“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
- Romans 14:19 Humility that recognizes our place and the place of others in the kingdom is one of the chief characteristics that the New Testament calls us to exhibit. For example, we find it quite plainly in Philippians 2:3, which exhorts us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [ourselves].” The Apostle Paul does not mean that we are to have low self-esteem or that we are to view others as inherently better than we are. Instead, he calls us to put others first, to not look out for our own interests at the expense of others. Our model, of course, is Christ Himself, who did not view His deity as something to be exploited for His own advantage; rather, He humbled Himself and took on flesh to give us the greatest benefit of all—eternal salvation (vv. 5-11).
Being able to humble ourselves and put the needs of other Christians before our own is necessary to heed the Apostle’s instruction in Romans 14. In his original context, Paul was encouraging the mature believers in Rome not to glory in their freedom in a manner that would cause immature believers to violate their consciences or believe that Christ promoted sin (vv. 13-18). These mature believers were objectively correct that no food is inherently unclean and that all Christians can partake of meat without any guilt (v. 14). Regrettably, the immature believers had trouble grasping this truth and were bothered by any superficial associations this meat had with paganism or any uncleanness. They were objectively wrong to see meat as unclean in itself, but that did not matter at the moment to Paul because he wanted to keep the weak from sinning by acting against their consciences, however misinformed they were (v. 23). We will consider that idea in more detail in a few days, but for now we note that Christian humility in the Roman context required the strong to put the weak first, to voluntarily refrain from enjoying their liberty to its full extent around weaker believers, not because it was wrong to eat meat but so that the weak would not fall.
Above all, Paul wanted the strong believers in Rome to pursue “peace” and “mutual upbuilding.” God was working in the immature Christians, and the Apostle knew they would understand their freedom in due time. But if the strong forced it on the weak when they were not ready, the spiritual growth of the weak would suffer. As John Calvin writes, “Wherever there is even a spark of godliness, there the work of God is to be seen; which they demolish, who by their unfeeling conduct disturb the conscience of the weak.”
Coram Deo Paul’s call for mutual peace and upbuilding is directed primarily to the strong Christians in Rome as an appeal for them to act in such a way that would benefit the immature. Still, its inclusion in a letter addressed to the entire church means he wanted weaker believers to hear it also. They, too, were to strive for mutual upbuilding, not imposing their views regarding indifferent matters on others. Today this mandate is still in force for believers at every stage of the Christian walk.
Passages for Further Study Psalm 34:14
1 Thessalonians 5:11
1 Peter 3:8-12