Two Bible chapters very commonly misunderstood are Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. Both of them deal with very similar topics, and are extremely timely in our day. Remarkably, these chapters can be easily understood if they are read and studied together. But when they are read in isolation, out of context, they are easy to misapply. Let’s take a look at these two chapters in a brief comparison in order to properly appreciate both.
This chapter has been badly mishandled in an effort to essentially teach that we should never speak out or object to practices not specifically condemned in the Bible. Paul’s statement in vs. 13, “Let us not therefore judge one another..” has been widely used to forbid correction of an erring brother. But is this what Paul was teaching?
Paul uses two examples in making an important point about neutral matters: 1) eating of meat sacrificed to idols; and 2) observing special days. His argument rests on the fact that neither of these is morally wrong. We usually don’t have any trouble with the first one, but when we get to special days, there is a tendency to misapply Paul’s teaching to non-neutral matters. It’s important to keep in mind that Paul was discussing matters which are neither right nor wrong in and of themselves. That is, they could be practiced or not practiced without violating any principle of God’s word. These are matters of judgment, or what the NKJV calls “disputes over doubtful things.” The ESV calls them “opinions.” They are not matters where God has prescribed a particular course of action. Paul’s point is that we should defer to and help one another in matters of opinion, rather than causing weaker brethren to violate their own conscience.
The “special days” were not religious holidays, because Paul clearly taught that such observances are wrong, (see Gal. 4:1-31). He was evidently referring to brethren designating a particular day for their own devotional purposes. Such is perfectly permissible, provided it is not made into a law and bound upon others.
1 Corinthians 8
The type of matters Paul is discussing can be more clearly seen by comparing Romans 14 to 1 Corinthians 8. There, Paul again uses the illustration of meats sacrificed to idols. He makes the same point regarding respect for the conscience of weaker brethren, (8:7). But he also includes this helpful statement of the rationale behind this principle: “Food will not commend us to God: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better,” (1 Cor. 8:8). Notice that neither alternative is morally wrong or sinful. Eating or not eating meat is a neutral matter, (a matter of opinion).
When we apply these principles, we need to be careful that we are not taking them into the realm of non-neutral matters, that is, matters where God has specified a particular position. Where God has given specific directions, we are bound to follow those directions, and assist others by correcting those who deviate from them.
One of the obvious examples where this becomes important is in the matter of man-made religious holidays. Such unauthorized religious holidays as Christmas and Easter are not in the same category as eating meats or the special days Paul was discussing. A religious observance of these holidays violates God’s will because such is unauthorized, (Col. 3:17). God has already taken those matters out of our hands by specifying how we are to proceed. We are to worship God in the manner he has directed, rather than inventing our own holidays and rituals.
If a brother wishes to designate a particular day for his own devotional purposes, or a birthday or other non-religious observance, such is strictly a matter of opinion. There should be no objection to this, provided he does not bind it upon others. The godly brother who objects to the religious observance of Christmas and Easter is not the “weaker brother” of Romans 14 or 1 Corinthians 8. And the misguided brother who insists on bringing such denominational practices into the lives of Christians, is certainly not the “stronger brother” of these chapters.
-By Robert C. Veil, Jr.