Index by Subject

Romans 14 and Fellowship With Sin

Unity of the Spirit VS Unity in Diversity

Outline of Lesson, December 5, 1998
Forest Hills church of Christ

AN ANALYTICAL EXEGESIS OF ROMANS 14:1-15:7

The grace of God, through revelation, has supplied Divine wisdom by which the people of God are brought to maturity (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 4:13-16). We are not to be as children, continually tossed as in stormy seas, by every “wind of doctrine.” We are to “grow up” in Christ, reaching a “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (vv. 13, 15). This grace of God teaches us how we ought to behave in the house of God (Tit. 2:11-12; 1 Tim. 3:15).

Consequently, we learn from the scriptures about things commanded and things forbidden; of things right and things wrong; of the “doctrine of Christ” in which we are to abide (2 John 9-11). In those areas of things required or forbidden, we learn obedience and submission (Heb. 5:8-9). To find unity, we strive to “speak the same things, have no division among us…but be joined perfectly in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). It is a joy when peace, harmony, and spiritual fellowship is realized from our efforts. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psa. 133:1).

To accomplish this unity, we study, debate and at times, draw lines of fellowship against those who “go beyond and abide not in the doctrine of Christ.” No apologies are offered for limiting our fellowship to those whom we understand to be in fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-10). Since our God is “light,” we willingly pay the price of our convictions in a separation from those who “walk in darkness” (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

Yet there is sorrow in division, loss in separation, and pain in parting from our brethren with whom we differ. No one of sanity and reason will prematurely divide the body of Christ (1 Cor. 3:16-17). However true it is that our convictions lead us to sever brotherly ties when truth seems to demand it, nothing less than necessity should motivate us to rend the fabric of fellowship. Certainly, we should never do so over personal judgments, opinions or speculative theories, however much we may hold such matters in our esteem.

Yet, some brethren are willing to do exactly that: draw lines of fellowship more narrow than God, excluding those whom Christ would admit to his fellowship. Sectarian zeal, however noble in their own minds, is exercised against fellow Christians who do not have the same judgments, do not share the same opinions. As the Judaizing teachers of apostolic times, they make laws where God has not, making their view the test of fellowship (Acts 15:1). Their sin is that of binding where God has not bound (Matt. 16:19). In their haste to obey God, they destroy the right of “liberty” for their brethren in the area of things neither commanded nor forbidden, but allowed.

Liberty Permits Different Judgments

The scriptures clearly teach that there is a realm of liberty in which brethren may differ and yet be acceptable to God and to their brethren. Often misunderstood, liberty is restricted by some through overzealous creed-making, while liberty becomes license to others who see in liberty occasions to sin (Gal. 2:4, 13). If we avoid either extreme, liberty permits each of us to act or not act (depending on expediences) in areas that are lawful but not required. It should be clear that liberty is permitted only within areas that are authorized, never in that which is unlawful or forbidden. Many are aware of the frightful danger of creed-making so as to violate the freedom which God permits. We have ample evidence of this from the days of Judaizing teachers who attempted to destroy the liberty of the Gentile brethren regarding the law of Moses.

However, we may not be as aware of the reverse danger of using liberty as a license to sin, loosing where God has not loosed. This is accomplished as principles which allow authorized liberties are applied to sinful doctrine and practices, sin treated as an option. When an unlawful practice takes the form of a liberty, sinful action becomes attractive and permissible. The Christian Church was guilty of that as they applied “expediency” to the use of instruments, claiming liberty for an unauthorized practice. Liberals did that when they advocated the sponsoring church arrangement as a “judgment” or “method,” not recognizing the sinfulness of centralized control. In current times, fellowship regarding adulterous marriages is advocated, citing principles of liberty (Romans 14) though adulterous marriages are sinful, loosing where God has not loosed. The end result of all these perversions of liberty is that of accepting sinful doctrines and practices into fellowship under the guise of liberty. But sin can never be practiced with impunity, escaping the wrath of God (Rom. 6:23).

