The Weak and the Strong, Rom. 14:1 – 15:13
This is considered another difficult section by the multitudes. In the final analysis the only difficulty is deciding to follow Paul’s instruction for the strong to defer to the weak in true matters of conscience. The mere appearance of the words “weak” and “strong” causes issues. People generally think themselves to be strong unless something they do not like comes along. Then they may take the weak position. “You can’t do that because it offends me.” There is a difference between causing to stumble and offending. The church must not be ruled from a position of weakness. It is crucial to know that the weak/strong difference is not one of doctrine, or of spiritual strength, but a matter of a poorly trained conscience versus one that is properly instructed. In these instances, the stronger must be charitable to the weaker.
The issues under discussion likely revolve around misunderstandings of Jewish Christians regarding the dietary restrictions and special days of the Old Law. Paul is emphatic that the crux of the matter is one of opinion and conviction (14:5). There are no unclean foods under the new covenant and there are no high or holy days. Any such distinctions look back to a law no longer in force or to more modern traditions of men. God is the master and judge before whom we live and die and to whom we will answer. The weak must not judge/condemn the strong and the strong must not look down a self-righteous nose at the weak.
So if the issue is one of opinion, why should it become one of concession by the strong to the weak? Because there are bigger issues in the kingdom than types of food and special days. Because Jesus died for the weak just as surely as he died for the strong. One who runs roughshod over the conscience of another is not acting in love and is not acting for the good of the church. The strong must always be willing to give more in concession., The strong can bend, whereas the weak may break. But we must understand this—sin itself is not a matter of opinion. God speaks clearly on matters of right and wrong. Other matters are neutral in nature. One is neither commended to God nor condemned by God for opinions on neutral matters.
Christian liberty has never been about doing what we please. It is about freedom from sin’s grip, pleasing God and helping to save and strengthen others. Liberty is not license. We must be careful that our opinion does not lead us to sin. “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (14:22). Also, proceeding with a matter when in doubt is a violation of conscience. “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (14:23).
Paul identifies with the strong, those who truly understand Christian liberty. In the same breath he pleads for the strong to bear with the failings of the weak (15:1). Paul once again makes use of a string of Old Testament passages to illustrate his point, reminding us of the value of the Old Testament (15:4). How important is Paul’s point that we must accept one another as Christ has accepted us! The Bible defines doctrine. Elders decide local issues. Love dictates how we all behave toward one another. We are in this together for life and for eternity.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.