V15. If I were to ask if you wanted to make a brother sad, you would say: ‘No!’ And yet you can cause your brother to be sad by something you do when you are not walking according to love, even though you may be perfectly right in what you’re doing. As to yourself, you see no trouble at all. With regard to the Lord, everything is all right, but this is not the whole story. You must also consider your brother or sister. And if they are saddened by something you do, you’re not being led by love. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom 13:10).
You can even spiritually destroy someone (damage his spiritual well-being) for whom Christ has died with your eating (that is, making use of your liberty). This would be a very undesirable effect from the use of the liberty you now have.
V16. Therefore, live so that what is good for you, no evil can be spoken of. That means that you are not guided by what is good for you, by your freedom, but that you take into account the conscience of your brother.
V17. To make things clear as to what your attitude should be regarding your brothers, Paul speaks about the kingdom of God. You and your brother were part of God’s kingdom when you accepted the Lord Jesus. In the kingdom of God it’s not eating and drinking that count. What counts is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.
Just as with the kingdoms of this world, you find a King and His subjects in the kingdom of God. Only the kingdom of God is not a visible kingdom with a visible king, but today, a hidden kingdom with a hidden King. The Lord Jesus is the King. The Lord’s name expresses the authority He exercises over His subjects. The Lord Jesus exercises this authority.
His government is from heaven where He now is. In your life you can show He has authority over you by letting the Holy Spirit work in you. If you do this, it will have the following results:
1. You’ll be righteous in your interactions with others.
2. You won’t want to disturb the peace by pursuing your interests regardless of the conscience of others.
3. If you deal in such a way with your brother, your fellow-subject in the same kingdom, then there will be joy in your heart.
V18. This is really serving Christ. This is pleasing to God, and people around you will notice you are guided by different rules than the ones common to them and to the world around them.
V19-21. You’re exhorted to “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another”. You must work at this. It will not happen automatically. Peace and the building up of one another are more important than food. Physical needs aren’t wrong. God wants to supply those needs, but they’re subject to His work. They should not cause you to do things that make your brother stumble.
For example, I know a brother from an African country. In that country eating eggs is connected with idolatry. He is not yet free of this thought in connection with eggs. Now, suppose I usually eat an egg every day. Nothing wrong with that! But if this brother is having breakfast with me and I offer him an egg, this could cause him to fall. Or I might try to convince him there’s nothing wrong in eating an egg. But if I urge him to do so, this could bring him into a serious problem with his conscience. If I am aware of this, it would be far better not to eat an egg at that moment. This may be applied in all kinds of ways.
V22. Your faith in God and in the work of the Lord Jesus is a personal faith. It’s not said you shouldn’t witness of it. That faith has freed you from all kinds of traditions and habits that have nothing to do with serving God. You’re even called “happy” if you enjoy this freedom in Christ without constraint and without subjecting yourself to all sorts of rules that men may make. It doesn’t matter if they’re so-called Christian rules or if they’re rules that people in the world adhere to. What is important is that in everyday practical life you are led by your faith and not by your feelings. Faith is centered in God and in His Word.
V23. If you have doubts about something, don’t do it. Live by your faith. Faith is not an expression of uncertainty, which is how the word is often used. People say: ‘I don’t believe it’s wrong.’ They mean: ‘I don’t think it’s wrong, but I’m not sure.’ But God has revealed His will to us. Everything we do, without having asked for His will, is sin! This is a strong statement of God’s Word, isn’t it?
Now read Romans 14:15-23 again.
Reflection: What does the kingdom of God mean to you?