Throughout church history believers have asked, “should a Christian partake in this or that activity?” These questions concern gray areas, choices that believers make in their personal lives that Scripture does not call sin or specifically mention.
In Romans 14 Paul compares a believer who was weak in the faith with one who was mature. The weaker one had speculative ethics over things of minor importance feeling they must observe certain days and avoid certain foods. This was an issue in the early church where some Jewish believers were hesitant to eat foods which were forbidden under the Mosaic Law and felt they must still respect the Sabbath (vv. 1-2, 5). Food was also an issue for some Gentile believers (1 Cor. 8; 10:23-33). Saved out of idolatry, they were appalled at the thought of eating meat that had been offered to one of their former idols and then sold in the marketplace. On the other hand, Gentile believers who were strong in faith understood that although certain foods may have been used in idolatrous rituals, the food in itself was not evil. Similarly, mature Jewish believers now understood that the Mosaic Law was no longer their rule of life. In this section God’s Word maps out some key guidelines to help believers make decisions about inconsequential things today and still accept other Christians who think differently.
The first principle is that Christ has warmly received both the strong and the weak believer and welcomes them to come into His presence (vv.1-3; Rom. 15:7; Heb. 4:16). Therefore, we must not reject one whom He has received. Further, each believer is identified with Him so when we receive another believer we are also receiving Christ (Mt. 10:40). Moreover, it is heart-warming that the Father lovingly welcomes us in the same manner as He does His Son (Phm. 1:17). Therefore, weaker believers must be embraced as they are (v. 1) because “fellowship among Christians is not to be based on everyone’s agreement on disputable questions.”1 Our personal convictions on secondary matters should not become a test of fellowship.
John Heading writes, “Christian love bears with men just as they are found and seeks their development without stumbling.”2 Our reception of the weak means treating them with kindness and love without any thought of arguing with them to change their opinions (v. 1). Likewise, weaker believers should never quarrel with others in an attempt to convince them of their viewpoints. In disagreeing on some non-essentials there can still be happy fellowship because “unity does not require uniformity.”
It is possible to outwardly accept another believer but nonetheless maintain a wrong attitude towards them (v. 3). Those who enjoy their liberty in Christ must take care not to mock, despise or hold contempt for those who feel the need to follow a set of do’s and don’ts. Those with a weak conscience must take care that they do not become critical of those who do not feel bound to their self-imposed list of right behaviour. Since God has received them both, they should mutually receive one another.
The second principle is that both in life and death Christ is our Lord and Master (vv. 4, 7-12). In the working world, supervisors are responsible to evaluate their own employees work. It would be inappropriate for them to assess one who worked for another manager. Similarly, Christ is our sole arbiter, not other believers. He alone has the capability to righteously appraise us. When the strong shows contempt for the weak or the weak judges the strong they are usurping Christ’s responsibility. Instead we must entrust ourselves and others to God’s grace (Rom. 5:2; 2 Cor. 12:9; 2 Pet. 1:3) recognizing that we shall all appear before Christ to give account.
1. Zondervan NASB Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), electronic version
2. John Heading, Acts: A Study in New Testament Christianity (Kansas City, KS: Walterick Publishers, 1995), vol. 2: p. 189
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