Romans 14:6: Freedom and Worship
Whenever we are critical of others we tend to demonise those to the left or right of us. We are so assured of our own correctness that anyone who is different from us gets a severe verbal critique from us. Think of some of the classic divides between Christians. Calvinists have looked at their Arminian brethren and accused them of Pelagian idolatry; Arminians have looked at Reformed Christians and called them blasphemous fatalists. Cessationists have looked at Charismatics and critiqued them as irreverent experience chasers, and Charismatics have labelled Cessationists as quenchers and blasphemers of the Spirit.
Something like this is going on in the Roman church. It is not over something so central as election or the gifts of the Spirit, but over the continuity of various practices. The temperature of the debate has risen so much that Paul is using the words, ‘despising’ and ‘judging’ to record their attitudes towards each other. Paul has been pouring cold water on this heated debate reminding the Romans of certain principles. He has reminded these parties that the other is ‘in the faith’; that God has welcomed both; that we are all servants before one master; and last week how certain consciences are bound and should not be forced. We continue with Paul pouring cold water on this fire looking at Romans 14:6, ‘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.’ Here Paul reminds the critics that their enemy is doing it out of the sincerity of their hearts to the glory of God. In other words, the person being criticised is not some person out there, but one of the family of faith; the issue is not one of criticising an obvious sin, but pouring scorn on another’s worship. In the same way that people are more hesitant to swear in a church, so Paul wants to remind the Romans that their opponents are not demons but worshippers and their faults are not crimes but acts of praise.
Today then as we look at Romans 14:6 and the topic of freedom and worship we want to do two things. Firstly, we want to note the limits of Paul’s point. In other words, is everything done in the name of worship correct? Obviously not! Added to that we need to discuss whether worship like taste in food is something so subject to personal whim. Secondly, we want to explore Paul’s emphasis on worship as an ethical compass.