Weak and Strong, Part 1
Romans 14:1-4 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 of our great internal challenges is how to relate to other believers who don’t believe the same things as we do, or who look at Christian life differently. Some folks delight in celebrating Christmas; others wouldn’t think of having a tree in their house. The verse after the ones above says that “one person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.”
The reality is that if you have enough deep conversations with fellow believers, you’ll find that no two Christians view everything the same way. There are differences in interpretation, in emphasis, in practice and in perspective. Since the Lord is Alpha and Omega, and because His ways and thoughts are so very far above ours, we can rightly assume that we all fall short of understanding the Almighty God. No one could hope to have complete understanding of all of His ways.
The word “receive” in Romans 14:1 is also translated “accept,” and perhaps even better, “welcome.” These words speak to the attitude of our hearts. We often “tolerate” and “endure” others with whom we disagree, but these attitudes keep us from enjoying Spirit-led fellowship with others. Receiving them and welcoming them is another level of blessing, one that benefits us and glorifies God. Walking together in the light of the Lord with fellow believers is a gift from God to His people. We push away that gift when we refuse the grace to “receive” them openly and lovingly.
Paul does, however, call this particular group of believers “weak.” In context, Paul is describing those who haven’t understood the liberty we have in Christ, and are tied to old legalistic methods of relating to God. In contrast to Paul’s own understanding and to the teachings he is giving the Romans, those believers are indeed weak who “eat only vegetables” and don’t understand that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
Most of us had to grow into this understanding, and we needed the support and teaching of those who were more mature to get to that place. Most of us come from some point of legalism before we come to Christ, and we bring that baggage with us into our walk with Jesus. We have all needed others to receive, accept and welcome us as we came to understand our freedoms in Christ.
The last two sentences in the scripture above contain a slight rebuke and a great encouragement. “Who are [we] to judge another’s servant?” Clearly, we need to repent of taking that place if we have. Yet, the same wonderful God who causes us to stand will help them to grow from weakness to strength. He is their Master, too, and this is His business, responsibility and pleasure.
Prayer: Lord, forgive me for closing my heart to those who think differently, and especially to those who are genuinely weak. Help me to welcome, receive and accept them. Cleanse those things inside that prevent me from doing that.