Romans 14:17-23

Abstain From The Controversial

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Rom. 14:17a (Holman) . . .for the kingdom of God. . .

“Kingdom” reminds us our freedom, even in nonessentials, is not a license to do whatever we want. We are not free to follow our base desires and instincts, but rather free to look to God and lovingly and freely do what He wants us to do.

God rules. We live in a King’s dominion, a king-dom, a place where a king dominates, controls, governs. God wants us to acknowledge His reign in every aspect of our lives, even in those areas where we have been given the freedom to seek out on our own what is right. For us to be good citizens of this kingdom, we need to know its value system, how decisions are to be made.

Rom. 14:17b . . .is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, decisions within the kingdom regarding nonessentials are not to be made based on physical considerations. Kingdom decisions are made on the basis of spiritual considerations.

Even when we see nothing inherently wrong in a matter, we still are not free to indulge in it. Paul was not telling the Romans they could eat and drink anything they wanted. They were being told to eat and drink only those things which did not violate the principles of righteousness, peace, and joy. The Holy Spirit uses these things in our lives to help us make moral decisions. All matters must be weighed in light of these three guiding principles.

One, righteousness. Our first thought must be Godward. Our primary concern is being rightly related to Him. Righteousness begins as something imputed to us, but then it reveals itself, works itself out, in our everyday lives.

Due to the righteousness imparted to us, we should want to live righteously. Is this the main thing in our life? If it is, questionable matters will not hold a death-grip on our life. We will have no problem abstaining from the controversial.

Two, peace. Our second thought must be toward others. Peace is more than the absence of trouble. It involves striving to achieve someone else’s highest good.

Something is desperately wrong when a believer prefers selfish indulgence over peace in the fellowship. Why indulge in an insignificant recreation or pastime, if its consequences may involve horrible repercussions for another?

Do not cause damage to a fellow believer over trite matters. Leave them off. Do not impede the progress of others in the fellowship.

Three, joy. This is an inner assurance that all is well, “whate’er betide.” Joy is not mirth. All can be chaos on the surface, but we can still have joy within.

The wildest hurricane can only affect the surface of an ocean. A submarine can always find the water a hundred feet down as calm as a brook. Joy lives in the midst of the storm, but refuses to let the storm live in the midst of it.

Joy cannot thrive under selfish circumstances. It is never self-absorbed. It springs solely from knowing we have pleased God and others. A believer who is displeasing God and fellow-believers in questionable matters, cannot have true joy.

In other words, when making a moral determination, one thing we have to consider is, “Can I live with myself if I do this? Can I look myself in the mirror if I indulge? Will I be comfortable when I think of God and others who may be hurt?”

The little acrostic we teach our children is truer than we realize. “How can we have J-O-Y? Put Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.”

Put our own desires last. If a matter is questionable and highly controversial, abstain from it. This is always the safest course of action in these cases, for the matter under discussion is nonessential to the Kingdom. Food and meat are nothing; but righteousness, peace, and joy are everything.

The world in which we live tries to convince us to reverse our value system. Unbelievers watch out for self first. Then they are careful to impress others and be socially acceptable. Only lastly do they think of God. He is merely an afterthought.

When we come to make a decision in a matter not specified in Scripture, be sure we follow the value system of God’s Kingdom, not the values of this world.

Rom. 14:18a Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God. . .

“In this way” refers to the plan prescribed in verse 17. In making decisions on the basis of righteousness, peace, and joy, we live life as a servant of Christ.

How delightful it is to serve a Master who expects us to love him, love others, and love ourselves. The fact these traits are essential to our Kingdom-living bespeaks the graciousness of our King.

Let me digress and mention that the order of verse 17 is important. Righteousness must always come first. Peace and joy are impossible without it. We must be right with God before we can be right with others and ourselves.

The worldling acts like a person who has a broken arm, and goes to the hospital asking for drugs to relieve the pain, but refuses to let a doctor set the arm. Once a drug wears off, pain returns. Only if the arm is set can true healing begin.

