Lesson 14: The Gospel of Life in Christ (14:1-15:13)


In this rather lengthy passage from 14:1 to 15:13, Paul addresses a very practical situation between Roman Gentile and Jewish Christians in their house churches.[1]  The Jewish Christians had grown up within Jewish religious culture, requiring a strict kosher diet and careful observance of the Sabbath and other holy days. On the other hand, Gentiles had grown up within a pagan religious culture. They had not observed holy days like the Jews, nor had they been raised with strict dietary requirements.

Now that Jews and Gentiles had become believers, they were living and worshipping together from very different cultural backgrounds. The resulting conflict was not surprising. Paul had to address questions about the significance of food and holy days. Paul’s concern was not only to encourage unity between Gentiles and Jews but also what is essential and non-essential to the gospel. This is no less important today than it was in Paul’s day. As John Stott comments, “We must not elevate non-essentials, especially issues of custom and ceremony, to the level of the essential and make them tests of orthodoxy and conditions of fellowship.”[2]

Christian fellowship was particularly concerning for Paul because of the importance of the love (agape) feasts in the Christian communities. Early on, we hear of Christians meeting together for fellowship and worship.  Luke states, Christians were ”day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47a).  Certainly, this included the Lord’s Supper and the fellowship meals (1 Corinthians 11:20-34; Jude 12).[3] 

However, those Christians Paul called “weak in faith” were not necessarily only Jews but also Gentiles.  Paul, for example, was a Jew and belonged to the strong group.  This would also be true for other Jews who believed in their freedom in Christ (e.g., Aquila and Prisca). As well, Gentiles might have been part of the weak group. There had been Gentile “God-fearers” who observed many of the ritual requirements of the Jews. Petronius, a Roman poet during the time of Nero, made fun of these Gentiles because they observed the food laws and Sabbath but would not submit to circumcision.[4]

Because of such cultural diversity, Paul taught both groups how to appreciate and welcome one another into their homes.  This was no small task, so Paul includes significant teaching on these issues. Paul’s focus was on a specific issue within a particular cultural environment.  Similar problems have arisen throughout the church age.  It should also be noted, a person's strength and weakness are not absolute. A strong person can be strong in one area of their faith but weak in another. The same is true for the weak person.  A humble self-examination advocated in 12:3-8 is essential. We are not to “think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think but to think with sober discernment” (12:3).  What Paul is emphasizing is the second great command he mentioned in the previous chapter: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (13:9). 

The emphasis, therefore, is one of community.  This is also how Jesus taught us to pray. It begins with “Our Father,” not “My Father.”  There is no “I” in the Lord’s Prayer. The story in a major newspaper illustrates the problem of overestimating our spiritual maturity and underemphasizing others based on our biases. They had sent the question “What is the problem with the world?” to the great intellectuals of the day, including G. K. Chesterton.  Many responded with long essays describing the many complex problems of the world.  Chesterton’s reply, however, was a small handwritten note, reading, “I am. Sincerely yours, Chesterton.” This is the humble response Jesus taught when he said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye” (Matthew 7:4).

The passage can be outlined as follows:

            A. Welcoming those with a weaker faith (14:1-12)

                        B.         Do not judge each other (14:13-23)

                        B’         Do encourage each other for the glory of God and Christ Jesus (15:1-6)

            A’ Welcome everyone with hope, joy and peace (15:7-13)

The strong and weak Christian’s life together (14:1-13a)

v. 1

Paul, in his normal forthrightness, simply states the obvious.  There are some Christians who are “weak” in their faith. The implied audience of this verse is the “strong” (15:1). The strong are to “welcome” the weak but are to do so without quarrelling “over opinions.”  The obvious implication is that there was quarrelling between the weak and the strong.

 As we have already mentioned, the “weak in faith” were Christians who believed they must continue to be faithful to the Old Testament food laws and observe the Sabbath and other festival days. They were weak in faith because they did not fully understand the freedom they had in Christ. Even though they may not have thought such observations were necessary for salvation, they believed such practices were required by God and made them more acceptable to him. 

Still, Paul says, to those who fully understand the gospel, they should “welcome” the weak into Christian fellowship.  The word “welcome” (often translated “accepted” or “received”) means to be warm and hospitable despite the differences in understanding the truth. Near the end of this passage, Paul states this in even stronger terms “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (15:7). 

