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.
It was out of line for Duke’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, to upbraid Oregon player Dillon Brooks following the Duck’s victory in the 2016 Sweet 16 NCAA playoff. A coach is responsible only for his own team and should not attempt to coach another team’s player. Coach K eventually apologized to both Brooks and Oregon coach Dana Altman.
Here in verse 4 Paul applies that same principle to differences of opinion among members of the church. Keeping to the sports analogy, we all play on the same team and must leave it up to our coach to determine how well each of us is playing. The Lord himself, our wise Master, will judge whether each servant stands or falls.
This verse expresses the “critical theological foundation,” as Douglas Moo puts it, of Paul’s argument in this section. Each person is responsible to please the Lord and no one else. So if we don’t like someone else’s behavior on a matter that doesn’t involve the gospel or morality, we should not get all worked up over it and criticize a fellow believer. Let the Lord deal with the person as he sees fit.
Whom is Paul addressing?
Paul has mentioned two groups of people. One group is “weak in faith” and the other he will identify in 15:1 as “we who are strong.” So who are the “you” Paul confronts in his opening rhetorical question? They could be both groups, but there is good reason to think Paul targets the “weak” believers. They are the ones Paul rebukes in verse 3 for passing judgment on the believers who eat anything. Moo points as well to Romans 2:1 where Paul rebukes self-satisfied Jews for judging Gentile believers who don’t follow the law’s rituals.
Colin Kruse captures Paul’s meaning: “The error of the ‘weak’ when they pass judgment on the ‘strong’ is that they presume that when the ‘strong’ live in the freedom the gospel provides, they will fall into sin. They fail to recognize that the Lord who establishes his servants in this freedom is able to make them stand.”
Our Lord is mighty to save
We gain God’s acceptance and favor not by performing rituals and obeying laws but by our faith in Jesus Christ. Once we have accepted his gracious offer of salvation, God is able to make us stand, and the Greek word translated “is able” is much stronger than these English words suggest. Marvin Vincent gives the meaning as “is mighty.” The Lord’s grace is far mightier than any human effort, and it has the power to sustain us through to the end so that we stand triumphantly in our Christian liberty.
Pleasing our Lord
Our responsibility is to please our Master. Paul likens each of us to a domestic slave or servant in our Master’s house (the term for servant is oiketēs, not the more frequent term for slave or servant in the NT, which is doulos). Kruse explains, “To criticize someone else’s servant was inadmissible, and in the case of a guest, a violation of hospitality rules in the ancient world.”
To learn how to please our Master, we consult the rules of the house, his word. We find that he delights when we are merciful, kind, just, loving, repentant, generous, diligent, truthful, obedient, forgiving, gentle, and humble. Our Master sees and knows everything we do at all time in every room of the house. Nowhere do we escape his gaze, but he is not domineering. He truly delights in us, which is all the more reason to please him in every thought and deed.