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The Weaker Brother
Last time we saw that government is ordained by God to restrain evil by providing national and local safety. Though imperfect and sometimes evil itself, God still has his way in the outworking of history.
Now this time, Paul discusses the principle of the weaker brother. Love will see to it, says Paul, that those who are weaker in the faith will not be caused to stumble by our behavior.
The problem of the weaker brother is that he often sees himself as the stronger brother! The weaker brother is the one who abstains from certain things, judges by appearances, and fails to distinguish between the outward act and the inward attitude.
Because someone does something with which he disagrees, the weaker brother at once concludes that this person’s motives must be wrong.
Paul says, first, the weaker brother is to be accepted confidently.
Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.
No questions are to be asked of him about his scruples, nor are those who are strong in the faith to argue with him about them.
BACKGROUND: In the church at Rome there were Christians who had come out of dark paganism. These young Christians were shocked when they saw Jewish Christians eating meat that had been offered to idols. To them, to buy this meat in the marketplace and eat it was the same as contributing to idolatry.
The Jewish believers, strong in the faith, thought that such scruples were nonsense. To eat meat offered for public sale, even though it had once been offered to an idol, did not constitute idolatry.
Paul stepped into the controversy and advised the stronger brethren not to judge the weaker brother, nor to argue with him. He was not to be mocked or ridiculed in the local fellowship.
We would say in our day not to major on minors. Jesus would say, “Don’t strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” Don’t have major fights over minor issues. Don’t lose a brother over a needle in a haystack.
Paul went on to say that the weaker brother should not only be accepted confidently, but also considerately.
Consideration for other people’s viewpoints is the outward manifestation of love’s merciful conduct. This does not mean that we are to agree with everything someone says or does. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the church should not call a sin, sin.
It means that uniformity is not imperative. We don’t have to believe exactly alike, nor do we all have to behave exactly alike. St. Augustine wrote: “In essentials, unity; In non-essentials, liberty; In all things, love.”
God does not pour all people into the same mold.
For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.
If a brother is a committed vegetarian, that’s not the same as being a committed fornicator, or a committed drunk. It’s a gray area about which there is room for opinion. So Paul says that, in these cases, we should live and let live.
Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval.
God, says Paul, will help them along into greater liberty as they progress.
Next, Paul deals with the issue of days.
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.
According to Paul, there is wide latitude for the exercise of freedom in one’s public devotion to the Lord. We’re not to be hung about which day is the holiest, or if there is any difference at all in days.
For instance, Sunday’s are when most Christians in America attend church. But to me, each day should be just as holy to the Lord. We should seek Him every day, not just Sundays. But that is my conviction.
Some consider Christmas or Easter the holiest days of the year. But for me they are essentially the same. Some feel the Sabbath is on Saturday, not Sunday (not in reference to 7th Day Adventists). Okay, if that’s what you believe, all that really matters is that you worship Him, not when. Paul says:
Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.
The significance of a person’s conduct is not so much what other people think about it, as what the Lord thinks about it. Even though there is diversity in non-essentials, unity is still not impossible. The Lordship of Christ unites believers not only in this life, but also in the life to come:
For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.
The whole point of Chapter 13 is that the believer is under the control of the Lord. He cannot choose either the manner or the time of his death. Nor, indeed, does death alter his relationship with the Lord. Differences of opinion fade into insignificance when death enters the picture.
Beyond the grave the Lordship of Christ is universally acknowledged. And when we get to glory, it will be our greatest joy to cast our crowns at His feet (Phil. 2:9-10; Rev. 4:9-11).
Next, Paul deals with the issue of criticizing a weak brother.
As stated, the weak brother is to be accepted into the fellowship without discussion or debate. Yet there always lurks the temptation to criticize another because of areas of difference in his life.
In the first place, it is purposeless to criticize. Paul argues:
You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? 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.’ 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
The judgment mentioned here is not for sins, but for the believer’s works. His sins have been judged at Calvary and are remembered no more forever (Heb. 10:17). However, every work must be brought into judgment (Matt. 12:36; 2 Cor. 5:19).
The result of this judgment, which takes place at the return of Christ, will be either reward or loss for the believer:
1 Corinthians 3:12-15
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss…
Paul solemnly reminds us that criticizing another brother will be called into account at the judgment seat of Christ.
So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
If we turn the searchlight within our own hearts, we will find plenty to keep us humble before the Lord without being occupied with other people.
Our Lord Jesus advised along the same lines, “Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you can see clearly enough to remove your brother’s speck of dust.”—Matthew 7:5
Paul says that, in view of the judgment seat of Christ, our decision should be to avoid at all costs doing anything which would hinder a brother in the exercise of his faith.
How far are we to go in seeking to accommodate ourselves to the special quibbles of the weak brother? Paul places the responsibility directly on the shoulders of the stronger brother.
In “tolerating” the differences in the life of the weaker brother, our attitude is not to be “I have to” or “I ought to” but “I want to.” They are not to be dealt with legalistically, but rather in love.
First, Paul emphasizes the principles of our liberty in Christ, and begins by discussing the rights of a free conscience.
As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.
While conscience is not an infallible guide, it is wrong to go against one’s conscience. The stronger brother should not teach the weaker one to go against his conscience. Rather, he should teach him to educate his conscience by the word of God.
Paul, of course, is not talking about anything morally impure. He is talking about non-essentials, like eating meat offered to an idol. Only the power of the Word of God can set a brother free by realizing that the idol is lifeless, therefore to eat meat offered to the idol is not truly sinful.
It is through the work of God’s word and His grace that we are delivered from all the fuss and bother of empty religion. This is our birthright as children of God, but is usually enjoyed only by those who have grown into Christian adulthood.
Yet a higher law here comes into play, which is:
Love requires self-limitations for the sake of others.
If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
The familiar question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is answered by Paul with a “Yes.” Every believer is his brother’s keeper and must refrain from anything that would lead him astray.
To have a clear conscience in that which the mature Christian allows in his own life is one thing; but to exercise that freedom to the peril of another man’s soul is something else.
No believer should exercise personal privilege over church-wide responsibility.
Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.
If a person exercises his stronger faith to the detriment of a weak brother, he gives the wrong impression to him about the Christian life.
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon smoked cigars for many years. To him smoking was no sin. He did it in all good conscience. Then one day he discovered that a tobacco firm was advertising themselves as “the brand that Spurgeon smokes.” He quit from that day forward.
For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
Living according to the principle of love is good, both to God and men.
Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
Always live in agreement with your conscience, which is to be fine-tuned by the Word of God.
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
The man is doubly happy who not only has an easy conscience as to what he permits in his life, but who also has an easy conscience knowing that he has truly been his brother’s keeper.