Relationships between “Strong” and “Weak” Believers Part 1 Stop Criticizing One Another! – Romans 14:1-12
Pastor Mark Hardy January 19, 2014
In his book Great Church Fights, Leslie Flynn writes: “Wide disagreements exist today in our churches over certain practices. A Christian from the South may be repelled by a swimming party for both men and women, then offend his Northern brother by lighting up a cigarette. At an international conclave for missionaries, a woman from the Orient could not wear sandals with a clear conscience. A Christian from western Canada thought it worldly for a Christian acquaintance to wear a wedding ring, and a woman from Europe thought it almost immoral for a wife to not to wear a ring that signaled her status. A man from Denmark was pained to even watch British Bible school students play football, while the British students shrank from his pipe smoking.”
Many churches throughout the years have been ripped apart by even smaller disagreements. As Christ’s church we are to have unity within diversity of so many things: age, education, maturity, personalities, spiritual gifts, cultural and religious backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions. It is our diversity that often puts strain on us all. How do we truly “…preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)? Paul addresses this very issue in the passage we will be looking at this morning.
As we continue on in our study of Romans, we now come to 14:1-15:13, which can be divided into four sections: (14:1-12; 14:13-23; 15:1-6; 15:7-13). Today, we will be look at only the first. Turn in your Bible to Romans 14.
In Romans 14:1-12 we see three aspects of the specific problem in the church at Rome that was between the “strong” and the “weak” believers.
The first aspect is:
I. The Introduction to the Problem
A. Look at v. 1: Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
1. Although Paul doesn’t use the term “strong” believers until 15:1, this is who he is exhorting here to “accept the one who is weak in faith.” The word “accept” (proslambanesthe) literally means “to take alongside oneself.”
2. It refers to warmly receiving them into the church family with no reservations and treating them as dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for Christian love demands no less. The present tense of the word indicates a continuing attitude of acceptance.
3. Now who exactly are these “strong” and “weak” believers in the church? Although there are numerous views, it is probably best to say that the “weak in faith” consisted primarily of Jewish Christians and also included some Gentile Christians.
4. And the “strong” consisted primarily of Gentile Christians and also included some Jewish Christians. They made up the majority in the church at Rome.
5. Now to be “weak in faith” is not an inadequate trust in Jesus Christ as one’s Savior and Lord, nor is it being easily overcome by temptation. It refers to a believer’s lack of understanding into some of the implications of their faith in Christ. Weakness of faith and inadequate biblical understanding go together.
6. C.E.B. Cranfied is correct when he says that it is a “…weakness in assurance that one’s faith permits one to do certain things.” (pg. 700).
7. The “weak” are immature and uninstructed believers who are not strong enough in their faith to enable them to appreciate and exercise their freedom in Christ. They are still carrying along some kind of legalistic baggage, which does not nullify the authenticity of their faith but does indicate a certain deficiency in it.
8. Therefore, the pejorative phrase “weak in faith” shows that Paul would hope that a growth in Christ and His Word would help those who were “weak” become “strong.”
9. On the contrary, the “strong” here are mature in the faith, have a greater biblical knowledge, and understand and enjoy their liberty in Christ, which frees them from the rules and regulations of legalism and ceremonialism. Although they may willingly lay aside their liberty in a particular area, possibly for the sake of not causing a weaker brother to stumble, they fully understand their freedom in Christ.
10. Now doctrinally, it is clear that Paul believes the position of the “strong” is correct (14:14a, 20), and whom he identifies himself with in 15:1. But Paul is concerned with the unity of the church here not merely who is right in regards to their Christian freedom.
11. Since the “strong” are better equipped to understand what he is saying, this is why Paul addresses them first.
B. Notice again that the “strong” are commanded to accept the “weak,” but Paul says at the end of v. 1 “…but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his (i.e. the weak’s) opinions.”
