Reformed Theology

Do not destroy the work of God

Romans 14, ESV:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

This passage is not a proof-text for Antisabbatarianism. Note that it does not say, “The one who does not observe the day, performs his not-observing unto the Lord and gives thanks to God.” Such a statement is illogical, since you can’t perform something unto the Lord by not performing something unto the Lord. It is a non-action. Paul says, in verse 5, that there are two views about observance, and each person “should be fully convinced in his own mind.” He says that to choose the one view is to do it in honor of the Lord. He doesn’t comment on the other view, although you may glean quite a bit from his silence.

In verse 6, he names three things done in honor of the Lord: observing the day, eating meat, and being a vegetarian, and the Antisabbatarian view is left out intentionally, even though it is obviously not for the sake of brevity, since he goes ahead and lists all the other subjects of the discussion. I don’t think we’re supposed to read between the lines here and assume Paul meant the Antisabbatarian honors the Lord even when he’s not honoring the Lord. I think Paul’s point here is simply that whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, we should do it unto the Lord. It is an active living sacrifice. Failing to act is not an action, but is simply missing out on an opportunity to do something unto the Lord.

But the most important theme of this chapter is that Christians are forbidden from judging Sabbatarians and vegetarians. We are prohibited from persecuting them, from labeling their views as less-than-ideal in our Church constitutions, from calling them legalists, etc. Such persecution is prohibited in this passage. Each of us will give an account to God.

You might infer from this passage that Sabbatarians are “weak in faith” (v. 1). I do not believe that argument has a leg to stand on, however, especially since the theme of this chapter is that it is “the work of God” in the hearts of observers, and it is the work of God to build and strengthen faith, not to tear it down. Antisabbatarians do not have a biblical argument, but have taken their stance as a matter of principle. Vegetarians do not have a biblical argument, but are living in the conviction of the Holy Spirit that what is sold at the meat markets is offered to demons and therefore should be abstained from. Meat-eaters are living in the light of Acts 10, while vegetarians see the vision as a metaphor for missions. Sabbatarians, likewise under the conviction of God the Holy Spirit at work in their hearts, understand Scripture to be a complete whole, seek to obey the 10 Commandments, and believe that just as God made the seventh day holy in Genesis 2:3, so he made the first day holy as the providentially-scheduled resurrection of Christ. All of these views are to be accepted as valid in the church, and are to even be commended as “the work of God” in the hearts of believers.

We are to pursue righteousness (e.g. obeying God’s commandments). We are to pursue peace. We are to pursue joy (v. 17). We are to pursue mutual upbuilding (v. 19). Even so, in verse 16, the Holy Spirit tells the victims of Antisabbatarian or dietary persecution that they are not to stand for it: “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil” (v. 16). Christian vegetarians and Sabbatarians are convicted by the Holy Spirit that they are to be obedient to what the Holy Spirit is commanding them personally. Therefore they have a right to seek out a church that does not condemn them, and they have a reasonable expectation, based on Rom. 14, that a biblical church would not condemn them. Would you put anything in your Church’s constitution that would cause a vegetarian to feel like a second-class citizen? Of course not. Neither should you put anything in your church’s constitution that would cause a Sabbatarian to feel like a second-class citizen. To do so is not conducive to peace and mutual upbuilding, but is to bring division and distrust and sectarianism.

The Lord is able to make us stand.

S.D.G.

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