Who Is The Weak Believer?
© 10/6/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 10/9/2016
Weak believers—“Who is who?”
As we read Romans chapter 14 there are three main questions to ask:
- What constitutes a “weak” believer, versus a “strong” believer?
- How is each to treat the other?
- What are we going to do about it?
1Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
“Him that is ‘weak in the faith’, receive ye.” The writer assumes that the reader is not the one who is weak, but specifies that the reader is to be receptive toward those who are. We all want to think that “We are the strong believers!” That is because we are vain, self-centered people. We all want to think that we are right. But how can we tell “who is who?” Everyone has a right to their own opinion, right? But, maybe we need to find out what God says about the matter.
What Constitutes a “Weak” Believer?
Paul then goes on to say that the one who is unnecessarily limited in his choices because of his poor understanding of scripture is the weak one, while the one who is liberated by his faith is the strong one, but that neither has the right to disrespect or condemn the other. This presupposes that the things in question are not elsewhere forbidden. For example, Idolatry, Murder, Theft, Lying, and Adultery are always condemned. Such things are not a part of this discussion. This is about things not condemned by God, but which are frequently condemned by humans. The first thing he addresses is vegetarianism.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. (Vegetables.)
The strong one believes he is free to eat any food…the restricted one, who thinks somehow he is forbidden to eat meat, is weak in his faith (probably untaught, thereby ill-equipped), and would be guilty (at least in his own mind) if he violated his understanding of God’s Word by eating meat (mistaken though he is.)
How is Each to Treat the Other?
“For God hath Received Him”
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
The one who is free in his faith is not to look down his nose at the one who is limited…on the other hand, the one who is limited must realize that he himself is not the judge, and that he must not condemn the one who is enjoying his freedom in Christ. One’s position in Christ is what makes one acceptable to God…not what one eats or doesn’t eat.
But, how is one “received by God?” Ephesians 1:6 states that we have been “…made accepted in the Beloved.” The key, there, is that I am accepted in Him! I was placed in Him by the Holy Spirit at the moment I trusted Jesus as my Savior (1st Corinthians 12:13); the moment I believed that His blood at the Cross was the sacrifice for my sins. I have no other standing before God. I am either accepted in the Beloved, or not at all. And, if I am accepted in the Beloved, and in fellowship with Him, then nothing else really matters, does it? And yet, we tend to reject one another over some pretty petty stuff. Perhaps we need to ask some questions of ourselves:
Who is the Master, here, anyway?
4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
So, while he is on the subject of judgment, Paul points out that each believer is personally accountable to God. We are not to judge God’s servants…God can handle them. If it is not something expressly forbidden by scripture, then we have no authority to criticize, let alone condemn or attempt to control other believers.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Paul raises another example—he refers to the keeping of holy days: probably specifically the Sabbath was in mind, but, obviously, it could include all the Jewish feast days. And, again, he states that the one who observes a holy day before the Lord has not done wrong…and the one who sees all days as holy to God, and treats them all pretty much the same, is well within his rights as well. In both examples, both believers are fully able to enjoy their fellowship with God, and give thanks…and other believers are not to interfere with them.
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Verses 7-12 reiterate that we believers are not “free moral agents,” so to speak…we are each accountable to God. Our life and death are all under his authority, and in everything we give account to Him….So Paul asks the question, again, “Why do you feel free to judge a brother?” (With the context making it clear that this is concerning things NOT forbidden by God….) We will all give account to God at the Judgment Seat of Christ…not for sins, but for works.
Paul concludes that rather than judge each other for things in which we have freedom, we should take care that we do not use our freedom carelessly, in such a way as to cause another believer to sin. Yes, the truth is, they have the same freedom we have, but if they are not convinced of that and simply “go along” with our freedom when they still think it is wrong, then we have caused them to sin. They have violated their own conscience, but at our insistence.
What about Conscience? Is it Infallible?
My father, in his junior year in college, had his chemistry book stolen from him. He had left it on the porch, outside the cafeteria, and someone took it during lunch. He hadn’t any extra money, so, for the rest of the term, he was forced to borrow other students’ textbooks, in order to complete his homework. They kept urging him to “just steal someone else’s book”; but he knew it was wrong, and refused to do it.
The problem came to a head, though, near the end of the semester: he still could not afford a new book, and as final exams drew near, his friends could no longer lend him a book, because they needed the book themselves. So, unable to replace the book, and desperately needing one, he finally succumbed to the peer pressure: when he saw a chemistry book just like his, sitting outside the cafeteria, he grabbed it, shoved it under his sweater, and hurried home, feeling exceedingly guilty; like a criminal, in fact, because he had violated his conscience. He had stolen a book!
And, he was guilty—that is why he “felt guilty”—he had violated his conscience! But when he got back to his room, he discovered that he had stolen back his own book; the original thief had finally gotten careless and left the book on the cafeteria porch, just as Dad had done. Was Dad any less guilty? Nope. He truly had violated his conscience. He was very angry, then, and wanted to go back and find out who the thief had been. But it was too late. He rationalized his own theft, and was relieved that it turned out to be his own book…but he was still wrong.
Now: Were his fellow-students right, in urging him to steal? Of course they were not! They were clearly encouraging wrong behavior; urging him to sin. Was he wrong to retrieve his own book? Nope! That was not the issue! He thought he was stealing someone else’s book: that is why he was guilty.
So, let’s take that principle a step further: Paul says that if a person thinks it is wrong to eat meat, then, until God enlightens them further, it is wrong for them. But you have no right to criticize them for that position, though you know they are mistaken.
