Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.
From Romans 14, right up till the first few verses of Romans 15, Paul zones in on the degrees of faith and how one who is stronger in faith should treat one who is weaker in faith. ‘Weaker in faith’ – is a term that is very sensitive, perhaps. At a time when they were in a period of transition from the Mosaic Law to the Christian doctrine – not that the Christian doctrine has no laws, or that it is solely on grace – but the inclusion on newly converts – Gentiles – into the system led to a great many cultural differences that the Church had to accomodate for. In this study, we will examine what it means to be weaker or stronger in faith, and take a close look at some examples of disputable matters.
Accept him whose faith is weak – What defines weak faith? In this context, it likely refers to those whose knowledge of the gospel are lacking, and hence stumbled along the way. It is not the faith in salvation; but likely refers to the person’s belief in other matters of the doctrine, which may be hard to understand, accept, or which may lead to controversy. In other words, they are Christians, who believe in God and follow Christ, but may not have a firmly established understanding of the doctrine, or maybe lacking spiritual knowledge and hence the ability to apply some of the word into their way of life.
As human beings, it is perhaps natural to want to correct them, condemn them, reprimand them. We may want to use our own ways to educate them. As we get caught up with the magnitude of our knowledge in comparison to some of those around us, we may tend to be over eager to spit out what we know at them – without gentleness, without being sensitive, without the spirit’s prompting. Here, Paul says to accept them.
Accepting them doesn’t mean that you subscribe to their theology or their understanding of the doctrine. Accepting them doesn’t mean to imitate them. Rather, accepting them is a perhaps a safeguard against ourselves, lest we go out there without gentleness and stumble people left right and centre. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak [1 Cor 8:9]. It is not always wrong to correct them, but let us have discernment on when and how we do it. Things that stumble people will always exist, but those who stumble others are in trouble [Luke 17:1, Matthew 18:7]. It’s one thing if you’re unable to lift others up. But it’s another thing in its entirety if you stumble others, even without intending to.
Without passing judgement – And we come to the topic of judgement. Often when Christians who are perturbed by certain truths or theology go to others to voice their doubts, and we may be alarmed and harshly put them down as our most natural, first, immediate reaction. Let us be careful not to do that, for that often does nothing more than to confirm their doubts. You may win an argument against someone with a lesser understanding of the gospel, but without love and gentleness, we cannot expect to win them over. If in our mind we’ve already condemned them, then it is hard for love to enter the picture. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister [Rom 14:13].
on disputable matters – Matters of dispute? In the context of Romans 14 we’ll read about food. Can they eat everything? Yes- this is no longer the days of the Mosaic law where people are restricted from certain types of food. There are many laws in the Old Testament that have been abolished in the New Testament – but only if it’s clearly stated. The Old Testament is not only a historical text to us. Most of its laws still hold true to us.
The context of food might not make much sense to you, but it does have great value in my life. Let me explain – born and raised in a Chinese society, most of my peers have relatives who, in accordance to Buddhist or Taoist religious customs, offer food to gods or ancestors; thereafter serving the same food for dinner. Can we eat those food? I’ve been brought up with a strict – no – as answer to that, and so far I’ve never knowingly eaten food that has first been offered to idols because most of my relatives around me already expect that Christians must not eat them, and Christian elders within the family are staunchly against it. Reading Romans 14 – I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean [Rom 14:14], 1 Cor 8 – But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do [1 Cor 8:8]; i hold the perspective that we can eat it even as Christians. If I am alone in a room, hungry, and there’s a plate of food that has been offered to idols, I will pray, and I will eat. Not everybody have agreed with my take on this. But do cut me some slack too – The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them [Rom 14:3]. The key here isn’t really about whether you eat or not, but whether there is love in your actions or not.
Does this mean we do not talk about controversial topics, or leave a flawed theology without correction? I would think not. There are big, world-wide issues and many other seemingly smaller yet controversial issues that may stumble believers if not understood properly. Furthermore, if certain Bible passages are horribly misinterpreted, it could lead to acts of superstition and spreading of false teaching. What should we do, then? Accept them (not the ideas, but the people), yet speak to them and counsel them in gentleness and with love – do not expect a change in their mentality overnight, but keep praying for them and counseling them.