Much time has been spent speaking about Romans 14 and the responsibilities of the Christian pertaining to his liberties. Unfortunately, there are many good brethren in the church today who have, wittingly or unwittingly, added many doctrines to the text of Romans 14 that are simply not there. Let us examine these doctrines and the difficulties with them.
1. The “weak” brother is wrong.
In Romans 14, we are introduced to two separate groups of Christians, those that Paul deems “strong” and the other “weak.” Many desire that these “strong” and “weak” are classified by the nature of their faith in Jesus– they are either “weak in THE faith” or “strong in THE faith.” This type of scenario is discussed specifically in 1 Corinthians 8 under the topic of eating meats sacrificed to idols; it is not present in Romans 14. The definite article is simply not present in the text save in verse 1. Therefore, the “weak” brother is simply “weak in faith” about the particular practice under discussion: this is not necessarily a referendum on his faith in God.
Regardless, must the one who does not have faith in the practice automatically be wrong? First of all, even though Paul does agree that the issue under discussion in Romans 14 (eating of meat) is a liberty, he does say the following in Romans 14:14b:
save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Therefore, is the “weak” brother “wrong?” Since God has accepted him along with the one who is “strong,” is either more “right” than the other? We are not speaking of issues in Romans 14 over right and wrong– this is made evident in verse 17:
for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
In this context, eating and drinking has nothing to do with righteousness. One is righteous if he eats meat or if he does not eat meat.
Further, this position does not take into account the very significant message in verse 22:
The faith which thou hast, have thou to thyself before God. Happy is he that judgeth not himself in that which he approveth.
It IS possible for one to approve as a liberty that which is not truly a liberty at all. Further, we are given the example of the observance of “days” in Romans 14:5-6. In this situation, would not the one who has faith in the observance be the “strong in faith,” while the one who does not have faith in the observance be the “weak of faith,” due to the quality of their respective faiths in the observances? If we were searching for the “right” answer, would we not say that not observing religious days would be proper since there is no command? In this situation, the “weak” brother is the “right” brother, and this position collapses.
2. The “weak” brother is immature in the faith, and acts out of selfish conceit and ambition.
It is unfortunate that many have caricatured the “weak” brother as being one whose sole desire is to overtake the church and run it on the basis of his conscience issues. It is very possible, and probably likely, that there are some such people within the brethren. Does Romans 14, however, address such people? I would like to see the evidence from the passage that would demonstrate as much. All I can tell from the passage itself is that these “weak” brethren did not believe in the liberty and condemned those who did. The text itself does not address the quality of the faith of those brethren nor does it address any ambitions or selfish desires they may have.
I believe that this position is believed by many because they would equate the situations in 1 Corinthians 8 with Romans 14. In 1 Corinthians 8, we are dealing with truly “weak” brethren– those “weak in THE faith” and whose consciences are easily defiled (1 Corinthians 8:3-13). In Romans 14, the “weak” brethren listed are not defined as “weak in THE faith” necessarily, and they seem to have enough knowledge to believe firmly that eating certain kinds of meat is not proper. In this sense the two situations are completely at odds: in 1 Corinthians 8, the “weak” brother is induced to eat meat and sin because of the “strong” brother’s liberty, while in Romans 14 the “weak” brother is induced to condemn the “strong” brother because the latter practices his liberty. We are dealing with two different situations and therefore two completely different sets of people.
3. The “strong” brother is right.
We have already addressed many issues concerning these value judgments above with the “weak” brother, so it shall suffice to say that many times the “strong” in faith are a bit too “strong,” and accept as liberty that which is not commanded or allowed. Paul never gives a value judgment as to which side is “right,” for doing such would be completely against the message of Romans 14.
4. The “weak” brother is binding his opinion and charges us with sin. Therefore, we shall have nothing to do with him.
This is an unfortunate combination of thoughts, because the first thought is certainly in the text. The “weak” brethren are chided by Paul in verses 2 and 3 for judging their “strong” brethren. The conclusion, unfortunately, is not in the text itself. Where does Paul exonerate the “strong” brethren from their responsibility of accepting the one “weak” in faith because the latter continue to “bind” their opinions?
Many may appeal to this by saying that the “weak” brother of Romans 14 is one who remains undecided about an issue and therefore does not desire to perform it. This is based on verse 23:
But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
While those who may be questioning the practice are certainly included as “weak” in Romans 14, the beginning of the passage clearly shows that the “weak” are not so confined, verses 2-3:
One man hath faith to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
Those “weak” in faith are judging those who are “strong” in faith concerning meats– does this sound like a group who is unsure about their beliefs? If one decides to judge another, does that not assume a position from which they judge? I would contend that these brethren are by no means unsure about their position– they do not believe that they can eat meat, and there is no question about it. They are judging the ones who are eating the meat. Therefore, it is evident that Paul is speaking about many who have made up their minds.
Knowing this, we see that in Romans 14:13 Paul says the following:
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.
He even goes so far as to say the following in Romans 15:1:
Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
We see in these passages that BOTH sides, and especially the “strong,” have obligations to not put a stumbling block in one another’s way! Does Paul ever say that one side no longer has to if the other will not? By no means! You are not justified in cutting ties or “disfellowshipping” or whatnot those who are “weak” in faith about a certain issue that you are “strong” about merely because they continue to “bind” it and convict you of sin. Are they acting properly and accordingly? Absolutely not, and according to Paul, they must be willing to admit the liberty and to not cause you to stumble. This by no means however gives you the right to disfellowship from him. If you believe you do, on the basis of what Scripture in Romans 14? For the message of Romans 14 to be applied properly, both sides must work together, and it is not the responsibility of the “weak” to begin to work on their end before the “strong” does. These concepts are simply not in Romans 14!
5. If he does not like what we do, there is another church of Christ down the road where he will find agreement.
Brethren, the fact that there are some who believe in such things is highly distressing. There are many who would rather cling to recognized liberties than to accept all brethren, all those redeemed in Christ, that may disagree with those liberties. We have placed our expedients and our convieniences before the living God; what will He say to us concerning these things?
What, does Paul tell the brethren in Rome to divide into Jewish and Gentile churches? By no means! He gives them a plan to work out their differences while maintaining the unity of the faith, and yet there are some brethren who would teach that Romans 14 allows such an event as the above? To willingly and conscientiously send a brother away based on his scruples? Does this sound like we are walking according to love?
I would like to make it known that this discussion has focused on Romans 14 and its context alone. There certainly are situations where division must occur and the truth of God’s Word must be preserved at all costs. Romans 14 was never meant to sugarcoat differences between Christians concerning the truths contained in God’s Word, but as a means of working together despite disagreement on issues where both sides are accepted by God. Like all of the rest of the Scriptures, however, Romans 14 must be used properly if brethren are to remain united despite differences concerning liberties. And we must always remember the message of Paul in Romans 14:15:
For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died.
When we handle disagreements between brethren, we must remember first and foremost that we are handling disagreements between those for whom Christ died. This ought to prove the seriousness of the need for unity in Christ and in the truth of the Gospel of Christ to all those who would wear His name.
Brethren, let us strive for this unity in truth!