In Romans 14, Paul speaks to the matter of “judgement” as it relates to the way Christians view one another and evaluate one another’s motives. Those engaged in sin often try to rationalize their misbehavior by asserting, “I’m not hurting anybody but myself, so butt out and quit judging me!” Paul points out in vs. 7, however, that “None of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.” In other words, the claim that a sin affects “only” the sinner is false, because the consequences of our actions are never limited to only ourselves. The “ripples” of sin invariably spread beyond the sinner no matter how he may try to prevent it. There is simply no way to isolate the effects of our sins so that no one else is impacted by them. The apostle Peter makes the point Christians – those who have the “mind of Christ” within us – are people who have deliberately chosen to stop sinning and live according to God’s instructions instead of our own whims and fleshly lusts (1 Peter 4:1-2). In Romans 14:8, Paul goes on to make the point that Christians belong to the Lord, not to ourselves – we have thus made a commitment in both life and death to live as He has directed us.
Paul next points out the certainty of ultimate judgement in Romans 14:10 and 12. Exactly as he had written to the Corinthian Christians (2 Corinthians 5:10), he also here stresses the universality of God’s judgement. Because we are God’s creation, we have no way to “exempt” ourselves from His judgement or “opt out” of answering to Him for how we have lived in this world! Jesus had previously declared that when “the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels… he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). Paul’s point in the context of Romans 14 is that Christians ought to exercise caution in “judging” one another (vs. 13) because each of us will be judged by the Lord! This realization ought to make us very careful to avoid being the cause of another’s sin.
Romans 15:1 presents a short, sharp lesson on the responsibility each Christian bears toward brethren. We are to help – to “join hands with” those who are spiritually weak in order to help them be strong. This is also an “ongoing” instruction – not a “one-time” obligation. Jesus addressed the same basic situation (although from a different perspective) when Peter asked Him how many times he should forgive a brother who had sinned against him (Matthew 18:21-22). Our Lord’s point there rested on the ultimate objective of reclaiming a sinner, just as Paul’s instruction here basically says, “provide a spiritual lifeline” to a weak brother or sister, to help them avoid falling in sin.
In Romans 15:4 we find the new testament’s most concise statement on the value of studying the old testament: Paul emphasizes that we can learn and grow in hope by reading and considering the lessons found there. Many Christians make a serious mistake by giving very little attention to the old testament, but without a thorough understanding of the old testament, we handicap ourselves in grasping the lessons of the new testament! Those lessons are rooted in the history of God’s dealings with humanity!
Paul concludes his letter to the Roman saints with a sober warning about those who “cause divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned…” (Romans 16:17-18). His instruction – which is explicitly voiced as a commandment – tells faithful Christians to “avoid” (turn away from, to detour around) them. Paul is not speaking of avoiding brethren who are sincerely ignorant, or those who have been innocently deceived. He is referring specifically to those who deliberately try to push their own agenda (vs. 18) by trying to gather followers to themselves instead of for Jesus. In 2 Thessalonians 3:15, he speaks of attempting to “warn” such folks (they are brethren), and he says that they should not be viewed as “enemies.” When a Christian concentrates on splitting the church rather than submitting to the Lord’s will, however, faithful Christians have no choice but to “mark” (literally, “to observe,” in order to point out) that person so that others can avoid being led away from the Lord by him. Many people find this instruction “distasteful” (Paul clearly did too, Acts 20:29-32), but it is critically important for the spiritual health and well-being of the church – therefore it must not be ignored.