Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What to Do When You Disagree With a Brother [Romans 14:1-15:13] - (II)

In my first look at Romans 14 and the “weaker brother,” I laid some groundwork by pointing out that everyone involved in this disunity was a Christian, and that the cause of the disunity was a difference of opinion on secondary matters. There are a few more foundational matters to consider:

4. The “Weak” and “Strong” Designations

In the passage you have two groups of people, the “weak” and the “strong.” Whenever you read this, the tendency is to see yourself as one of the strong! That is what pride does in a man! Who wants to be one of the weak? “Over here in the weak corner, weighing in at a measly 98 lbs, with pencil arms and a concave chest...the Weak Brother!” No one wants to be THAT guy!

But let’s see how Paul defines weak and strong, then consider which of the two accurately represents us. Clearly, in this passage, it is better to be part of the “strong.” But it does nothing for the good of our unity to deny you are the “weak” if that is what you really are!

Who Are The Weak?

They are “weak [in] with respect to faith.” This does not mean “barely a Christian.” Nor does it mean “partly a Christian, but for who knows for how long!” These folks are weak in the sense of their convictions about what faith in Christ allows or prohibits.[1] They have not yet worked out all the implications of justification by grace alone through faith alone. They are good Christians, but they have not yet figured out the full extent of their liberation from some external observances, practices or denials.

Three examples are given of “weak-faith behaviour.”

  1. Refusing to eat meat.
  2. Observing one day above another day.
  3. Refusing to drink wine.

Funny, isn’t it, how each of these is still very much an issue 2000 years later!

Now, notice that at no point are the people who are refusing meats and wine and observing one day as being above another day – at no point are they doing this to justify themselves before God. This is not legalism or asceticism or any-other-ism. These are not Judaizers who are saying that we have to keep the OT Laws on top of faith in Christ. These are Christians with weak-faith convictions – but they do not do certain things, or observe certain days “in honor of the Lord.” To them it is a part of following God.

Who Are The Strong?

The strong are the opposite of the weak in that they have worked out more of the implications of justification by grace alone through faith alone. They have more fully understood the extent of their liberation from some external observances.

The strong man believes he may eat anything, he esteems all days alike and he drinks wine - all “in honor of the Lord.” The strong understand the reach of grace into all areas of life. They are not libertines – “let us sin that grace might abound!” – but they have freedom of conscience in these areas. They eat, drink wine and treat every day the same as unto the Lord.

Just for clarity. They are all in the same church. They are all Christians. But they are on the verge of disunity.

Why Does All This Matter?

What are the things splitting these Christians apart? Food, drink and days. Tsk, tsk. Imagine that! Things as simple as this splitting a church! Driving a wedge into the harmony of the local church. My these immature Romans!

Are there any issues like this that we face?

· Movies

· Internet

· Vegetarianism

· Drinking alcoholic beverages

· Christmas

· Home-schooling / Christian schooling / Public schooling

· Types of clothing

· Halloween

Do Christians ever pull back from other Christians because of differences of opinion on things like these? I know for a fact that there are some very different views, strongly held views, in my local church on every matter I just listed. Very strong views.

And I am going to suggest that what we are studying here in Romans 14 is directly applicable to that situation. And depending on what your views are on any one of these matters you may fall into the weak category or the strong category. You may go down the list and say weak here, strong there... And this one fact is for certain. You are being tempted by the devil, the world and your flesh to either despise or condemn those who hold a different view from yours.

Yes, I Mean You!

Depending on whether you are weak or strong, you are being tempted to despise other members of this church or condemn other members of this church. If you deny that, you deny God’s Word. Paul does not say, some of you are in this weak/strong struggle. No, he says all of us fall into one or the other classification.

There is no grandstand to this battle. Everyone is on the playing field. If you say “this does not apply to me” you are like a man decked out in a ManU soccer uniform, cleats and headband, on the field, and about to receive the ball. You may not think you are there, but there you are! You are in the game.

Ah! But I see in my mind’s eye that the sport is not soccer. It is the sport of unity. And in this sport it is your aim to get to the middle of the field and enjoy close fellowship with your friends in the Gospel. But I also see that there are many who are running away from the middle! Some are running to one end of the field – it is called DESPISE! And here they get together with other Despisers and look down their long noses at those gathered on the opposite end of the field. The name of that end of the field is CONDEMN! And there are gathered a great throng of Condemners who wonder aloud if the Despisers are really saved or not!

And both the Despisers and the Condemners think they are playing the game right. In fact, in their blindness, they think that all those saints in the middle are on their team... and they cannot figure out why they are staying in the middle! They can’t see, that all those players in the middle are gathered around Another. Listening to Him, watching Him, enjoying Him... and only turning around now and then to the crowds at either end of the field to wave them over! “Come and fellowship with us!”

5. The Two Temptations

The Temptation of the Strong

If you are strong in faith. If you understand the reach of grace into all areas of life. You are not a libertine, God has graciously granted you a freedom of conscience. If this is you, you are going to be sorely tempted to be a Despiser. To feel nothing but contempt for your weak brother.

3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains...

The Temptation of the Weak

And, if you are weak in faith about a certain matter – and thereby limit yourself from it, or hold it in special regard, whatever the case. If you believe that some external thing must be done or never done in order for you to walk rightly before the Lord. You have not fleshed out the full extent of your liberation from some external things in Christ. If this is you, then you are going to be tempted to look at the strong with condemnation –

:3 let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats...

Let me explain this by way of illustration.

One Christian in our church sees wine as a gift from God. He never gets drunk, nor does he get nearly drunk... but he believes that this beverage is given by God to make men’s hearts glad and he drinks it worshipfully, glorifying God. In the course of conversation he hears another brother mention that he never drinks wine or any alcoholic beverage because he believes this brings the most honour to God. This second brother is not trusting in his non-drinking to save him or increase his justification. He is not drinking wine worshipfully and out of love and gratitude for God.

In this example, the one who drinks is strong and the one who does not drink is weak.

How do these brothers treat one another?

A Bad Solution

The strong brother says in his heart, “Oh great, another one of these ridiculous teetotalers! So country! So backwards! If I had a Labatt Blue here I would open it in his face!”

And the weak brother thinks, “My land, he drinks beer! How can he do that? I wonder if he is saved? God is surely displeased with him!”

And both run to opposite ends of the field. Disunity.

The Good Solution

We will look at that in our next post!



[1] See Moo, page 836 especially footnote 43.