Romans 14:1-4. 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. 4 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.
In Christ we are living in his perfect love and his perfect liberty. We are all growing the same way – by trusting in the grace of God to conform us into the likeness of Christ. And, at the same time, we are all growing in our understanding of the gospel in very different and unique ways. This means there will be some Christians that are what Paul calls Weak. They have a weaker conscience, not a “weaker faith.” The object of their faith is what matters, and it is Christ – the Lord will make his servant stand (v4).
God gives us good gifts to simply be enjoyed, but the Weak see these as things that make us more or less holy. As a result the Weak in Rome would abstain from things like eating meat – “if it was offered to a pagan god it could make me unholy.” Or they might observe all kinds of special holy days – “observing the Sabbath, or festivals or holidays makes me holier.” They are the Weak because they lack a full understanding and application of the gospel. They are the Weak because they find their holiness in behaviors rather than in Christ alone.
Strong Christians tend to judge or even despise the Weak – Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains. Paul isn’t totally clear as to why this was happening in Rome. Was it because to their differing theology? Their convictions that could be so annoying? Different social status? Because they were Jews and not Gentiles? Whatever the reason, it was judging rather than loving.
The judging was a two-way street. The Weak were also judging the Strong – and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats. The Weak will always tend to see the Strong as less than perfect (think Pharisees or Facebook trolls). The Weak are law keepers so they judge the Strong as unholy. But the Strong are the ones that understand that holiness comes by grace through faith in Christ and not through our behaviors.
But wait, time out! Aren’t we supposed to act holy?
Yes. But here’s the difference: The Weak say behaviors bring Christ’s holiness. The Strong say Christ’s holiness brings new behavior.
Here again is the beauty of our union with Christ. The Weak and the Strong both have the indwelling Christ, love Christ, and want to please Christ. But the path to Christ-likeness is a journey. And on that journey we will have different convictions from our “weak” or “strong” consciences. This can make for some very messy church life. But messy is what love does best.
Hulk a metaphor for the church? The Weak and the Strong in the same body? Will they despise each other or learn to live as one?
In order for love to win the day in the Body of Christ we have to stop looking down on each other. We must stop judging one another. We’re not talking about confronting, warning, admonishing, and confessing to one another when we are actually giving in to the sins of the heart. We’re talking about judging each other over the matters of conscience. The non-essentials. Opinions. Preferences. Convictions. Scruples. Non-gospel stuff. Like drinking alcohol, or getting a tattoo, or shopping at Target.
But how? How do I avoid judging other Christians? You let God be their master and judge. Union with Christ means that we belong to God. Paul uses a master-servant metaphor to make his point. Stop judging God’s servants! God will do that – 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.
Oh and did you catch the gospel in there? The Lord is able to make him stand. God’s got this. God has each and every unique Christian in his hand. And he is guiding each and every unique journey to the fullness of Christ. Every Christian will stand in the end!
The Weak Christians? Yep, God has them. He is teaching them the riches of his grace. He will change them in time. So stop judging them. Stop rejecting them. Stop dismissing them as Pharisees. God is bringing them to where they need to be. He is their master and he will make them stand.
The Strong Christians? Yep. God has them too. Like the Weak, he is teaching them the humility of his grace. He will reveal their true unrighteousness by his Spirit. So stop judging them. Stop assuming their sinning too much. Stop dismissing them as unholy and as “bad influences.” God is conforming them too. He is their master and he will make them stand.
“To live is Christ” means God’s got this. Your sanctification and that other Christian’s sanctification too. So you can stop judging each other over every little issue. Let Christ work in that person as he sees fit. Remember, you’re free to love, and maybe that means being free to stop controlling the spiritual growth of those around you. Maybe.