"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things." (Romans 14:1)
Regardless of what church we attend or in which circle of friends we fellowship, one thing is certain, there will always be differences of opinions. It is often the case that, instead of allowing interpersonal relationships to teach us and enrich our lives, we allow our different views of unimportant matters to ruin relationships, bring resentment, divisions, rejection, hostility, and consequently the destruction of God's work.
We clearly see in the Word those things God calls sin. There are clear boundaries, or principles, according to which Christians ought to live if they want to inherit God's blessings. There are also things in the Word that are sometimes unclear, or less important, for a quality relationship with God, on which we can unnecessarily get hung up and exhaust ourselves and the beliefs of others; if we are not careful we can destroy quality relationships God has given us with those who have differing opinions, and even in the end reject and ridicule those around us who do not agree with us on certain matters.
Therefore it is important to have an understanding of correct behavior between strong and weak believers and understanding of the differences in Christ's body, with which is possible to contribute to healthy relationships that give the church renewed strength for going forward in God's work.
THE STRENGTH OF HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS IS RECOGNITION THAT WE LIVE FOR THE LORD AND OTHERS AROUND US.
"If you want people to be happy when they meet you, then you need to be happy when you meat them, and you need to show it." [paraphrase] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Often the church can appear cold and selfish, so that people wonder what the difference between the church and the world is.
Actually there is one great difference that ought to be visible, that believers should not live for themselves but for the Lord and those around them. In the end, the DNA of the church is that we live for the King of kings and we are ready to make sacrifices for Him and love those around us. By this the world will know who we are, they will tell us apart from others, and call us His disciples.
If we look around us we can see that in the world only the strong survive; those who have pushed themselves and survived at whatever cost to those around them. The weak are often stepped on, ignored, and used so that a stronger person succeeds with their selfish plans. It would behoove us to ask ourselves about the church. How ought relationships to be between the strong and weak in the church?
Similar to that in the world, but in a different perspective, there are weak and strong believers in the church. He who claims that his church is made up of only strong, victorious Christians is either lying or does not have a spirit of discernment. To expect a church with only strong Christians without any kind of problem is a utopia. This may be the desire of all pastors and spiritual workers, but the truth is that in every church there will always be, without exception, weak and strong believers together. It is impossible to have a completely perfectly strong church.
Who are these weak and strong Christians? Before we try to find an answer to that question we ought to accept the fact that we are all in Christ's body and in some places strong and in others weak. We ought to also be aware that we vary in gifts and talents, as in the effects of grace given to us by the Lord. This is why we need one other. Sometimes our faith can be strong so that certain activities with unbelievers do not bother us; while others may have a weaker faith and must avoid such activities and possibly certain people in order to protect their walk with the Lord.
The Apostle Paul told us that there weak and strong Christians. We should not allow ourselves to scorn them or avoid them; rather we must first of all desire to know how we can help them grow spiritually.
The problem with older believers is that we sometimes grow weary; we are impatient, and often because of that we are not willing to work with new people. Because of their spiritual weakness and immaturity we often judge, criticize, and little by little hypocritically distance ourselves from them because they do not meet our standards of the Christian life. This should never be the attitude of a strong believer who belongs to Christ.
The same problem arose among the Roman Christians in Paul's day. In the church at that time there were strong and weak believers. The strong scorned and judged the weak, they did not help them to grow spiritually, and some did not even receive the weak into their company. The problem with them was that some of the strong believers knew that the idols were worthless and had no power. Because of this, they did not consider the weak believers but bought meat at the market that had been previously used in sacrificial ceremonies, which was the custom among pagan Romans.
One part of the meat was used as a sacrifice to other gods, while the other part remained and was later sold at the market. Some Christians (the stronger ones) bought that meat without prejudice and ate it, while the weaker did not want to eat the meat because just thinking about where they had come from, they felt it was scandalous to eat food that had been consecrated in pagan rituals.
In addition to food, there was another problem. Some held a certain day as special, while for others that day did not mean anything at all; so great controversy arose because of this. Just as today, some place great value on Saturday, others on Sunday, while yet others see everyday as the Lord's Day. Paul gave us clear directives by saying that these kinds of differences ought not to be a source of contempt, judgment, rejection or insult. Paul was clear in his instructions: be united in important matters, be free in unimportant matters, in everything have love, and do not focus on yourself but on the Lord. This is was he said, "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. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." (Romans 14:1-8)
This is often the problem in our relationships: we forget that we do not live for ourselves, but for the Lord, which automatically means that we live for people around us. While the world lives for itself and only for itself, the church ought to present the opposite of this because she is Christ's body, which should be mutually connected with His love and selflessness.
When we would adopt the idea that we do not live for ourselves, but we belong to the Lord, then our relationships would have more depth and be more effective. Yet, we often live and work for ourselves and not for the Lord. This is why there is a lack of acceptance and bearing with the weak; judging of varying and unimportant beliefs should not a place in the church if we want to have the power of healthy relationships. This is why Paul said, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me." (Romans 15:2-3) In a practical sense this means:
THE POWER OF HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP RECEIVES THOSE WEAK IN THE FAITH.
