Photo Credit: PostCalvinist
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. – Romans 14:1
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. – Romans 15:1
Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. – 1 Corinthians 8:9
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Jesus – Matthew 7:3-5
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:14
Whether you are a Christ-follower or not, there is so much wisdom in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles who wrote for the generations to follow.
Take his teaching on the weaker brother…his teaching is often directed to that “stronger brother”, but the wisdom is there for both of us. Through life, we may be one or the other, depending on how our thinking changes or how culture changes.
Many of the world religions require a certain works-based practice of those who would be devout. In Christianity, we are called to right living but we are not saved by right living. Because of what Jesus did to redeem us, we are free. Free to live, not under Law and its penalty when we fail, but to do righteousness out of love not obligation.
So what happens, when we experience the withering judgment of a seemingly legalistic “weaker” brother? Or on the flip side, the condescension of a “stronger” brother flaunting his freedom?
Social media (especially Facebook and Twitter) are brutally reflective of such biases, whatever our faith, culture, or politics. Here’s an area where I am that “weaker one”. Nowhere in Scripture are we forbidden generally from drinking alcoholic beverages. We are warned against drunkenness only. Years ago, I made a very conscious decision to stop drinking (for many reasons which may end up in my writing one day). Your drinking is not an issue for me…unless (here’s my weakness) it appears, through social media or from the pulpit, you flaunt your freedom in this way. I struggle with that. With so many of us, in the church and out, who have histories of addictions or loss related to addiction, I don’t understand that regaling of freedom. This is just one of my “weaker one” struggles. Any you want to share? Or “stronger one” struggles? We all have them.
Jesus and, in particular, the Apostle Paul are so clear on how we are to respond to each other – both weak and strong – with deference, love, and patience. Not enabling a legalistic clouding of what we are meant to have in Christ nor disabling our witness through arrogance or contempt.
In the article Who is the Weaker Brother? linked below, we are introduced to Garry Friesen’s teaching on the topic. In his book, Decision Making and the Will of God, he points to four areas where we are either weak, or strong: conviction, biblical knowledge, conscience or will. If we limit our definition to just one of these areas, we also may err in how we deal, in patience, with each other.
From the Scripture, Friesen gives what he considers is God’s definition of the weaker brother: “A weaker brother (or sister) is a Christian who, because of the weakness of his faith, knowledge, conscience, and will, can be influenced to sin against his conscience by the example of a differing stronger brother.”
He then offers a like definition of the stronger brother: “The stronger brother (or sister) is a Christian who, because of his understanding of Christian freedom and the strength of his conviction, exercises his liberty in good conscience without being improperly influenced by the differing opinions of others.”
Both of these definitions encourages us to live in the freedom that we have through Christ and at the same time to seek unity with one another, even when we don’t agree. Especially in the area of non-essential or disputable matters of preference.
One last distinction Friesen makes relates to what we see in Scripture as a “stumbling block”. This phrase is used in the active and passive. The stronger one in the faith is NOT to intentionally place a stumbling block in the path of a weaker one; i.e. not intentionally trying to influence a person to stumble, or sin. However, the weaker one is also NOT to take offense by the one who attempts to cause him to stumble. This is the beautiful teaching of Christ. The both/and of the Gospel. The call to love, no matter what.
Photo Credit: LionHeartEagle
Finally, in Adam Miller’s piece Mishandled – the Weaker Brother (linked below), he distinguishes between a truly weaker brother and three impostors. They are the legalistic weaker brother, the professional weaker brother, and the illusive weaker brother. Take the time to read these brief definitions of those of us who consider ourselves “weaker brothers” (or sisters) but who are really acting in ways that divide the church (or community). Miller also references one of the great sermons of D. A. Carson where he addresses those who would detract from the beautiful sufficiency of Christ to restore us to God.
When I think of how Christ calls us to love our neighbor, He calls us not just to those who are so like us we could see them in our own mirrors. He calls us to those “weaker” and “stronger” than us. It is an easy thing for me to love and hang out with those who agree with me. How much more God means for us to lean in to those with whom we struggle because of their life choices, or elevated (or demeaning) sense of self, or stations in life.
Can we do that…without compromising or stumbling in our faith? We can if our love for Christ is rock-solid and we allow Him to mark out the boundaries of our lives. If He is our example, He will fill our lives with both the weaker and the stronger…for our good and theirs, and for His glory…as He’s promised.
Who Is the Weaker Brother? Excellent Review of Garry Friesen’s book – Decision Making and the Will of God – on the Section Dealing With this Topic
Go, Ye, Therefore and Be Enablers – This is a hair-raiser. A very different view than I have taken but one that may be familiar to you.