Paul then states, the strong should not “quarrel over opinions” with the weak.  This does not mean he thinks justification by faith is an opinion. Instead, he is referring here to the practice of eating specific foods and observing special days.  Paul would have thought it necessary to continue instructing the weak in the gospel to help them grow in faith.  But he did not want to get side-tracked in arguing and quarrelling over non-essentials. It was not the actual practice of such things which was important; rather it was the meaning and significance such practices had for the weak.  Paul himself practiced such rituals when necessary to further the gospel (Acts 16:3; 18:18; 21:26; 1 Corinthians 9:22). 

It may be that the “weak” were new Christians who had just come to faith in Christ but had previously been pious Jews who followed the Mosaic laws. Paul’s pastoral concern was that the mature Christians in the church did not immediately impose teaching not foundational to the gospel.  Paul is taking a profoundly generous and tolerant position.  He knows the weak are incorrect in their understanding. Yet his love and concern for them is such that he would rather tolerate their misunderstanding rather than get into arguments.  However, I suspect, Paul would not have been so tolerant of church leaders.  There, he would have expected more of a proper understanding of the gospel, particularly because of their influence on their congregations.  Paul’s reaction to Peter and Barnabas is certainly a significant example (Galatians 2:11-14).

v. 2

In verse 2, Paul describes two different people: those believers who eat whatever is offered during their church fellowship meals and those who only want to be sure what they eat meets strict standards set by the Mosaic law.  The tension at these meals is clear.  One can easily imagine the judgmental looks each of these groups would give one another at the meal. The person who “believes he may eat anything” does so based on his faith. He is confident that he correctly understood the gospel’s teaching about food (Mark 7:18-19; Acts 10:11-15).

Paul then contrasts this person with “the weak person” who “eats only vegetables.” Jews and God-fearers were not against eating meat. If meat had been offered to idols, they avoided eating such meat at the fellowship meals. In this way, they were following Daniel and his friends (Daniel 1:8-16). However, Paul calls such people “weak” meaning they are weak in their understanding of the freedom the gospel has now brought them.  They had not yet fully grasped all the gospel offered them. Still, mature Christians were to welcome them and not place burdens on them and certainly not get into arguments with them.

vv. 3-4

Having identified the two groups, Paul now instructs them on how they should treat one another.  Paul views such differences as “quarrelling over opinions” (v. 1). The person who eats the meat should not “despise” the faith of the one who does not, and the one who only eats vegetables should not “pass judgment” on the one who eats meat. The word “despise” implies religious superiority. On the other hand, vegetarians should not judge the meat-eaters as violating God’s laws, thereby displeasing God. They would have thought of themselves as strong and the meat eaters as weak. The particular concern Paul has is that they were judging the strength and vitality of each other’s faith.

Paul makes this clear in verse four by answering the rhetorical question that only God has the right to judge.  Paul mainly addresses the “weak person” who is “passing judgment” on the one who eats meat. Using master-slave imagery, Paul identifies God as the “master.” However, Christians should not despise or condemn one another because God had already accepted (“welcomed”) both the strong and the weak. God’s grace and forbearance is emphasized.  As Christians, they were to do no less.

The reference to “stand or falls” refers to the final judgment of God. On that day, the believer will be “upheld” because God is the one who credits him with the righteousness of Christ.

vv. 5-6

Paul now identifies another issue of contention between the strong and weak.  Some Roman believers “esteems one day as better than another” The word “better” means the day is more sacred than other days. On the other hand, other believers “esteemed” all days the same. Although Paul does not say which day, he most likely refers to the Sabbath. Jews were very careful to observe this day because of God’s commandments in the Scriptures. Now they had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, they believed they needed to continue this practice. Paul is not so much concerned about whether this is theologically correct, although he most likely would have viewed each day the same (Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16).  Rather, Paul’s concern was whichever position one took, it was taken as a true expression of their love and faith in Christ.  They must be “fully convinced” their position is based on their desire to honour and thank Christ (v. 6). Most important was their heart’s motivation.

