Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Covenants: Part X - Romans 14

Romans 14:1-6

In Part IX we saw that the promise of the New Covenant is eternal life.  This promise is not conditional, but is by faith alone.  We also saw that the old entry sign, circumcision, has been replaced by a new entry sign, baptism.  We further saw that there is a new repeatable sign, the Lord’s Supper.

So this raises the question of how we should regard the repeatable sign of the Old Covenant, the Sabbath.  Are signs from the Old Covenant required for New Covenant Christians in addition to the signs of the New Covenant?  Fortunately, the Bible is not silent on this matter.  The fledgling Church was given inerrant teaching in this matter, inspired by God the Spirit.

In Part X, I would like to look at a passage in Romans that addresses the question of observing holy days.  The Roman Church was a mixed church made up partly of Jews living in Rome who had accepted Jesus as Messiah and partly of gentile Romans who had forsaken Paganism and come to Christ.  As you can imagine there were some tensions as cultures clashed and as the Old Covenant began to give way to the New Covenant.  Many Jewish Christians were clinging to their customs of observing Old Covenant annual feast Sabbaths, New Moon monthly Sabbaths, and the weekly Sabbath day.  In addition, they were clinging to Old Covenant food laws.  The gentiles, who were not circumcised, had never entered the Old Covenant and did not observe holy days or food laws.  These differences were dividing the Church and they needed direction on how these differences should be handled.

It is in this climate that the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Now if gentile Christians were required to observe any Sabbaths (annual, monthly, or weekly) or if they were required to observe food laws, this would have been the perfect time for the Apostle to say so.  There was obviously a debate in the Church and Paul had the perfect opportunity here to set the record straight for the rest of the entire Church age.  Paul’s inspired direction clarified the situation not only for the Romans, but for all New Covenant believers who would come after.

Romans 14:1-6 (NASB)
1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
Paul could have taken this opportunity to tell the gentiles that they really were required to observe Old Covenant Sabbaths, but he did not do so because it was not true.  Instead Paul sought peace in the Church by saying that the observance of any holy day is purely a personal matter, not an obligation.  If a person decides to observe a particular day, then they’re doing it for the Lord and that’s okay.  If a person decides to regard everyday alike, that’s okay too!

For New Covenant Christians, the observance of days is a non-issue.  It’s not a salvation issue.  It’s not a sanctification issue. It’s not a holiness issue.  It’s not an obedience issue. It’s not a truth issue.  It’s not an issue of special blessing. It’s not an issue at all.  At most, it’s just a personal choice.  Paul stresses that we are not to judge other’s based on their personal choice.  That command cut both ways for both Jews and Gentiles.  The Jews weren’t supposed to judge the gentiles for not observing food laws and not observing holy days.  The gentiles were not supposed to judge those who Paul called “weak in faith” (the Jewish Christians) for continuing in their traditions of food laws and observing Sabbaths.  There was to be harmony and unity in the Church even though there were different practices between Jews and gentiles. 

The only thing that would break that unity is if someone began to teach that these Old Covenant traditions were actually required for New Covenant Christians, rather than just being a matter of personal choice.  Such false teaching required a stronger response.  In Part XI we will see how the Apostle Paul responded to such false teaching.

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