Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Stronger/Weaker

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. - Romans 14:1-10



It's striking to me that this passage comes up again and again in my thoughts, because it seems to come up again and again in circumstances that I either witness firsthand, or have been a part of.

One example that came to mind just recently was a situation that I've encountered on several occasions in so-called Christian chat rooms. To be clear, I say it that way because often the conduct in various Christian chats is far removed from what I consider to be Christian (according to what the Scriptures teach about the fruits of a believer). Thankfully I don't see this much anymore in that context because I've long since quit going places where this kind of conduct takes place.

The specifics of the example has to do with Christians who drink wine or beer. Numerous times I have watched chatters who drink, mock and berate the chatters who do not drink and find it an offense. They're made fun of and insulted in the most condescending ways you can imagine. On the other side of the coin, there have been many non-drinkers who pronounce judgement on the drinkers, and dismiss them as unsaved or adhering to antinomianism. I confess, it was hard not to agree with such an observation when the drinking Christians acted like such bombastic neanderthals about the whole thing. Once while watching such a conversation take place I wondered what it might feel like to be a recoverying alcoholic and witness such an exchange. Or what it might look like to me if I were unsaved, and watching professing Christians act this way.

This is just one of so many different examples. The subject could easily be just about anything, including celebrating Christmas, or participating in Halloween... going to movies or listening to particular kinds of music. The list is pretty long, since we all come from a different place as far as traditions and maturity go. It is also certainly not limited to "online conduct" since the Scriptures that address this were definitely referring to face to face behaviors. I can only be thankful that I haven't had much personal experience with this face to face. I only wish during those times of watching this sort of thing take place in a live chat, that I would have been able to interject some great words from Scripture on this. In the couple of times that I tried, along with others who did try, I was only made fun of and dismissed with the rest of the folks that were trying to take the chat to a different level. It was frustrating to say the least.

While I think everyone who reads this blog already knows that I am certainly not a Greek scholar, I do think it's important to dig a little deeper into Scripture by referring to the original languages to get a fuller impact of the text. I try to do that with any verse or passage because for me, it just opens it up in a way that translated English doesn't always do. For that reason, the words/phrases I've emphasized above are the key words in this passage that for me, spell it out quite clearly how we're to think of and treat one another in the body. The original language and usage of these words paints a larger picture and I would encourage you to do this study yourself as well. It's been a tremendous help for me.

In v.1 "doubtful disputations" is another way of saying that we're not to receive a weaker brother with the attitude of arguing and disputing. If he's the weaker brother then it's already a given that he doesn't understand certain things or might have a skewed idea about other things especially pertaining to Christian living and doctrine, but the way to teach him the right way is not with disputes and arguments. Pastor John MacArthur said it this way:



"Paul tells the strong to "receive" the weak in faith. The Greek word translated "receive" means "to take to oneself," and is preceded by the preposition pros, which intensifies that meaning. Paul is commanding the strong to embrace the weak into their love and fellowship. Those with a clear understanding of Christian freedom should reach out and receive those with a lesser understanding... Paul says to receive the weak, "but not to doubtful disputations." The strong should not receive the weak to pass judgment on their opinions and argue with them. The purpose in receiving our weaker brothers is to love them."(source)



Before I go any further let me just stop here and admit that I don't always do this. Ironically, as much as it bothers me when I see or hear of this happening, I'm not entirely guiltless of ever having done it myself, assuming to be the stronger brother and speaking down the weaker brother. The most common manifestation of this for me would be when I get overly frustrated with some of the kids in the things they say and/or do. In reality, if I were the stronger more mature Christian I would be gracious, loving, understanding and prepared to give an answer to gently and patiently guide them into a more Biblical understanding of the things they were weak in. The stronger brother should always display the grace of Christ in his reactions and treatments of the weaker brother and I know for sure that I don't always do this. Two other verses that immediately come to mind in reference to thinking of the welfare of others before yourself are Philippians 2:3 and Romans 12:10.

In v.3 the one who is not supposed to despise the other, is the stronger brother, the one that eats all kinds of things. The word despise used there is in effect saying the stronger brother is not to scorn, treat with contempt, look down on, disregard as not worth one's time, deride or run down the weaker brother. For myself, growing up the youngest of 3 kids I can remember being the littlest, weakest and least experienced and how it felt at times when my older siblings didn't treat me so well. Thankfully they didn't do this as a rule, but kids are pretty cruel at times and the older & stronger are to never treat the younger and weaker in such a cruel way. I think any parent with more than one kid will get this right away. I find myself reminding my own kids of this very thing, almost every day.

Further in v.3 the weaker brother is not to judge the other brother for what they're doing. In other words, the weaker brother is not to have the dismissive, judgemental opinion of the stronger brother being automatically wrong because they're doing something that the weaker brother does not do. To have such an opinion is a judgement call that the weaker brother isn't truly qualified to make based on his lack of maturity and discernment. In the context of young sibling relationships, it's quite a common thing for a younger sibling to question the liberty and freedom that an older sibling enjoys. They don't understand it, they usually don't think it's fair (and that stems from envy in most cases) and they don't always have such a great attitude about the whole situation.

What's more, the context of the way this is worded says not to do this because God has received (has fellowship) with the stronger brother - althought it certainly applies in exactly the same way that God also has fellowship with the weaker brother as well.

The words judge and set at nought in v.10 are the same words used exactly in the same way as in v.3. What stands out to me more than those words are that follow "For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ".

A genuine brother or sister in Christ knows that even if they are far more mature in the faith than someone else, they still battle with their own besetting sins. We all have them, and we all will always have them until we're no longer in the flesh in this fallen world. A mature and discerning believer doesn't take delight in despising a younger believer, but I find it compelling that this even had to be addressed in Scripture - since this is what we as fallen people are so often prone to do. We puff out our chests and look down our noses because even for a slight moment, that ugly beast of pride and arrogance shows up. For reasons firmly rooted in human pride, we seem to think even for a moment that we're somehow better, or smarter than someone else. It's only a reminder that we certainly haven't "arrived" yet.

Who are we to judge our brother when we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ? Is there a more crushing question one can ask themselves?

Clearly this is not to say that we are not to correct error, or refute heretical teachings or anything like that - but it is to say that we're to be constantly conformed to Christ and be less and less like the old man that is easily provoked to moments of arrogance and pride and self-importance.

For me, this is a most convicting passage to read, no matter how many times I read it. I think it's supposed to be that way.