Paul makes this position clear in verse 6. Whatever one chooses must be done “unto the Lord” (kjv). This means it is done to honour God. And the one who “gives thanks to God” honours God. This is why Paul wants the two groups not to despise or judge one another. It is because both groups, equally, honour God in their thankfulness to him.  This is why both Jews and Christians give thanks in prayer before a meal. It is given to honour God.

vv. 7-9

Paul now expands on the motivation of the heart.  It does not matter how much one continues to follow the Mosaic law or not; what does matter is that “the whole existence of the believer, both life and death, is focused on the Lord.”[5] What matters most to Paul is that “we are the Lord’s” (v. 8). Believers who have given their lives as a “living sacrifice” to be a “spiritual service” (12:1) to the Lord are also ones who have given their death to the Lord (v. 7).  Both our life and our death belong to the Lord.

In verse 9, Paul explains why a believer has given both life and death to the Lord; it is because a Christian who is in union with Christ dies and lives in him. As Paul wrote to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

 For we know, if we have died with Christ, we also live with him (6:8). Christ’s resurrection from the dead means death no longer has power and authority over him (6:9), so too death has no authority over the believer who is in union with Christ.

Although Paul is speaking of life and death, the point he is making is there is nothing at all in a believer's life is not under Christ’s authority. This includes what we eat or do not eat. Everything must be done to the glory and honour of God. As Paul has said elsewhere:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

v. 10a

Because every aspect of a believer’s life is devoted to Christ, judging and despising a “brother” makes no sense. Rather than judging and despising one another, we should encourage and love one another as family.  Understanding and accepting a brother or sister who thinks quite differently from us is one of the most difficult things to do. But this is exactly what Paul is teaching.

vv. 10b-13a

Paul now returns to the very real problem of unity among those Christians who are expressing their freedom in Christ and those who are not yet able. It would seem from verse 10 that Paul’s assessment that they were despising and judging one another did take place. So, his focus is once again on God. Only God has the right to judge a believer’s heart (v. 4). Paul reminds both the strong or weak that they will have to give an account of themselves to Christ for how they lived their lives (2 Corinthians 5:10). To prove this point, he quotes Isaiah stating, “every knee shall bow” to God alone. And everyone will “confess” God; that is, everyone will acknowledge God as God.

This is what Paul means in verse 12 when he says, "each of us will give an account of himself to God.” We will not give an account of another person or accuse another. The phrase “give an account” means explaining why we behaved the way we did.

The conclusion of all the warnings and exhortations is given in verse 13a: “therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.” In review, Paul has provided four reasons why the strong should welcome the weak and not despise them and why the weak should not judge the strong.[6]  First, God has welcomed both the strong and the weak as his children, and so they should welcome one another. Second, only God knows the motivation of the hearts, so they should not judge or despise exterior actions done to honour God. Third, they are all one family and so should encourage rather than despise or judge one another. And finally, there is only one Judge, so it is absurd to think they can take his place.

Recall that the issues Paul addresses are a matter of “opinions” (v. 1). It is not a matter fundamental to the gospel. Therefore, it is essential to note that such issues in Christian living must not be forced on another who thinks differently. Obeying the Mosaic law was a matter of opinion. The importance is not obedience but the motivation of the heart, why one Christian obeys it and another does not. This motivation must always be to glorify God. It is possible, then, for one Christian to believe they are glorifying God by obeying the Mosaic law and another Christian to believe he is also glorifying God by not following the law.

A Christian should love both weak or strong believers (14:13b-23)

There are several things we should note while studying this passage:[7]

1.      There are things that a group of Christians believes is of utmost spiritual importance, but they are not, in themselves, important to God. What God views as important is the motivation of the heart. Christians should fully accept one another because God has fully accepted both groups, and he alone is the judge of both groups.

2.      In this passage (vv. 13b-23), the focus is on Christian love. Just as Jesus has given up his life for all believers, so must Christians lay down their freedom for those whom he died.

3.      Things in themselves are not evil.  It is people’s use of them that is sinful. The issue is whether the use of earthly things comes from faith or not.

4.      Strong believers are their brother’s keepers and so must give up their freedom to build up and maintain the faith of the weaker brother.

