This is the third part in a series considering the importance of spiritual unity within the Body of Christ.
Christians are saved to be spiritual. One key element of that spirituality is a mind freed from the shackles of sin. Christians now have the ability to think God’s thoughts after Him. Sadly, as I have noted in my two previous posts, Christians will often create disunity with each other regarding trivial, personal convictions on non-commanded issues. Their passionate convictions are often expressed in a caustic way that disrupts the unity of a local church.
The Bible identifies two disagreeing groups in Romans 14 and 15: The strong in faith and the weak in faith. The strong have liberty in Christ to engage in non-commanded behaviors. The weak, on the other hand, do not share in that liberty. Their faith in Christ prohibits them from partaking in an activity where they are not persuaded as to the truth of a matter.
I addressed the strong in faith with my second post. I noted that their freedom in Christ demands from them a great responsibility of not offending the weak. The strong must do all they can do in order to prevent the weak from stumbling. With this third post, however, I wish to turn my attention to addressing the weak. They also have a responsibility, a responsibility to strengthen their faith.
During the course of my experience in the Christian church, I have encountered what I call the tyrannical weaker Christian. They puff themselves up, believing they are more spiritual because they nurture personal convictions and abstain from certain activities deemed “worldly.” They will often times quote Scripture (generally a-contextually) like “flee from all appearances of evil,” and present anecdotal stories telling of a person led into sin by the “freedom” of the strong in faith. The stories are presented as vivid illustrations explaining why Christians should abstain from such-and-such activity in spite of the fact the activity isn’t a “sin.”
The weaker Christians easily becomes tyrannical with their self-righteousness. In many churches across the land, those tyrannical weaklings govern the congregations. Their alleged outward piety helps elevate them to positions of leadership where they begin to enforce their personal convictions upon everyone else as the biblical standard of true spirituality.
The weak, however, should not allow himself to remain in his weakness. It really is a form of spiritual laziness. The easier course is for a person to remain rooted to a set of sub-biblical, personal convictions. Training one’s mind to think biblically takes work, study, and the relinquishing of traditions that have erroneously shaped a person’s discernment.
I believe the Scripture helps move a weaker Christian from a state of spiritual lethargy stunted by erroneous traditions that have misguided his personal convictions. Let me pull together a few brief thoughts from Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers. His exhortation to them in 1 Corinthians 10 will help the weak think through their convictions.
(At some point, I may come back to 1 Corinthians 8-10, because Paul’s focus is entirely different from Romans 14-15 when he addresses the strong and the weak. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is telling the strong they are in sin because they participated in the cultural festivities on the local pagan temples. Chapters 8-10 is Paul rebuking the strong and telling them to get out of the temples once and for all).
We can draw out four principles from 1 Corinthians 10 that will help the weak in faith strengthen their conscience.
1) Is the activity lawful? (10:23)
Does God’s Word directly forbid the activity? If the Lord does not provide a direct command against whatever it is, then there is no need for us Christians to create one. Take for example the drinking of alcohol. The Bible forbids drunkedness, not the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Christians often conflate the drinking of alcohol with drunkedness, but the two are not the same. Additionally, even if the activity is a potential pathway to a deeper sin does not mean the activity is a sin. Sex can lead to adultery, but sex as God designed it is not sinful.
2) Is the activity unhelpful and unedifying (10:23)
The idea of helpful and edifying is whether or not the activity is the best thing to do for building up a fellow Christian. Paul exhorts them to check whether their freedom is helpful and edifying. On the flip-side, if the weak perceives the convictions of the strong as unedifying and unhelpful, they need to ask themselves why they believe that. In other words, why exactly is it unedifying for a weaker Christian to witness a brother enjoying a cigar? Why do you think it is unhelpful if you know your strong friends enjoy drinking a glass of wine with their meal? If the weak in faith cannot provide a reasoned, Scriptural argument, then they need to shore up their conscience in that particular area and cease from judging their stronger brothers.
3) Can you give genuine thanks for the activity? (10:30)
Any Christian who exercises biblically informed liberty with a particular activity can give thanks for what he is doing. There is no reason why the weaker needs to condemn him. The problem lies with the weaker believer. He needs to adjust his thinking concerning the liberty of the strong. The strong should not be required to give it up.
4) Does it dishonor the Lord? (10:31)
If an activity is lawful and those partaking in the activity can give thanks to the Lord for it, then it glorifies God. The weaker, though perhaps opposed to that activity, must not judge. No one is dishonoring the Lord. They only dishonor the Lord if the activity could potentially be an offense to unbelievers or some in the church. If neither one of those scenarios are present, then the stronger’s freedom is not in danger of dishonoring the Lord.
Wrapping it Up
Now, I completely understand there will be some Christians who will never relinquish their personal convictions. A person will always think smoking or drinking or attending movies is worldly and will never engage in those activities. I believe such a person is free to maintain those convictions, however, a few things must be kept in mind.
Always remember your convictions are YOUR personal convictions. They are not biblical commands for all to follow. Additionally, I would challenge anyone to re-evaluate those personal convictions in light of solid Bible study. Those personal convictions might be merely derived from your up-bringing, or some denominational traditions that are not supported by Scripture.
Furthermore, everyone should be teachable and willing to receive instruction in these matters even if those cherished convictions are challenged. We never judge or separate from other Christian who do not share our convictions. If you believe drinking wine is worldy, you cannot hold in contempt those Christians who disagree and partake in drinking wine.
And most importantly, if you are in a position of leadership in a church, do not seek to enforce your convictions as authoritative standards of conduct for everyone else. Your convictions are your own, and it is draconian of the highest order if you force those convictions on others.