Romans 14 and 15 are chapters that challenge attitudes. They challenge attitudes to others and in doing so provide us with a measure of our relationship with God.

All of us like to know “how we are going in the Truth”. We all like some gauge of how well we are doing. Romans 14 gives us that measure. Simply put, Paul challenges us to examine our attitude to our brethren and sisters. This provides us with the sure measure of our relationship with God.

Within the ecclesia to which Paul was writing, there were those who felt very strongly about aspects of the Law. The laws relating to certain animals were very important to one group in the ecclesia. They could no doubt defend their case from a spiritual perspective, pointing to the important principles of cloven hoof and rumination as being aspects of spiritual life that ought to be practised. They also felt strongly that the laws relating to holy days were important in keeping the truth alive and that also taught spiritual principles worth maintaining. They gave an order, a discipline and a spirituality to life, they would contend.

Another group in the ecclesia, however, spoke of “liberty in Christ”—a freedom from the restrictions of the law and a need to look beyond to what the Law was teaching.

There seemed no easy solution to the dilemma that faced the ecclesia. The issues were able to be soundly defended on both counts. Each could accuse the other of either laxity or an over strictness.

These two groups Paul calls “the weak” and “the strong”. The “weak” being those with a sensitive conscience on matters of meat and holy days and were offended by those who did not observe these ordinances. The “strong” were those to whom Paul was addressing the main exhortation of this chapter. Those who, though not seeing the need to observe these vestiges of the Law, were “setting at nought” their brethren and “judging” them in these matters.

How easy it would be for either group to vehemently defend their position—as no doubt was happening—and Paul was anxious to put this right. How deftly the apostle addresses both groups. Both the weak and the strong are judged for their attitudes not for their actions. Their attitude to one another, Paul contends, was far more important than the observance or non observance of matters of law.

“Him that is weak in faith (the definite article not being in the text) receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” (14:1). This issue was not one of doctrinal difference or spiritual sickness but a weakness of faith on some matters. The strong were to receive the weak as brethren “but not for the purpose of passing judgement on them” (NASB).

Personal conviction on these matters was very important. They were not issues of power or control or of party allegiance. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (verse 5).

One group was seen as being censorious and judgmental, trying to restrict what brethren could do and control ecclesial affairs to ease their conscience. These Paul says are “the weak”. The others were seen as undermining standards, not being spiritually discerning enough to see the consequences of their “liberty”. They were “the strong”, says Paul, yet the body of the letter is written to them and certainly the thrust of the exhortation was for them to examine their attitudes.

“God hath received them” was the point the apostle wanted them to observe. He had received them all. How incongruous it would be for a man to judge someone else’s servant, yet in “setting at nought” a brother they were showing that they did not believe that “God is able to make him stand”.

 Paul is certainly not advocating open fellowship or a broad acceptance of differing standards. He is however strongly illustrating the need for all of us to carefully observe our attitudes to each other. It is so much easier for us to focus on things—to see the “touch not, taste not, handle not” as being ends in themselves. Much more important is to pursue the things that make for peace, and the building up of one another(NASB verse 19). That is the thrust of Paul’s exhortation to all.

What we do or don’t do in the Truth has a bearing on our brethren. We cannot dismiss this fact but rather make it a motivating force in our life. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in a holy spirit(Diaglott verse 17).

Righteousness” relates to our relationship with God and our manner of life. “Peace” relates to our relationship with our brethren. “Joy” and happiness is a personal disposition in “a holy spirit” or manner of life.

What a challenge for all of us. If “God hath received him” (verse 3); if “God can make him stand” (verse 4); if “every one shall give account of himself before God” (verse 12); who are we to stand in judgment on these matters? If we are to judge anything, Paul says, “judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (verse 13).

What a change of mental disposition—from one of self-centred personal observation to a loving concern for the welfare and spiritual growth of others. These are the things that are to be pursued with vigour. Things that govern the way we order our life and behave ourselves towards one another. We are “our brother’s keeper”. “Let not then your good be evil spoken of” (verse 16).

Paul warns against the view of some that it is a victory to change a brother’s view on a certain matter of conscience. To convince him that the observance of meats and holy days is no longer necessary may not have “saved thy brother” at all. You may have changed his practice but he may not have changed his conscience and we cause him to “stumble” and cause grave “offence” to him. We have not won a victory at all in getting him to agree—the purpose of fellowship is not to coerce another on matters of daily walk but to encourage, stimulate, fortify and strengthen each another.

Rather than pursue our own way, that to us is acceptable, and then disregard any effect this may have on our fellow ecclesial members, we need to consider deeply if our liberty causes others “to stumble” or “be offended”. The Greek suggests the “stumble” as simple as a stubbed toe and the “offended” as a deliberately laid snare or trap by which another is “made weak”.

We shall all stand before the judge of all the earth unto whom “every knee shall bow… and every tongue confess” and we shall give a personal account. That account will be related to our attitude to others. How we have regarded our brethren, the strong or the weak, as well as the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned. Paul, in quoting the same citation from Isaiah 45 in his letter to Philippi as he does to the Romans, exhorts likewise that “nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others”.

 This was surely the mind that was in Christ Jesus, and the mind that we are called upon to manifest.

True fellowship is based soundly on this principle. “Let us not therefore judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”