5.      However, Paul’s focus is entirely on mutual peace, acceptance and love between differing Christian understandings of what God desires. Interestingly, he does not urge the “weak” to progress in their spiritual understanding in order to become “strong.”

vv. 13b-16

Paul, having warned Christians to leave all judgment to God, now describes how Christians should exercise the freedom they have in Christ. He begins by stating that our freedom should not be a “stumbling block or hindrance” to a brother or sister in Christ. Paul is warning that one’s freedom may damage a weaker believer's relationship with Christ.  Paul now explains what he means by this in verses 14 and 15.

A believer, feeling his faith is despised, could compromise his belief about what is right and eat meat designated unclean by the Mosaic law. This is what is meant when he says, “your brother is grieved by what you eat.” The emotional distress is not because of a self-righteous attitude of the weaker believer but a feeling of pressure to compromise.[8]  In fact, such a compromise can amount to sin (“it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean”).[9] A strong believer may not have done this intentionally but results from expressing their contempt for the beliefs of another. Such a strong believer does not reflect Christ’s love who died on the cross for the weak (5:6).  To “despise” is an act of selfishness and not of self-sacrifice (12:1).

Paul is not saying the strong believer wrongly understood his freedom. In fact, he said he himself is “persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (v. 14). This is not just an opinion but the result of a revelation. However, he goes on to say, the freedom the strong “regard as good” (v. 16) should not be turned into evil. Because the outside world will also observe such behaviour, even non-believers will take notice and be justly critical (v. 16). This is the first of three exhortations (vv. 16, 19, 20) and is followed by a beatitude (v. 22b).

vv. 17-20a

Paul now explains why the strong should not use their freedom to harm other believers. It is all about life in the “kingdom of God” where Christ is our King over both the strong and weak. It is the kingdom as it exists in this present day within all the kingdoms of the world. It is a kingdom “of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  It is therefore not a kingdom where its citizens–brothers and sisters in Christ–despise and judge each other. What characterizes God’s family is the Spirit's work in them.  Righteousness, peace and joy all come from the Spirit; that is for those who “set the mind on the Spirit” (8:6). Paul also says in his letter to the Galatian church, we are to walk, keep in step, be led, and live by the Spirit (Galatians 6:16-26).

Earlier (chapters 1 through 8), he used the term “righteous” to mean the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer in order to be justified before God.  Here, Paul’s use of the term refers to growing and maturing in Christ-likeness (cf. 6:16, 18). So, believers are not only imputed, once and for, all Christ’s righteousness; they are also to become righteous. Justification always leads to sanctification. For a believer to set aside his freedom to benefit a brother or sister is to be like Christ. Christ himself set aside what was rightfully his to benefit us (Philippians 2:5-8).  In this way, also, the believer “serves Christ” and so will be “acceptable to God” and “approved by man.”  The term “acceptable” means to please God.

Paul’s conclusion and summary are to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” This exhortation is directed towards both the strong and the weak believer.  To live in harmony and to encourage one another applies to both.  This means the strong do not have to give up their freedom in the gospel. They do not have to be forced to accept the argument of the weaker believer. Neither do the weak need to feel that they must undermine their understanding of obedience. What is required is, each group humbly refrains from arguments (v. 1). Instead, they are to live in a way which encourages mutual Christian fellowship. In verse 20b, Paul contrasts “upbuilding” with “destroy,” which means to tear down or dismantle. The “work of God” is the work of the Spirit in the life of the weak believer.

vv. 20b-21

However, Paul wants to be clear about where he stands regarding food.  He states that “everything is indeed clean.”  This is similar to the statement he made in verse 14.  Nothing in God’s good creation is evil in itself. What is in our hearts is evil. As Jesus taught:

“And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him since it enters not his heart but his stomach and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)  What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:18-23)

However, even though this is true, it still may be the case that exercising this freedom will “make another stumble.” To “stumble” means to cause the person to be “offended or made weak in faith” (kjv). If this is so, “it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything.”  By “anything” Paul makes this command as broad as possible.

Verse 21 then summarizes the central teaching of this passage. Paul gives more detail in his letter to the Corinthian church when he writes:

Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:8-13)

vv. 22-23

When there is a disagreement between Christians, their opinions should not be grounds for quarrelling but kept between the believer and God. This does not mean Christians should not share their understanding of God’s will with one another. But it means that if there is no agreement, these different understandings should not break fellowship.  