Liberty Emanates From Authority

Before liberty may be claimed for a doctrine or practice, it must first be shown to be authorized (1 Cor. 6:12). Some confusion arose in the first century because some actions, previously required or forbidden under the law of Moses, were “loosed,” thus permitting choice in things earlier commanded (Matt. 16:19). One example is that of circumcision, required under Moses, but loosed under the New Covenant (Lev. 12:13; Rom. 2:29; 1 Cor. 7:18-19; Gal. 5:6). Circumcision was allowed (neither commanded nor forbidden), therefore a matter of liberty to men and a matter of indifference to God. One was neither better nor worse before God whether he practiced circumcision or did not. The creed-makers sought to bind where God had not bound, thus turning liberty into obligation. Those seeking license for sin would compare a sinful doctrine or practice to the liberty regarding circumcision, claiming authority for sin.

This area of liberty extended to many Jewish practices which, under the law, had been forbidden or required, but under the law of Christ, became expedients, options, liberties. With this understanding, Paul could travel among Jews and Gentiles without offense or hypocrisy, preaching the gospel (1 Cor. 9:20-23). With practices peculiar to Jews (observing the Sabbath, eating unclean meats, etc.), Paul acted as a Jew. With practices peculiar to Gentiles (not observing the Sabbath, eating unclean meats), Paul acted as a Gentile. God’s indifference to these matters allowed liberty of action. At no time did Paul confuse matters of liberty with sinful practices. He was never guilty of extending the principles of liberty to cover sin.

It is a violation of truth to bind where God has not bound, to require obedience in matters about which God is indifferent, to forbid options where choice is permitted. Consequently, Paul did not allow over-zealous Judaizing teachers to take away his privileges in Christ (Gal. 2:4-5; 5:1, 13). As with any liberty, one may choose to practice or not practice, so long as the liberty does not become a stumblingblock to others (1 Cor. 8:9; 10:29).

It is likewise a violation of truth to loose where God has not loosed, to cover sinful doctrines and practices with the canopy of liberty, to suggest equality before God for sinful matters as though they are authorized.

Both extremes are deadly enemies of fellowship and have a history of destruction among the people of God. But liberty itself, based upon authorized expediences, is necessary to fellowship and must be understood and applied to avoid either splintering because of creeds, on one hand, and allowing sin to invade the purity of the church, on the other.

Romans 14-15: The Basis of Liberty

Our text to be analyzed, Romans 14:1-15:7, beautifully sets forth the parameters of our liberties in Christ. Counter-balancing between the tendency to bind where God has not bound and giving license to sin, this passage advocates fellowship through the respect of each brother’s liberties. Without the truth of these verses, Christians will be hopelessly splintered in as many pieces as there are opinions or else be invaded by sinful doctrine and practices.

The sufficiency of God’s revelation clearly defines what is required and forbidden (2 John 9-11; Jude 3). In these areas we have no choice but to obey. But the sufficient revelation also establishes the category of things allowed, also known as authorized liberties, options and expediencies, matters of indifference to God. Here, we may allow differences among brethren without compromising any principle of truth.

The early preachers in America recognized this as they sought to restore pure religion in their generation. Their cry was, “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, charity.” I can find no fault with this sentiment. It seems eminently scriptural.

Let us determine to study our text so as to be edified in the faith, ready to allow our brethren the privilege of expediences without violating the doctrine of Christ.

