There appears to have been a party in the Church at Rome which had adopted certain ascetic practices over and above the common rule of Christianity. We gather that they abstained altogether from flesh and wine, and that they (or possibly some other persons in the same church) also made a point of observing certain days with peculiar sanctity. When we ask what was the origin and affinities of this party, the answer is not quite obvious. It can hardly have been a branch of the Judaising party, such as it was met with in the Churches of Galatia, for then more stress would have been laid on the duty of circumcision, and their antagonism to St. Paul would probably have been more pronounced. Besides, if they had taken their stand upon the law of Moses, that law only forbade certain meats and drinks, and not all flesh and wine. A more plausible theory would be that which connects the party in question with the scruples mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8:4-13. The avoidance of meat offered to idols might easily be extended so as to cover all meat whatsoever. It would be difficult to ensure the complete absence of such pollution as was involved in the idol sacrifices, and a scrupulous person may have thought that the only safe measure was a total abstinence from animal food. And in like manner, as regards wine, which was liable to be used in heathen libations. The objection to this view is, that there is no allusion to the idol sacrifices, and as the Apostle enters into the subject so minutely in 1 Corinthians 8, he might naturally be expected not to pass it over without some allusion here. It seems best, therefore, to regard the practices referred to in the Roman Church as a natural development of ascetic or purist elements within the Church itself. These would be supplied by those who had come over to Christianity from the sect of the Essenes, with the tenets of which sect the allusions in this chapter would quite sufficiently agree. It would appear to have been a further development of the same doctrines which, at a later date, vexed the Church at Colossæ. At Rome, the tendency had hitherto been slight and unaggressive, and the Apostle therefore deals with it mildly; at Colossæ it had become more arrogant and intolerant and therefore, it is rebuked sharply. (See Colossians 2:16-23.)
The whole of this chapter affords a most striking instance of the practical wisdom of St. Paul. It is a locus classicus on the two subjects, toleration and asceticism.
Receive ye.—Take to yourselves, stretch out the hand of friendship to him.
Doubtful disputations.—The marginal rendering is more exact, “to judge his doubtful thoughts,” or “to criticise his scruples.” The strong are to deal tenderly with the weak, and not engage them in casuistical discussions.
God hath received him.—Strictly, received him, admitted him into His Church when he was baptised, and so took him for His own.
He standeth or falleth.—It seems most in accordance with what precedes to take this of judicial condemnation or approval from the Master whom he serves—i.e., Christ.
Holden up.—The same word as that in the clause following, and similar to that in the clause preceding—“Made to stand.”
God is able to make him stand.—The true reading here is “the Lord”—i.e., Christ; the word is the same as “his Master” above. “Make him stand” seems to be still judicial. “Secure his acquittal,” but with reference to his previous course of conduct on which that acquittal is grounded. The trial is not necessarily reserved for the last day, but is rather the judgment which Christ may be supposed at any moment to pass upon His servants. If they can sustain this judgment, it is only because His grace has enabled them so to act as not to be condemned by it.
He that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.—This clause is omitted by the best MSS. and editors.
For he giveth God thanks.—By the saying of grace at meat, the meal, whatever it may be, is consecrated to God, and he who partakes of it shows that he does so in no irreverent spirit.
(7) Dieth to himself.—Even in the act of death the Christian is conscious of his relation to Christ; he dies “in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).
(10) Judgment seat of Christ.—The true reading is, of God.
Shall confess . . .—The Greek word is capable of two renderings—“confess” and “praise:” Most commentators prefer the latter, but it is not quite clear that the English version is wrong. That the word can bear this meaning is, especially in view of James 5:16, unquestionable, and the sense seems to agree better with the next verse.
Stumblingblock or an occasion to fall.—The same words that occur in Romans 9:33. That translated “occasion to fall,” is the origin of our word “scandal.” It is properly a trap or snare. Both the idea and the word are found in Matthew 18:6 (= Mark 9:42), where it is disguised by the translation “offend,” in the sense of “cause to stumble.” The same translation appears frequently elsewhere. One of the special characteristics of Christianity is its tenderness for the weak
By the Lord Jesus.—Rather, in the Lord Jesus. A solemn form of asseveration. The Apostle is speaking from the very depths of his Christian consciousness as one who knows that he has himself put on the Spirit of Christ.