A strong believer is “blessed” because his conscience is clear, and he has no guilt in eating meat and drinking wine. He is blessed because he fully partakes in the freedom the gospel gives him. But the believer who has “doubts” about such things and still participates in them is “condemned.” This does not only mean his conscience condemns him but he is also sinning.

Paul, in verse 23, provides the reason why it is a sin. Everything done must “proceed from faith.” This means that even though eating meat or drinking wine or anything else is not a sin, if it is done without faith, then doing so is a sin. This means that a believer who has discerned it is not God’s will to eat meat or drink wine must abstain. As Christians in this fallen world, we must live authentically in God's light without despising or judging one another.

A Christian should encourage the weak for the glory of God (15:1-6)

Paul now provides the reason why  strong and weak Christians must live in peace and mutual respect for one another; it is because such fellowship glorifies God.

vv. 1-2

Although Paul identified with the “strong” Christian, he places two “obligations” on himself and others: they must “bear” the “weakness of those without strength” (nasb), and they must not live “to please ourselves.” The word “bear” means to be considerate, but it also means compensating for another’s weakness. This is Paul’s positive exhortation. He also warns the strong not to be self-centred, discard the concerns of the weak. Christians who experience their freedom in Christ must not exploit their freedom to the detriment of those who have not fully grasped the grace given to them. Rather than using freedom for personal advantage, Jesus taught his followers to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Paul encourages the strong to “please his neighbour, to build him up.” This command refers to the second of God’s great commandments, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (13:9), which Paul earlier stated fulfilled the law (13:10). The phrase “please his neighbour” is best understood by the next phrase, “build him up” which means to edify. We edify by loving our neighbour (1 Corinthians 8:1; Ephesians 4:16), by limiting our personal freedom (1 Corinthians 10:23-24), and by avoiding idle theological speculation (1 Timothy 1:4). Although Paul is referring to edifying individual neighbours, he also includes building up the whole body in a corporate sense (1 Corinthians 14:12; Ephesians 4:12).[10] In this context, “neighbor,” refers to the weak believer.

vv. 3-4

Paul now provides the foundation for why we should please our neighbours. The reason is “Christ did not please himself” during his earthly ministry but was obedient to the will of the Father (Mark 14:36). And so we, as imitators of Christ, are to do the same (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 3:16; Philippians 2:1-11). If “even Christ” (kjv) did not please himself, how much more those who are his followers? Although Christ was by very nature God (Philippians 2:6), he did not use his infinite strength to please himself but took on himself the nature of humanity and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Christ’s love was so great that “he died for us” while “we were still weak” (5:8, 6). To underscore this truth, Paul quotes Psalm 69, which describes the unjust suffering of a righteous man. This messianic psalm predicted the sufferings of the perfectly righteous One.[11]

Paul chose verse 9 of that Psalm, “The reproaches of those who reproach you fell on me.” The word “reproach” means insults or disgrace.  One might think Paul would have mentioned the love of Christ for humanity at this point.  Instead, he quotes this verse to show Jesus’ devotion to his Father. As Schreiner states, “Jesus’s passion is the supreme example of one who forsakes his own pleasure to advance God’s honour.”[12] Christ identified so entirely with his Father that the insults and rejection intended for the Father fell on him. This was most clearly evident on the cross.  If he had tried to “please himself” he could have avoided all of this (Matthew 26:53).  Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father, only desired to please his Father, even knowing the suffering he would endure.

In quoting this Psalm, Paul expects strong believers to be like Jesus.  However, in doing so, they are not enduring the insults of the weaker Christians. Instead, by associating and accepting the weak, they open themselves to insults from their pagan neighbours and family.[13]

vv. 4-5a

Because of his quote of the Psalms, Paul reminds his readers that even though the Scriptures were written “in former days,” they were also written, “for our instruction” in the present. When Paul mentions “Scriptures,” he means the Old Testament. Although he only quotes one sentence of a single verse, he states, “whatever was written” is written for us. So it is not just individual messianic psalms pointing to Jesus but all of Old Testament Scripture. This was Jesus’ own teaching when he instructed his disciples (Luke 24:27; John 5:29; cf. Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 3:15-16).

