Him that is weak in the faith receive you, but not to doubtful disputations.…
The apostle, as we have just seen, has been discussing the neighbourly character of Christian living, and showing that the Christ-like soul will love his neighbour as himself, and do no ill to him. And this leads by an easy transition to the whole class of weak consciences, and how they are to be dealt with. For there are people painfully scrupulous, who have come, for example, to fancy that vegetarianism is the only lawful system of diet; or to fancy that holy days ought to be strictly kept; and there is a terrible temptation for strong-minded people to judge harshly the weaker brethren, and so to bring about endless friction in Church and private relations. It is with this whole practical question that the apostle here deals. Differences of opinion upon non-essentials must not break up the brotherly feeling; and Paul shows with wonderful power where the safety lies. It is in the assertion of Christ's Lordship over the conscience.
I. LET US BE CLEAR ABOUT WHO ARE THE WEAK AND WHO ARE THE STRONG. (Vers. 1-6.) We are all creatures of association, and so some of these primitive Christians came to think that meat which had been offered to an idol was thereby polluted, and so unfit for Christian use. Not knowing, therefore, where the meat offered for sale in the shambles had previously been, and naturally suspecting that it may have been in the idol's temple, they thought it prudent to become strict vegetarians, rather than run the risk of defilement. They would not touch, taste, or handle flesh-meat, but confined themselves to vegetables. Others had no such scruples, but ate whatever was laid before them, asking no questions for conscience' sake. Now, the apostle manifestly regards the scrupulous vegetarians as weaker in conscience than the Christian who allowed none of these scruples to affect him. Again, some were scrupulous about holy days. New moons and set feasts, characteristic of paganism as well as of Judaism, claimed regard from weak and uncertain consciences; while others of stronger make regarded all days as alike. The question as to the Lord's day does not seem to be here involved at all, though Robertson of Brighton has based a whole sermon on the supposition, The over-scrupulous in these instances were the weak; the others, more certain of their line of action, were the strong.
II. THERE IS A GREAT TEMPTATION IN THE STRONG TO RIDICULE THE WEAK. The strong are tempted to despise the weak, to judge and ridicule their scruples; and, if there is not watchfulness, there will be constant friction between them. Now, this is a menace to the peace of the Church; and Paul has here to guard against it. There is a great danger in the indulgence of scorn. A weak brother, if "roasted" and ridiculed by the stronger, may be made a burden to himself, and his personal peace be sacrificed on the altar of his neighbour's criticism. Hence in this passage Paul argues:
1. There should be as little controversy as possible within the Church. The weak brother is to be received, but not to doubtful disputations. He is not to be involved in profitless disputes. The Church is wise which discourages debates between brethren.
2. There should be mutual respect for conscientious difference of opinion. If each man is fully persuaded in his own mind, as Paul declares he ought to be, then let the weak brother admit that his less scrupulous brother has reached his opinion before God, and that God is the only competent Judge of his conduct, while the strong brother is to give the weak one credit for similar conscientiousness. It is a great matter gained if each lays his brother's case before the Lord, and prays and hopes that God will enable him to stand. It is a great thing gained when we are able to see guilt in contemptuous judgment.
III. IN THE RISEN SAVIOUR EACH ONE MUST RECOGNIZE THE LORD OF HIS CONSCIENCE. (Vers. 7-9.) To Jesus, our risen Saviour. and to him alone, are we responsible, and so let us live, and die unto him. Now, it is important for us to appreciate the purpose of Christ's death and resurrection. It was no less than this, to secure universal dominion over man both here and hereafter. "The Redeemer's dominion over men is forcibly declared to have been the end of his ministry on earth. The apostle's words are very express and emphatic. To this end that signifies, in language as strong as could be used to note design, that the purpose of the Passion was the attainment of universal dominion over the human race in time and in eternity. To this end, and no other; for this purpose, and nothing short of it; with this design, embracing and consummating all other designs. But we must view it under two aspects - it was a purpose aimed at before the death; in the Resurrection it was a purpose reached. He died that he might have the dominion; he lived that he might exercise it." Now, of this mighty realm of the risen Christ, the dead constitute the vast majority. "What, in comparison of the uncounted hosts, numbered only by the Infinite Mind, are the few hundreds of millions that any moment are called the living? It is in the realm of the shades that we contemplate our great family in its vastest dimensions, as it has from the first generation been gaining on the numbers of the living, and swelling onwards to the stupendous whole bound up in the federal headship of the first and second Adam." a Now, in all this vast domain, there is but one rightful Lord of the conscience; there may be other lords with dominion, and they may be many; but in the realm of conscience there is only one Lord, and he is the risen Saviour!
IV. THIS LORDSHIP OF JESUS LEADS DIRECTLY TO THE CHRISTIAN IDEA OF LIFE AS A LIFE UNTO OUR LORD. (Ver. 8.) We cannot live unto ourselves, even if we tried. We cannot coop up our life so as that it should have no relations to any but ourselves. We must live to influence others; we ought to live for the glory of our risen Lord. In the Christian idea of life "nothing is indifferent, nothing self-willed; all is consecrated to Heaven. The scruples of the weak rise from the fear of God, and are, therefore, to be considered sacred; the freedom of the strong rises from the dedication to the Lord, and is, therefore, equally sacred. Life, with its energies and purposes, is one prolonged act of consecration. Death, with its silent endurance and great transition, is a consecration too." As another has faithfully put it, "As he always exists, as a Christian, in and by his Master, so he always exists for his Master. He has, in the reality of the matter, no dissociated and independent interest. Not only in preaching and teaching, and bearing articulate witness to Jesus Christ, does he, if his life is true to its idea and its secret, 'live not unto himself;' not with aims which terminate for one moment in his own credit, for example, or his own comfort. Equally in the engagements of domestic life, of business life, of public affairs; equally (to look towards the humbler walks of duty) in the day's work of the Christian servant, or peasant, or artisan; 'whether he lives, he lives unto the Master, or whether he dies, he dies unto the Master;' whether he wakes or sleeps, whether he toils or rests, whether it be the term or the vacation of life, 'whether he eats or drinks, or whatsoever he does,' he is the Master's property for the Master's use.
"'Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as to thee.
"A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room as for thy laws
Makes that and th' action fine.'" (Moule's 'Thoughts on the Spiritual Life,' pp. 150, 151.)
V. INSTEAD OF JUDGING OTHERS, WE OUGHT TO THINK OF BEING JUDGED AT THE JUDGMENT-BAR OF JESUS OURSELVES. (Vers. 10-12.) Paul points the lesson home. He would have his readers to give up the judgment-seat and think of the judgment-bar. Better to think how we shall meet Christ's scrutiny ourselves than be contemptuously condemning weak brethren around us. Leave the weak and the strong with the Lord, who is no respecter of persons, and let us judge ourselves only, and make sure of a proper appearing at the judgment-bar of Christ. Thus, when all relations are carried up to the feet of Christ, peace is preserved and progress through self-knowledge secured! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.