To him that esteemeth.—This would mean, in philosophical language, that the quality of uncleanness was not an objective property in the thing itself, but a subjective quality in the mind of the person regarding it as such. Still, this subjective quality is for the individual a real one, and should be treated as real. (Comp. Mark 7:15.)
Two stages are noted in the words “grieved” and “destroy.” When one man sees another do that which his own conscience condemns, it causes him pain, but when he is further led on from this to do himself what his conscience condemns, he is in danger of a worse fate; he is morally ruined and undone. The work of redemption that Christ has wrought for him is cancelled, and all that great and beneficent scheme is hindered of its operation by an act of thoughtlessness or want of consideration on the part of a fellow Christian.
With thy meat.—Rather, because of meat, on a mere question of meat.
Righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.—By “righteousness and peace” is not here meant imputed righteousness, or justification and reconciliation with God, but rather the moral condition of righteousness in the Christian himself, and concord with his fellow-men. These are crowned in the confirmed Christian by that feeling of subdued and chastened exultation which is wrought in Him by the presence in his heart or constant influence of the Holy Spirit.
It is remarkable how, with all the wide difference in terminology between the writings of St. Paul and the Gospels, they yet come round to the very same point. The “kingdom of God,” as here described, is exactly what we should gather from the fuller and more detailed sayings of our Lord. “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man;” “The kingdom of God is within you;” “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation;” “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light;” “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness;” “Blessed are the peacemakers;” “Rejoice and be exceeding glad.”
It has not been beyond the power of heathen or even Christian philosophers, such, e.g., as Marcus Aurelius, to arrive at the conception of righteousness and peaceableness as duties to be observed and striven after. The peculiarity of Christianity consists in the unity which it gives to these attributes as naturally flowing from a spring of deep religious emotion, and from the finish and perfection which it adds to them by the introduction of that third term, “joy in the Holy Ghost.” Many individuals have shown, and still show, with greater or less approximation, what the Christian type should be, but the great and only perfect Exemplar is Jesus Himself, and that less, perhaps, in the later portion of His career, when He was fulfilling that other side of His mission, to “bear the sins of many” as the Saviour of mankind, than in the earlier untroubled phase which finds expression in the Sermon on the Mount. This is in closest contact with the normal life of men.
Serveth Christ.—Here the principle of unity which holds together different sides and manifestations of the Christian character is indicated.
Approved of men.—So that He will not be “evil spoken of,” as the uncompromising legalist or anti-legalist is apt to be.
Edify.—The word has unfortunately lost its freshness of meaning, but we have no other single equivalent for it in English. It is the “upbuilding,” or mutual help and assistance in the spiritual life which Christians receive from their intercourse with each other.
The work of God.—The fabric which the grace of God has begun, and which the edification of Christians by each other may help to raise in the soul; the gradual formation of a truly Christian character, both spiritual and moral.
For that man who eateth with offence.—It seems, on the whole, best (though the other view is taken) to refer the “eating” here to the strong in faith, and the “offence” to that which his eating causes to the weaker brethren. The force of the preposition is that his eating is attended with offence.
Any thing—i.e., to do anything; all three words have to be supplied.
Or is offended, or is made weak.—There is a remarkable division of authority for the omission or retention of these words, the Sinaitic and Alexandrine MSS. with the Paris rescript being on the one side, and the Vatican, with the Græco-Latin Codices, on the other; and the versions pretty nearly divided. Here internal evidence comes in, and decides us to omit the words as most probably a gloss.
In that thing which he alloweth.—In the acts which he permits himself. He is a happy man who can eat what he pleases, and drink what he pleases, without any qualms of conscience to condemn him while he does so.
Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.—This is intended as a general principle, but only as a general principle covering this particular kind of case. Where the conscience is in doubt, faith alone can make it right to choose the side against which conscience inclines. Nothing is said about those cases in which conscience is either not appealed to at all, or approves what is done. Hence St. Augustine was wrong in arguing from this passage that even good actions, when done by unbelievers, were of the nature of sin.