Paul also tells us the instruction given in the Old Testament is for our “encouragement” and “endurance,” which results in “hope.” Christian hope is the joyful expectation that all the promises of God will be fulfilled. And in particular, hope focuses on the second coming of Christ. This is why Paul adds, in the next verse, God is “the God of endurance and encouragement.” So, in order to be encouraged to endure in our lives, we need to read, study and meditate on God’s word in the Old Testament Scripture. The purpose of such careful study is not academic knowledge but patience, comfort and endurance in our “hope.” It must have a practical application in the spiritual life of the believer.

There could be no more forceful statement than what Paul states in verses 4 and 5 of the Old Testament's importance for the benefit of New Testament Christians. Neglect of the Old Testament is neglect of God’s instruction to us.

vv. 5b-6 Benediction

Paul’s prayer for all the Roman Christians is that God, who gives them encouragement and endurance through Scripture, will also “grant“ them “to live in such harmony.” The question then is, what does Paul mean by “such harmony”?  The word “harmony” literally means to be like-minded. However, Paul could not mean that they all had to think the same way about everything.  There are questions of opinion in which the strong and weak differ.  Although Paul sided with the strong, he did not want the strong to convince the weak if the result was quarrelling. 

What Paul means by “harmony” is clear from the next phrase, “in accord with Christ Jesus.” Paul is not interested in unity between the Jews and Gentiles only for its own sake, but for the sake of Christ and the glory of God.  “Harmony,” therefore, means to worship in harmony.[14] Harmony means to be like-minded in the essential truths of the gospel. We are all sinners who have not yet attained the goal of reflecting God’s glory.  And while we were in this state, Christ still loved us and died for us; on the cross, he took upon himself our sin and credited his righteousness to us. And we know all this is true because the bodily resurrection of Christ is proof positive. Certainly, such harmony also benefits the believers. 

When speaking of these essentials of the gospel, both the strong and the weak must speak with “one voice.”  Christians must set aside their denominational differences and proclaim the one true gospel (Ephesians 4:4-6). Then, rather than falling short of God’s glory, we “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To glorify God is the one great purpose of a Christian and, so, is the reason for unity.[15] All people were created in the image of God; that is, to reflect his glory to others. There is no greater joy than to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Such joy in unity among believers is a foretaste of the harmony we will have in heaven and the new earth. There will be no church denominations in heaven, but we will all glorify God together with one voice:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Christian life is filled with hope, joy and peace (15:7-13)

This passage summarizes all the themes of the letter. Many commentators view it as the pinnacle of the letter.[16] Indeed, a significant concern for Paul has been the unity of Greek and Jewish Christians. Now he calls on both to accept one another for the glory of God. To live in gospel unity glorifies God, and to glorify God is the opposite of the central sin of not glorifying him (1:21). The inclusive worship of Jews and Gentiles together fulfills the promise given to Abraham, David and the prophets. God’s ultimate purpose for creating the world and the people within it is that he would be honoured and praised by them (Genesis 2:3). Therefore, such harmony among ethnic groups that were so opposed to each other fulfills his purpose. This is why Paul is not merely interested in the absence of hostilities among the Jews and Gentiles. What Paul desires is that the purpose of God in glorifying himself will be fulfilled.

v. 7

The main teaching is given in this verse (“therefore”).  We are to accept (“welcome”) one another for the glory of God (v.7a) just as Christ accepted you “for the glory of God“ (v. 7b).  This call to accept one another was first given in 14:1 at the beginning of this section on unity. 

The phrase “for the glory of God” refers to accepting one another just as Christ has accepted us. The glory of God is a prominent theme throughout the letter. In 1:21, the result, of not glorifying God as God, is a futile mind and foolish heart. And in 3:23, Paul tells us we all have fallen short of glorifying God. Then in 4:20, we first learn it is Abraham’s faith that brings glory to God. In this verse, Christ brings glory to God by accepting us; that is, his work on the cross brought salvation to both the Jews and the Gentiles. So, Paul’s whole argument in this verse is that if Christ has accepted a brother or sister, you must also.  We cannot deviate from the gospel of God, which has brought a person into fellowship with Christ. Neither should we believe we can set higher standards than God.  Furthermore, by accepting one another, even though we may have different understandings of the gospel's non-essentials, we bring glory to God.

