The darkness that Jewish Christians needed to overcome was primarily in the area of hypocritical prejudices against Gentiles (Romans 2:17-24 and 3:1-18), establishing their own righteousness (Romans 10B), and a superiority complex that caused a separation where no separation was authorized (Romans 3:9ff). Both Jew and Gentile Christians needed to learn to fulfill the laws of God while having tender affectionate feelings for each other (Romans 12:10). Self-control would help them overcome lust of the flesh while respect and honor would put them in the right frame of mind toward civil governing authorities (Romans 13). The book of Romans deals with relationships that exist between Christian brothers and sisters as well as their relationships with those of the world. When we conduct ourselves right in each of these relationships we will live a Godly and peaceful life.
Paul now considers another relationship that demands identification of terms. Paul speaks of those who are "weak in faith" (Romans 14:1) and those who are "strong" in faith (Romans 15:1). One's weakness or strength was in the area of a personal approach to Christian liberties. There are commandments of God where the Lord does not give man a choice as to whether he will practice it or not. There are also liberties, such as eating meat and circumcision, which will not get one closer to God if one practices or does not practice (see 1 Corinthians 7:19 and 8:89).
The strong understand that all liberties are clean and they are confident in their practices (see Romans 14:14). The weak understand liberties; however, they do not feel confident or comfortable doing certain things so they refrain. The object of this chapter is to keep peace in areas of liberties even though brothers in Christ have differing judgments and opinions over these matters.
Many Christians in recent years have misunderstood this chapter to be a treaty on handling doctrinal differences among brethren. It has been said by foolish men who have not carefully studied the text or context of this chapter that Paul is giving an apologetic for unity in diversity that solves problems among brethren that have doctrinal differences. It is believed by the erring that Romans 14 teaches us to tolerate doctrinal differences of opinion and personal interpretation. The great problem with these erring men is that Paul is teaching the Romans to not elevate their opinions in the area liberties to the level of law or commandment. Paul is not talking about making judgments and having differences in areas of doctrinal rigid and exact laws of Righteousness. Paul explains that the matter under consideration is acceptable if done in confidence (Romans 14:5). Could we say that adultery is acceptable if you feel its "good' to do (see Romans 14:16)? Can we perform sinful acts of cursing and fornication if it's done in service to Christ (Romans 14:18)? Is adultery acceptable to God and considered clean (Romans 14:18, 20)? The answers to these questions are obvious. The matter under consideration in this chapter is not how we handle doctrinal differences but rather how we handle liberties. Liberties will get us no closer to God if we do or do not do them (see 1 Corinthians 7:19). Paul had to write this section in Romans because there were extremely conscientious and prideful brethren that were to be warned not to judge each other in areas of liberties, personal choice, personal judgments, or matters of indifference (see Romans 14:13). One servant is not permitted to judge the actions of another servant as wrong when the master gives all servants liberty in a particular matter.
John C Robertson