The Weak in Faith

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”

- Romans 14:1

Today we return to our study of the book of Romans, and we resume our exposition in chapter 14. You will remember that we are in the section of Romans where the Apostle explores the practical ramifications of the gospel. Given that the Lord has declared His elect righteous in His sight through the imputation of Christ’s perfection by faith alone and has transformed us by His Spirit (Rom. 1-11), what does the Christian life look like? It involves continual renewal of our minds so that we will be conformed to the image of Christ and love one another, displaying that love in concrete ways that fulfill His law (chap. 12-13).

Much of what Paul has said thus far about the life of love applies more generally to all relationships within the Christian community, but in today’s passage, he begins to deal with a very specific issue that arises often in the church. Since believers often disagree about a number of different matters, how should we deal with these disagreements? The Apostle, in Romans 14, is not discussing those matters that the Lord addresses specifically in His Word. There can be no compromise when God explicitly forbids certain behaviors. Paul indicates this in many ways throughout his writings. For example, the Apostle commanded the Corinthian church to expel the man who was involved in an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5). Such relationships are plainly condemned in the moral law of God (Lev. 18), so they cannot be tolerated. No room for accommodation exists within the body of Christ for those who impenitently take part in such relationships.

Yet what about those cases where disagreements arise over matters that Scripture does not address explicitly? Is it OK for Christians to watch television or movies? May we dance? What about eating meat left over from animals that had been sacrificed to pagan gods? (That is likely the main issue that Paul uses as an example in Romans 14 and is certainly the issue in 1 Corinthians.) Is there a clear right or wrong regarding such issues?

As we will see, Paul’s basic answer to this question is that activities not addressed by God’s Word are not inherently sinful, but they might be occasions for sin for those who are immature in the faith, who are “weak,” as Paul indicates in today’s passage (Rom. 14:1). In any case, they are not to be causes for division. Rather, the strong should bear with the weak, not allowing the weak to rule the consciences of the strong, but also not allowing one’s strength to injure a weaker brother or sister in the Lord.

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments, “They who are strong should spend their labor in assisting the weak, and that they who have made the greatest advances should bear with the more ignorant. For God, by making us stronger than others, does not bestow strength that we may oppress the weak.” As a general rule, mature Christians are to be extraordinarily patient with immature believers, putting up with their misunderstandings and other growing pains as they aim for maturity in the Lord.

Passages for Further Study

Judges 6:36-40
John 20:24-29
Romans 15:1
1 Corinthians 14:20

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