"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).
A problem with life in the Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is creative and unpredictable. We are each given a wide range of gifts and prayer concerns, and there are innumerable ways of expressing the love of God in an infinity of particular situations. When we find that other Christians behave so differently from what we take to be the norm, it is easy to judge them or to feel guilty for what we have been given.
14:1-3 We are to welcome any whose faith seems weak by expressing itself differently from our norms. And having welcomed people to our fellowship we should avoid quarreling over matters of personal opinion. In Paul's day there were differences relating to food. Some chose to be vegetarian, and others felt free to eat all the squids, snails, eels, birds, and insects served up in the Greek world. These differences came into sharp focus when Christians sat down at table to share communion together. Paul encourages their freedom to enjoy or to abstain as long as they allow others the right to differ. In our day we have other kinds of difference about who can be welcomed to communion, and we will need to see how the same principle could apply.
14:4 The lord of a vast estate will have servants appointed to do very different tasks in very different ways. We may not understand the reasons for what they do, but we have no business judging the behavior of other servants.
14:5-6 As in our day, the early Christians quickly began to value certain fast days and anniversaries, "Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths" (Colossians 2:16). Whether we keep or don't keep Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, or Whitsunday, Mother's Day, Earth Day, or any of the saints' days that appeal to us, it should be "in honor of the Lord" and whatever we do it should result in thanksgiving (as in 14:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; 1 Timothy 4:3, 4).
14:7-9 To reinforce our very personal responsibility to Christ in ethical matters, Paul reminds us of his death and resurrection. Jesus is not merely the Lord who will raise us from death, but we serve him as Lord now.
14:10 Every succeeding wave of charismatic life in Church history has been plagued by judgmentalism and a legalistic undertow. God is the judge, and we have our own personal submission to him. So we have no business despising those who do not conform to the particular lifestyle which God has opened up for us.
14:11-12 The quotation from Isaiah 45:23 is part of an invitation to turn to the Lord as Saviour. Paul seems to connect this invitation with Jesus, the Lord who died and rose again (14:7-9). This again suggests that the Lord who made his advent in the toppling of the temple and the city of Jerusalem was the Lord who kept making his advents in the Old Testament period (see the commentary on 2:5 and 13:11). And he is the one who continues as our judge (14:10).
14:13-16 That leaves no place for us to "pass judgment on one another." But Christian freedom does not mean we are free to cause others to stumble in ways that will hinder their faith and spiritual development.
14:17-18 It seems that for Paul the "Kingdom of God" included all of God's ways of dealing with us and our response to him. For example, in Ephesus Paul "entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8). In a previous epistle Paul had said "The kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power" (1 Corinthians 4:20). And our sharing in the life of the kingdom is bound to result in changes in behaviour (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:21).
There are many references to the kingdom of God in Matthew and Mark (E.g. Matthew 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 13:24, 31-33, 44-47; Mark 1:14; 4:11, 26, 30), but Luke makes a special point of telling us that for Jesus' Kingdom ministry he was "filled with the power of Spirit" (Luke 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18, 43). And by the end of the Gospel the disciples are to wait till they are empowered in the same way as Jesus was (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:4).
Paul has spoken about the huge cultural and life-style differences which are acceptable among Christians, but these are very unimportant compared with "righteousness and peace and joy." Earlier in the epistle we defined righteousness as "being made right by the power of God," which results in learning to love the way God loves. So Paul is again referring to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and fact that the required ethical change can only be "in the Holy Spirit."
The Holy Spirit is the creator of love and joy and peace (14:17), which not only God, but people of all nations appreciate. But the Spirit also delights in the exuberant creation of the differences which all nations will contribute to the glory of heaven (Revelation 21:24), and it is these cultural and life-style differences which easily divide us. God likes a garden with a huge variety of flowers, but they should grow together into one harmonious garden. In the Church rather than make the wolf lamb-like, the miracle of the Spirit is getting the wolf and the lamb to lie down next to each other (Isaiah 11:6, which comes immediately after the Davidic reign of the Spirit in vv.1-5).
14:19-21 For a congregation to live in the Spirit there must be a continual "effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). Then, "As each part is working properly, it promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:16). That may involve on occasion holding back from some behaviour that we are normally free to engage in but would in that situation cause others to stumble (as in 14:15).
14:22-23 We have looked at the life of faith illustrated by Abraham's faith in the power of God (Romans 4:16-22). We are put right by faith in God but also by the working in us of that power. When this is experienced we have an inner assurance of rightness before God. And there is no reason to condemn ourselves for the way we act from faith.
14:23 Anything done from the energy of the flesh is sin, and it eventually results in miserable self-condemnation (14:22). As we have seen, sin is not particular acts which are judged as bad or good (6:1-23) but a mind set on living without the Spirit in the merely human strength of the flesh (Romans 8:4-8).