A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Christian Life as One of Consideration for Weaker Brethren
The first thing to ascertain is the subject of this chapter. Look at the first verse: "Him that is weak." Then look at the first verse in the fifteenth chapter: "We then that are strong." Do you see the contrast?
All through this chapter, Paul considers these weaker brethren in the church. Obviously the subject is this: "The Christian and his weaker brethren." You may ask (and this is the proper place to ask the question), "Who are these weaker brethren, and what are they like?" First of all, these men are not men who are morally weak. This is the frequent misinterpretation. We think immediately of some man that is weak morally, who, if he does not look out, will fall into some popular sin of the day, such as a taste for liquor. Such a man is weak, but he is not among the weak brethren talked about in this chapter. These men about whom Paul is speaking were exceedingly sensitive to sin. They were so sensitive to sin that they picked out indifferent things, things that were neither moral nor immoral. If these men had been men who were morally weak, Paul would never have asked the consideration for them that he did, for to the mind of the apostle Paul, sin i never a thing to be coddled or babied.
In what way are they weak? "Him that is weak in the faith," not merely "weak in faith." What does he mean? Those who are weak in the faith are Christians who have not laid hold by faith upon these wonderful things that have been unfolded in the book of Romans. They are the men who have not yet been able to apprehend and grasp full and free salvation as it is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. They have not grasped entirely that wonderful proposition in Romans 8:1 which says that in the Son of God there can be no condemnation whatever! They have not grasped the fact that salvation is apart from all works and the Christian, when he enters into Christ, leaves legalism and ceremonialism and all other "isms" behind him and is free! That is their weakness. They are incapable of comprehending the system of truth.
The believers of whom Paul was now speaking, namely, the weak Christians, were probably Jewish Christians. Their weakness is understandable. Contrast them with the Gentile who has come into the church and has become a Christian. He was an idolater before he came in. His religion was a pagan religion. He has been taught now that his religion was nothing but idolatry and must be put away. The Jew who became a Christian had a different situation. He had been taught, and correctly so, that his religion was of God. Therefore, when Christian faith, the proper unfolding of Judaism, came into his life it was very difficult for him to divorce himself from that which he had before. He had a tendency to cling to some of the legalism and the ceremonialism of the Old Testament - the eating of meats and the observance of days - because God gave that originally.
That was the Jewish viewpoint. But we might say, "Of what value can this possibly be to us?" But it has a value. We have some of these very same weak Christians in Christendom today. Who are they? They are the ones who are afraid to eat pork or religious grounds, saying the Bible forbids it. They are the people who won't eat meat at all, on so-called religious grounds. (There may be a good sound reason for refusing to eat pork on the grounds of health which is a different matter.) They are the individuals who will not take communion if the bread of the communion is not unleavened. The unleavened bread is a better symbol, but if you do not have unleavened bread, couldn't you take communion without it? If not, you belong to this class. You are as weak as those belonging to this class. There is also the great class in Christendom which see virtue in keeping Lent. They, too, are weak in the faith.
You may ask, "Who are the strong?" for we refer to them in the fifteenth chapter, and they are in view all through the fourteenth chapter. The strong are those who have laid hold of the great faith. They have fully grasped the wondrous things that Christ has done for the world, which Paul has been revealing in the book of Romans. They are the men and women who have entered completely into the rest of Jesus Christ. They know that justification is apart from works; they have realized that liberty Christ has given us and are done with rules and legalism and ceremonialism forever! They are the strong in the sense of comprehending the meaning of the Christian faith.
You may ask, "Which of these two groups is right?" Doctrinally, the strong are right, for they understand the significance of the faith, and the apostle Paul would take his stand with them unequivocally. But the issues involved are broader than merely a correct view of the Christian faith. The issues involve people, those who in all sincerity have endorsed the Christian faith, even though they do not fully comprehend it. In this situation both groups need correction in areas involving attitude and conduct.
The weak brethren need correction because their position is wrong; and they condemn other folks who do not agree with them. They engage in censorious judgment. On these points Paul corrects them lovingly. But the strong also need correction because, while their principle is right, they have misused it in their attitude toward the weaker brethren. This chapter unfolds in amazing beauty that principle of consideration and conduct for preserving the harmony and perpetuating the Christian fellowship.
The first verse introduces the theme which is to be discussed; then the three main divisions in the chapter progressively emerge: 1. the concrete examples cited (2:5); 2. the divine principles laid down (6;12); 3. the practical exhortations given (13-23).
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 82)