I’ve referred to this before, (as James Clear wrote) that "Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits” and so forth. Likewise a church’s (shared) peace is a lagging measure of each member’s habits of dying to bring life. Peace is a hard thing to pursue directly, but it is impossible to achieve without wanting it.
I also like to remind us every once in a while that we always do what we *most* want to do. We might have multiple wants, and some of those wants compete or even conflict with each other. But the strongest want will win.
Christians can tell what they want most, in the main, by what they have (their possessions are a lagging measure of their pursuits). It’s a decent mirror, regularly not flattering. Christians who want to look good more than do good will probably get what they want. Christians who want to be right more than anything will get that reputation; they’ll be known for their want (probably more than actual wisdom). Christians who want to be left alone will make little effort to the opposite. Christians who fight for their Christian liberty will at least think that the bruises are a result of them fighting the good fight, though the good is debatable. And, Christians who want other members to be blessed will try to build them up and “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
Sola fide in Romans 3 might be easier to understand and practice than this application for those who are saved by grace in Christ in Romans 14. Submitting to the truths of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9 requires less sacrifice than this application for those who are serving for the glory of God alone in Romans 14.
There are a few better-thans in verses 19-23. I actually think that it’s possible to see the connections/divisions in Paul’s thought better than what read in our verse divisions, and even the paragraph division. Verse 19 ends the previous paragraph in the ESV, I think it makes a better lead-off statement for the final paragraph. Wherever it’s better to put the tab-space, we’re going to cover it, and see three points.
# Building Up Is Better Than Tearing Down (verses 19-20a)
In the kingdom of God, righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit have precedence. We should show this precedence in what we pursue.
> 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. (Romans 14:19-20a ESV)
The contrast is between building up and tearing down, as with walls. Christians will construct or destruct *their own structure*.
**So then** swings from verses 13-18, if not from 1-13. We’re to judge/decide never to stumble or trap or destroy a brother when it comes to disputable things (especially as the weak have convictions/opinions about things without a verse and turn their preference into a “THIS ONLY IS RIGHTEOUS!”). Here’s what we should do. “We should pursue the (things) of peace and the (things) of one-another building.” Note that peace is not the direct object. But peace has “things” that go with it, **what makes for** peace. So with **upbuilding**, a word that describes actual house-building (οἰκοδομή), the structure from construction, and so spiritually here as desiring the strengthening, the edifying, of our fellow house members. We are one body, we are one house.
**Pursue** the peace and edification things. Chase, seek, strive for. *WANT IT*. Every believer’s “aim should be to help one another rather than to criticize or despise” (Morris).
And so we’re prohibited from working against God. God is strengthening, and we are not to **destroy** or “tear down” (NASB) or do demolition when it comes to disputable things, like **food**. This is a broad word for eaten things, while meat and wine are mentioned explicitly in the next verse.
**The work of God** is either your brother himself, or the household of brothers, a.k.a., the body, the church.
# Fellowship Is Better Than Flaunting (verses 20b-22a)
We’re reminded of the hierarchy of rights.
> 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. (Romans 14:20b-22a ESV)
In verse 14 Paul said “nothing is unclean in itself,” and in the middle of verse 20 he says, on the one hand, “all things (are) pure.” But there is another hand, and it’s the hand that ranks higher. There is **clean**/pure=καθαρὰ, but it is κακὸν=evil/**wrong** to eat and make a mess for your brother.
καλὸν=**good**/right **not to eat meat or drink wine**, which refers to alcohol for the first time specifically in the chapter. But just as Paul said, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), so he says *don’t* eat or *don’t* drink or *don’t* do whatever would cause your brother to fall.
The first sentence in verse 22 belongs with this instruction, and is important for any number of things it does *not* mean.
To **keep (your faith) between yourself and God** does not mean that faith is private or personal, as modern men often speak, as if faith could be separated from public or secular choices. Meat and wine are daily dinner stuff, or even potluck party stuff. “Keep ” (ESV) makes it sound quiet, but “have your own conviction before God” (NASB) means you are ready to give an account of yourself to God (verse 12). This is another way to say be fully convinced in your mind (verse 5), an introduction to doing what we do with a clear conscience (next in verse 22).
Not eating meat or drinking wine doesn’t mean a once-and-for-all transition to vegetarian or tea-totaler. It doesn’t mean never eating in the privacy of your home. This whole chapter assumes discussion about disagreements. We only know that a brother is upset when there’s discussion; we cannot read his thoughts. In that discussion, following Paul’s example, we look at the truth, that “nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4), *and* that not all can be thankful for it *yet*, and so we don’t need to flaunt it.
Both the stronger and weaker brothers have temptations, but they are to remember that 1) God has welcomed the brother, 2) we live and die as the Lord’s, 3) we will give an account to God, and 4) we ought to want blessing for our brother. Fellowship is better than rubbing our preferences in a brother’s face.
# Blessed Is Better Than Condemned (verses 22b-23)
We will eat, but not all will eat blessing.
> 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. (Romans 14:22b-23 ESV)
The two people: “the one not judging himself by what he’s approved,” and “the one doubting what he’s (functionally approved by) eating.” One is **blessed**, one is **condemned**.
Don’t go against your conscience, and, seek to inform your conscience with what is right. (See also Ecclesiastes 9:7.)
**All which (is) not from faith is sin.** From faith to faith is a big deal (starting from Romans 1:17). Decisions and fellowship must not be driven by fear or guilt. A church eating and drinking but not by faith is pagan/worldly. A church not eating and drinking in the name of faith but really out of anxiety is weak. A church ripping each other’s decisions to shreds cannot say it’s by faith.
We can work it out or get offended. We can work it out or stay immature. We can work it out or always be finding a new group of people to blame; church hop to shift blame. Pursuing peace is more than leaving others alone, and building them up in blessing is a *habit* to *pursue*.
Food is better and blessed with faith. Fellowship is better and blessed by faith.
Living by faith is the *only* way of salvation, the only way to have a clear conscience, the only way to please God, the only way of righteousness, the only way of recognizing that all are yours, and the only way of *fellowship*, at least for now. May the Lord make us strong in faith and blessed with peace and full of jealousable joy as His spiritual house.
When David fled from Saul and lived in the land ruled by Achish/Ambimelech, and acted insane and let spittle run down his beard to show that there was no reason for Achish to fear him, he had good reason to think about the man who desires life and wants to see good. Such a man would “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).
So, Christian, in these days of great insanity, you must seek and strive for the things of peace and the things that build up your brothers.
> The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV)