“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” (ESV)
So many fights in the church are over issues that are far less significant than we have made them. Often someone has read something in the Scriptures (even in community) with a desire to apply what he’s seen, but, in his efforts to apply the Scriptures, he’s given too much power and position to the issue. The result is an insistence on a certain behavior that, while not necessarily unwise, much less sinful, is an unnecessary restriction on the freedom we have available to us in Christ.
Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Problems can come, though, when this person begins to elevate this particular issue in importance to the point that she begins judging other believers as insufficiently faithful to the Scriptures for not approaching it in the same way she does.
Paul calls these folks “weaker brothers (or sisters).” They are weaker in the sense that while their commitment to Christ is no less strong than that of a stronger brother, their position on the issue voluntarily and unnecessarily limits their exercise of the full freedom they have in Christ in a manner that in some situation may hurt their witness. Additionally, it can jeopardize their ability to fellowship with other believers, making finding good community more difficult.
Romans 14 is Paul offering some advice for how to get along with folks like this. The reality is that most of us have some issue that renders us a weaker brother or sister. Navigating all of these differences of opinions and convictions can make doing life together as the church really difficult. Paul’s advice in the following verses amounts to this:
- Show each other grace, not judgment.
- Don’t treat as ultimate issues that are not ultimate.
- Don’t intentionally injure the conscience of someone who feels differently than you do about some issue.
- Remember what’s most important (righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit as v. 17 says) and keep it there.
Dealing with weaker brother issues is more complicated than this to be sure, but if we will practice these four things, we will make community a much stronger possibility than it was before. And when we have community a whole lot is possible.