This illustrates the lost person’s plight. His or her spiritual relationship with God is broken. They sense the pain of discord toward God, others, and self, but rather than deal with the root problem, they seek opiates to ease the pain. Artificial stimulants are used to drive the real problem out of his mind.

Despite this effort, the pain and emptiness keep coming back. God will not let us find true peace and joy until we receive righteousness. As Augustine prayed, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and we are restless until we rest in thee.”

Rom. 14:18b (Holman) . . .and approved by men.

The world may despise our beliefs, but we should live in such a way that they are forced to respect our consistency. “Approved” (dokimos) was used of money-changers who were honorable. Many money-changers cheated. They whittled down coins or made counterfeits. “Dokimos” (approved) was used of those who did business with integrity, who used only genuine, full-weight money.

This is how the world should view Christians, as people who are genuine and trustworthy, people of integrity. We should be seen as people who love God and love others, resulting in a personal joy.

Rom. 14:19 So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.

This describes what a local church should be. It is a place where rights are viewed as far less important than obligations. We are to seek out those things that will encourage and uplift our brethren. “We must pursue”, chase hard, as in hunting. We must lay aside any interest whatsoever in engaging in selfish conflicts.

A congregation torn by strife loses its right to bear the name fellowship or church. Do not call an arguing station a fragment of God’s Kingdom. Instead, call it fragmented. A church at war is not a part of Kingdom-living, but apart from it.

Heeding Paul’s admonition in this verse, and the scores of others similar to it in the New Testament, is what gave the early church vitality. Above and beyond all else, they were a cauldron of blazing love. This made their fellowship contagious.

I ask us, can we see things in most of our churches that closely resemble the principle of this verse? Churches are famous for division and trouble, rather than love and peace. The following statement by Joseph Parker addresses this sad truth:

“I can hardly conceive anything less like the Acts of the Apostles than a correct and literal transcript of what many churches are doing this very day. . .If I do want to match the Acts of the Apostles I can do so, but then I shall have to bring in the chronicles of our missionary societies, what we are doing amongst the heathen, and the chronicles of our home missionary societies, what we are doing amongst the home heathen and the home poor.”

Rom. 14:20 Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats.

No matter how “right” we deem a particular deed, it is wrong if the doing of it hurts a brother or sister in Christ. It would be better to give up a questionable matter forever than to hinder someone’s spiritual life.

Rom. 14:21 It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble.

Accommodate ourselves to our more scrupulous believers’ walk. When we were smaller, we often heard a younger brother or sister plead, “Wait for me!” Our more scrupulous brethren are still crying it out.

I find it interesting that Paul singled out wine and included it here. There is no apparent reason for this other than it was controversial then as it is now.

The message seems to be clear. Intoxicating drink of any kind, even in moderation, is a danger to be avoided, because it has a devastating influence on others (not to mention what it does to the one drinking it).

Rom. 14:22a Do you have a conviction? Keep it to yourself before God.

Do we have a firm conviction before God we are correct in finding nothing wrong with a questionable deed? Do not bluster about our newfound liberty. Keep our thoughts to ourself. It is wise to keep some things a secret between us and God.

Do not trample on someone else’s feelings, or flaunt our freedom in the face of others who disagree with us. Stabbing a believer’s heart and using shock techniques are out of place. Do not parade our controversial beliefs.

Rom. 14:22b-23 The man who does not condemn himself by what he approves is blessed. But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from a conviction, and everything that is not from a conviction is sin.

Blessed is the one doing only those things which conform to righteousness, peace and joy. Happy are they who know their actions receive God’s pure smile.

If we are not sure as to whether or not we should indulge, don’t! Anything we do while doubting its legitimacy is sin. To act apart from spiritual conviction is to make a decision on the basis of self-will, which is equivalent to self-idolatry.

When in doubt, pause and deliberate. Allow more time for prayer. Do not proceed until we are fully persuaded God will be pleased.

Do not live life haphazardly. Do things based on convictions. At times duty will require us to do more than conscience demands, but never less.