1. It is not that the believer’s freedom in Christ should never be discussed with Christians who are still under bondage to some type of religious tradition, but here Paul tells the “strong” that they are to genuinely accept the “weak” without the ulterior motive of trying to straightening them out.
2. They are not to challenge the “weak” to a debate and quarrel over their differing “opinions” or scruples. This only makes them feel inferior, unwanted, and second-class members who are merely tolerated.
3. Now by telling the “strong” how to relate to the “weak” Paul is giving us a glimpse and introducing to us the specific problem that was going on in the Roman church. The issue here was not moral compromise or a false gospel, which Paul fiercely resisted with the Galatians (1:8; 4:9-10).
4. It had to do with secondary, non-essential personal preferences regarding amoral or non-moral things that are not directly commanded or forbidden by Scripture. This is why Paul calls for mutual acceptance between the “strong” and the “weak” (15:7).
5. Believers are not to pass judgment or quarrel over matters of opinion and give them equal standing with the Word of God! Instead, these differences are to be accepted and handled with love.
6. But they weren’t, and that’s the problem! An unknown author once wrote:
Believe as I believe,
No more, no less;
That I am right,
And no one else, confess;
Feel as I feel,
Think only as I think;
Eat what I eat,
And drink but what I drink;
Look as I look,
Do always as I do;
Then, and only then,
Will I fellowship with you.
7. That’s a good description of the attitude problem that was prevalent among the Roman believers. Our fellowship as believers is not to be broken over non-essential issues.
8. Paul goes on to say how we as believers can “Agree to disagree in a loving way” on such non-essentials issues and still maintain unity in the church (14:19).
9. The second aspect of the specific problem in the church at Rome is this:
II. Two Examples underlying the Problem
A. In vv. 2-6 Paul gives two examples of the differing opinions between the “strong” and the “weak.” The first example pertained to dietary issues, in particular the eating of meat. Look at v. 2: One person (i.e. the strong) has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
1. Although Romans 14-15 is similar to 1 Corinthians 8-10 the situations are very different, in that, here we are not told that the meat was sacrificed to idols, which was the case in Corinth. Therefore, we don’t know exactly what Paul is referring to.
2. However, whatever was going on we are told that the “faith” of the “strong” enabled them to appreciate and exercise their freedom in Christ to “eat all things” (v. 14; Mk. 7:18-19; Acts 10:15-16; 1 Tim. 4:3-4; 5:23).
3. And yet, the “weak eats vegetables only.” Notice that there is no mention of “faith” with them because they were “weak in faith,” in their assurance and confidence of what their faith permits them to do.
4. Paul doesn’t give the reason for the “weak” being a vegetarian. Possibly it was out of concern to maintain Old Testament laws of purity thinking that in doing so they would better please God.
5. Although Paul does not make an issue out of this area of personal preference, he does see that both the “strong” and the “weak” are wrong in how they relate to each other over this. He therefore rebukes each side.
B. Look at v. 3: The one who eats (i.e. the strong) is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat (i.e. the weak), and the one who does not eat (i.e. the weak) is not to judge the one who eats (i.e. the strong), for God has accepted him.
1. Paul’s choice of words to describe the attitudes of each group is very deliberate. The word “contempt” (exoutheneito) refers to a disdainful, condescending attitude that the “strong” often have toward the “weak.”
2. It’s very easy for the “liberated” to look down on and ridicule the sensitivities of those they consider to be “legalistic” and self-righteous.
3. The word “judge” (krineto) refers to an attitude of judgmentalism that the “weak” often have toward the “strong.” It’s very easy for the “weak” who believe themselves to be the “truly committed” and alone uphold the true standards of purity to perceive the “strong” as being irresponsible at best and liberal, unspiritual, and even sinful at worst.
4. Although the eating or not eating of certain foods is not in itself a moral issue but a matter of personal preference, it can become a moral issue when not handled properly. And that’s exactly what happened in the Roman church.
