Updated: May 3, 2022
The Weak and the Strong
Paul continues his broad theme of showing how those justified by faith ought to live out their Christian lives.
This chapter and the next one deal with the believer’s attitude towards those who are weak in faith and those who are strong in faith and how we ought to behave towards our dear brothers and sisters. Paul explains that those strong in the faith have a better grasp of all that Jesus’ sacrificial death has achieved for us. Those believers who are weaker in the faith sometimes don’t fully grasp the extent of the freedom in Christ is there for all believers and received according to their level of faith. Paul gives the guidelines on how to deal with this issue in terms of practical things such as eating and drinking in the day to day life of the church.
The Weak and the Strong in faith
14:1 Accept those whose faith is weak, without quarrelling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat everything, but another person, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted that person. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master they stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
The background to understanding comparison of meat eaters and vegetarians is that in Paul’s day a lot of the meat that was sold in the market had already been sacrificed to idols. Paul designates those who felt able to eat such meat with a clear conscience as having the stronger faith. However some believers could only eat vegetables only and keep their conscience clear, Paul designates these vegetarians as the weaker believers in this instance. The stronger believer probably felt that meat was meat whatever had happened to it and that all food is blessed and sanctified by the Word of God and prayer and can be received with thanksgiving to God. However Paul strongly admonishes the stronger believer that on no account should they look down on or despise the weaker believer. By the same token the weak believer must not criticise, reject or despise the stronger believer in his liberty to partake of meat. All Christians must remember that God is Daddy to all believers irrespective of their faith levels. God accepts all His children and He alone has the right to judge us.
5 Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike. Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Those who regard one day as special do so to the Lord. Those who eat meat do so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and those who abstain do so to the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we do not live to ourselves alone and we do not die to ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat your brother or sister with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’” [a]
12 So then, we will all give an account of ourselves to God.
A similar situation that also has potential for the same type conflict between believers is in the way that the individual believer views some religious days/holidays as more sacred that other days in the calendar. Paul points out this surely must be a matter of personal conscience for each believer to decide and we must not legislate for others where the Lord has given us liberty to choose the view that best fits our conscience. God is glorified by all believers whether we give thanks whether for meat and vegetable or for vegetables only and as dictated by our conscience.
No man is an island and all believers are inter-dependent on each other. A self centred view of how we life our life and make our choices can quickly lead us into invidious judgements on our brothers and sisters. It is not all about you, get over it, it is all about God! God upholds us when we are alive and also when we die. So whether we are living or dying we all belong to Him. Jesus Christ lived and died and so He is Lord of both life and death. He knows best as He has been there and done it!
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother or sister for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Whether you are the weaker or stronger brother or sister what really matters is that we are not critical of each other but rather purpose in our hearts to avoid causing hurt to one another. Paul shows his own strong faith recognising that although all meats are acceptable for him to eat that he would rather go without meat than to shake the faith of a weaker brother who saw him eating the meat. A modern day example might be a brother with strong faith that allows him to drink wine but out of love and concern would never drink wine in front of a brother who was a recovering alcoholic. We must never let our liberty in Christ be used in a way that damages the faith of a weaker brother or sister. Our liberty in Christ must never give occasion to the name of Jesus Christ being slandered. The presence of the Kingdom of God in our lives is not shown by our food/drink choices but rather by our loving and considerate conduct. When we prioritise the interests of others ahead of our liberty in Christ then this is well pleasing to God and also gives a favourable witness to the Gospel.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
Jesus is building His church brick by brick and the cement that holds His building together is love. We should never do anything that weakens the cement of love between us. Faith works by love and love must prevail every time we exercise our faith. We would be better to miss out on the privileges of strong faith than to cause or weaker brother/sister to stumble in their faith.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by what they approve. 23 But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Whatever our views of our personal freedom to eat meat or drink wine are, they should be strictly a matter for our own personal consciences and therefore not broadcast to other people. When the occasion demands we should immediately drop our privilege of freedom and abstain from partaking in favour of our weaker brother/sister who if following our example of partaking but without faith then their sin would bring them into condemnation.
[a] Romans 14:11 refers to Isaiah 45:23
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