1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.
3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
The particular problems Paul now addresses may have been unique to the early church, but the general issues reappear in our interactions with one another still today. I offer some examples.
A Eugene pastor met regularly with men from his church in a pub where they would discuss the Bible over a glass of beer. An elderly lady in the church, upon hearing of this gathering, said it grieved her to think that her pastor would go to a tavern and drink beer. The pastor, out of respect for her feelings and realizing he should not try to instruct her, stopped going to that Bible study.
I occasionally play poker with a group of men. We play charity poker, and the guy with the most chips at the end decides where the money will be donated. About 14 years ago the pastor of a church Christine and I attended heard of my poker games, and I could tell he disapproved. I didn’t stop playing, because I reasoned that a pastor should have the biblical understanding to get over his taboo, or if he couldn’t, I at least presumed he would not judge me for violating his moral code. Not wanting to offend further, I no longer spoke of poker to him or members of his church.
This pastor also thought it wrong to drink alcoholic beverage. There may be practical reasons to hold such a position, but the Bible offers no support. RC Sproul scoffs at attempts to try to show that the New Testament word for wine does not mean real wine, calling these studies an “exegesis of despair.” Drunkenness is forbidden, but beyond that Christians are free to drink or not drink alcohol. They should be careful not to impose their own rule on others or cause those who have a problem with alcohol to stumble.
Trump and no-Trump
People hold strong opinions about politics and politicians. Many Christians are afraid to say what they think even to one another, let alone people outside the church. Rick Joyner wrote in a prophetic bulletin about believers’ responses to Donald Trump. Echoing Paul’s warning, Joyner writes, “Like the reasons why so many Christians support Trump, there are legitimate reasons why others do not support him. What is not legitimate is for any Christian to question the faith of those who do not see this the same way that they do. Those who do this are still immature.”
The list of today’s hot-button issues is quite long, and though our circumstances differ from those Paul addressed, we can discern principles to inform our attitudes and behavior so that disagreements do not become divisions.
Meat, days, and wine
We will see that the church in Rome was divided into two groups who took opposing sides on three controversial issues: (1) the “strong” eat any food whereas the “weak” eat only vegetables; (2) the “strong” consider all days alike whereas the “weak” value some days more than others; and (3) the “strong” drink wine whereas the “weak” abstain.
Paul highlights several principles the believers in Rome, and also we, must observe. We must not wield our scruples like a whip to enslave others. We must not flaunt our freedom so as to cause unnecessary offense. We must subordinate both our personal moral codes and our Christian liberty to the higher principle of love.
We are to observe these principles when conflicts arise on morally neutral subjects. (If one side in the Roman church held a position that compromised the gospel, Paul would certainly have come down hard against that group.) We will see that Paul aligns himself with the “strong” in Rome, but his concern is not to win but to bring about unity and harmony in the church.
Neither despise nor judge
The people Paul refers to as “weak in faith” are in the minority and appear to be Jewish Christians who thought they needed still to observe certain customs of the Mosaic Law. The “strong” were the more numerous Gentile believers who were aware of their Christian liberty. Paul wants to unify these two groups. He tells the strong to “welcome”—warmly receive into their homes and relationships—the weak.
The tendency of legalists is to judge those who don’t meet their standards. As a distinguished minister cited by Marvin Vincent said, “The weak brother is the biggest bully in the universe!” The politically correct folks in our day seem to fit in this category. The tendency of those who know their freedom in Christ is to disdain people who are overly scrupulous. Paul tells both groups to stop it. Don’t try to impose your beliefs and change each other, but welcome each other as God accepts you. Truly, we overcome spiritual pride by humbling ourselves before God and one another.