A Word to the Weak:
Let me “put the shoe on the other foot,” for a moment: let’s say you are the one who thinks it is wrong to eat meat…or something else that God does not condemn. Is it OK for you to use this passage to bully your meat-eating brother and say that he has to not eat meat, because it offends you? I don’t think so! You are clearly commanded in verses 3, 4 and 10 to leave each other alone in such matters. Allow God to work in the other fellow’s heart, as well as in your own. On the contrary, we each need to consciously look for ways to not cause another believer grief in their relationship with God. So, how do we deal with such differences? That is our final question:
What Are We Going to Do About It?
No More Judging: and No More Pressure.
Paul recognized that such behavior is common. He told them to knock it off!
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
This issue of “stumbling” means to “cause someone else to sin”: it does not mean that I can bash someone else because I don’t care for their taste in shoes, or the way they part their hair. So, while we are to look for ways to not cause others to “fall”, we are also not to go around trying to control other believers by saying “Your hair-do offends me!” (Or something equally foolish)… there is no way that someone else’s hair-do is “causing you to sin!”
I had a fellow take me aside when I was in Bible school and tell me that my shoes offended him. They were odd-looking, oversized shoes, (though brand new) and happened to be literally all I had to wear. I had found them on a clearance table in a mall for $7, and I was grateful to have them. Were my shoes causing him to sin? No! He was just condemning me for wearing them.
14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
If we convince someone else to do something because we know it is right, when the reason they are resisting is because they think it is wrong, then we cause them to sin. Don’t make a big deal out of peripheral things that have nothing to do with Christ; Paul says that the kingdom of God is not about food and drink, but about Righteousness and Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit. These are the key issues we should be looking for in our own lives.
Each of these has two aspects: the one God provides (imputed to us by Grace), and the one with which we respond (and demonstrate and experience), via the Holy Spirit working in our lives.
- Imputed: (Romans 4:3) “…Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him as Righteousness.” That is how we receive Righteousness, too! When you place your faith in the shed blood of Jesus, His righteousness is applied to your account, and you eternally stand before God in the Righteousness of Christ.
- Demonstrated: (Hebrews 11:8-10) Abraham believed God, and it caused him to live a life of obedience to God. He had his failures, but God holds him up as an example of faith-driven righteousness.
- Imputed: (Romans 5:1) “Being therefore Justified (declared Righteous) by faith, we have Peace with God.” We are to first find peace with God, through faith in Jesus’ blood, and then, daily seek the Peace of God.
- Demonstrated: (Philippians 4:6, 7) “ 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” We choose the Peace of God by faith. We obey by faith, and leave our griefs with Him. (See also, 1st Peter 5:7)
- Joy in the Holy Ghost:
- Imputed: (Galatians 5:22, 23) “…the Fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace…” The Holy Spirit is the source of all Joy in a believer’s life. Joy has been conferred upon us by God, in the person of the Holy Spirit. He indwells us and will never leave. (John 14:16)
- Demonstrated: (same passage) The Holy Spirit is the source of the Joy of God, in all cases. We demonstrate, experience, and display Joy in our lives only when we are in fellowship with God and walking in obedience with Him. (1st John 1:7) In fact, a lack of joy and peace is an important clue that we are not walking with Him.
- Please do not confuse Joy with Happiness. They are not the same. The circumstances may be severe enough to preclude happiness (the cross for instance) but Joy is still possible (“…Jesus…who, for the Joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross…” Hebrews 12:2)
If we possess (and experience, and display) those three things, we are in fellowship with God, and will be (usually) accepted by those around us, as they see the reality of Christ in us. So, that is where we need to put our priorities…not on the outward things that are of no eternal value, but on the inward things that make for peace, and by which we can build up one another in the faith.
20 For meat (food) destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
v.20-22. Paul reiterates that we do have freedom, but that we are not to use our freedom in such a way as to cause our brothers or sisters to sin. We can exercise our freedom privately, and not cause someone else to stumble.
When a vegetarian friend or relative comes to our home for a visit, we simply have vegetarian meals, so that they are not forced to “choose”. Sometimes people have medically-mandated dietary restrictions that are so limiting that they simply cannot eat what everyone else does. (We have a niece who has to completely avoid gluten, for example.) But they have no thought or feeling that this is a moral issue; it is simply a practical necessity. In that case we try to prepare a separate, attractive, and tasty meal for that individual as well, so they can eat with everyone else, and be included, but not be affected badly by eating something they can’t handle. We seek to be a blessing, not a stumbling block to those around us.
23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
v. 23 is the key verse to the whole subject—he says that one who partakes in an activity that is not forbidden by God when he thinks that it is forbidden, is condemned by his own conscience, because he did not act according to faith. (John 5:24 says we are not condemned by God…and never will be.)
“Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (This is one of the four definitions of sin, given in the epistles: the others are 1st John 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of the Law”; 1st John 5:17 “all unrighteousness is sin…” and James 4:17 “…to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is Sin”) Romans 14:23 wraps it all up: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin!”
Don’t attempt to “bully” others into your own way of thinking, when there is no clear mandate, and especially, if it is a peripheral issue; not a cardinal doctrine. Learn to appreciate your fellow believers for their position in Christ, and not condemn them because they aren’t “just like you!”
Receive the three cardinal values of the kingdom of God (Righteousness, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit), and practice reflecting those three in your life. That will go far toward building good relations with those around you.
Learn to Love the brethren; Learn to walk with God.
Lord Jesus, we are accepted before God because of your sacrifice at the Cross. Cleanse our hearts and help us to love one another as you have loved us, and accept one another as you have accepted us. Fill us with your Righteousness, your Peace, and your Joy, as we learn to walk daily with you.