Brotherly Love, Alcohol, and Romans 14

Love One Another

This post will take a thorough look at Romans 14 and how it applies to Christian liberty, brotherly love, and alcohol.

As a reminder, we began the topic of alcohol consumption in the context of 1 Timothy 4:3-4. This passage instructs us to not refuse (nor forbid) the consumption of food which God has designed to be received with thanksgiving.  We have explored the pros and cons of drinking alcohol, sifting them through the lens of God’s word. This post (our final before concluding the discussion of alcohol) will probe into the “if and when” we should lovingly choose to abstain from alcohol in preference to a weaker brother. I will draw heavily from Dr. Kenneth Gentry’s work God Gave Wine.

Early in Chapter 6, Gentry asks, “Is the Christian under obligation to alter his behavior, which in itself is not sinful, for the sake of others?” He then appeals to Romans 14 (rather than 1 Corinthians 8-10) because it concisely addresses the topic and specifically mentions drinking wine.  In addition, Gentry notes that the Corinthian passage approaches the topic in the context of foods sacrificed to idols, whereas Romans does not.

Differing Views on Alcohol

I differ from Gentry slightly here, suspecting that the Romans passage also deals with foods sacrificed to idols (see Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 8:7). Wine was often used in religious ceremonies as a libation, even under the Old Covenant system (see 2 Chronicles 29:35). The consumption of wine was also a normal part of ancient society and alone would not likely be offensive to Paul’s readers (though we could list passages supporting both positions).

Either way, Gentry points out that our western culture does not struggle with food sacrificed to idols, but does differ on views about alcohol consumption. And since brotherly love is key, the principles from the Romans (and Corinthians) passage apply today. As Christians, we are to esteem one another as more important than ourselves. And since alcohol is an issue today among Christians, we need to demonstrate love in our dealing with those who choose a different approach.

Let’s begin by looking at Romans 14.

The Weak, the Strong, and Romans 14

Romans 14:1: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”

If we did not know that Paul had previously “called out” Peter for not eating with the Gentiles (passing judgment), we might miss the significance of this passage. The topic at hand is not a “sin” issue (forsaking fellowship with Christians over food); this passage addresses the topic of Christian liberty within the context of brotherly love.

Gentry says, “the problem exposes spiritual weakness and intellectual confusion….not…distorting theological truth.”

In the passage, Paul divides Christians into two classes: the weak and the strong.

The weaker Christian has a “faith” issue. And the stronger Christian has an obligation to “accept” the weaker brother without “hoping to corner them and criticize their weakness on these matters (foods, days, and wine),” says Gentry.

Who Is the Weaker Brother?

Romans 14:2-3: “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 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.”

The weaker Christian is the one who feels obligated to abstain from meat (wine — vv. 17, 21) and “eats vegetables only” (or does not drink wine). For the sake of the topic, we will now address these passages specifically in the context of alcohol (wine).

Paul commands that both parties (the weak and the strong) have an obligation.

  • He who abstains from wine (the weaker brother) is not to judge him who imbibes (the stronger brother).
  • And the stronger (he who enjoys wine) is not to hold the weaker (he who believes drinking alcohol is wrong) in contempt for his views.

When discussing this topic, the tendency is to put all the responsibility on the “stronger” brother. But this is not what Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirt) instructs his readers. Gentry writes, “[This passage] enjoins both parties with the command to mutual concern.” If the weaker brother “condemns” another brother for drinking wine (something God does not condemn), he is ultimately condemning God, who approves the behavior under righteous circumstances.

Judge Not!

Romans 14:4: “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.”

Gentry asserts this command is still aimed at the weaker brother. “Paul makes it clear that the weaker Christians should not rebuke a stronger Christian for something that is not in fact sin.” This is meddling.

Be Convinced!

Romans 14:5b: “Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.”

Whether we choose to drink or not to drink — it must be done in faith. Otherwise it is sin. But regarding “drinking wine” — there is no sin. Drinking wine is only a sin if it is not done in faith, remembering that faith is not arbitrary; faith involves truth. To engage in unlawful wine drinking and ignore the plain teaching of Scripture (do not be drunk; do not be addicted; do not harm your brother) would not be acting in faith; it would be sin.

If a man believes it is lawful to drink wine, he may lawfully drink wine. If another believes it is sinful to drink wine, he must abstain. Whichever position, one is to be convinced in their own mind, ultimately surrendering to God’s revealed will.

