DEALING WITH THE WEAK IN FAITH Romans 14

Dr. Jerry A. Collins

 

Everyone comes into Godís household from varying degrees of religious backgrounds, Bible knowledge and spiritual input. There are definitely spiritual infants, spiritual children, spiritual adolescence, spiritual adults and the spiritually mature. These varying vantage points must be considered as we begin to invite one another into each otherís lives. Our discipling obligations to one another begin immediately. This requires negotiating the entry points and pathways of one another into this entity called Gods household. So what must we do? How do we nurture this interconnected family relationship? What must govern our action and how should we embrace one another?†† ††

 

ACCEPT BOTH WEAK AND STRONG BECAUSE THEY ARE ACCEPTED BY GOD

Verse 1: Christianity is filled with all kinds of people and mutual acceptance is the fundamental starting point for this household to grow up. Now accept the one who is weak in faith. It begins by understanding the implications of our Christian liberty. A person of weak faith is one who does not fully grasp his personal freedom in Christ in regard to mere earthly things, like alcohol, cards, music, meat tators or veggies, clothing, haircuts etc. They will then tend to become more traditional, pharisaical, judgmental, and fundamental until and if they can ever sort out true Christian liberty we have in non-moral, merely earthly concerns. The strong in faith should take by the hand accept the weak in faith.

PTóThe weakness in faith is not defined as moral disobedience. Moral weakness is to be addressed for sure and that with discipline as both Paul and Christ taught (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5; Galatians 6:1-6). The weakness here is immaturity, weak in faith, not weak in morality. The context for the weak here may be the need to be welcomed to the Lordís Supper regardless of their personal scruples about certain foods. In other words, you need to grow up in these matters. Entire denominations and local churches have been constructed around maintaining the weaker brother. And why do this?

óbut not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. Paul here refers to conclusions drawn from a personís own thought processes, his opinions or reasoningís, rather than those drawn directly from Godís Word. Immature Christians who sincerely want to follow Christ, but do not have much knowledge or understanding, will often become more conservative. Conservatism is not maturity. Itís the response of weak faith, but in non moral areas. A conservative thinks within a box that brings chaos into order, but everything outside of the box is wrong. They are what Jesus later called ďold wineskins.Ē

Verse 2: The problem of differing opinions about foods is the first question that Paul brings forward. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. For some reason this Christian believed that he would please God more by not eating meat than by eating it (or maybe wearing this, not playing that, not going there orÖ) He was wrong. God had not forbidden Christians from eating any food. For everything created by God is good (by nature), and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude (1 Timothy 4:3-4). Eating food is an amoral matter.

PTóSo, here is the vegetarian issue. One says we were not made to eat meat. I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you (Genesis 1:29). Other says no we can eat anything. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant (Genesis 9:3). Yes, but that was after the fall and clearly not Gods ideal. Yes, but Jesus says in Mark 7 that no food is unclean. Yes, but in millennium we will only eat vegetables. On it goes! In the new church age dispensation, there would be no unclean food (Acts 10:15; Romans 14:14; Galatians 2:11-17; Colossians 2:20-22). It is important to understand that not everyone in body of Christ will have your convictions.

Verse 3: For those who are not weak in the faith, they must not scorn those who are. The one who eats (meat tators and veggies) is not to regard with contempt (spite, utter disregard) the one who does not eat. If the person who eats looks down on the person who doesnít eat, he has not accepted him (taken by the hand) in a truly Christian manner. But conversely, the person who doesnít eat should not adopt a judgmental attitude toward the person who eats. And the one who does not eat is not to judge (make pronouncement about) the one who eats. The scrupulous Christian must not censure (whether verbally or in his heart) the brother who does not share his scruples. Why? For God has accepted him in the sense that God has made him his companion and taken him by the hand. They must not refuse to accept someone whom God has accepted. To refuse whom God has accepted is placing oneself as judge.

Verse 4: So, the logical question for both groups, who are you to judge the servant of another? Notice the switch in emphasisófrom bother to servant. From ID to me to ID to God. It is arrogant overreaching if a believer imagines he can pass judgment on a fellow Christian who, in fact, is Godís house servant. Only his master has that right. Thus, to judge a fellow Christians preferences was to usurp the prerogative of the Lord of the Christian household.

