What’s All This Talk About Standards? – Follow Up Part 1
I very graciously had a friend contact me upon reading the previous post entitled “What’s All This Talk About Standards” who asked if I could provide some scriptural context to my thoughts (seeing that I had not included but only alluded to particular verses). I will be posting a series of articles in response to that request, and I hope that all who read this will have a better understanding as a result.
The context of the original post was largely derived from Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. Romans 14 begins with the exhortation for stronger brethren to receive those who are weak in the faith. Verse 1 says, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” “Doubtful disputations” here refers to those matters referred to in the first post as the “gray areas” that are not explicitly spelled out in Scripture.
To better understand this passage, we need to first define who the strong and weak believers are. Romans 14 provides several illustrations of each, but for the sake of this post, we will only consider one.
Verse 2 describes the stronger Christian as one who “believeth that he may eat all things” and the weaker as one who “eateth herbs.” If we cross reference this with 1 Corinthians 8:4, this is likely reference to the practice of “eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols.”
The strong believer understood “an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4), and that there was no intrinsic wrong with eating the meat offered to idols, and thus felt free to do so.
I Corinthians 8:7 describes the weak as those who “with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.” The weak believer still had not fully grasped the fact that the idols were man made objects of worship, thus meaning that any foods offered to them were no different than anything else they may eat. Their consciences were still harmed by the eating of those meats.
So, in one sense, we can see that the strong believers understood the freedom they had in Christ; the weak were ones who were more restrictive due to the limitations of a misinformed conscience.
It is important to note here, again, that Romans 14 deals with this particular issue as a “doubtful disputation.” These are things that different Christians responded to in different ways due to the limit of their knowledge or the scope of their background.
But, there is a negative response that is possible from either side of this coin.
Romans 14:3 gives the instruction, “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not.” The word despise means “to make of no account.” It would carry the idea of the stronger Christian making the weaker feel inferior, or less of a Christian, because of their more restrictive decision to not eat meats.
On the other hand, the last part of Romans 14:3 warns the weaker Christian, “let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth.” The biblical usage of the word “judge” in this context would be “to pronounce an opinion concerning right or wrong” or “to pronounce judgment and subject to censure.”
The weak were not to stand in the place of God, passing judgment as pointed out in the next verse, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4). It is then reinforced in verse 12, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
With these facts being considered, we see that there are responsibilities that both the strong and weak have one towards another for the sake of unity among the children of God.
There is, however, a greater responsibility that God places upon strong Christians.
Romans 14:13 says, “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” For the sake of the growth of the weaker Christian, the strong must limit his liberty in the doubtful things when interacting with the weaker brother until his conscience is brought to a better understanding of what God’s word actually says.
It would seem that the natural response of the weak if the strong should try to push their liberty upon them would be, at one extreme, to drive them further into their weakness, or in the worst case, for them to engage in liberties they are not ready to exercise.
In the next post, we will explore how tradition is many times treated with the same authority as the explicit commands of God, along with examples from the Bible of specific groups used these traditions to exploit others.
Read the first post, “What’s All This Talk About Standards?”