5. The attitudes of both groups are wrong! Therefore, Paul calls them to stop criticizing one another!
6. Notice why Paul says the “weak” are not to judge the “strong” at the end of v. 3, “…for God has accepted him” (i.e. the strong believer).
7. Since God Himself has accepted the “strong,” it is absolutely inappropriate for the “weak” to judge them in the realm of personal preferences! John MacArthur said it like this, “Paul’s point is that, if God Himself does not make an issue of such things, what right does one of His children have to do so? If the strong and the weak have equal acceptance by and fellowship with the Lord, it is sinful arrogance for those two kinds of believers not to accept each other.” (pg. 279)
8. Beloved, God alone is the one who decides the requirements for Christian fellowship in the church as outlined in His Word, not us.
C. Paul then drives home the point why the “weak” are not to judge the “strong” in v. 4: Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
1. The word “servant” (oiketen) here refers to a household slave living in the house of his master. Since the “strong” believer is the Lord’s servant, like the “weak,” he “stands or falls”—is accepted or unaccepted—by his own Master alone.
2. The principle is this: No one has any right to criticize another man’s servant, for the servant is answerable to his Master alone. Therefore, for the “weak” to judge the “strong” is to try to play God, which is none of our business!
3. Paul then says, “…and he (i.e. the strong) will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Regardless of what other Christians may say or do to us it is the Lord Jesus who provides us the strength to stand.
4. God promises that those whom He has called to salvation will persevere to the end since the Lord will complete what He has started in us (1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:6).
D. Paul now gives the second example of differing opinions between the “strong” and the “weak.” This one pertains to day issues, the observance of particular days. Look at v. 5: One person (i.e. the weak) regards one day above another, another (i.e. the strong) regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
1. Still influenced in his conscience by some kind of legalistic teaching, the “weak” regards or esteems one day to be holier or more important than another day. Again, we don’t know whether this had to do with the observance of the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday), one of the great Jewish festivals, or regular days of fasting.
2. However, the “strong” “regards every day alike.” To them every day is an opportunity to be filled with the Spirit, and to live it to the glory of God.
3. Notice that Paul’s advice to both groups at the end of v. 5 is simply: Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” To be “fully convinced” requires that you think things through, pray, and study yourself into the convictions that you believe is right for you.
4. And we must allow others to do the same thing for themselves. In matters that are not specifically commanded or forbidden in Scripture, our actions should always be dictated by personal conviction and conscience not simply because other people do them.
5. Since our conscience represents what we actually believe to be right, to go against it is to do that which we believe is wrong. Although an act in itself may not be sinful, it is sin for those who are convinced in their own minds that it is wrong.
6. Therefore, the principle here is this: No one is to do what is contrary to the dictates of his own conscience as informed by the Word of God.
7. This is why even though to regarding one day over another is a weakness, since it didn’t involve the perverting of the gospel (Gal. 4:10-11) but was merely a personal preference (Col. 2:14, 16-17), Paul could say that both perspectives were acceptable to God!
E. He explains why in v. 6: He (i.e. the weak) who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he (i.e. the strong) who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he (i.e. the weak) who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
1. Notice three times in this verse that both groups of believers—the “weak” and the “strong”—are doing what they do “for the Lord.” Never forget that being “weak in faith” is not inconsistent with sincere devotion to Christ.
2. Both groups believe that they are truly serving Christ and desire to glorify Him, as evidenced by the fact that they both “give thanks to God” for what they eat.
3. Although their actions were different, their motive was the same.
4. The third aspect of the specific problem in the church at Rome is this:
III. Corrective Insights for the Problem
A. Paul now explains what it means for believers to live and die “for the Lord” in vv. 7-9: For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
1. First we see, that Paul gives corrective insights based on the fact that Christ is the universal Lord.
2. The two most basic parts of our Christian experience is life and death. Both life and death are not under our control but are in the hands of the Lord, who is sovereign over both.