óTo his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Itís the Lord of the house servant who ultimately approves or disapproves of his conduct that matters. The typical scrupulous Christian would be tempted to think that his less scrupulous brother would surely fall into sinóthat even if a particular matter is not in itself wrong, it can easily lead to doing what is actually wrong, so God would ultimately disapprove of his conduct. But Paul here denies this censorious conclusion. On the contrary, Paul insists that he shall be enabled to stand. That by relying on Godís strength this enabling will be granted so that this brother avoids sin in living out his Christian freedom. The scrupulous (weak) brother is underestimating Godís power on behalf of his more confident brother.

Verse 5: So what about in regard to special days? Differences about the religious importance of certain days were potentially more disruptive than differences about diet. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. So it could it be making judgments about the significance of or relevance of or necessity of the Sabbath/Sunday debate, Jewish festive days, but may include other holy days like good Friday. Again which position held is irrelevant. The important question was not whether such scruples about special days were correct or not but each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. To be inclined or persuaded, in your own mind that this is what you must do. Paul will not forbid the observance itself, but he wants believers to undertake them only out of deep conviction.

An Applicationó Understand, we are to make judgments. But we are not to judge people in the sense of giving them justice or punishment (an eye for an eye óMatthew 5:38-39). Thatís only for God (Romans 12:9) and government (Romans 13:1-5). We should also not judge based on arbitrary standards we create (Matthew 7:1). But we are to judge in the sense of having moral discernment. Every moral command in the Bible assumes we have moral discernment. Jesus said, on your own initiative judge what is right (Luke 12:57), and to judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). So, although we are not to use our standard of measure to punish people we are to take our own initiative to judge, in the sense of discerning right and wrong, making moral decisions with a righteous standard of measure. Every believerís connection to God in Christ is the reason we must accept each otherís preferences.

 

THE WEAK AND STRONG BOTH BELONG TO CHRIST

Verse 6: Assuming that the conviction is deeply held, the observance of certain days, or the non-observance of certain days, will be a matter of conscience before the Lord. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord. Thus both observance and non-observance should be seen as part of oneís individual relationship to God. And he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat. The one who observes the day observes it with a desire to please the Lord, while the non-observer feels his relationship to God does not require this observance. In other words, the non-observer (i.e., the strong Christian) is expressing his Christian liberty in not observing the day.

óand gives thanks to God. This is demonstrated by the fact that he too gives God thanks for what he does eat. He could hardly do so if he felt that he was eating what he should not have been eating. Thus the thankfulness of both parties attests to their God-consciousness in what they choose to eat or not to eat. Our convictions should be oriented toward pleasing God. This vertical focus on our preferences makes them a matter of oneís personal interest to please God. Once that focus becomes horizontal, then those preferences are weaponized to judge one another. The exact opposite of Godís desire for us.

Verses 7-8: So we do not to pass judgment on each other in matters of personal opinion. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself. The believerís experience is inextricably related to the Lord to whom the believer belongs. For if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord. If all of this is taken seriously, it is manifest that whether we live or die, we are the Lordís. Itís inescapable that we are the Lordís and that we cannot avoid our connection with Him in whatever we do. No believer should live to please himself alone, but should live to please the Lord. Our whole existence this side of the grave and the other, in life and in death, should express our commitment to please the Lord (Philippians 1:202 Corinthians 5:9).

Verse 9: As believers we are indeed the Lordís (v 8), but the broader fact is that Christ both died as well as rose and lived to be everybodyís Lord, whether they are dead or living. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. This is the big picture. Jesus Christ also lived, died, and lives again. By undergoing death, He obtained lordship over the dead, and by rising and living, He obtained lordship over the living. Consequently, He is Lord of both those who have died and those who are still alive. He is the Judge because of this, and we are not. Itís interesting that Christ is declared Lord of both the dead and the living. That assumes that the dead still exist as the same individuals they were when they were living. Christ would not be Lord over those who did not exist.

An Applicationó Ultimately, everyone is accountable to Christ as the judge. He will judge the unbeliever and believer. He will judge the dead and the living. So, orient your life vertically so that you check in with Him as to how you are doing and what you are doing. Donít usurp His prerogative by being scornful or censoringópracticing a sort of Christian cancel culture due to your preferences. Besides, as fellow believers we are all accountable to God for the use/misuse of our preferences. Itís serious to think that believers feel justified judging one another this way. You are accountable for this.