Romans 14:1-15:7 – Text and Context

I. Contextual Considerations

A. Any passage, to be properly understood, must agree with the context in which it is situated. It is axiomatic that a text which violates its context absolutely prohibits correct perception of the truth being conveyed. “It would be as well to take a description of some part of Asia and apply it to the United States, as to employ the language of any of the writers of the Scriptures to a subject other than that which was in his mind at the time when the words and sentences under consideration were employed. The work of the exegete is to bring out the meaning of the writing, which must be the meaning the author intended to put into it” (Hermeneutics, D. R. Dungan, p. 173).
B. Context refers to:

1. Actual text – the verses under consideration.
2. Immediate Context – the passages preceding and succeeding the textual verses being considered.
3. Remote Context – the Biblical harmony of the whole with its parts (John 16:13; 1 Cor. 13:8-10, “truth in all its parts,” Jude 3; James 2:10). Of this, Dungan remarks (in Rule 3), “Let it be remembered that no doctrine can be true if it is opposed to any clear statement of the Word of God….But if the exegetes had been taught that the word of God harmonizes with itself, and must never be interpreted as to bring its statements into collision, this work of fighting Scripture with Scripture would have been discontinued long ago” (ibid, p. 179-180).

C. Examples of violation of context:

1. Calvinists and Eph. 2:8,9
2. Catholics and Matt. 16:19
3. Mormons and Ezek. 37:16
4. Premillennialists and Rev. 20
5. Advocates of adulterous marriages and Deut. 24; Mt. 5
6. Fellowship with Sin and Romans 14

D. Contextual Considerations of Romans 14-15

1. Immediate Context

a. Preceding passages – Rom. 13:11-14

(1) “Cast off works of darkness” – v. 12
(2) “Walk becomingly..not in reveling….” – v. 13
(3) “Make no provision for the flesh” – v. 14
(4) Moral sin condemned, along with strife
(5) This context prohibits 14:1ff from teaching the very thing the context condemns – fellowship with moral sin.

b. Succeeding passages – Rom. 16:17-19

(1) “Mark those that are causing division and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine…” – v. 17
(2) “By..fair speech they beguile” – v. 18
(3) Doctrinal sin condemned.
(4) This context prohibits 14:1ff from teaching the very thing the text condemns – fellowship with doctrinal sin.

2. Remote Context – the Biblical harmony of the whole with its parts (James 2:10).

a. Moral sin condemned

(1) Gal. 5:19-21 – works of flesh
(2) Col. 3:5-11 – “put to death” our earthly members
(3) Eph. 5:3-14 – reprove unfruitful works of darkness

b. Doctrinal sin condemned

(1) 2 John 9-11 – not go beyond doctrine of Christ
(2) 1 Tim. 1:3 – not to teach another doctrine
(3) Gal. 1:6-9 – not to teach another gospel
(4) Tit. 3:9-11 – reject heretics

c. No fellowship with sin allowed

(1) 2 Cor. 6:14 – it is an unequal yoking
(2) Eph. 5:11 – have no fellowship, rather reprove

3. Thus, it is incongruous for the text (14:1-15:7) to be used to advocate fellowship with sinful doctrines and sinful practices since it would be a violation of Biblical harmony of the whole for its parts to teach a contrary (and colliding) interpretation.

II. Textual Considerations

A. “Doubtful Disputations” (KJV)

1. “Arguing over scruples” (Phillips)
2. Decisions: diakrisis (Gk) – “A distinguishing, and so a decision…” “…in Rom. 14:1,`not to (doubtful) disputations’ is more literally rendered in the margin `not for decisions (of doubts)’” (Vine, p. 281).
3. Diakrisis (Gk) – “a distinguishing, discerning, judging” (Thayer, p. 139).
4. Doubtful – dialogismos (Gk), “the thinking of a man deliberating with himself; hence 1. a thought, inward reasoning” (Thayer, p. 139).
5. Thus, our “receiving” a brother into fellowship is not conditioned upon an agreement or forced decisions concerning all his internal doubts. Brethren may worship together even when they disagree in matters about which God is indifferent (1 Cor. 8:8). A weak brother may have personal, inward doubts about authorized liberties that a strong brother may practice, but fellowship is not restricted because of this disagreement. Obviously this “agreeing to disagree” does not involve sinful doctrines and practices but with things inherently “clean,” “good,” and “pure” (vv. 14, 16, 20).
6. With “doubtful things,” of this nature, fellowship includes acceptance of the actions in question without the necessity of change, without debating or questioning, without the threat of discipline. “Disputes” are forbidden concerning these things. There must be no “contention,” as is necessary about doctrinal matters (Jude 3). There must be no judging. Clearly, these instructions apply to matters of liberty, but could never apply to sinful matters condemned by God.
7. All fellowship in “doubtful things” is founded upon the fact that “God hath received him” in innocent (“good,” “clean,” “pure”) practices. The brother is in fellowship with God therefore the brethren must receive him.

