The Strong and Weak in Faith

Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:1-4).

Regardless of one’s religious (or irreligious) history, Jesus receives every immersed penitent believer and his conscience as it is. In the first century, this would include someone with a devout Jewish background and its many dietary restrictions like Saul of Tarsus (Philip­pians 3:5-6), someone who was a God-fearing Gentile like Cornelius (Acts 10), and heathens who turned to God from idols (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

Because of our diverse spiritual backgrounds, everyone’s consciences and previous manner of life impacts his thinking and behavior after becoming a Christian. Although no animal has been declared unclean by Christ (Mark 7:19), a first century Jewish Christian with a weak conscience may still avoid pork in his diet. A Gentile Christian living then may not want to eat any food connected with idolatry. Others may opt to avoid all meat and choose to be a vegetarian. Each was received by Christ, and as long as no one sought to enforce the dictates of his conscience on others (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-3), he had the liberty to live in complete harmony with his conscience.

This, then, is the reason why the first principle governing matters of conscience among Christians is the strong are to receive the weak, and neither is to view the other unfavorably.

The command in verse one to “receive” means to welcome into one’s fellowship and heart. It implies genuine warmth and kindness. It is the antithesis of verse three’s despising (i.e., treating another with contempt as an inferior) and judging (i.e., being critical and treating as unacceptable to God).

If God receives you with your conscience as it is, who are you to decide the fitness or unfitness of another and his conscience?

If God can make something useful of you with all your foibles and idiosyncrasies, why do you think He is not able to do the same with another?

Regardless of how strong or weak your conscience is and regardless of how strong or weak your brother’s conscience is, God can use you both in His service. What else really mat­ters?

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Author: jchowning

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