The Weak and the Strong
“One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.”- Romans 14:1–6
Romans 14 deals with an important issue for Christians as they live in community with one another. There are always some differences of understanding between Christians, and Paul here tells us we are to bear with one another on such matters. Consideration for others, in the context of the Christian’s liberty in Christ, is the theme of Romans 14.
Beyond ordinary courtesy, however, Paul writes that some believers are “weak.” The weak believer is the one who fears to make use of some good gift that God has given to mankind and to the church. In Paul’s day the weak believer was afraid to eat meat and drink wine that had been used in rituals of sacrifice to idols. In our day, many believers are afraid to drink wine at all.
If a man believes that it is a sin to eat meat and then goes ahead and eats it, he has sinned. He has sinned not because he has eaten meat but because he has done something he believes God has forbidden—his intention was to disobey God. Because of this, Paul says that strong Christians are to be careful not to lead weak Christians into sin by encouraging them to go against their consciences.
Paul admonishes us “not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.… It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall” (Romans 14:13, 21). How might I cause my weaker brother to fall? By flaunting my liberty in such a way as to encourage him to act against his conscience.
If, on the other hand, I eat or drink in private without violating my conscience, I have offered no offense. The weaker brother may not like my doing it, and he may even be shocked, but I have not encouraged him to sin. Moreover, Paul makes it very clear that the weak believer is not to tyrannize the church. When the weak Judaizers wanted Paul to eat separately from the Gentiles, Paul adamantly refused (Galatians 2). The strong believer must oppose the weak believer when he tries to make his scruples a law for the whole community, because to capitulate on this point is to allow the corruption of legalism into the church, which eventually will destroy the Gospel.
Pressuring a weak believer to do something he perceives as wrong is the wrong way to help the weak become stronger. The right way is to teach the principles of biblical religion, and address the specific issues in an atmosphere of teaching. In the light of this, how would you deal with someone who thinks it is wrong to drink wine?
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 6:12–14; 8:1–13; 10:23–33