There are three kinds of *right* in this paragraph. There is the kind of right that is not wrong, the kind of right that is a liberty, and the kind of right that is relational. With these three rights you can think something correctly, do something freely, enjoy something supremely. It’s great when all three line up together, but when they can’t, there is a *right* right, a highest right, a ranked right. As there is a holy of holies, so there is a right of rights.
Paul continues his instructions about *disputable things* into the second half of Romans 14, and doesn’t finish until well into chapter 15. It’s a chapter and a half of instructions about loving our neighbor-brother, a thing that is of utmost importance and also of utmost difficulty. As disappointing as that is, it’s no surprise that our enemy would love nothing more than to attack at key fronts. The evil one hates nothing more than our joyful fellowship with each other.
What is right and true is that all are yours. What is right and liberty is that you can enjoy, by faith in Christ, all that is yours. And what is right and relational is that your brother is among the all, fellowship with your brother is above the all. All are yours to enjoy, or to enjoy *not* enjoying, if that makes life with your brother better. Your brother is yours more than barbecue is yours. When we put barbecue over brother we’re burning the wrong ends. It’s possible to miss the right of rights in the name of lesser rights.
We’ve seen it already in verses 1-12. We are judgment-making creatures, and one of the most important judgments we can make is to stop judging our brothers over disputable things. Judgment cuts two ways. The strong, referring to those who see and eat more freely by faith, judge-despise those who abstain (verse 3), and the weak, referring to those with more strict rules about what’s right, judge-condemn those who partake (also verse 3). We’re supposed to be convinced about what we do or don’t (verse 5), and we’re supposed to be honoring the Lord and thanking God in what we do or don’t (verse 6). All are ours, and we are the Lord’s (verse 8).
Sanctification is a process of learning to love righteousness more than sin, which includes learning to love all the gifts and blessings that make us jealousable, and that involves learning that fellowship with the brothers trumps personal convenience/preference. We’ve been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13), in whom we have righteousness and fellowship between saints. We ought not live like we’re still in the old kingdom, the kingdom of the world, where self-serving and distance and despising others is the way.
There is the right requirement in verse 13, the right principle in verse 14, the right explanation in verse 15, the right conclusion in verse 16, and the right precedence in verses 17-18.
# The Right Requirement (verse 13)
Here’s more required response about judging.
> 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. (Romans 14:13 ESV)
Paul uses the same word negatively (**pass judgment**) and positively (**decide**) in both halves of this sentence. I think it’s less word play and more to show that it’s the application of judging that is good or bad, not the action of judging itself. We judge, but what and by what do we judge?
We should **not pass judgment** on a brother, but we should **[judge] never to put a stumbling block** before a brother. This sequence adds to the requirements in verses 1-13. In that section we were to judge with right thinking about our brother, here we’re to judge that we could hurt our brother by doing what is technically right.
A **stumbling block** and a **hindrance** share the quality of making difficult or even causing pain. One includes the idea of offending, the other of trapping. “Hindrance” is especially a weak translation compared to “occasion to fall” (KJV) or “pitfall” (HCSB), a thing that could entice one to sin.
How might we make it more difficult for a brother? Not just by despising him, though that’s not right. We can make things more difficult for a brother by exercising lesser rights as if they were the highest right.
# The Right Principle (verse 14)
Only one English translation actually uses brackets around verse 14 (the HCSB), but the idea is what we might think of as kind of an inline footnote.
> 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. (Romans 14:14 ESV)
Because Jesus is Lord, and because we are in Him, all are ours (see 1 Corinthians 3:21-22). It’s hard to imagine a more emphatic way for Paul to put it. All the days, all the meats, all the wine, all the liberties are his, are ours (All the fulness-Psalm 24:1, the meat on a thousand hills-Psalm 50:10). The **unclean** terminology is basically “common,” as opposed to the sacred.
The weaker brother thinks more things are unclean than are truly unclean. There’s great similarity in what Paul told the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 8. Whether or not the Roman Christians were struggling with the morality of meat offered to idols, the stronger-freer consciences relating to the weaker-encumbered consciences *is* the same. The true-right is that **nothing is unclean in itself**, clean/unclean isn’t a built-in of material things. So prohibition is not Paul’s principle. The liberty-right is to enjoy more, but the fact that not all see these first two right principles requires more.
# The Right Explanation (verse 15)
With the parenthesis out of the way, Paul explains more about the requirement.
> 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. (Romans 14:15 ESV)
The strong can **grieve** and **destroy** the weak (as can the weak grieve the strong, but that’s not the primary burden here). Giving grief that isn’t good is not only bad, it’s the opposite of loving one’s neighbor and it’s incompatible with the loving sacrifice of Christ. The atonement of Christ brings forgiveness and blessing and life, and to work against that works against the very purpose of the cross.
The grief/destruction isn’t loss of salvation, but loss of thanks and joy in going against what faith allows.
As I said, this is mostly aimed at the strong, But, can you see application for the weak? When the weak *claim* grief and hurt, when the weak use these claims to control, they are likewise grieving (with extra rules) and destroying (joy and liberty). Grief charges become weapons, and grievance mongers/victims are making a killing in our culture.
# The Right Conclusion (verse 16)
You’re fully convinced that all are yours and that all is good, but depending on how you hold it, you can make it look bad.
> So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. (Romans 14:16 ESV)
Don’t let “your the good” be blasphemed. You’re convinced about a good gift, and it causes someone else great grief. You give thanks for it (see verse 6), they bad mouth it. You can’t guarantee that someone won’t slander you. We’re blessed when we’re truly slandered, that is, when it’s a real lie. But we’re still in brother-with-one-another context, still in community fellowship, and there’s a way to love what you love—even when the “what” is right—and the other person is *right* to have nothing good to say about the “good.”
# The Right Precedence (verses 17-18)
Here’s another explanation for why we should recognize the right of fights based on the kind of subculture we live in.
> 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. (Romans 14:17–18 ESV)
The **kingdom of God** is the rule of God (mentioned only here in Romans). What are the keys to the kingdom? What has precedence in this kingdom? It is *not* externals *first*. This does not fulfill all the kingdom promises, but we are living differently in God’s rule now than will be when His kingdom is on earth as it is in heaven (which we pray to come!). In the meantime, the fellows who share the kingdom should share a fellowship.
In this kingdom**righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit** have precedence. All of these are relational issues, and in this context we’re talking about *horizontal*/one-anothers and not vertical/Lord-servant issues.
This is right/**acceptable** in the sight of God, as it is right/**approved** in the sight of men. Pleasing ourselves is *not* to be the precedence (see Romans 15:1, 3).
Nothing in this paragraph is a discouragement against conversation, or teaching, *toward the better right of broad reception*. Don’t forget Paul’s parenthetical principle in verse 14. Keep in mind that disagreeing is not despising, and sharpening by a brother is not necessarily the brother condescending. Paul is not shutting down conversation, but he is shutting down condescension. Be patient, be kind, clothe yourselves with humility, grow up, give more thanks.
Watch when you are eager for a fight. The strong are not strong because they have liberty not to love, their strength is what enables more liberty in how they love. Let’s pursue peace and building up one another (verse 19), living from faith to faith (verse 23).
Christian, at present you live in two cities, two kingdoms, the city of man and the kingdom of God. You will show which kingdom you value most by which kingdom’s gold you treasure most. Pursue *righteousness* and *peace* and *joy* in the Holy Spirit to build up and bless your brothers.
> So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, ESV)