 

THE WEAK AND STRONG WILL BE JUDGED BY GOD

Verse 10: Since Jesus is Lord both of the dead and the living, what business do believers have judging a Christian brother, or alternatively, scorning a Christian brother? But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? Both the critical weaker brother and the scorning stronger brother are guilty of the same offense, namely, judging prematurely and unwarrantedly. Since Jesus is Lord by virtue of both His death and resurrection, He alone has that prerogative. It follows we have no right to either judge or scorn our fellow servant. This is all the truer since we too will all stand before the judgment seat of God to give an account (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:12, 15; 4:6-8; 1 John 2:28; 4:17-19). That levels the playing field. Focus on your judgment then, before Christ.

Verse 11: For it is written. Here is scriptural proof that all believers must give an accounting to God. For this purpose, he draws upon Isaiah 45:23. ďAs I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.Ē Everyone will bow in judgment before the Son of God (Isaiah 45:2349:13; cf. Philippians 2:10-11). Christians will do so at the Judgment Seat of Christ following the Rapture (Luke 14:141 Thessalonians 4:13-171 Corinthians 4:52 Timothy 4:8Revelation 22:12). Old Testament saints will do so at the Second Coming (Isaiah 26:19Daniel 12:2). Unbelievers will do so at the Great White Throne judgment at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:11-15). God has set aside this time of evaluation for every living beingóeven us.

Verse 12: So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Individual believers should get out of the business of either judging or scorning their fellow servantís preferences, since those we judge or scorn, as well as ourselves, are subject to a final accounting to be rendered to God. We all have the personal responsibility to give an account of ourselves including our convictions to Christ. We will not answer for our fellow Christians, but for ourselves. Christianity is first an individual thing while simultaneously interacting within household, a collection of individuals, but never a community.

Verse 13: Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore. The implication is rather than passing judgment on one another, we should be seriously concerned that we ourselves not incur judgment at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Believers, Paul says, should focus their judgmental capacity on their own conduct, in this case about judging preferences, and determine whether or not it is harmful to their Christian brother. But rather determine thisónot to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brotherís way. That means that their conduct should not create an impediment for their fellow Christians. We are neither to ďtrip upĒ our brother, nor cause him to be ďensnaredĒ. Many see a stumbling block as additionally causing, or leading to, sin. ďWhat leads to sinĒ seems to be undeterminable and not a good basis for the Christian lifestyle. The illustrations in the passage are about eating or not eating certain foods or honoring certain days. It has nothing to do with what it will lead to. Itís about not doing something a weaker brother is already not doing, because he considers it unclean.

 

DONíT LET YOUR LIBERTY BE THE CAUSE FOR TRIPPING OTHERS

Verse 14: But there is also this. The concern for the sensitivities of others that he urges does not involve submission to their principles. The goal is to have weaker brothers become strong ones, not remain weak. To make this point he starts with himself. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. In saying this, Paul fortifies the strong in faith by assuring them he holds their view of things. This assurance, he affirms, is in the Lord Jesus carrying the Lordís approval. That there is nothing unclean of itself refers to what may be called the mundane, ordinary, things of human life. Violations of Godís moral law are not in view. Instead, Paul is thinking of the matters previously referred, i.e., negative restrictions pertaining to foods and observance of special days (v 2, 5). None of the actions forbidden in these activities can be considered inherently defiling.

However, to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Whatever uncleanness there may be lies in the perception of the individual. Thus, to a person who considers something to be unclean, it is actually unclean for that person. If such a person does not share Paulís knowledge and conviction, his freedom in the Lord Jesus is inhibited. Paul is talking about neutral things Ė like food, alcohol, drugs, houses, cars, etc. What we do with those things may, of course, be good or bad. But Paul adds the idea that things become sinful (unclean) if we think they are sinful. What is fascinating about that is, thinking about something a certain way makes it unclean.

Verse 15: But where such inhibitions exist, the strong believer must be fully sensitive to them. He cannot simply run roughshod over the feelings of his weaker brother. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. To do that is to stop walking in love and to live selfishly. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. The cost of such conduct could be that he would ruin, abolish, or cause that person to perish in temporal judgment or under Godís discipline, or loss of reward, who is in fact an individual for whom Christ died. Love demands that this consequence be avoided. Ruin is the opposite of edification. If a believer is led to violate his own conscience, he has actually sinned against God (James 4:17).