3. Whether we as believers are “weak” or “strong,” we live or die “for the Lord.” In all of life and even at the hour of death, we are the Lord’s; we belong to Him.
4. For 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
5. And 2 Corinthians 5:15 states, “And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
6. It was for this very reason that Christ died and rose again. Paul says in v. 9: For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
7. Douglas Moo accurately states, “Christ’s death and resurrection have established him as Lord over all believers; and believers must therefore recognize that all their activities are done ‘for the benefit of’ that Lord—and not for the benefit of any other Christian who may presume to judge us or any of our actions. These verses are therefore the heart of Paul’s rebuke of the Roman Christians for their judgmental attitudes (vv. 1-12).” (pg. 844)
8. As believers, “weak” and “strong” alike, we all have the same Lord Jesus Christ and we live and die under His Lordship. Therefore, we are not in any sense one another’s lords who have the right to criticize one another!
B. Second we see that Paul gives corrective insights based on the fact that Christ is the universal Judge. Look at v. 10: But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? (Stop there)
1. Here Paul asks two piercing questions. The first is addressed to the “weak:” But you, why do you judge your brother?
2. The second is addressed to the “strong:” Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? Both questions are rebukes and reiterate the commands he gave to each group in v. 3.
3. Notice that twice Paul uses the term “brother” (adelphon) to emphasize the God-given unity that “weak” and “strong” believers already have in being part of the one family of God.
4. Therefore, in asking these questions Paul in effect is saying, “Because of who you are as brothers in Christ, stop trying to play God by judging one another.”
5. When Jesus said in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged,” He was referring to judging in the sense of passing judgment on others and condemning them.
6. He was not forbidding making discerning evaluations of others concerning sin and false teaching. For he went on to tells us we must first take the log out of our own eye before we can take the speak out of our brother’s eye (vv. 3-5). And to “Beware of the false prophets” (v. 15).
C. Paul tells us the reason we are not to judge one another wrongly at the end of v. 10: For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
1. There is no problem that here it says “the judgment seat of God” and in 2 Corinthians 5:10 it says “the judgment seat of Christ.” This is because not only will God the Father judge everyone through the agency of Christ (John 5:22-23, 27, 29; Acts 17:31), but also because Christ Himself is God.
2. Both are talking about the same judgment—the Bema Seat where the Lord Jesus Christ will judge only believers, as opposed to the Great White Throne Judgment where unbelievers will be judged (Rev. 20:11-15).
3. The Lord Jesus Christ is the universal Judge. It is to Him alone and no other Christians that every believer will one day stand and “…each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
4. The issue of the believer’s eternal destiny will not be at stake there (Jn. 3:18; 5:24), for that has already been settled by saving faith in Christ (8:1). But it is there that all of our service and motives will be under review (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 4:4-5).
D. Paul then proves his point that God alone is Judge by quoting Isaiah 49:18 and 45:23 for his own purposes in v. 11: For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE WILL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.
1. This is similar to what Paul said in Philippians 2:9-11.
2. Bowing of the knee and the praising of the tongue indicate our absolute submission to Jesus Christ who is the sovereign Lord and Judge of the universe.
E. Paul finally concludes with a statement whereby every word is emphatic in v. 12: So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
1. Each and every one of us as believers are going personally “give an account” or reckoning of ourselves before the all-knowing Judge of the universe. No believer is exempt!
2. Therefore, since it is to Christ alone that every believer will one day stand this leaves no room for us to be criticizing and judging one another.
In closing, what a challenge to not criticize and judge our Christian brothers and sisters in the things of personal preference, which the Bible does not directly command or forbid! In these differing matters of opinion we are called to accept one another as God has accepted us. Biblical “agape” love, which we saw in chapters 12-13, is to be the umpire in all of these areas of disagreement.
Perhaps Augustine said it best: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity,” which is love.