Friday, July 20, 2007

Essentials, Non-Essentials, and Christian Fellowship: Welcome the Weak(I Mean It!)

Paul's instruction Romans 14:1 is undeniable and non-negotiable for Jesus follower's. He demands that the "strong" welcome the weak in faith. But what exactly does this look like in Christian fellowship?
(1) We welcome them because God has welcomed them (Rom 14:2-3).
Though this seems like an elementary principle it is often violated in our relationships with one another. We are prone to dismiss, despise, reject, slander, marginalize and allow our opinion of others to be colored by a difference of opinion over non-essentials (who hasn't judged the deacon smoking outside the church before services begin in their heart?). We forget that they have been accepted in Christ in the same manner that we have been accepted, and that this reality is the basis of our acceptance.
It is unclear how Paul means we are to do this specifically, but it must certainly pertain, at least slightly, toward our attitudes towards others. We see the negative principle of not "welcoming" each other because God has welcomed us in Jesus at work in the world, and sadly the church is not immune. I believe you have to look no further than the way that prohibitionists in SBC circles are treating non-prohibitionists within the Missouri Baptist Convention over the issue of alcohol in moderation, and the subsequent proposed resolution to ban any future partnerships with the Acts29 Church Planting network (see this post for a summary or Google your own research).
(2) Welcome one another because Christ died to be Master and Lord (Rom 14:4-9).
If Christ is King and we are His servants, why should we be the final judge of those who are the servants of the King, not us (4)? When we reject someone that God has welcomed, we come in between the servant and His master. Christ is the Boss and we have no right to usurp Christ’s position in the life of the Christian. “It is before his own master he stands or falls” (4). The point here is clear. The Christian is responsible to Christ. He is not responsible to us or for us. His approval or disapproval will come from Christ.
Paul further develops this thought because something significant happens in regards to these non-essential matters of faith. Such matters often become a part of a person’s Christian discipleship, so we must be fully convinced in our own mind. Whether one is in the “strong” camp or the “weak” camp over an issue, Paul says what matters most in relationship to God and one another is that “each one should be full convinced in his own mind” (5). Like we said last week, the weaker brother is not the vulnerable Christian easily overcome with temptation; the weaker brother is the sensitive Christian who is indecisive concerning matters of conscience. Paul is calling both the “strong” and the “weak” to be firm in their convictions about matters (this is convicting as I think about my indifference about baptism, millennial views, etc).

Paul explains what he means by this.

“The one who observes the day, observes it to honor the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God (6).

Paul’s line of thinking is summarized in this reality:

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living” (7-9).

This leads us to a practical question concerning non-essential issues, particularly cultural issues such as alcohol, profanity, tattoos, smoking, clothing, etc. Can I thank God for this? Can I do this unto the Lord? Can God be glorified in this? Am I honoring Jesus with a heart of thanksgiving?
(3) Welcome one another because they are family (Rom 14:10)
We won’t say much about this but this is an important principle. We welcome one another, whether strong or weak, because of our family ties in Christ. The fact that we are family should cause us to be less critical and impatient and more generous and tender with one another. We make allowances and excuses for our natural families that we would never make for others. We need to be this generous in the body of Christ.
(4) Welcome one another because we will all stand and fall before the Great Judge (Rom 14:10b-12)
This point definitely harkens back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1. We must not pass judgment on our fellow Christians because we will all stand before God and give an account for the entirety of our lives. This, of course, does not mean we are wrong to discern truth from error, we are wrong to challenge Christians in their sin, or that we are wrong to exclude unrepentant believers from fellowship.

It means that we are to avoid having an attitude of condemnation. We do not have the authority to usurp God’s place on the judgment seat and pronounce judgment and pass sentence on other believers.

When we consider the words of Christ in Matthew 7:1-6 in their entirety and measure them with Paul’s words here in Romans 14, we learn that we must first put ourselves and our weaknesses under the microscope before we resent others because of the freedoms they enjoy in Christ with a clear conscience, or judge them for freedoms we cannot in good conscience embrace.

Self-reflection will build friction to slow down our rejection of others and enable us to accept them even when their positions on matters that do not compromise the Gospel differ from our own.

How must we apply the truth from this passage?

1) When faced with people and issues you disagree with in the church over disputable matters, pray and ask God to help you welcome them in fellowship because He has welcomed them.
2) If you struggle with this, repent and ask God to give you a tender heart towards the “weaker” or “stronger” brother. Ask Him to give you the right perspective on the situation and make you sensitive to the needs of your brother/sister.
3) In the freedom granted to you in Christ, be sure that you exercise your freedom as an expression of worship and not as an opportunity to sin. Make sure that you have a clear conscience when practicing disputable matters.
4) Treat one another like family. Exercise the patience, understanding and forgiveness you often extend to blood relatives.
5) Do not condemn anyone and repent when you have feelings of condemnation.
This puts us on the right path to understanding what Paul means to welcome the weak, but we won't understand this fully to we see this within the whole context of Paul's argument. Stay tuned.


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