Verse 16: Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil. The way Iím to do that is to abstain from a good thing when it is a stumbling block could trip him up or ensnare his life in may bring him to personal and spiritual ruin as a weaker believer.

PTóSuppose I enjoy a glass of wine, or shoot guns and hunt animals, or play cards, or own such and such automobile orÖ but my [less mature] Christian brother thinks it is sinful. The way I am to avoid him speaking evil about my glass of wine is to not drink wine in his presence or tell hunting stories in his presence or put these in his/her face, since he believes it is unclean. We must not flaunt our freedom because it can be an occasion for anotherís temptation to act without a clear conscience making him accountable to God. We must relate in such a way that they then live as such to gain reward in heaven.

Verse 17: For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. This is a stupid and uninformed attitude to have because the Kingdom of God is not like this. The total sum and substance of the kingdom of God, the realm of Godís rule, is about righteousness, upright living, and peace, harmony, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The primary issues in the lives of dedicated Christians should not be external amoral practices, but the great spiritual qualities that the Holy Spirit seeks to produce in them. These are the essentials for Christian fellowship and harmony. The Fruit of the Spirit. This must be the emphasis we pace on the life of Christs body rather then forcing our own lifestyle upon one another. Once again we are challenged to conduct our lives from heavens point of view.

Verse 18: For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Actually, stressing these kingdom graces is serving Christ. Did you ever consider that containing your Christian liberty is a way in which you serve Christ? This kind of thing is very pleasing to God and in contrast to our liberty being evil spoken ofóit actually is viewed favorably by others. We win their approval. How? They realize what is more or less important in our walk with God. The righteous use of our Christian liberty becomes a teaching tool for those who need to mature and grow up. You can take the lead by how you adjust and engage with the weaker in faith so you do not contribute to their sinning.

Verse 19: So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Remember it is about edifying one another not bringing ruin to each other. Make every effort to pursue peace and to build up one another. It is not peace at any price. Itís not accepting doctrinal error. But my focus is on the other person, not on the enjoyment of my Christian liberty. For the strong this might be foregoing some legitimate amoral practice in my weaker brotherís presence. For the weak it could be refraining from verbal criticism and judgmental thinking as to the liberty my stronger brother enjoys.

Verse 20-21: Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. Even though God permits eating of all foods, He does not sanction eating that causes spiritual issues of conscience for someone else. This destroys the very work God is doing in building up His church. We actually are counter-productive when we insist on our liberty when it trips others spiritually. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The reason meat or wine or anything else should be put aside is because the weaker are not convinced that their faith in Christ allows them to do a particular thing yet. So the strong must abstain because their example might lead one to indulge and so to violate his conscience. Then the stronger in faith is accountable to God for misuse of his or her liberty.

 

DO ONLY WHAT YOUR CONSCIENCE ALLOWS YOU TO DO

Verse 22: The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. Donít spend your life telling others your stance on secondary issues as if your weakness of faith is Godís standard, and then try and force your convictions on another. A strong believer can also be happy in his private enjoyment because he knows that neither is he violating Godís will, nor his weaker brotherís conscience.

Verse 23: However, he who doubts is condemned if he eats. The weak brother who eats something that he believes he should not eat stands condemned by his own conscience and by God. If a person does what he believes to be wrong, even though it is not wrong in itself, it becomes sin for him. Because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. He has violated what he believes to be Godís will. His action has become an act of rebellion against God for him. The point is, we do not want to manage the affairs of Godís household without regard for the spiritual growth and maturity required by God for his family. Judging preferences rather than moral biblical responsibilities is unacceptable.

 

So What?

Here are five considerations to keep in mind about being a stumbling block:

1. If someone is saying this is wrong because of what it might lead to, that is not a basis for being a stumbling block.

2. If someone objects to it because it might offend others, then it is not a stumbling block to him. He should point out who this is a stumbling block for, and that person should be consulted to see if indeed your action is a stumbling block.

3. If someone says the action does cause him to stumble (like alcohol around an alcoholic), then: It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles (14:21).

4. We must always live according to our faith at the moment, whatever is not from faith is sin (14:23). If we donít live by our faith, then our faith is not real.

5. Living by our faith does not mean we leave our faith as is. We should continually examine our faith to see if it is true to the Word of God. Then adjust as we learn more about our Christian liberty.