Romans 14:1-6; 14:20-15:1. 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.
5 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. 6 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.
20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
If you’ve been tracking with this blog the past few days you know that we are looking at how our union with Christ fills us with both love and liberty and how we must express that love and liberty in relation to the Weak and Strong Christians around us. These can be very complex issues of spiritual growth. Everything I have written in this series I write very humbly. I am learning right along with you.
When we hear Paul talk about Weak and Strong faith it immediately makes us ask the question, “Am I the Weak Christian, or the Strong Christian?”
Good question. And yes you should be asking it. It’s important. Why? Because Paul is giving very specific instructions here to the Weak and the Strong so knowing which you are is kind of a big deal.
But admittedly it is not an easy question to answer. So to help us answer let’s move backwards through 1) the behaviors 2) to the conscience and 3) finally to the knowledge of the Weak and the Strong
1. Behaviors. The Weak abstain from things. The Strong partake. The Weak don’t eat meat or drink wine (v21). The Strong do. The Weak abstain from doing things on the Sabbath. The Strong count every day the same (v5).
(btw- you can abstain from things for lots of reasons, not just “faith” reasons. For example I regularly abstain from brussel sprouts)
There’s lots of reasons to abstain…even legal ones.
2. Conscience. These behaviors flow from either a weak or a strong conscience. The conscience turns into beliefs about what we can do or not do (v2). This is where Christian liberty comes in. In Christ we can have differing beliefs about what is right and what is wrong for us as an individual. If the behavior follows the conscience, even if it is Weak, it can be done in faith and can be honoring to the Lord (v5-6,23). In fact, this faith is even more important that the behavior itself. Look at v.23 again. If the Weak eats the questionable food, which is the behavior of the Strong, he is still sinning because he eats from doubt and does not eat in faith.
From this we must understand that in Christ being Weak is not a sin. Being Strong is also not a sin. The sin would be to violate your own conscience, do something from doubt and not faith or cause someone else to do something from outside of their faith (more on that tomorrow).
3. Knowledge. Ok, so being Weak is not a sin, But being Strong IS better than being Weak. Paul (and God) definitely want us to not violate our own conscience/faith or the conscience/faith of another, because this would be unloving. But we also want to be Strong in conscience and faith and not Weak forever. Why does it matter? Because being Weak stems from a lack of knowledge of who God is and what the gospel has done for us in its fullness.
Paul doesn’t push this argument here in Romans 14, but in verse 20 he gives us a little glimpse – Everything is indeed clean.
Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying that the Strong are correct. Everything IS clean. There is no such thing as “clean food,” or “unclean food.” Or “holy days,” or “unholy days” (not sure if that was a thing).
Here’s how he said it in 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 8:4-7a. 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7 However, not all possess this knowledge.
The Weak lack this knowledge. The knowledge that all things come from God and are ours to enjoy through the gospel of grace and our union with Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:26. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”
1 Corinthians 3:21-22. For all things are yours…the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
It is our knowledge, or lack thereof, that makes us either Weak or Strong. When we know that everything is God’s, and that everything comes from God, and that everything is ours in Christ, these things are no longer placed into different categories of “holy and unholy.” It’s all holy. It’s all God’s. It’s all Jesus’. It’s all ours.
Our knowledge then impacts our conscience, our faith. Don’t ever violate this. Even it it is weak. And don’t ever violate another Christian’s faith or conscience, even if it is weak. To do so is unloving and sinful.
Finally, our conscience impacts our behavior – what we abstain from or partake in. But remember this is about THINGS. All THINGS are God’s. All THINGS are Christ’s. All THINGS are yours in Christ. But people are way more important than things. This is why something like sex is not just a THING. Sexual behavior is not just a matter of faith and conscience. It is a spiritual behavior that will always, always, always impact another person (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
As those who love Christ and his body we must wrestle with differentiating between material things and spiritual behaviors. This is a huge part of “to live is Christ.” We don’t run around willy nilly doing whatever we want, claiming “freedom in Christ.” We study, we discern, we pray, we differentiate, we know, and we believe. But most of all we love. Which is way more important than being Strong or Weak.