"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things." (Romans 14:1)
Therefore, said Paul, if because of fear or weak faith someone is bothered by meat that is offered to idols, then I will not buy that meat and brag about it, I will instead of have a good attitude about it. I will not compromise and make myself weak. I will not make a big deal about it by complaining and judging those who are weak knowing that the kingdom of God is not made up of food and drink but "peace...in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17)
In other words, it is necessary to hold to the important things of the kingdom. But we ought to not reject people or separate into individual groups. It is possible that we do this at times, or we go to another extreme, tirelessly debating while convincing others of our opinions.
Unfortunately these self-righteous prejudices are a great problem in the church. We often reject and despise one another, not inviting people into our company because we have differing opinions and views on minor issues in the Word.
Sometimes, rather than building quality community relationships and building God's body by recognizing differences in our wrong exclusive opinions, we give the impression that we live for ourselves, not for the Lord. To live for the Lord means that we accept every part of His body, the parts that are important and the parts that are not.
Actually, if we have a Christ-like character, we will try to please one another. Our goal then is not prove how much strength we have, but the peace among us. And it is time for us to change our attitudes, because unfortunately we have all had an opportunity to hear too many stories about how churches have split over worship, the church sign and other unimportant things.
I am convinced that these things are possible because we live for ourselves and not for the Lord. This is why today there are groups of strong and weak that needlessly fight among themselves. Rather than seeing the bigger picture of God's kingdom that is filled with various gifts, ministries, opinions and levels of maturity, we refuse to invite certain people into our company or fellowship with them because we have differing opinions from them about lesser important things.
It is very important, then, to receive the weak in the faith, but what is more important that we do not constantly judge one's opinions about unimportant things in God's kingdom, such as things that the Bible has not explicitly emphasized. In other words, we ought not do that which could cause discomfort for others simply because we have a different opinion that we want to impose on others as a basic biblical belief. People often argue because of small unimportant things and thus tear apart God's body. Paul said, "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense." (Romans 14:20) In other words, this is a man who offends other people with his opinions. We often say that we don't care because it is not our problem, or that we have certain opinions. But we should not forget that we do not live for ourselves, but for the Lord and other people. This is true Christianity!
THE POWER OF HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS CARRIES THE WEAKNESS OF THE WEAK AND ADVANCES IN HOPE BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves." (Romans 15:1)
"Jesus accepts you the way you are, but loves you too much to leave you that way." - Lee Venden
In the original Greek it says that the strong "carry", not "bear with" the weakness of the weak. In other words, the weak ought not to always be weak after a time. Paul didn't call us to bear with one's weakness forever and to constantly adjust to people because he himself was against that, saying to the Galatians, "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10)
He actually wanted to point out that we need to be willing to get rid of works that are pleasing to us in order to build up those around us, if this is the case with the weak, because our Christian persuasions ought not to allow for cool attitudes toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. If it is necessary, we will set aside our opinions for a time in order to carry their weakness knowing that we do not live for ourselves.
The weak also belong to God's body. The actual context of the word weak in this case is, those immature in the faith who have not yet strengthened the spiritual muscles needed for resisting outward pressure. For example, if a person who previously worshiped idols became a believer, he knows perfectly well that he is saved through faith in Christ and that idols have no real power. But due to past experiences, he may still be shaken by those who eat meat offered to idols. Perhaps even one who worshipped God by celebrating certain Jewish holidays became a Christian, he knows full well that he is saved by grace, not by keeping the law, yet when it comes time to celebrate those holidays he may feel empty or disloyal by not celebrating them.
Actually, Paul told us that both ought to do according to the dictates of their consciences, but their true concern ought not to become a law for the entire church. Of course, certain things are crucial for our faith and we ought to fight for those things - but many are based on personal opinion and ought not become law.
Whatever the case, God's Word tells us that we ought not ignore one another, but if something becomes a problem for a weaker brother we ought to help him by carrying his weakness according to the example of Christ. "Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5-6)
In a practical sense, this means that we need to find time for them; we ought not reject or despise them, speak derogatory about them, or leave them to make choices on their own in their spiritual weakness, but bear with them patiently and work with them, cooperate with them, and receive them into our company. We ought to avoid cliques. This is a problem in the church and the reason is because people lose their desire for church, because church is first and foremost a fellowship of believers as a whole - both weak and strong, and sometimes the strong push the weak away because they do not want to work with them; they do not want to make adjustments for them.
In closing, the weak can sense judgment from the weak; they know when they are being left out, which leaves them feeling rejected and consequently will often leave them church.
We must know that we do not live for ourselves, but for the Lord. In fellowship we do not live a selfish life, but sometimes we need to be patient with others according to the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If we are ready to follow through on this we will have the power of healthy relationships, pure joy, and peace among ourselves; and in hope we will move forward in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then we will not be critics, self-righteous, impatient, and complainers (because this brings forth fruit of despair), but according to Christ's example we will be patient, full of comfort and have joy and peace in faith and power to go forward in the Lord.
As the Word says, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.' For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us,to the glory of God. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:2-7, 13)