B. Categories under consideration: Meats and Days (and things of like category) are “authorized liberties,” those doctrines and practices that are neither sinful nor condemned, but allowed. Since “authorized liberties” permit options, the practice or non-practice by saints is a matter of indifference to God.

1. Rom. 14:1 defines “doubtful disputations” as options.
2. 1 Cor. 8:9 (a parallel passage) defines options as “liberties.” This is a Biblical definition.
3. 1 Cor. 10:23 defines options as “lawful,” and “expedients.”
4. Thus, the “doubtful disputations” under consideration are matters of “authorized liberties,” practices that cannot be sinful or condemned, but are allowed.
5. “Meats,” “days” and “wine” are not just randomly selected examples of liberties.
6. The theme of Romans is “Justification by Faith” (ch. 1-11), with special relationships of Jews to Christ (ch. 9-11) in view of Gentile salvation. Thus, controverted items are items that exemplify the theme – justification by faith as it relates to the Jew/Gentile problem. “Meats,” “days” and “wine” were problems created by the integration of the two races in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). What had previously been bound to Jews was now loosed in Christ. What had previously been a sinful practice among Gentiles (eating meat which had been sacrificed to an idol) no longer mattered in Christ. This was the truth of the gospel, but “there is not in all men that knowledge” (1 Cor.8:7).
7. Romans 14 addressed the liberty in Christ of both Jew and Gentile, which some wanted to limit. The weak brother wanted to bind where God no longer bound and Paul instructed him to stop doing so. The strong brother was told not to flaunt his knowledge. Neither brother sinned in the matters before them unless they wanted to bind where God had not bound. But there was no inherent sin in the practice or non-practice of meats, days, or wine (in that context). The use of wine should not be interpreted as social drinking. The use of wine (or grape juice) either taken from Jewish religious services or from Gentile vineyards blessed by pagan priests was as good, pure and clean as was the meat and days. It would violate the context to apply social drinking practices to the principles of Romans 14: they are not good, pure and clean.

C. Brethren Under Consideration – The Strong and The Weak

1. The Strong Brother (15:1)

a. He was the “taught” brother (14:2, 14, 23; 1 Cor. 8:1-7; 1 Tim. 4:1-5). He knew what had been revealed about meats and days.
b. He knew their proper relation to God (1 Cor. 8:8; Col. 2:16).
c. He knew that an idol was nothing (1 Cor. 8:4).
d. He was able to practice eating and observing.
e. He did it to the Lord, giving thanks (14:6).
f. He was convinced in his own mind (v. 5).
g. He was warned not to be puffed up in his knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1ff).
h. He was tempted to “set at nought” the weak brother (14:3, 10).
i. He was warned not to cause his brother to stumble (14:21; 1 Cor. 8:9-13; 10:32).
j. He was innocent before God when he ate meats and observed days. No sin attached to his actions.

2. The Weak Brother (14:1; 15:1)

a. The “untaught” brother (1 Cor. 8:1-7).
b. He did not understand what had been revealed.
c. He did not know their proper relation to God.
d. He feared that observance would commend idols.
e. His refusal was “to the Lord” (14:6).
f. He was convinced in his own mind (v. 5).
g. He was innocent before God when he did not eat meat or observe days.
h. “Weak in faith” did not mean a lack of zeal for he was ready to contend for his position.
i. But he was commanded to stop contending.
j. He was “weak in faith” in that “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17) and he did not have the proper knowledge to have the personal faith he should have had.
k. He was “judging” the strong brother to be sinful when he was not and was commanded to stop such judging (14:3, 10, 13).
l. His lack of knowledge did not turn a lawful act into an unlawful act.
m. He was warned not to violate his own conscience (14:23; 1 Cor. 8:10).

