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Saints and Sinners: As Neighbors

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 13 September 2020

A Sermon on Romans 14:1-12 by Samuel D. Zumwalt

Romans 14:1-12  English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


The Latin word “esse” means “to be.” It is the origin of our word “essential.” Theologically, we use the word “esse” to speak of those doctrines and practices that are essential to the Church. Things that are not optional are of the “esse” of the Church. St. Luke speaks of the “esse” in Acts 2 as the Church is born on Pentecost Sunday. Repentance and Holy Baptism (2:38) and the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers (2:42) are of the “esse.” When you see these things as a whole, you see Christ’s Church.

In response to a question about how to discern the true Church, Martin Luther created a list of seven marks of the Church: God’s Word (preaching); Holy Baptism; Holy Communion; Office of the Keys (Confession & Absolution); Pastors; Ordered Prayer (Liturgy); and Suffering. At a time of great confusion about what is of the “esse” of the Church, Luther gives a description.

In Romans 14, Paul is, again, writing to Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Church at Rome, who are making judgments about each other over what is of the “esse” of the Church. At issue is how to exercise the freedom Christians enjoy through their Baptism into Christ. The “strong” are the majority group in the Church at Rome, who are admonishing the “weak” (the minority) , that being Christian means absolute freedom in matters of what one eats (as in the Old Testament dietary laws). While the Lord Jesus has already made this clear in Mark 7 and in Acts 10-11, the attitude of the “strong” in Romans is arrogant and rude in its judgment of the “weak,” namely those who observe the Jewish dietary laws regarding the eating of unclean meat. Paul speaks about this most eloquently in 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5. Christians serve each other.

As we have noted on previous Sundays, the last section of Romans is St. Paul’s description of the new life in Christ that the Church at Rome will live as a result of having been made a new creation by the Holy Spirit in the washing of Holy Baptism. The Roman majority see themselves as more mature in the faith than the minority. The Word of God has become a sledgehammer in their hands. The minority still want to keep kosher and to observe all the Jewish holy days as Jews. They judge the majority, too, for their failure to understand the holiness of the old ways.


The Latin phrase “bene esse” means literally “to be good.” Theologically, the phrase “bene esse” refers to those things that are for the “well-being” of the Church. In other words, some things are not of the “esse” of the Church, but they are for the “bene esse.” Congregational constitutions and by-laws are not of the “esse,” for instance, but they are for the “bene esse.” They lay out carefully how a congregation, a regional affiliation, and an assembly of regional affiliations have decided to relate with each other. This is particularly helpful for the choosing of bishops, the singling out of and training of candidates for the pastoral ministry, and the support of work that is beyond the scope of a local congregation. The problem of Christian disunity emerges from not being able to agree on what is of the “esse” and what is for the “bene esse” of the Church.

The early Church’s agreement about which books belong in the Bible and the subsequent development of creeds gave clarity about what is of the “esse” of the Church as opposed to what is for the “bene esse.” Throughout the letter to the Romans, St. Paul has identified what is of the “esse,” namely, the Word that all are sinners and have fallen short of God’s glory, all cannot free ourselves by our own reason or effort, and all need God’s Son Jesus to be our Savior. As Charles Wesley wrote: “His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood avails for me” (LBW #559).

Holy Baptism is, again, not what we do for God out of obedience but the very place where we are joined to our Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection. There is absolutely nothing in our human nature that gives us power to cooperate in our salvation. Born dead in our trespasses whether we are ethnically Jewish or ethnically Gentile, God’s Son must save us from sin, death, and the devil. If there were anything in our human nature that could cooperate in salvation, God would not to have become incarnate from the Virgin Mary, suffer, and die to set us sinners free. By the preaching of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit creates faith in us and calls us to the water of Holy Baptism where we are reborn as children of God. In Christ, our human nature is made new.

This is St. Paul’s point when he writes: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord, so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” There is nothing about our lives that escapes God’s knowing. The tiniest details are on display. Why we eat or don’t eat certain foods, why we observe or don’t observe certain days, our Lord sees and knows. There are no brackets around any thought, word, or deed. How we live as neighbors in the Church matters to the Lord, who has purchased us with His precious blood on His holy cross! We are His!!!


St. Paul sums it all up with the Greek phrase “logon dosei to theo,” which means “to give account to God.” In the words of country singer Don Williams, “He’s watching people everywhere; He knows who does and doesn’t care.” That’s not simply a warning to unbelievers, who don’t have a clue about who God is, what He wants, and what He has done for all sinners through the saving death and glorious resurrection of His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

I must recognize I will give the Lord an account of my life. You must recognize you will give the Lord an account of your life. How have I been neighbor to my sisters and brothers in Christ? How have you been neighbor to your sisters and brothers in Christ? Our freedom isn’t license.

