Sunday School Lesson
August 13, 2023
Lesson 11 (KJV)
The Nature of the Kingdom
Devotional Reading: Proverbs 2:1–11
Background Scripture: Romans 14:10–23
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.—Romans 14:19
The Righteous Reign of God
Unit 3: God’s Eternal Reign
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Identify the danger of sitting in judgment on others.
2. Explain the concept of mutual edification.
3. Examine his or her position on tolerance and intolerance in light of the text.
How to Say It
A. Something Bigger than Myself
Have you ever had a day to do just what you wanted, only to feel let down afterward? Maybe it was a day off from work. Maybe friends gave you a break from your normal duties. Somehow we often experience disappointment at the end of such times.
Why does that happen so often? Perhaps it is, to some extent, because we long to be part of something bigger than ourselves. “Me time” sounds great, but God has put in us a desire that our lives matter for others.
The church is too often (because even once is too often!) the place where people seem most devoted to their own preferences. Churches have become infamous for the pettiness of their arguments over matters of opinion. We all grieve this fact, but it is likely that we all have been part of the problem at times. Today’s lesson will be the uncomfortable mirror in which we see ourselves in this regard.
B. Lesson Context
Our text comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans. The letter addresses a church divided between Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) followers of Jesus. While we cannot know the exact circumstances, it appears that each group looked down on the other for the way it practiced life in God’s kingdom.
Paul wrote the letter to show each group that they belong to God’s kingdom on the same terms: faith in Jesus in response to God’s good news about Him (Romans 1:5; 10:5–17). So Paul says “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (1:16) that each group has the same status (3:9; 10:12). All have sinned, both Jews and Gentiles (3:22–23). Paul’s addressees belong to God’s kingdom not by observances of the Law of Moses, which defined the Jewish people. Rather, they belong by faith in Jesus, who died that all might live eternally.
This equality of status must be practiced. Jews were accustomed to keeping the laws of clean and unclean laid out in the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14:3–20). In a city like Rome, finding meat that was ceremonially clean was probably difficult. Add to that the fact that much meat had been offered in sacrifice to pagan idols, and it appears that many Jews in Rome had simply given up meat altogether.
Meanwhile, Christians from a Gentile background had been brought into God’s kingdom by their faith in Jesus, being formerly excluded because they did not belong to the people of Israel (compare Ephesians 2:11–13). They had never been subject to the laws of clean and unclean. For Jewish followers of Jesus, dietary restrictions had always been a sign of devotion to God. But for Gentile followers of Jesus, these rules seemed strange and unnecessary.
Different practices with food matter little when we are with our own group. But the fellowship of the church brought these two groups together, and shared meals were a vital part of that fellowship. Whose rules should prevail?
I. On Inappropriate Judging
A. Current Problem (v. 10a)
10a. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?
Paul introduced two disputes at the beginning of Romans 14: one about eating certain foods (Romans 14:2) and the other about the sacredness of certain days (14:5). In the verse before us, we see him ask pointed questions to clarify what is at stake regarding these issues. He has shown the readers over many chapters that both Jews and Gentiles are guilty of sin but that both can be restored to God’s kingdom by expressing faith in Jesus. Therefore, no Christian, regardless of background identity, can judge another’s status on other criteria. To set a fellow Christian at nought is to treat him or her as less important than oneself (see also Luke 23:11; Acts 4:11). To do so over the foods that others eat is most unfitting for a follower of Jesus!
B. Future Accounting (vv. 10b–12) 10b. For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
This verse in context implies two reasons for not passing judgment on others in the manner above. First, if any judging is to be done with regard to practices of dietary choices, that will be Christ’s prerogative, not ours. Second, we will be called to account on the last day for all judgments we formulate (see Romans 14:12, below; see also 2 Corinthians 5:10).
11. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
To stress that God alone is judge, Paul quotes from Isaiah 45:23. This text promised the Israelites that God would not only restore them to their homeland after exile in Babylon, but He would also bring salvation to all the earth (Isaiah 45:22).
Now through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God had ended the deeper exile of sin and has made salvation available to all nations. As a result, no human group or category has privilege over another. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess to God as ultimate king (see also Philippians 2:10–11).
12. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. God’s forthcoming judgment defines our responsibility, and His Word stresses human accountability (Matthew 12:36; Romans 3:19). Popular culture likes to quote Matthew 7:1–2 as a prohibition against any and all judgments that Christians may express. However, that practice ignores the context in which Jesus uttered that warning. At certain times and in certain situations, making judgment is indeed valid and necessary (examples: Matthew 7:15–20; 1 Corinthians 5), but those cases are not in view here.
Sometimes membership with a certain group can seem to justify judging others. After all, if everyone in “my group” sees others in the same way, then our judgment of them seems justified. That may have been the situation for the Roman Christians. But judging with a group is no better than judging as an individual (Exodus 23:2).
What Do You Think?
How do you decide when, if at all, believers should show judgment?
How do Romans 16:17–18; 1 Corinthians 5:11–6:5; 1 Timothy 6:3–5; and Titus 1:10–16 inform your answer?
C. Necessary Conclusion (v. 13a)
13a. Let us not therefore judge one another any more.
This statement serves as a transition from what Paul’s readers were no longer to do, to the positive action of what they should do instead.
D. Required Actions (v. 13b)
13b. But judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
Judging fellow believers is to give way to caring for them. Paul uses figures of speech to describe such caring: a stumblingblock is something in a roadway that can make someone trip (see also 1 Corinthians 8:9); an occasion to fall is an obstacle that blocks a path or causes a misstep. The two may be seen as synonyms. Paul uses similar figures of speech in Romans 9:33, reflecting the Hebrew parallelism of Isaiah 8:14. Paul further discusses this in Romans 14:20 (below).
II. On Personal Convictions
A. Issues of Conscience (v. 14)
14a. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself.
The phrase nothing unclean points to the issue of eating food, which Paul introduced in Romans 14:2. Now he reaffirms the new distinction between clean and unclean foods: there is no distinction. This reflects what the Lord Jesus declared in Mark 7:14–23: purity is not about food but about a person’s inner character (compare Matthew 15:11). Israel’s rules regarding clean and unclean food were always intended by God not as definitions of right and wrong behavior for all people, but as cultural boundaries that defined Israel as a distinct nation. Good and evil have always been about our inner dispositions that drive our actions.
14b. But to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Romans 14:2 establishes that the one who esteemeth any thing to be unclean is the one “who is weak” in the Christian faith. Such a person hasn’t yet reached the point of fully accepting the truth that external things, like food, do not make a person unclean. Years or decades of avoiding unclean foods can be a practice that is hard to let go of! If such a person’s conscience still considers a food unclean, then to him it [still] is unclean.
B. Result of Behavior (vv. 15–18)
15. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Apparently, what the Jewish Christians in Rome were seeing Gentile Christians eat was causing problems. Considering the nature of the “stumblingblock” and “occasion to fall” (Romans 14:13b, above), the word grieved in this verse indicates something more serious than mere sadness or irritation. This conclusion is backed up by the implications of the word destroy. Acting in a visible way that violates another person’s conscience can result in spiritual destruction of someone for whom Christ died. This is no minor matter. It goes to the core of the gospel. We are called to have a high regard for the conscience of fellow believers—higher regard than we have even for our own. Paul has more to say on this issue in 1 Corinthians 8:7–13.
What Do You Think?
How will you show love toward believers who may have a stricter conscience than yours regarding behavior not prohibited by Scripture?
How will you decide to forgo something in consideration for that believer?
16. Let not then your good be evil spoken of.
Those in Rome who understood that Christ had set aside the rules of clean and unclean had an accurate grasp of God’s truth. They were ready to act on it as an expression of their faith. Theirs was a good position. But to act without concern for those who had not yet grasped this truth was to invite good actions to be spoken of as evil. That phrase is also translated as a form of the word “blaspheme” in Romans 2:24 and 1 Timothy 1:20. It is a strong term for an insult, especially directed to someone of high standing. The implication is that we can provoke slander that can extend even to Christ himself if we get careless in regard to what Paul is saying.
17. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Rules and practices regarding food are among the most obvious ways that groups of people mark their differences from other groups. Food preferences are central to a people’s culture. Even apart from Israel’s rules of clean and unclean, those rules were important to the Israelites because they were observed constantly (compare Acts 10:14; 11:8). But Paul reminds us that God’s kingdom is not merely about what is easily seen. Food is nothing compared to what God has done in Christ, what now defines His people as subjects of His kingdom.
Paul’s three terms that characterize that kingdom are important. The Greek word translated righteousness occurs about 100 times in the New Testament, and one-third of those are in Romans. Quite simply, the word righteousness refers to that which is right and just.
The word translated peace is also a favorite of Paul’s in Romans. Its usage occurs in the greeting at the beginning (Romans 1:7) and in a word of assurance at the end (16:20). God’s peace is not just a cessation of strife. It is harmony in loving, caring relationships. The gospel calls us not just to get along but to work for one another’s benefit.
The word translated joy also occurs dozens of times in the New Testament. About one-third are in Paul’s letters but only three times in Romans (here and Romans 15:13, 32). Joy flows from the abiding sense of confidence that God is making things right as He establishes His kingdom.
Despite the high frequency of each of the three terms in the New Testament, Romans 14:17 is the only place where all three occur together. This says something about Paul’s concern! Peace and joy are among the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22, lesson 10). Here Paul ascribes them along with righteousness as being associated with the Spirit. The Spirit’s presence, not our adherence to food laws, marks us as belonging to God’s people (compare Ephesians 1:13). In identifying us as God’s righteous people, the Spirit empowers us to love others and so to surrender our own preferences. Life in the Spirit is better than even your favorite food.
What Do You Think?
How should a believer respond to rules or preferences that seem uncomfortable, but not against Scripture?
How will you live with righteousness, peace, and joy in your above response?
Chasing a Baseball Cap
I was wearing my favorite baseball cap as I rode a ski lift to the top of a mountain. About three-fourths of the way up the hill, the cap blew off my head, and I watched it fall to the ground below.
Stepping off the lift, I could see my cap lying on the ground about 100 yards downslope. It didn’t look too far away, so I set out to retrieve it. The problem was, the slope was steeper than it looked; and gravity took over as I carefully began to make my way down the hill. I picked up speed, and soon I was involuntarily running down the hill—on the verge of losing control. Just in the nick of time, I grabbed a tree that kept me from tumbling down the steep slope.
After I successfully retrieved my treasured possession, I reflected on the foolishness of my decision. I had risked serious bodily injury for the sake of a silly baseball cap! Why did I go to so much trouble for something that is relatively unimportant? Now whenever I wear that cap, it reminds me to choose my priorities wisely.
In the Christian life, there’s a danger of majoring in minors, of becoming preoccupied with lesser things. How will you ensure that you don’t make that mistake? D. F.
18a. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God. Deferring to others’ needs and concerns is at the very core of kingdom life, and Christ himself was the supreme example of one who did so (see Philippians 2:3–8). Christ did the will of His Father, so to serve Christ is to do what is acceptable and pleasing to God the Father. Indeed, service to Christ is of much greater importance to God than focusing only on a person’s observance of rules about food.
18b. And approved of men.
Deferring to others’ concerns even gains human approval. In the social structures of the first century AD, Jewish Christians stood apart from the larger Jewish communities because of their acceptance of Gentiles as God’s people. Gentile Christians, for their part, had abandoned the pagan worship that required loyalty to the Roman Empire. If these two “renegade” groups became known for their arguments over food, their credibility would suffer all the more. But if they could demonstrate love, their example could shine (John 13:34–35). When the church fights, a vile reputation results. When its members love as Christ did, we become the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13–16).
III. On Vital Imperatives
A. Peace and Edification (vv. 19–21)
19. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
The peace of God’s kingdom is a gift of God. But putting peace into practice is not automatic. Returning to stating imperatives, Paul tells his readers to follow after, or pursue, peace (compare 1 Peter 3:11). They must apply diligent effort to make sure that everyone in Christ’s body is respected, included, and loved. Conflict will be necessary when confronting doctrinal defection, moral defection, or divisiveness (see Romans 16:17–18; 1 Corinthians 5:11–6:5; 1 Timothy 6:3–5; Titus 1:10–16; 3:10). But such conflict should serve the greater good in protecting the integrity of the church.