3. Their Relation to Each Other

a. Both were brethren, received by God (14:3; 15:7).
b. Both were innocent of any wrongdoing in the practice or non-practice of “meats” or “days.”
c. Both were to extend fellowship to the other.
d. The strong was not to set at nought the weak nor act so as to cast a stumblingblock before him.
e. The weak was not to judge the strong as sinful but to be careful not to violate his own conscience.
f. They were to act toward each other so as to “make for peace” (14:19), not division.

4. Their relationship to Meat and Days

a. Both practices were “good,” “clean,” and “pure.”
b. They were to consider them as “authorized liberties” (1 Cor. 8:9; 10:23) to men and “matters of indifference” to God (1 Cor. 8:8; Col. 2:16).
c. Nothing in the text indicated that either practice was inherently sinful. There was no violation of God’s will in eating meats and observing days.
d. Neither brother was practicing sin.
e. Neither brother had to change his practice.
f. Both brethren could continue his practice or non-practice and still be in fellowship with each other and with God, being made to “stand” (v. 10) before God.
g. If the weak came to understand about meats and days, and still could not participate due to life-long custom, he must not agitate about it.
h. Each must be “fully assured” as to their practice. This would not be possible if the practice under consideration was sinful.

5. If Romans 14 authorizes sinful practices, as some contend, it makes havoc of the context. Please note:

a. The strong brother is the one who actively participates in the eating of meats.
b. The weak brother is the one unable to actively participate because he believes it to be sinful.
c. If “eating meats” is sinful, this view requires that the strong be the sinner and the weak be the one refusing to sin.
d. Let’s try that on other sinful practices, such as social drinking, adultery, gambling, etc.
e. The strong brother is the one who can practice social drinking, engage in adultery and gambling!
f. The weak brother is the one who cannot practice social drinking, adultery and gambling.
g. But note in 15:1 that Paul lists himself as among the strong brethren.
h. Therefore Paul could engage in social drinking, adultery and gambling!
i. But the context of Romans 14 is that both the strong brother and the weak brother are accepted by God.
j. Therefore it is equally right before God to drink or not drink, commit adultery or not commit adultery, gamble or not gamble!

6. Someone has said, “A text without a context is a pretext.” Surely we can see that inclusion of sinful doctrines into the text of Romans 14 makes a pretext of the truth and makes Paul a defender of gross immorality as well as a practitioner of the very things condemned in chapters 13 and 16.

D. “But the `weak brother’ had a conviction that eating meats was sinful, so to him it was sinful. Therefore we must allow fellowship in sinful matters.”

1. Again, it is a violation of text and context to put sinful matters into the chapter.
2. The instruction to the weak brother was that he must stop labeling a practice sinful when it is not!
3. Is God indifferent to sin? Is sin ever called “authorized liberties?”
4. The fact that a “weak” (untaught) brother believed a practice to be sin did not make it sinful! Regardless of what the weak brother thought, Paul said the practices were “clean,” “good,” and “pure” (vv. 14, 16, 20).
5. The passage was written to correct this error in the weak brother, just as it was written to guide the strong brother in his treatment of the weak.
6. In the light of revelation about meats, etc., could the weak brother continue to label meats as sinful? No! He might have scruples against eating, but he could no longer call it sinful. Could he continue to “judge” his brother? No! Could he continue to abstain from eating? Yes.
7. Admittedly, the practice was not a matter of indifference to the weak brother, but it was a matter of indifference to God. Paul was instructing the weak brother to view meats as God viewed them.
8. We are asked by some to name a single item of controversy about which some brother does not think it is a sin to practice. But was the weak brother told to go ahead and fellowship sin? No, he was told that he was wrong and that the practice was not sinful. That was why fellowship was possible!

