Dan Popp
Doubtful things
Romans: The most important book ever written
By Dan Popp
June 17, 2011

All things are lawful, but not all things edify. — 1 Cor. 10:23b, NASB

"Doubtful things" is an old-fashioned term for actions that aren't spelled out in Scripture as sins — things about which Christians may honestly disagree. They're not really "gray areas," but black to one person and white to another. So how do we resolve these differences of opinion on what is permissible? Or do we? Welcome back to the Romans Book Club.

Chapter 14

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. [NIV] ...but not to disputes over doubtful things. [NKJV]

One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. [NIV]

The issue was meat sacrificed to idols. In that culture it was nearly impossible to buy a steak that had not come from a cow slaughtered on the altar of some pagan god. See 1 Corinthians, Chapter 8 for a fuller treatment of this. Now the fellow who was convinced that eating such meat would corrupt him, could go all the way back to Daniel and his brethren for scriptural support (Dan. 1:8 ff) — and get teetotalism in the bargain (v.12). The person who pooh-poohed such culinary fastidiousness could point to our liberty in Christ, outlined so clearly already in Romans.

I'm convinced that this is not about Christians keeping kosher, though some very distinguished commentators disagree with me. In that matter we have been pronounced dead to, and therefore released from, the Law. (Rom. 7:4-6) There is no "doubt" about that. Here we're not talking about those who abstain from certain meats, but those who abstain from all meats — not converted Jews, but former pagans; those "hitherto accustomed to idols." (1 Cor. 8:7)

Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls, and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. [NASB]

Other believers are going to answer for how they vote, how they spend their money, how they use their time, how they raise their children, how they drive, how they dress, how they eat. They will give an account — but not to me. I suppose I need to say here that some things are spelled out in the Bible as sins, and they do not become gray just because it is really inconvenient for me that they should be black. But there are doubtful things, too.

Again, one man considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another considers all days to be alike. Everyone ought to be fully convinced in his own mind. [TCNT]

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. [ESV]

The little act of saying "grace," giving thanks to God, is more important than who is right or wrong about the meat issue, the wine issue, the Sabbath issue, or any other issue not clearly spelled out in the New Testament. Faith, gratitude and humility are what count.

For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose again, that He might be Lord both of the dead, and of the living. [NASB]

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? [NRSV] ...why do you try to make him look small? [Phillips]

for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. [KJV] ...before the tribunal of God. [Int]

Maybe I should give more attention to how I will answer for myself there, than to how well my sister is living up to my standards here.

as scripture says: By my life — it is the Lord who speaks — every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall praise God. [Jerus] ...every tongue shall acknowledge God. [Con] ...shall confess to God. [ESV]

This sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's from Isaiah 45:23, but we know it better through Paul's "repurposing" of the prophecy in Philippians: "...that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:10,11 NASB) As we've seen, the apostle is perfectly comfortable inserting "Jesus" just about anywhere he reads "God" in the Hebrew Scriptures.

So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself. [NKJV] ...that in itself nothing is "impure." [Wey]

Jesus had "declared all foods clean." (Mark 7:19) Paul adds his "Amen": Nothing is intrinsically unholy. [Phi]

But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. [NIV]

Something that's totally harmless to you, may be harmful to someone else who still associates it with wickedness. This explains many of the "food fights" in the church today about music, holidays, and other peripheral matters. Paul's point is that we should emulate the Son of God, who laid aside His privileges and even His rights for the sake of others.

Let not then your good be evil spoken of. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. [KJV]

The Kingdom of God is spiritual, not material. If you're focused on what your brother is drinking, or what you're not eating, you've temporarily stepped out of the reign of God (Mof).

He who thus shows himself a servant of Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Let us then pursue the things that make for peace and build up the common life. [NEB] ...and our mutual upbuilding. [Wms]

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. [NRSV] ...Hast thou faith [that nothing is unclean]? keep it for thine own comfort before God. [Con]

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. [ESV] ...anything that does not rest on conviction is wrong. [Gspd]

In this chapter as well as others in Romans, the individual conscience reigns. We don't get a picture of hierarchs in the church micromanaging the lives of their flocks. There are some open questions, some "doubtful things." In God's Organizational Chart, all the lines of authority are dotted lines, except the one from Him to you. We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

© Dan Popp


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