vv. 8-9a

These two verses explain how Christ brought salvation to the Jews and the Gentiles for the glory of God. Paul says, “Christ became a servant to the circumcised.” And Christ did so “to show God’s truthfulness.” When Paul refers to Christ being a servant, he does not mean his humanity. Instead, he refers to Christ’s “divine commission to accomplish salvation.”[17] The phrase “God’s truthfulness” refers to God’s covenant faithfulness, i.e., the promises of salvation he made to Israel (3:4; 9:5; 11:28-29). This is made clear in the next clause: “in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs.”  The purpose for which Christ “has become[18] (niv, net) a servant to the Jews was on behalf of (“show”) the faithfulness (saving promises) of God to the patriarchs of Israel. The word “confirm” underscores the certainty of fulfilling these saving promises to Israel (Acts 3:23-25; Micah 7:20). Jesus himself understood he was called “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

In verse 9a, Paul states, Christ became a servant to the circumcised, which confirmed the promises of salvation to Israel, “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” So, the purpose in which Christ was a servant to the Jews also includes the Gentiles. As God’s promise to Abraham stated: it is through Israel, all the nations will be blessed (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). The fulfillment of these promises to Abraham must include the whole world and not only Israel (4:13, 9-17).  Christ’s coming as a servant to the Jews not only fulfilled the promise to the Jews but also included the fulfillment of the promise to the Gentiles.  Gentile believers, therefore, “glorify God” for his covenant faithfulness to Israel, which has resulted in the surprising and undeserved saving “mercy” to them (11:11-24).

Therefore, Paul implicitly reminds both the strong, mostly Gentile Christians that the weak, mostly Jewish Christians, were the ones to which Christ first came and are supported by a Jewish foundation: “the root that supports you” (11:18). And Paul also reminds the weak Jewish Christians that the strong Gentile Christians are full members of God’s people: they are “the wild olive shoot grafted in” (11:17).[19]

vv. 9b-12

Paul now cites three divisions of Scripture, the Law (Torah), Psalms (Writings) and Prophets, to prove (“as it is written”) that the Gentiles and Jews are both beneficiaries of the covenant blessings to Abraham.  Gentiles “glorify God for his mercy” through confessing, singing, rejoicing, praising and extolling God.[20] So, Gentiles glorify God through worship. However, Gentiles do not worship (“rejoice”) independently of Israel. This is stated clearly in Deuteronomy: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” This is the climax of God’s purpose in creation. God is glorified when Christians worship in unity. In the cultural context of this letter to the Roman church, Paul is speaking about Jews and Gentiles. But it is no less true today than it was then.  However, the principle applies to all believers in every denomination.

In the first citation, Paul quotes from the parallel verses of 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49. The context of these verses is David’s deliverance from his enemies and King Saul, who was trying to kill him. In response to his salvation, he praises God among not only his people but also the Gentiles.

The following quote is from the Torah (Deuteronomy 32:43), called the “Song of Moses.” In this song, Moses commands the Gentiles to rejoice with the Jews for the salvation God has granted Israel.

Paul next quotes from the short two verse Psalm 117. Again, the psalmist calls on “you Gentiles” and “all the people” to praise the Lord.  And so again, even in the Old Testament, it is evident, God is God of both Israel and the nations and wants all people to glorify him, for this is why he created them.

Finally, Paul chooses a verse from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 11:10). Isaiah predicted that the “root of Jesse” would come and “rule the Gentiles” and “in him will the Gentiles hope.” By quoting this verse, it is clear, Paul understood the root of Jesse to refer to Jesus. The prophecy looked forward to a day when Israel would experience a return from exile again.  This time they would not return from Egypt but the kingdom of darkness. So, the Son of God, coming as their Messiah, inaugurated this promised return. And when this promise was fulfilled, Jesus would rule over the Gentiles. That the Gentiles were now turning to Christ as their salvation fulfilled the promise that in Christ the Gentiles would place their hope. Although this promise does not exclude a future time (11:12,26), Paul believed that these promises were now being fulfilled in the present time.