a. Are we told anywhere in the Bible to fellowship sin? No! When a brother mistakenly believes a practice to be sinful, he must be taught what is revealed about it. This would apply equally well to the “covering” question and carnal warfare.
b. The “doubts” of a weak brother do not change liberties into sinful matters.
c. He must be able to prove by “book, chapter and verse” that a thing is a matter of “the faith” (Jude 3) before he can “contend” about it.
d. If one believes the covering to be a matter of “the faith,” he must prove it from 1 Cor. 11, not from Romans 14.
e. If one believes carnal warfare to be a matter of “the faith,” he must prove it from Romans 13, not Romans 14.
f. We understand that with the “one container” brethren and the “no class” brethren.

(1) They believe multiple containers and Bible classes to be sinful, but they cannot prove it from the scriptures.
(2) Thus, we recognize these as “liberties” even though they maintain them to be sinful.
(3) They “bind” where God has not bound and we have no fellowship with them on the basis of Gal. 2:4-5.

g. Unless those who believe in artificial coverings can prove their practice from the scripture, they cannot bind it. We know it to be a matter of liberty and are willing to continue in fellowship on it so long as it is not bound.
h. If some believe the covering to be bound (a matter of law) and are willing to place it in Romans 14, they are inconsistent since the context does not discuss matters that are “bound.”
i. To be consistent, those who bind the covering as law would have to eventually separate themselves from those who do not practice the covering. Viewing the covering as law, they are wrong to place it in the context of Romans 14.

9. The practice(s) under consideration (meat, v. 2; days, v. 6) are pronounced to be “clean” (v. 14), “good” (v. 16), and “pure” (v. 20).
10. This is a matter of revelation from God (1 Cor. 10:23-27; 1 Tim. 4:1-5) and no amount of conscientious objections will ever change that.
11. Admittedly, some weak (“untaught” – Rom. 14:1; 1 Cor. 8:1) brother will object to every conceivable practice.
12. His objection, born of deep, personal conviction:

a. Does not change revelation of truth about the matter.
b. Does not make a liberty sinful.
c. Does not make it obligatory for the practice to cease, unless it becomes a stumblingblock (Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 8:9; 10:32).
d. Cannot be bound as a test of fellowship.
e. Must be taken seriously and kindly by those who are taught, the ones with knowledge (Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 8:10).
f. Does not demand that brethren accept his labeling as sinful that which is not sinful.

E. Is there a parallel between the “sins” of Not Wearing a Covering and Adulterous Marriages?

1. The argument that we must have fellowship with sinful doctrines and practices is often predicated on fallacious reasoning concerning the “artificial covering question.” It is stated in this fashion: “Some brethren feel that it is a sin for women to worship in the assembly without a covering (1 Cor 14). But we fellowship this `sin,’ therefore we can fellowship the sin of adulterous marriages.”

a. First of all, it is not a sin for a woman to worship God in an assembly without an artificial covering (veil). This is a matter of indifference to God today, regardless of how fervently some may feel otherwise.
b. It has been demonstrated in many debates that the practice of wearing a covering is a judgment matter, not a violation of God’s law today.
c. As a judgment, whether or not one wears a covering becomes a “liberty,” and can be guided by the principles of Romans 14. Let each one “be fully assured in his own mind.”
d. But if one considers it a matter of sin and binds that view, that one is guilty of binding where God has not bound and should be considered in the light of Gal. 2:4-5 (just as with the questions of Bible classes and multiple containers on the Lord’s table).
e. If one considers it a matter of sin, to be consistent, he will have to treat those who differ with him as transgressors (2 John 9-11) and have no fellowship.
f. The fact that many do bind the veil but are willing to put it into Romans 14 does not change the context of Romans 14. It only proves they are inconsistent in the use of this chapter and in agreeing to fellowship what they erroneously consider to be a sin.

