Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What to Do When You Disagree With a Brother [Romans 14:1-15:13] (Part 7)

This is a multi-part series. You can catch up and get some context by reading the first six parts here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V and Part VI.


In the last study, we concluded that the brother who is strong-in-faith must hold very firm convictions and an equally firm love for those who do not share those convictions.

The strong, by the fact that they are strong, bear the greater responsibility in these conflicts. They have the most wiggle-room if you like, and need to focus on love and peace at the expense of their freedoms. But, as Paul made clear, this does not mean they should change their convictions to match the weak. No, firm convictions and firm love! Each before the Lord.

Now, in 15:1-6, Paul continues his instructions to the strong, “notching it up” as we like to say, even further. The passage breaks down like this:

1. The command to carry and please the weak. :1-2

2. The motivation or reason we must carry the weak :3

3. An interlude on how the OT gives us hope :4

4. A prayer for God-glorifying unity :5-6

I. The command to carry and please the weak. (15:1)

The first thing to note is that Paul says, “WE” and thereby includes himself with the strong. That is important, for as we have made reference to throughout this passage, it is always better to have strong-faith convictions and that is clear when Paul joins himself to the strong. He is our model in so many things – especially this!

A. Obligated to Carry

These strong ones are under an obligation. If you are tall you under an obligation – to reach things for people. If you are male – under an obligation to give up your seat to a lady.

To be obliged to do something means you are morally bound to do it. It is necessary. This thing must be done. And that which the strong ones must do is “to bear with the failings of the weak.”

Now, one way of reading this makes it sound like the strong are being asked to “put up with” the weak – “bear with their failings!” But that does not fit at all! Didn’t Paul start this whole discussion by instructing the strong to fully welcome the weak without any thought of correcting them?

You endure your Aunt Matilda because she is an ornery old battleaxe. But you are never to merely endure the saints of God. The word means, “to lift up, to carry.”

Moo says: “In this light, what Paul is exhorting the “strong” to do is willingly and lovingly to assume for themselves the burden that these weak believers are carrying. See REB: “Those of us who are strong must accept as our own burden the tender scruples of the weak.” This does not necessarily mean that the “strong” are to adopt the scruples of the “weak.” But what it does mean is that they are sympathetically to “enter into” their attitudes, refrain from criticizing and judging them, and do what love would require toward them. Love demands that the “strong” go beyond the distance implied in mere toleration; they are to treat the “weak” as brothers and sisters.”[1]

“We strong ones [since we are so spiritually muscular] are under an obligation to carry the weaknesses of the not-so-strong ones.” Or, as he adds after this: “not to please ourselves.”

Think about the weak and strong again with me.

The weak in faith:

:2 – eat only vegetables (abstaining from certain foods in honour of the Lord :6)

:5 – esteem one day as better than another (in honour of the Lord :6)

:21 – he does not drink wine

:14 – certain items are unclean to him because he thinks they are unclean

:8 – he is the Lord’s and the Lord will make him stand (:4)

But, BECAUSE they are weak in faith, they can be hindered (:13), made to stumble (:13, 20), grieved (:15), and even destroyed (:15, 20)... when the brother with strong-faith convictions exercises his freedom (:21) to eat meat, drink wine or esteem all days alike.

How does the strong one eating, etc destroy the weak? Because the weak end up caving in to the pressure to eat, drink or not observe days – and 14:23 “...whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” You are causing the weak to stumble by throwing up logs in his path!

B. Obligated to Please

Paul has already made clear to the strong: “Do not cause the weak to stumble” and he gave 4 reasons for that:

A. Truth demands it: Everything is clean to the Christian, but not

everything is clean to every Christian :14

B. Love demands it :15

C. Logic demands it :16

D. Kingdom Priorities demand it :17

Now he summarizes those 4 reasons with the phrase “do not please yourself.” The man who is out to please himself says,

· I don’t care if it is unclean to you!

· My freedom to eat is more important than you!

· I value my freedom for eating and drinking above righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit!

· I don’t care what pleases anyone else – including God!

Such thinking is totally out of place to the Christian!

Do older children ever get frustrated by the things their little brother or sister cannot do? Imagine you are a kid again. You go to the beach on holidays, and Mom and Dad have asked you to watch your kid brother for a few minutes. Now, you want to swim in the lake! Little brother says, “But I can’t swim. Stay here on the beach and play with me!” But you answer: “I can swim! See ya!” And off you go...

Little brother knows he shouldn’t.... but wants to be with you... and off he goes... but he can’t swim. Up to his ankles. Now his waist. The waves splash his shoulders. And then... gone.

Was it a bad choice he jumped in the water? Yes. Was it all his fault?....

Paul says that the strong Christian in secondary matters is obligated to carry the weaknesses of his weaker brother and to not please himself.

He then states the command more positively – :2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Don’t please yourself – please your neighbour! That would be for his good and it would build him up! And that, dear ones, is love! Any other option is like taking bricks out of his house. Nothing happens at first, but soon it will reach a critical mass and collapse. So, make your focus “pleasing the Christians you are in physical proximity to.” This is the priority for those who are strong-in-faith!

[1] Moo, 866.