Series - Weak in Faith

Who Are the "Weak in Faith?" (Part 5)

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The Meaning of “Weak In Faith”

We have been examining the “weak” of Romans 14:1, finding him to be more honorable and biblical  than his description, “weak in faith,” would suggest. Here, we will turn to the term “weak in faith” and see a way of interpreting it that fits better with everything else we read about this brother.

We have seen that when brothers differ over an issue, one is sometimes called “weak” and the other “strong.” That’s true when the issue is relatively unimportant (food—the kingdom isn’t meat or drink; food does not commend us to God). In the case of food, it becomes important when someone attaches idolatry to it in their thinking. And it’s true when biblical principles more closely apply (Sabbath days—are they of perpetual obligation?). It’s even true when the “right side” of the issue is obviously the side of the “weak.” Regarding knowledge, while the “strong” claims knowledge, the “weak” sometimes have superior knowledge (1 Corinthians 10:1). Sometimes the strong have equal claim to knowledge (Romans 14:14a).

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Who Are the "Weak in Faith?" (Part 4)

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We need to examine a few miscellaneous verses. Some of them seem to suggest Paul is on the side of the strong. These need explanation. Paul isn’t “on” either side. Others, on closer examination, suggest that he is on the side of the weak.

Romans 14:14 begins, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.” Some take this to mean that Paul “knows” the weak brother is wrong. But Paul is not saying that. He says nothing is unclean “of itself.” In other words, things are not intrinsically sinful. But our applications of God’s principles and our motives can still make them unclean. The context of v. 14, before and after, is the importance of taking seriously the convictions of the weak and not causing him to disobey them. Therefore, contextually, the point of v. 14 as a whole is to express why these things are sinful to the weak.

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Who Are the "Weak in Faith?" (Part 3)

Pompeii relief depicting a bull, ram, & boar prepared for sacrifice. (Project Gutenberg)

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Weakness is How Jesus Exercises Lordship.

Romans 14:4-13—The Servant and His Master

In Romans 14:4 Paul explains why the weak shouldn’t judge the strong: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand”1 (ESV). Only the master may give orders and judge whether his servant is in good standing. By this analogy, the weak and strong are servants of a Master who chooses to give different orders to different servants. Some clean the house; some cook. Therefore, the cook gets orders that apply to him but not to the maid.

The common view of the weak brother implies that there is one correct set of orders about which the weak and strong have different levels of maturity, understanding, and confidence. But this passage says that neither servant can be sure that his brother has the same requirements for good standing as he himself does.

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Who Are the "Weak in Faith?" (Part 2)

Relief with sacrifice to Asklepios (c. AD 320)

Sometimes the Weak Brother is Right

In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul wrote about idol meat. The one who avoided idol meat had a weak conscience. Romans 14 refers to meat-avoiding weak believers as well. Both passages warn the eaters that their eating could cause stumbling and destruction. Both argue for love over liberty. Both deal with standing and falling. However, though these passages deal with similar issues, the Corinthians were struggling with much closer involvement with idols.

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-7, the strong are said to have knowledge. Paul used two words for knowledge. First, γνῶσις, “knowledge,” is found in 1 Corinthians 8:1,7,10,11. The same word as a verb, γινώσκω, “I know,” is found in 1 Corinthians 8:2,3. Second, εἴδω, “I see” or “I understand,” occurs in four verses in 1 Corinthians 8:1 (know), 2 (know), 4 (know), 10 (see). These two words are somewhat interchangeable1. Romans 14:14a uses εἴδω, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus.” Romans 14 does not use γινώσκω.

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Who Are the "Weak in Faith?" (Part 1)

The goddess Diana (2nd Century Roman depiction)

How Weak Are the Weak?

Paul addressed some ethical controversies in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. The “weak in faith” ate no meat. The one whose “conscience is weak” could not eat idol-meat. What does Paul mean by “weak”?

For many, it is a foregone conclusion that the weak brother is a doubting believer who lacks knowledge. In this series we will take a closer look at the weak brother. He is deserving of much more respect than he has been afforded.

A word of caution. The weak brother presented here is very different from what you might have previously learned. Most readers will find it new and unusual. Don’t try to fit it into your previous understanding of the “weak.” It might help to assume that you are being asked to understand that the “weak” brother is the good guy.

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