(1) But their inconsistency in fellowshipping what they believe to be sin does not require that we have to do the same thing.
(2) Likewise, their inconsistency in using Romans 14 does not require that we do the same thing.
(3) This is an abuse of Romans 14 on two fronts:

(a) By those who believe the absence of a veil to be a sin but are willing to fellowship it as sin.
(b) By those who allow Romans 14 to be misused and who agree to extend this abuse of Romans 14 to sinful matters.

g. One curious point should be raised about equating wearing the veil and adulterous marriages.

(1) The godly women who believe they should wear a veil in public assemblies do so out of a conviction that they are submitting to God as act of reverence and they should be given the liberty to do so unless they bind it on others. Many churches have members who hold opposing views on the covering, yet they treat it as a matter of liberty and respect the godly attitude of each person.
(2) But how is it possible to equate this practice of wearing a veil to please God with the practice of living in adultery?

(a) Adultery is condemned in the severest of terms by Jesus (Matt. 5;19; etc.) and the apostles (1 Cor. 6:9-10)
(b) Adultery is a “work of the flesh” Gal. 5:19ff).
(c) Adultery is a destructive life style that defies God and God’s rules of harmony for the home.

(3) Is it not a terrible slander to the many godly women who wear the veil out of a sense of service and submission to God to compare them to those who flaunt the teaching of Christ and the apostles and live in a rebellious lifestyle?
(4) How much weight should be given an argument that proposes fellowship with those in adulterous marriages when it slanders sisters in Christ? Yet it has become almost a stock argument by many to say, “If we can have fellowship on the covering question, we can have fellowship with adulterers.” It seems disrespectful in the extreme to propose fellowship in sin by comparing those in rebellion to Christ (adulterers) with those who submit meekly to their husbands and to Christ by wearing a veil.

F. “Receive ye” (14:1) – Proslambano (Gk) – “…to receive, i.e. grant one access to one’s heart; to take in to friendship and intercourse: Ro. xiv.1; xv.7; God and Christ are said proslabesthai (to have received) those whom, formerly estranged from them, they have reunited to themselves by the blessings of the gospel, Ro. xiv.3; xv.7…” (Thayer, p. 548). Used also in Gal. 2:9, “…the right hand of fellowship.”

1. This reception of one another is spiritual fellowship and in the context of Romans 14, affects the local church fellowship.
2. It is not merely friendship and comradeship but includes reception of one another as “Christ received us” (Rom. 15:7). This implies spiritual fellowship as that extended by “the right hand of fellowship.”
3. Fellowship cannot be denied in a local church because of disagreements in authorized liberties. The weak brother in Rome was attempting to make a test of fellowship of practices that God allowed. Thus, he was drawing lines where God did not draw them. Both here and in Galatia (2:4-5), attempts were made to destroy “liberties.” Note that the matters under consideration (meats, days, circumcision, etc.) are, in themselves lawful, thus matters of expediency, or liberties. It is a violation of context to insert sinful doctrines and practices and suggest that fellowship may be extended in those areas the same as in areas of liberty.
4. Binding where God has not bound is often a problem among brethren, even today. This chapter addresses the tendency to bind (thus destroying liberties) and is needed teaching in every age, even our own. We may not bind or deny liberties, options, expedients. However, the practice of authorized liberties must not be confused with the practice (and fellowship) of sinful matters.
5. Loosing where God has not loosed is also a problem among brethren today. Sinful practices are not loosed unless God loosens them. To treat sinful practices as though they are liberties is to receive sin on the same basis as liberties.
6. The brethren in Galatia could practice circumcision or not, depending on the circumstances; God was indifferent to it (Gal. 5:6). Binding where God had not bound was sinful.
7. The brethren in Rome could eat meat and observe days or not; God was indifferent (1 Cor. 8:8; Col. 2:16). Binding where God had not bound was sinful.
8. Clearly, we have no liberty to teach sinful doctrines or engage in sinful practices. It is a gross perversion of these passages to insert sinful matters and grant to them the same privileges as liberties, loosing where God has not loosed.