More than just absence of conflict, peace means edifying one another, or building one another up. The noun edification and the verb edify compare human relationships to constructing a building (an edifice). Our aim is to make others stronger, their faith more resilient. Paul has much more to say on this subject in Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 14:3–26; 2 Corinthians 12:19; and Ephesians 4:11–13, 29.
What Do You Think?
Who will you edify through your God-given sense of peace?
What steps will you take to avoid being a “stumblingblock” (Romans 14:13) to that person?
A Dose of Vitamin E-Squared
Every November, his letter catches me by surprise. You’d think I would be expecting it, because the same thing has happened more than 20 years in a row. Yet when I see the envelope in my mailbox and recognize the sender’s name, my heart jumps.
It all started more than two decades ago when Robert began attending our church. Later he admitted that he had come reluctantly, mainly to satisfy his young son, who had asked, “Dad, why don’t we go to church?” Robert sat in the back, preparing to be bored. To his surprise, he was greeted kindly, and the minister’s message about Christ was more compelling than Robert had expected. Soon he attended a class that I was teaching on the basics of the Christian faith, and a few weeks later, he confessed his faith in the Lord and was baptized on a November evening.
He has sent me a letter on the anniversary of his baptism ever since. In these letters he tells me about his growth as a follower of Christ, and he always thanks me for helping him find the Lord. These letters reveal what can result from a dose of spiritual vitamin E-squared: “encouraging edification”—initially from me to him, now from him to me. To whom can you offer such a vitamin this week? D. F.
20–21. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
Paul repeats his observations from Romans 14:14 (see above), but more forcefully. The opposite of “edify” in 14:19 is destroy. In modern English, we may take the words offence and offended to mean something like “irritate” or “insult.” But the Greek being translated is stronger than that; the idea is to be a cause of spiritual stumbling.
B. Faith and Sin (vv. 22–23)
22. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
The word faith is used here in the sense of what believers are allowed to do. And in certain cases, the truth of that faith must be kept between oneself and God to avoid creating a stumbling block. The phrase condemneth not himself points to avoidance of a second area of destruction: as the “weak” (Romans 14:1–2; 15:1b) end up stumbling, the “strong” (15:1a) do so as well.
The Greek behind the word happy is translated “blessed” in many other passages (examples: Romans 4:7–8), and that is the sense here.
23. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Paul continues with a comparison of opposites (antonyms) as he affirms a doctrinal principle. For those with the faith to affirm that all foods are clean, the important matter is not food but the consciences of fellow believers. Some whose faith is weaker, who still believe some foods to be unclean, may follow others’ examples and eat foods still thought (but wrongly so) to be unclean. And if they act against their own consciences in this way, they have sinned since actions that do not come from faith are sin by nature.
A. Peace, Not Conflict
Up to the point of today’s lesson text in Romans, Paul had spent many chapters reminding the Christians in Rome that no group had any preference before God. Faith in Jesus—not being in a certain biological lineage or doing better works—is what brings sinners of every ethnicity into God’s kingdom. United with Him in death and resurrection, they are now dead to sin. They live a new life, empowered by God’s Spirit, transformed to love and serve one another (Romans 6:1–14).
But can we bring that truth to shared meals? Can we exercise our faith in such a way as to defer to one another on matters of conscience? Can we be patient with one another as we learn to use our freedom for the benefit of others, not ourselves? The concern of those with strong faith should be for the welfare of those with weaker faith. The former must support the latter, both in what consciences direct and in the growth of faith toward greater understanding. Of such love, grace, patience, and edification is the kingdom of God.
What Do You Think?
Which concept or imperative in today’s lesson do you have the most trouble coming to grips with? Why?
How will you resolve this problem?
Gracious Father, we thank You for our freedom in Christ! Lead us to use that freedom to build up others, never to tear down. May we be instruments of Your peace in the name of Your Son. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Be strong enough to serve the weak.
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2022-2023 (p. 1159). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.