The Christians to whom Paul wrote these words were troubled with “disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). The urge to demand others conform to our conscience over matters of liberties is strong. Left unchecked in our hearts, it leads to contempt and condemnation of each other (Rom. 14:3, 10). Critically condemning personal liberties had to stop to avoid being stumbling blocks and promote unity (Rom. 14:13; 15:1-3). Paul is not advising and advancing doctrinal and moral unity in diversity in Romans 14. He is advancing unity by respecting the consciences of each other in matters that are “clean,” “good,” “acceptable,” “pure,” in things God does “not condemn” (Rom. 14:14, 16, 18, 20, 22). By focusing our faith on God through His word guiding us, we avoid factiousness over different consciences toward God-allowed liberties. Christians glorify God by hearts filled with joy, peace, and hope by the power of God’s Spirit guiding us in truth (Rom. 15:5-7, 13).
28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28–31, NKJV)
The reciprocal tension between faith and doubt is displayed in the marvel miracle when Jesus (and Peter) walked on water. Confident in Christ’s command, Peter got out of the boat and walked on water toward Jesus. Then, fear found a place in his heart as he focused on the wind and waves instead of on Jesus, and he wavered in doubt. Faith gave way to dread and doubt. Peter was being pulled in two different directions. His faith in Jesus compelled him to do what would be unthinkable and impossible (walk on water). But fear caused him to doubt. Jesus said Peter lacked trust when he doubted and began to sink (“little faith”). Jesus immediately saved Peter, which reassures us in times of doubt. When doubt tests our faith, let us remember that victory over this world’s spiritual dangers is through faith in Christ (1 Jno. 5:4-5). Trust and obey His word. Do not let doubt pull you away from Christ.
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:11–12, NKJV)
When compared to human expectations, God does the unexpected. The great victory against the false prophets at Mt. Carmel manifested His power and genuineness as the only God (1 Kings 18). But now, queen Jezebel is hunting for Elijah to kill him. We find him at Horeb, the mountain of God (Sinai). Before arriving, Elijah had prayed for death, thinking things were hopeless (they weren’t, 1 Kgs. 19:4, 15-17). He thought he was the only faithful one left (he wasn’t, 1 Kgs. 19:18). In the midst of his doubt and despair, God did the unexpected. He revealed Himself in a “still small voice.” The point is not for us to wait for such a voice before we act, any more than we should wait for a strong wind, an earthquake, or fire from heaven. We will find the Lord where He told us to look – in His word. He manifests Himself to those who love Him by keeping His commands (Jno. 14:21). Let us trust and obey the word of God instead of expecting God to do things according to our expectations (Lk. 6:46; Jno. 6:68; 8:31-32).
1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” (Romans 15:1–3, NKJV)
The apostle teaches us to defer to the Christian who holds a conscientious doubt toward a personal scruple (a liberty that allowed by the Lord and that is non-sinful in nature, Romans 14:1-5). We are not to “destroy” a Christian for the sake of clinging to our personal preferences (liberties which, by definition, are pure, but not compulsory, Romans 14:20). We put a stumbling block before the weak (doubtful) brother when we will not forego our liberty to help him keep from violating his conscience (Romans 14:13, 15, 20, 22-23). When it comes to personal liberties we are not to please ourselves, but willingly decline to use our liberty to protect the doubtful (weak) brother. Jesus did not please Himself, but accepted our reproaches so we could be redeemed from sin. Similarly, we must not cling to non-sinful liberties when using them leads the weak (doubtful) Christian to violate his or her conscience (Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:7-13). We must think more of others than we do ourselves. That would solve many problems, wouldn’t it?
He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. (Proverbs 17:27, NKJV)
Hearts are disquieted by uncertainty and doubt. When His apostles’ hearts were troubled, Jesus calmed them with assuring words of truth that shored up their faith (John 14:1-11). Understanding God’s word is a divinely-given resource to combat the anxious mind. Faith in Christ and His word leads us to a place of contentment, reassurance and hope in the face of life’s storms. On the other hand, multiplying our own words without knowledge feeds pride but fails to soothe the soul (Job 35:9-16; 38:2). Our spirit is calmed when our faith is informed by God’s word. Whatever uncertainty you face, seek God’s answers in the Bible. Understanding God’s word can calm your spirit as you put your trust in what He says. If your spirit is troubled, spend time with God’s word and gain understanding.
36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” 37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” 38 Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:36–38, NKJV)
Jesus was headed for Golgotha (the place of a skull), there to die a disgraceful death for the sins of the world, and afterward to enter His glory (John 17:4-5). Peter would follow Jesus in life, and in his death he would glorify God (John 21:18-19). But for now, as Jesus was on His way to Golgotha, Peter’s overconfidence would be betrayed by fear and doubt, leading him to deny even knowing Jesus (John 18:15-18, 25-27). And so, we learn to be careful not to become self-righteous and arrogant in our faith. We learn of God’s amazing forgiveness, for Peter went on to be a great apostle of Christ. And, we learn that even when we grievously sin, the Lord will receive us back and use us for His purposes. So, let us follow Jesus in faithful obedience, nothing doubting. He will lead us to heaven, the place He has already gone.