When I think of weak and strong I think of domination and subjection. I think of wars and rulers. I think of those with much taking from those with less. Not Paul.
In the Church, strong and weak is determined by faith and faith by Jesus. Strong faith is marked by an understanding of our acceptance by God through faith in Jesus. Weak faith still looks for acceptance by God in other ways. For instance, some in the church ate only vegetables to please God, and that is a great way to honor God. Others ate meat and didn’t care about who knew or saw. It was their right…right?
But it is much deeper than vegetarianism. Meat was sacrificed to the Gods. Then it could be taken home and eaten. Some viewed this meat as unclean, while others would be seen walking down the street with a couple T-bones and a ribeye. That’s not the problem, Paul says.
The problem pops up when the strong and weak look at each other. “Eat meat” says the strong. “Who cares if it was sacrificed to Artemis, Artemis isn’t real”.
But the weak says, “no, I can’t. It feels wrong”.
The problem is, which person should submit to the other out of love. The strong. The spiritually mature Christian has meditated on Christ’s sacrifice and lives sacrificially in response.
14 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, 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 them. Romans 14:1-3
Judge here doesn’t refer to judgement. Paul makes a judgement between the strong and the weak. He is not making a judgement on his judgement. He is telling us not to condemn people for their actions, because we only see a small portion of the wholeness of a person. He is telling us not to condemn. It is not our role, it is God’s.
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. Romans 14:5-6
The strong and weak each make decisions based on their understanding of God. Now this obviously is dealing with grey areas. I am not a strong Christian if I steal from my neighbor’s wallet to please God. That has always been wrong, no matter what culture or time period. We are talking about grey areas. Remember, even Jesus did things on the Sabbath because of his understanding of God that religious leaders despised.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister[a]? Or why do you treat them 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 acknowledge God.’”[b]
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Romans 14:10-12
We will all give an account of our lives. This includes the grey areas. So if you choose to have an alcoholic drink occassionally, you will have to give an account of that. If you choose to steward your money toward your own enjoyment, you will have to give an account of that. If you choose to ignore the Sabbath, you will have to give an account of that. If you choose to use language that could cause a Christian to stumble, you will have to give an account of that. These are just a few, but there are so many possible grey areas. Whatever it is, be sure you do not harm another with your decisions.
What about these: acceptance is based on a denomination, music style, instrument type, prayer type, clothing type, or a certain look. The list goes on and on. These are all grey areas.
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 someone for whom Christ died. Romans 14:14-15
Paul has strong faith, but he is able to have a conversation with those who have weak faith. Nothing is unclean. So if you do not eat meat for spiritual reasons, that meat is only unclean to you. Paul gives the strong and example. Feel free to have loving discussions about what is accepted and what is denied and why? Paul gives a great example to the strong.
The strong could say something like this, “I like to have a drink occasionally and I have no convictions about that, but I will choose not to drink if it would make you more comfortable.” Can you imagine that impact of a small sacrifice like that?
Here is another, “I grew up listening to hymns and they stir my heart to God, but I will visit this contemporary service to show these young kids how amazing hymns are”.
Do you see how these people are pushing others toward God?
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. Romans 14:22
As mentioned earlier, Paul is calling the Church to unity in Christ. Each member is supposed to move each other toward Jesus. What are some ways we can move others away from Jesus?
Paul’s call to to push people toward Jesus. What are some non-essential areas that you are pushing people away from Jesus? What are some ways you could push people toward Jesus by what you accept or deny?
Honesty and transparency are important values in Christianity. How do you align that statement with Paul’s, “whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God”?
We need to live sacrificially to show others the life giving love of Jesus.