Liberty, Legalism, and Love (3)
In the previous post we tried to answer the question: What constitutes spiritual weakness? Who is the weak brother or sister? We are now ready to ask and answer the second and third of our four questions. Continue reading . . .
In the previous post we tried to answer the question: What constitutes spiritual weakness? Who is the weak brother or sister? We are now ready to ask and answer the second and third of our four questions.
(2) The second question to be addressed is: "How are the strong and the weak to relate and respond to each other in regard to these matters on which they embrace differing convictions?"
To the strong, Paul gives two words of advice.
First, according to v. 1, he is to "welcome” the one who is weak in faith. To “welcome” means both recognition by the Christian community as a member of the body of Christ, and brotherly reception of him/her into the routines of Christian fellowship. In other words, don't discriminate against him because of his weakness. Show him the same affection and esteem you would a strong brother who shares your convictions on secondary matters. Be sure the weaker brother or sister is not made to feel inferior or unwanted or odd. Though his scruples are held in error, it is not through callous disputes or a critical spirit that his weakness will be turned into strength.
Be it noted that Paul is careful never to concede to the position of the weak as the correct one. He refuses to reduce the strong to the level of the weak, although he does call on the former to curtail their liberty out of love. The weak, however, ought to grow strong. The way to make them strong is not to offend them but to love them.
Second, the strong must not "despise" the weak (v. 3a). The tendency of the strong is to disregard the weak as one not worthy of being taken seriously. But Paul rebukes the smile of disdainful contempt.
To the weak Paul says, do not "pass judgment" on the strong (v. 3b). If the strong smiles disdainfully at the weak, the weak frowns with disapproval at the strong. The strong believes the weak is legalistic and Pharisaical. The weak believes the strong is loose and unprincipled. Both are to refrain from such judgments.
[Moo reminds us that "in the interests of guarding against an illegitimately broad application of this principle, it is vital to stress that Paul commands us here to receive those whom God has received. In other words, Paul limits his plea for tolerance to those who can rightly claim a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ, involving all those doctrinal and practical requirements that Paul and the NT elsewhere insist must be present for such a genuine saving relationship to exist" (839).]
(3) The third question to be addressed is: "Why are the weak not to judge the strong?" (Vv. 13-23 are Paul's directives to the strong. Vv. 4-12 are his directives to the weak.)
First, the weak should not judge the strong because "God has welcomed him" (v. 3b). If God has received a person into the body of Christ and if the conduct in question is no obstacle to God's acceptance, it is sin for us to condemn what God approves.
Second, the Christian has but one Master, the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 4a). The conscience of a Christian is bound to none but Christ. In matters on which the Bible does not speak, you and I are answerable to none but God. For the weak to judge the strong on a matter of conscience is intrusive. It is to Christ, not to you, that he stands or falls (v. 4).
This standing/falling does not refer to the final judgment, as if one's salvation were in view. Rather, it refers to one's daily Christian walk from which the weak brother is sure the strong brother will stray because of his practice. Paul's point is that "in spite of the perils which liberty brings in its train – and the apostle is as conscious of them as the most timid and scrupulous Christian could be – he is confident that Christian liberty, through the grace and power of Christ, will prove a triumphant moral success" (Denney, 702). Although the weak brother may regard the behavior of the strong as a falling down in his devotion to Christ and as something that will surely bring the Lord's disapproval, Paul is quick to argue for the opposite: Christ will sustain him!
Third, the reason why neither party should judge the other is that both are aiming at the same target: serving and glorifying God. Paul's point in vv. 5-9 is that the purpose of both the strong and the weak in all they do is their devotion to God. Whether he eats or abstains, he does so with gratitude to God. Whether we live or die, we live or die for the Lord.
Fourth, according to vv. 10-12, all will give account to God, not to each other. If this be true, how dare we presume to exercise a judgment that is the prerogative of Christ alone!
In the next post we’ll see what Paul has to say about the expression of love in the exercise of our Christian liberty.