mike

p.s. Just a quick extra note on Romans 16 and the subject of “house churches” in many of today’s books-for-sale…

Regarding Romans 16, and particularly verse 5: For sure Aquilla and Priscilla had a “hive” of Activity “in their home” in the Church at Rome. Of course, though, this does not mean that Paul’s Letter to all of these folks (that knew each other) was to a bunch of different “Churches” in Rome. Paul was saying “hello’s” to a bunch of people at once by saying “hello” to “the Elect often found IN the home of Aquilla and Priscilla”—not some institutionally separate entity called “a Church that meets at their home.” I’d recommend, for a number of reasons that we do not “translate” that word in Romans 16:5 as “CHURCH,”! but rather “Elect Together in their home.” And the word “meet” is not in the Text, of course.

Paul refers to “the Chosen often in their home,” just as I am seldom in the Fulbright’s home, but many of the Saints often are, due to their proximity that I don’t have. There are many dozens of Saints in a sixty second walk of their home, and many dozens more within a sixty second walk of my home. The spontaneous Life tends to happen in the closest proximity, doesn’t it? Can you imagine the loss if you lived in a different home than your children? The Fulbright’s home and “Hive of Life” is somewhat different, day to day, than mine—though there is much overlap in the Issues of Life in every way, and deep relationship between lives across all neighborhood lines, without prejudice. And yet there IS a somewhat different “Hive” of Life there. And we live very close together, by comparison to the Roman Believers, considering both distance and transportation problems there. It is a two minute trip for me to the other neighborhoods, not a full day’s journey.

Picture, no doubt, hundreds of Saints in that one Local Church in Rome. And remember (I have to keep emphasizing this, because it is so unlike today’s world, if we think of Rome as “separate house churches”), they knew each other, according to Paul. How could this be??!! : ) Rome was then a city of 1.5 million people (larger than today’s Washington DC, Boston, or San Francisco), and the largest known city in the world. Now remember that they lived with no decent transportation—no automobiles, few personal-use vehicles of any kind, and no busses or subways. They simply could not travel far to be together Daily (Heb. 3:12-14, etc.). There were no “Meeting Halls” or BARF’s (“Buildings Appropriated for Religious Functions”) until 280 AD, and the vast majority of homes in the city being “densely packed diseased-ridden tenements” (“Great People of the Bible, and How They Lived,” p.387). They had very few choices of where larger numbers of people could be together (Heb. 10:24-25; Acts 2:42-47—Jesus’ culture).

As you know from your travels, most homes in most countries even today can gather no more than ten or twelve people in line-of-sight with one another in the largest room in the house. Now you can imagine that some of the Saints would find themselves often at the home of Aquilla and Priscilla, which was probably larger than most due to their ability to make a living, well-documented in the Book of Acts. For Paul to refer to their home as “the Elect’s Hangout” in “the home of them” doesn’t seem strange at all, and certainly doesn’t mean there were “multiple churches!” in Rome. The “Holy Hangout” (“the Elect as One around their home”) might also describe the situations of Asyncritus and Philologus.

Though I understand why you mention it, there is truly no reason to superimpose the modern cult era—the “so-called ‘church’ on every street corner” world, instead of one Local Assembly, with one “Church Government” (Heb. 13:7,17; Php. 1:1, etc.) into this Letter and Picture. Add to the confusion that bad translation of ekklesia as “church” in this verse, and the imaginary word “meet” injected into the Text—and it’s easy to see how men are once again describing their world by their translations, rather than what is really there, in many cases. There is nothing here that means there was “more than one Church in Rome,” and the evidence to the contrary, throughout the various Letters is not negated in a couple of words in Romans 16 that are added or mistranslated.

We really have to keep this in front of us: in Rome they knew each other on a “first name basis” in a city of 1.5 million, with no decent transport. Not only does Romans 16 demonstrate they knew each other, in spite of the geographic and technology problems that would end any interconnection in our modern shallow religious world, but Paul knew them by name too. They were all truly interconnected. How could that have happened in a city that large, with wooden-wheeled and expensively rare transportation, over the cobbled-stone pitted roads, covering hundreds of square miles…if it was “a bunch of different Churches?” Not happenin’. It wouldn’t make good sense to invalidate so much evidence of “one Church per city” and the evidence of reason (some of which I’ve related above) about their relationships and situations, in order to embrace the idea (“a church on every street corner” in Rome) that men today justify themselves by, to their own stunted Growth and sometimes demise. We need to at least have the goal of having what God Intends “NOW, through the Church”—the DEEP, INTIMATE, DAILY RELATIONSHIPS of the entire Fabric of Christian Life in a city, as One Church. This Quality of Life is seldom seen even in one living room full of people, never ever seen in a larger so-called congregation, and “unrealistic” to even dream of for a city.

Well, let’s dream. And obey. “Baptized by One Spirit INTO ONE BODY!”
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