God Keeps Accounts

Romans 14:10,12: “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God….So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”

Here again Paul addresses both the weak and the strong Christian. To the weak, in essence, he says: stop judging your brother who drinks wine. And to the strong he says: if your brother doesn’t want to drink alcohol, love him anyway, without contempt. And he reminds both parties that God will judge each righteously. As a reminder, if drinking alcohol was a sin, Paul would treat this issue in a different manner.

We are to lovingly confront our brothers and sisters who are sinning, rebuke them, and pray for them. Here Paul offers none of the biblical language that implies sin is involved. This is because there is no sin. Each man will give an account to God.

But now the focus shifts and Paul begins to warn the stronger brother so he does not sin.

A Stumbling Block

Romans 14:13: “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this — not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”

Gentry notes this verse is a turning point in the passage, where the focus shifts to the strong brother. In addition, Paul puts himself in the camp of the “stronger” by using the pronoun “us.”

If a stronger brother becomes a stumbling block to a weaker brother, he is not showing love, thereby sinning. But what exactly is a stumbling block?

While Gentry spends several pages answering this questions, appealing to the original Greek, his conclusion is thus:

In summary, when Paul enjoins the strong’s concern for the weak, he encourages them to be careful that they not entice or tempt a weak believer into overtly sinful behavior. He does not teach that Christians must avoid perturbing other Christians. The words he employs here are much too strong for such a light meaning.”

We can then conclude that a stumbling block is not just an irritation to a weaker brother, but rather an attempt to convince the weaker brother to go against his conscience.

Do Not Destroy!

Romans 14:15: “For if because of [wine] your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your [wine] him for whom Christ died.”

In answering the question of what it means “to destroy” your weaker brother, Gentry again appeals to the original Greek (as well as to reliable commentators) to conclude:

Simply put, Paul is here warning about the outcome of enticing the weaker brother into sinning against his conscience — which will bring God’s judgment….Clearly, it is a very serious matter…to lead the weaker Christian into sinning against his conscience.

Again it goes back to faith. Whatever is not of faith is sin. And it is sinful to entice a weaker brother to sin against his conscience (or destroy him).

Good and Evil

Romans 14:16: “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing [drinking wine] be spoken of as evil.”

While the “good thing” in view is not “drinking wine” specifically, it does include to the Christian’s liberty to drink wine or eat meat or engage in whatever is not contrary to the law of God. This good thing is not to be spoken of as evil. How might we speak evil of that which is good?

By enticing a weaker brother to act against his or her conscience.

When Is It Good to Abstain?

Romans 14:21: “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.”

Gentry argues this verse does not teach that abstinence from wine is good in general (nor required). For then we too would all have to become vegetarians. (See Gentry’s God Gave Wine for the full argument.)

Instead, Paul is saying that we should abstain from eating meat and/or drinking wine, rather than cause our brother or sister to defile their conscience by tempting them to act contrary to faith (to stumble).

Gentry further notes that Paul himself would use this time of abstinence for two reasons: 1. “He would abstain in order not to prompt a weaker brother into actually sinning against his conscience” (as previously mentioned). 2. “He would abstain in order to assist the weaker brother in overcoming” his wrong understanding. To the weak Paul would become weak so that he might help the weak become strong (1 Cor. 9:22).

Gentry adds, “The Christian does the weaker brother no favor by confirming him in his weakness.”

The Conclusion of the Matter

Paul sums us his argument in the following verses.

Romans 14:22-23: “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats [or drinks wine], because his eating in not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.”

Paul’s conclusion clarifies that the issue concerning alcohol consumption is the conscience. For whatever is not from faith is sin. And for the stronger brother — he does not have Christian liberty to cause a weaker Christian to sin against his or her conscience.

Application

  1. A weaker brother, who sees alcohol drinking as sin, should not judge a brother who drinks in faith. God is the judge in this matter.
  2. A stronger brother (or sister) cannot treat with contempt a brother who does not imbibe. They have no right to scorn or belittle a believer for timidity in this area.
  3. A stronger believer, should not tempt a weaker brother to go against their conscience. So doing may cause them to sin. And it is sinful to cause another to stumble.
  4. A stronger brother should seek to lovingly correct a weaker brother in this matter when appropriate.

In America, the topic of alcohol consumption needs to taken back to the obedience of Christ. A great way to get the dialogue going is to share this article with your friends.


Next: Conclusion: (Almost) Everything You Need to Know About God and Alcohol

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.


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