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Romans (Series 2)

Weaker Brother

Romans 14

Lesson audio

A perennial source of difficulty in the church is highlighted in this chapter. Over and again we see someone adding to what the Scripture teaches – for our own good, of course. Often this person is seen as one who is a superior, mature Christian – when in fact just the opposite is true.

Who is the weaker brother?

Romans 14:1-5 NIV

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. (2) One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. (3) The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. (4) Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (5) One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

Follow the rules

It’s a common concept of Christianity: surely it must be better to have a neat, complete set of rules instead of relying solely on the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. We make decisions about “what a Christian should do” – and it is so easy to turn our decisions into “thus saith the Lord.” Rules take much less effort than responsibility. For example:

  • Those of us of an older generation will recall that wearing a suit and tie to church was an absolute requirement. You were to dress with reverence! Indeed, some of us dressed not only in reverence but in boastfulness – tastefully done, of course.[1]
  • How many of us “know” that Christ didn’t use real wine at the Last Supper, but grape juice? This chapter is now used to justify that practice. We shall see if this holds up.[2]

Such people were (and are) considered strong in the faith. Paul’s point is just the opposite: they are the weak in the faith. The issue is one of faith, not of rules. If you need rules to supplement the faith, then you are the weaker brother, at least in some sense.

Who is, and who is not

Let’s be clear about who the weaker brother really is. This is not:

  • The legalist – the one who adds rules to the faith as being necessary to salvation. When you substitute rules for Christ, you are a legalist – and a heretic.
  • A man with a problem. The man whose personal (applies to me, not to others) law is never to touch alcohol is likely an alcoholic, and a wise man. When he extends that law to me, then we must ask, “Did Christ really command that?”
  • Nor are we talking about the man who accepts such a rule for the sake of the harmony of the church. We use grape juice for communion; I think it should be wine. But is the argument really about something essential? Does it benefit the church, or tear it apart?

So who is this weaker brother?

  • It’s someone who prescribes a rule of practice in addition to the clear teaching of the Scripture.
  • The rules added are usually a result of “extended inference.” That chicken you’re eating might have been used previously in a Santorini animal sacrifice ritual – you’d better stick with hamburger. Better yet, stay with kangaroo meat.
Do not condemn

Of course, once you see all this, the temptation is to rush to your weaker brother and straighten him out. Stop! If the matter is one of individual requirements for him, so it is for you. Please remember:

  • God has accepted this Christian as his servant. To condemn him is to tell God that he made a mistake with this one. The bustling ignorance that makes us try to convince everyone that we are right in every detail is indeed an opportunity for longsuffering.
  • Indeed, we have no authority to condemn this person. Their conscience is at stake, and we want to attack that conscience for the purpose of making a non-essential point?
  • Curiously, such action is a lack of faith on our part. It says that God cannot redeem such a one, cannot turn them into a successful Christian without our help.

Preparing for Death

It’s time for a little motivation here.

Romans 14:6-12 NIV He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (7) For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. (8) If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (9) For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. (10) You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. (11) It is written:

" 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,

'every knee will bow before me;

every tongue will confess to God.' "[1] (12) So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Preparing for Death and Judgment

May I make three obvious points?

  • You are going to die, should the Lord delay.
  • In any event, you are going to face the Judgment.
  • That judgment is based in part on what you did – or didn’t – do for your brothers in Christ.

So don’t you think you ought to get ready for this?

Live and die to the Lord

So, what should we do?

  • As Paul tells us in verse 5, each of us should be “fully convinced” in our own minds. As Davy Crockett once said, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” This implies that you’ve taken the time to search the Scriptures and reason upon them. If you make a mistake, then God will deal with that – but lightly, as he knows your heart.
  • Remember, you’re not alone in this. At the very least you are with Christ, so whatever you decide will be done at least in companionship. More than that, you are with the church. It may be that you see no problem except that of the harmony of the church. Is your liberty so valuable that this would be destroyed for it?
  • Finally, please remember that anything may be done for the glory of God.[3] Just because it seems mundane and worldly, don’t forget that he made the mundane and worldly. Use it for his glory.
Lordship of Christ

The central issue is simply this: the Lordship of Christ. If “it’s all about me,” then I am the standard of judgment on all things – and the harmony of the church suffers for it. Often enough I do too.

But if “it’s all about Jesus Christ,” then I must ask what pleases him. The harmony of the church, my care for my brother in the faith – these are things that please him.


Romans 14:13-23 NIV Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. (14) As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food[2] is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. (15) If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. (16) Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. (17) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, (18) because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. (19) Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (20) Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. (21) It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. (22) So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. (23) But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Stumbling block (verses 13-15)

We are not to be stumbling blocks. Isn’t this just simply a form of “love your neighbor?”

What surprises many of us is that we can be stumbling blocks just by “enlightening” our fellow Christians. Even if what we believe is right, if we insist on it and thus destroy the conscience of another Christian, we sin.

How does this work? We have been taught by modern psychology that the “conscience” in the old, Biblical sense doesn’t really exist. What you have instead is “guilt.” Guilt is no longer a factual matter, but one of feelings. Since it’s “just feelings” the psychologist works to get rid of those feelings. In other words, he works to get rid of your conscience.

Scripture teaches the opposite. The conscience is to be preserved and kept working. That mechanism is important – even if the rule at hand is trivial. We should not destroy one of the great things God has given us to keep us from sin just because we believe our brother mistaken about some unimportant detail.

Liberty is not license. Liberty includes responsibility. We are our brothers’ keepers.

“Do not allow” (verses 16-18)

At the same time we are not to allow every little rule given by every weak brother to creep into the faith. We have to be reasonable about this. The steps are relatively simple, as regard to eating and drinking:

  • Everything that God created was created good. There is nothing he created that is intrinsically evil; nor can Satan create – he can only twist. Therefore the “do not touch” rules are not automatically right.
  • We should not allow “lowest common denominator” Christianity. Take it to its logical extreme: if I think driving a car is evil (God didn’t create cars, after all), then shouldn’t all the rest of you stop driving?
  • How do we settle this? May I suggest a life of study of the Scriptures, loving God with all your mind – and then discussion in love rather than verbal combat? We can agree to disagree; I can agree to place no barrier to your rules.
Peace in the church

There is one very good reason for this: peace in the church. It would be just wonderful if we all agreed on every little detail. I see no possibility of that any time soon. But that does not mean we must squabble about those details. We can choose to have peace in the church. If it’s not essential, either we have mutual edification (you may, after all, have a point) or it’s time to keep our opinions to ourselves. Sometimes it’s best to argue rationally and in a scholarly way; other times, it’s best to just shut up.

[1] It must be admitted that the female of the species was more susceptible in this. Suits are uniforms, not plumage.

[2] The reader will find it instructive to investigate the history of one Thomas Branwell Welch and his son Charles in this matter.

[3] 1st Corinthians 10:31.

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