Romans 14:1-3. As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 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.
Romans 15:1. We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
The truth of union of Christ is truly remarkable. It means that every Christian is united to Christ. Every Christian has every blessing of Christ. Every Christian has experienced the suffering, death, resurrection, and glorification of Christ. And every Christian fully has his life, love, and mind. By the Holy Spirit we are truly all equal in Christ.
And at the same time we are all different in Christ. Jesus didn’t hijack our bodies and remove our unique and individual souls. We are not brain dead puppets being mind controlled by Jesus. We are still ourselves. We each still have different experiences, personalities, and backgrounds. We all have the same Christ and we all grow in the same way, by grace through faith, but we all experience growth in Christ differently. At different rates and in different ways. As a result we all have different convictions.
This is the beauty of our freedom in Christ – we can each have different convictions about how we relate to created things, while still relating to the Creator in faith.
Because of our liberty in Christ, there are some Christians that have weak consciences and some that have strong consciences. Paul will simply refer to these as the Weak and the Strong.
Sky High: can the heroes and sidekicks co-exist? Can they learn to love?
The Weak tend to avoid created things because they are seen as sinful and may even cause sin. They can’t distinguish between what is an essential truth and a non-essential truth. The Weak turn preferences and opinions into commandments. They turn cultural and traditional practices into those that are needed for spiritual growth. The Weak can lose the truth of the gospel when they judge acceptance with God based on what we do or don’t do. To be Weak is not to have little faith. It is to have misapplied faith (when our faith is fully in our union with Christ alone, things like what food we eat, or what holidays we celebrate seem to lose their importance).
The Strong are able to enjoy created things for what they are. The Strong understand the gospel and know that they are saved by their union with Christ alone. They can experience and enjoy the non-essentials while also still growing spiritually without them, because their faith is connected to grace, not dos and don’ts. The Strong can lose faith in the gospel when they allow their freedom to remove the gospel command to strive for love and holiness.
So far all of this has been very “big picture.” But it comes from a very specific issue in the church at Rome – division. We can tell in this letter that the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians were struggling to get along. Now because of liberty in Christ, the Romans Christians were practicing or not practicing different things (eating, drinking, celebrating holy days, dancing, wearing yoga pants, Watching Game of Thrones, etc.). It can be a little tricky to know who the Weak and Strong are in this church. Are the Jewish Christians the weak ones or are the Gentile Christians the weak ones? Most scholars seem to think that the Jewish Christians who continued to practice the food and drink laws, and still celebrated holy days, were the weak ones. The Gentile believers (and some Jewish believers) who ate and drank what they wanted, and didn’t worry about special holy days were the strong ones.
We want to note that the Weak in Romans are not the same as the “Judaizers” of Galatians. Paul was much harsher on them, even calling them unsaved. The Weak Christians in Rome are really Christians.
What does all this mean for us today? It means that you are and should be surrounded by Christians that are very different from you, not just in race, and gender, and age, and culture, but in conviction as well. There are Weak brothers and sisters in your church and there are Strong brothers and sisters.
The Weak in a church will tend to pass judgment on the Strong, assuming that their behavior is sinful.
The Strong in a church will tend to despise the Weak and fail to welcome them. The Strong may simply not want the Weak around because they are limiting (a buzz kill).
“To live is Christ” allows us to embrace the gospel and thus to embrace each other. Weak or Strong. Of all the walls that the Flesh can build to separate us from each other, this may be the hardest to tear down. But Christ’s love demands it. More to come.