Romans 14:17-18, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”
Paul’s pastoral wisdom shines through in Romans 14. Concerning Christian liberty in matters that are in themselves adiaphora, or morally indifferent, he clearly saw a mark of spiritual maturity in the strong believers’ view that nothing God created is inherently unclean (v. 14). As such, the Apostle could have easily told the vegetarians in the Roman church that they were wrong to believe meat was unclean and should just get over it. Instead, Paul commended the weaker, less mature believers in Rome for their motivation to honor the Lord in observing special days and abstaining from meat. At the same time, he commended the strong believers for their intent to honor God in those matters (vv. 5-6). We see, then, a subtle hint to the immature that they did not need to regard meat as unclean and that they had no obligation to set apart certain days as special to the Lord. Paul confirms this truth in verse 14 when he says “nothing is unclean in itself.” The Apostle was willing to bear with the scruples of the immature and not create an unnecessary stumbling block for them, but he also wanted them to grow to maturity in Christ. He dealt with the reality of their immaturity so as not to injure them spiritually while gently prodding them to rethink their opinion on indifferent matters.
In making their view of eating meat a test for Christian fellowship, the immature believers in Rome took their eyes off of Christ and made the kingdom of God a realm that is concerned primarily with trivial matters. The mature Roman Christians thought they avoided this problem by celebrating openly their freedom to eat meat when they were with the believers who sincerely believed it to be a sin. Ironically, however, they were as guilty as the immature believers of taking their eyes off of Christ and putting indifferent matters at the center of salvation—they acted as if the freedom to eat meat is what Christianity is all about. They rightly understood their freedom in Christ to eat whatever they wanted, but they wrongly applied this principle when they fellowshipped with immature Christians.
Only a right view of the kingdom of God can solve this problem and enable us to keep our eyes on Christ. Paul gives that correct understanding when he emphasizes that the kingdom is not about trivial matters such as eating and drinking; rather, it is about “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). As we pursue such things in love, we will avoid the mistakes that the first-century Roman Christians made.
Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Romans: “Life in the kingdom is about loving the things of God and loving those for whom Christ died. That is the recipe for mature Christian unity.” When we keep in first place the obligation to love one another out of thankfulness to God for our salvation, the trivial things that divide us will fade away. Let us seek to love others who are in Christ that we might promote the peace and purity of the church.