G. Proper Attitudes in Discussing Sinful Practices

1. In the event we believe a practice to be sinful, the principle of longsuffering and patience would apply, as with other studies where brethren disagree about doctrinal matters (1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Cor. 6:4; Gal.5:22; Eph. 4:2).

a. Eventually, where no agreement is reached, fellowship would have to be discontinued (Matt. 18:1ff; 2 Cor. 6:14ff).
b. But Romans 14 never requires fellowship to be broken over the practice or non-practice of liberties.

2. Disagreements on doctrinal matters should lead to brotherly discussions where honesty, sincerity, love of truth, etc. prevail.
3. Do we not inherently trust truth to lead us to unity and fellowship? Do we not sustain such a relationship today because of a mutual love of truth? It is not true that discussions of truth necessarily divide us. As we have always said, “Truth does not fear investigation.” It is not axiomatic that doctrinal differences will splinter the church. Both within the local church and throughout the brotherhood, agreements are reached on many subjects through an open study of Bible truths. We teach sectarians that truth will unite us. Do we believe that to be true among brethren?


III. If it is advocated that “we cannot know for sure,” or “we can never be sure of the difference between sinful matters and matters of liberty,” then we charge God with being less than clear about this subject. I affirm that “the faith” is identifiable, knowable, teachable, and duplicatable (Jude 3; Eph. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:2; Matt. 28:18-20). Someone’s lack of understanding about a liberty does not change the clarity of God’s revelation (1 Cor. 8:7). The fact that one might bind as sinful something that is not sinful does not make it so, nor obligate those who know the truth to defer (unless it becomes a stumblingblock.)

A. Can we not know the truth about meats and days?
B. Can we not know the truth about the artificial covering?
C. Can we not know the truth about adulterous marriages?
D. Does it follow that since we cannot agree on the covering, therefore we must allow adulterous marriages to be in our fellowship?
E. If we allow sin into our fellowship, are we not in violation to the revealed word of God (2 John 9-11, etc.)?
F. What sin can we knowingly fellowship?
G. How many sins can we knowingly fellowship?
H. Who has the list of “approved” sins which we can fellowship?
I. How can we include even a single sin into our fellowship and keep another sin out of our fellowship?

Conclusion: Does it not seem a strange thing among children of God to be discussing how much or how many sins we can fellowship and remain in fellowship with God, who is “light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5)? How much difference is this, if any, from the Gnostics who claimed to be able to “walk in darkness” yet remain in fellowship with God (1 John 1:6-7).

Does it not seem strange to be proposing fellowship with sin as on the same basis as “liberties in Christ” (Gal. 2:4).

Can we be so naive as to think that a rationale for fellowship with some sins can be developed without it opening the door for fellowship with all sin?

Who among us can find the stopping place short of fellowshipping all sin once we agree to fellowshipping some sins. “….Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6)?

Rather than working in vain to find a Biblical basis for fellowship with sin, let us have the attitude of Paul who declared the mind of God:

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

Liberty is precious to the church which is composed of people from “every tribe, tongue and nation.” Coming into the body of Christ from different educational levels, different backgrounds and diverse lifestyles, we must not allow these dissimilar circumstances to splinter or fragment our fellowship in local churches. The things in the first century that nearly destroyed the church were addressed by Romans 14:1-15:7 in such a manner as to leave us a divine guide to handle potentially divisive judgments. By tolerating differences that are important to us but indifferent to God, we learn when not to bind and when to loose. The end result is liberty that avoids creed-making, on the one hand, and license to sin, on the other. This is a battle that is never finished, continuing as long as we worship with brethren who differ in matters of judgment. But, fellowship and peace is worth the cost to maintain them. Let us heed the advice of the aged apostle: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).

“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only {use} not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).