While preparing for a Bible class last week, I ran across a little gem that I would like to share here. One study that I am currently teaching focuses on the one another passages. We recently looked at Romans 15:7, where Paul admonishes the followers of Christ to:
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
This notion fits into a broader context involving the tension and conflict between stronger and weaker Christians in Rome. This tension is introduced in Romans 14:1 where we read:
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”
I’d like to share something I encountered, while perusing commentaries on this passage. William Barclay seems to cut through to the core of the issue with these thoughts…
In this chapter Paul is dealing with what may have been a temporary and local problem in the Roman Church, but is also one continually confronting the Church and always demanding solution. In the Church at Rome there were apparently two lines of thought. There were some who believed that in Christian liberty the old tabus were gone; they believed that the old food laws were now irrelevant; they believed that Christianity did not consist in the special observance of any one day or days. Paul makes it clear that this in fact is the standpoint of real Christian faith. On the other hand, there were those who were full of scruples; they believed that it was wrong to eat meat; they believed in the rigid observance of the Sabbath tyranny. Paul calls the ultra-scrupulous man the man who is weak in the faith. What does he mean by that?
Such a man is weak in the faith for two reasons:
(i) He has not yet discovered the meaning of Christian freedom; he is at heart still a legalist and sees Christianity as a thing of rules and regulations.
(ii) He has not yet liberated himself from a belief in the efficacy of works. In his heart he believes that he can gain God’s favour by doing certain things and abstaining from others. Basically he is still trying to earn a right relationship with God, and has not yet accepted the way of grace, still thinking more of what he can do for God than what God has done for him.
Paul bids the stronger brethren to welcome such a person and not to besiege him with continual criticisms.
This problem is not confined to the days of Paul. To this day in the Church there are two points of view. There is the more liberal which sees no harm in many things and is well content that many an innocent pleasure should go on within the Church. And there is the narrower point of view, which is offended at many things in which the liberal person sees no harm.
Paul’s sympathies are all with the broader point of view; but, at the same time, he says that when one of these weaker brethren comes into the Church he must be received with brotherly sympathy. When we are confronted with someone who holds the narrower view there are three attitudes we must avoid.
(i) We must avoid irritation. An impatient annoyance with such a person gets us nowhere. However much we may disagree, we must try to see the other person’s point of view and to understand it.
(ii) We must avoid ridicule. No man remains unwounded when that which he thinks precious is laughed at. It is no small sin to laugh at another man’s beliefs. They may seem prejudices rather than beliefs; but no man has a right to laugh at what some other holds sacred. In any event, laughter will never woo the other man to a wider view; it will only make him withdraw still more determinedly into his rigity.
(iii) We must avoid contempt. It is very wrong to regard the narrower person as an old-fashioned fool whose views may be treated with contempt. A man’s views are his own and must be treated with respect. It is not even possible to win a man over to our position unless we have a genuine respect for his. Of all attitudes towards our fellow man the most unChristian is contempt.
Barclay goes on to write about other considerations. These succinct observations seem to get to the heart of the matter. Knowing why it is that others choose to think the way they think is helpful. Knowing how we should interact with those who choose to see things differently is, in my estimation, even more helpful. This is especially true, since Paul’s inspired instructions to the Roman believers will shortly turn to the topic of instructing one another. In Romans 15:14 he writes:
“I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.”
Here’s my thought:
It seems that when those who possess a more mature faith avoid irritation, ridicule and contempt in their response to the person who is weak in the faith, we are much more likely to move beyond the narrow mindedness that often constricts and constrains the body of Christ. For this fosters a climate conducive to both carrying out the necessary faith-building instruction and for this teaching to be gratefully received.
What do you think?
© Bill Williams
November 6, 2007