One of my seminary professors used to say that the most difficult thing about contending for the Truth as Christians is never to forget that each of us stands under the withering gaze of the Lord God, who sees and knows our sins and not simply the sins of the neighbors with whom we are contending. Each of us will stand alone before the judgment seat of the Lord God. To pastors, the Lord God will doubtless declare: “You said what?! You used my Word how? You acted toward your sisters and brothers in Christ how?” As we heard from Ezekiel last week, God holds those who speak and teach His Word to a stricter standard. Giving permission to sin is damnable.

St. Paul makes clear to those who are strong and those who are weak, to those who are judging the opinions of the Christian neighbor: Each of us must give an account of our life to the Lord! When we are the Lord’s through our Baptism into Christ, the old selfish sinner has to be put to death daily through repentance. Baptism is a way of life. Repentance is a way of life. This is of the “esse” of the Church. What we eat or don’t eat, which days we observe or don’t observe are not. But our keeping of the faith as the Lord’s people, while different, can be for the “bene esse.” High church or low church, incense or no incense, chanting or no chanting, kneeling or not, classical or popular music are not of the “esse.” Baptism is. Repentance is. The Lord’s Supper is.

If I officiate at your burial, and that is a possibility for even you youngest members, I will read Paul’s words at your burying place: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” If you are there at my burial, another pastor will read those words. We Christians live and we die in the Lord’s sight. He knows us. He sees us. He holds us to account by His Word. We will give Him an account!

St. Paul calls us to ask ourselves: “How am I honoring the Lord with my thoughts, words, and deeds… especially in Christ’s Church?” Am I being a good neighbor in Christ by my worship life, my prayer life, my use of God’s Word, my serving, my spiritual friendship, and my giving?

We repent, we turn around, we have a change or heart and mind, because the Holy Spirit has laid upon our hearts again and again the grace and mercy God our Father has bestowed on us through the shedding of Blood by His Son for us and our salvation. How will you be neighbor to your sisters and brothers in this part of the Body of Christ on earth? What have you done or left undone out of arrogance or rudeness, out of indifference or selfishness, out of failing to be His?

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt

St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert

Saints and Sinners: As Neighbors


 “O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 620-621).


Romans 14:1 “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.

Origen [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Bible scholar in Alexandria, Egypt]: “A man who is weak in his faith is to be accepted and not rejected. For it is one thing to be weak in faith but quite another to be an unbeliever altogether. An unbeliever has no faith at all, but one who is merely weak has doubts about certain aspects of the faith” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Romans, 337).

Romans 14:4  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?.”

 St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “It is not because someone does things which are worthy of escaping judgment that we are not to judge, but because the person in question is another man’s servant – not ours but God’s. It is up to God to decide…” (340).

Romans 14:6 “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord

St. John Chrysostom: “The issue at stake is not a fundamental one. Both sides are acting for God’s sake, and both end up by giving him thanks. Thus the difference between them turns out to be a minor one. Nevertheless, Paul aims a blow at the Judaizers, because he accepts the validity of all foods” (341).

Romans 14:8 “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.”

Origen of Alexandria “Here death refers to the death which we die when we are buried with Christ in Baptism, and life is the life we live in Christ, having died to sin and become strangers to this world” (342).

Romans 14:9 “that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”

St. John Chrysostom: “Christ put down his own life for our salvation. Having gone to so much trouble and expense, he is not likely to consider us as being of no value” (344).

Romans 14:12 “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

St. Polycarp [Early 2nd century Bishop of Smyrna, Turkey]: “If we ask the Lord to forgive us we should also forgive, for we stand before the eyes of the Lord God, and we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and each must give an account of himself” (345).


  1. Do I understand that I always stand as a sinner before the Lord and thus stand on level ground?


The Ten Commandments


The Second Commandment

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean?

“We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks” (Luther’s Small Catechism).


1. Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. Commit yourself to the study of God’s Word at St. Matthew’s whether in-person or online.

4. Practice every day saying the second commandment and its explanation. Rehearse it with others in your household or with a Christian friend over the phone. Hear this as God’s friendly commandment to urge you to call upon Him in prayer throughout the day.

5. Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily readings may be found at If you haven’t previously done so, please ask for a new devotional booklet when you return to corporate worship or when you drive through to receive the Body and Blood of Christ this weekend. Daily lectionary readings are on pp.190-191 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year Two, Week of 15 Pentecost).

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”