Here's the rub. How do we apply Romans chapter 14?
I've previously blogged about the Romans 14 issue, the Romans 14 context, and what Paul says in Romans 14. Now I'll tackle the place "where the rubber meets the road." What significance does it have for us?
I encourage you to again read Romans 14:1 - 15:13.
The key to understanding any passage is the context. We must remember that Paul was writing to a church that was likely a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers. There appears to have been some conflict within the body about how to deal correctly with the OT law. Specifically, how were they to handle various aspects of the ceremonial laws related to eating/drinking regulations and special days, especially the Sabbath?
The tensions arose over differing interpretations of how to live out what they read in their Hebrew bibles (translated into Greek) in light of what Christ had accomplished.
Paul tells the Roman church that each believer must be convinced in his own mind of what is right. They are not to pass judgment on each other about the conclusions they come to. Instead, they are to welcome one another in unity. Paul desires that they think of others before themselves so that they won't become stumbling blocks to one another. The Roman Christians are to do all for peace, following the example Christ had left them. All is to be done for the glory of God.
Let's return to the issue of context. This is critical for our accurate understanding. In this passage, Paul is specifically discussing how to interpret what has been written. He is pointing back to the scriptures that they already have. The issue is how to handle what they have read in the pages of the Old Testament. The context, then, is God's word.
Since we now have the New Testament, this would fall within context.
If that is the context of this passage, what then falls outside of the context? What's outside is anything that scripture does not address. If it's not in the bible, then Paul's certainly not dealing with it in this particular passage.
This is important because Romans 14:1 - 15:13 is often used by some Christians to justify various church practices that have no biblical basis. The problem with this, as we have seen, is that Paul is not dealing with those sorts of practices in this passage. Therefore, Romans 14 is in no way a sort of "trump card" to allow us to do whatever we may think is right in the life of the church.
Paul is addressing something specific in Romans 14:1 - 15:13. In order to be fair to what Paul meant, we must be accurate in understanding what he was talking about. The issue was and still is what had already been written. Only when we apply Romans 14 to what has been written in the bible do we correctly apply it.