v. 13

In this concluding verse, Paul focuses on the hope for both Jews and Gentiles. Harmony and unity will only occur when both Jews and Gentiles put their faith in the root of Jesse, the Lord Jesus Christ. Hope is not a human wish but a divine promise. God is the “God of hope” because he is faithful and able to fulfill all his promises to his people, including Jews and Gentiles. It is only because of this assurance that hope can fill the believer with “all joy and peace.”  This hope is “believing,” with a joyful expectation, in Christ’s second coming. All the promises of God, already begun in his first coming, will be completed. The source of this hope is the “God of hope,” and the instrument by which we receive this hope is faith (“believing”) and the means by which this hope “abounds” in the believer is “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”


Questions for Reflection

Study it

1. [14:1] Who are the “weak in faith”?  Who should “welcome” or “accept” them? In what way should they be accepted?

1. [14:3-4] What argument does Paul give for not judging?  Is this surprising?

2. [14:7] What does Paul mean when he says, believers do not live or die to themselves?

3. [14:5-9] What is the main concern in doing or not doing something?

4. [14:10-12] How do you understand Paul’s statement, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God and each one must give an account of himself?

5. [14:14] What does Paul mean by “but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean”?

6. [14:17] What is the “kingdom of God”? What characterizes it? How is this achieved?

7. [14:22] Describe the beatitude in this verse in your own words.

8. [14;23] What does “condemned” mean in this verse?

9.  [15:1-7] What is the reason a strong believer should not please himself? What does “please himself” mean? What glorifies God?

Live it

1. Who are the weak in faith in your church?  Do you identify with the weak or the strong?  Why?  Is it possible we are weak in some areas of our faith and strong in others?

2. Identify a list of beliefs you think are “weak” today? Would you believe these are fundamental to the faith or simply “opinions”? What does “quarrelling” mean? Does it mean there can be no disagreement?

3. Does it surprise you Paul does not try to convince the “weak” to believe as he does but says we would just accept one another?

4. Why is it so easy to despise or judge someone with whom you have theological disagreements?

5. What is the purpose for which you were born?  Are you living up to this purpose?

6. What does “hope” mean in your life?  Do you have “all joy and peace” in your faith?

[1] It is worth noting, Paul does not actually identify each group by their ethnic origin. However, terms and phrases such as “considering one day more sacred than another” and “clean” and “unclean” strongly suggest he is referring to Jews and Gentiles.  Because Paul did not explicitly identify the “strong” and the “weak,” commentators have proposed other groups.  Given the cultural diversity in the Roman churches, and Paul having already addressed Jewish and Gentile unity throughout his letter, it is more likely he is addressing Jewish and Gentile believers.

[2] Stott, 358.

[3] These meals continued to be part of the church community until the beginning of the 2nd century.  However, by a.d. 150 there is no longer any mention of such agape meals.  Of course, the Lord’s Supper continued to be an essential aspect of their worship.

[4] Thielman, 629.

[5] Thielman, 633.

[6] Stott, 364.

[7] Utley, Romans 14:12-23.

[8] Moo, Letter to the Romans, 854.

[9] This does not mean, just thinking something is good or evil makes it so. There are things which are good or evil no matter what we think.

[10] Utley, Volume 5, Romans 15:2.

[11] Other portions of Psalm 69 are also frequently quoted and attributed to Jesus (Matthew 27:34, 48; Mark 15:23, 36; Luke 23:36; John 2:17; 15:25; 19:28; Acts 1:20).

[12] Schreiner, Romans, 722.

[13] Beale and Carson, 686.

[14] Schreiner, Romans, 724.

[15] This does not mean we need to give up what we believe or how we interpret various teachings of Jesus and Paul differently. But we must understand what is essential to the gospel and what is not. For example, although understanding the correct mode and method of baptism is important, it is not essential to the gospel. Such differences should not break fellowship among believers.

[16] Schreiner, Romans, 726.

[17] Schreiner, Romans, 728.

[18] The perfect tense is used in the verb “become” implying that Christ’s ministry continues even now to the Jews (Moo, Letter to the Romans, 894).

[19] Moo, Letter to the Romans, 893.

[20] Three different Greek words are used for glorifying God through praise in these Old Testament citations.