Him that is weak in the faith receive you, but not to doubtful disputations.…
The general treatment of the ethics of the gospel is concluded, and now the apostle deals with a particular application which the condition of the Church at Rome required. There were some there, a minority probably, who were more or less in subjection to the spirit of the old Judaic economy, making distinctions of meats and of days. And when they came together for the Christian love-feasts, the differences were of awkward consequence. The stronger ones doubted whether they should admit these, so weak in the faith, as they deemed them; the weaker ones were scandalized at the unscrupulousness, as they thought it, of the strong, or perhaps, overborne by the weight of their example, against their own convictions they joined in the common meal. Was there not grievous wrong in this? The stronger ones despising the weak, and overbearing their scruples, by disputations, perhaps by ridicule; the weaker ones, grieved in their hearts, and judging the strong, or otherwise, to their own condemnation, sinking their scruples and joining in the feast? But surely the Divine ethics of the gospel can meet this case: the apostle applies them. He will espouse, not the scruples of the weak, but their weakness, as against the Overbearing ridicule of the strong; but first, to guard himself and them, he will defend the liberty of the strong as against the censorious judgments of the weak.
I. THE DUTY OF THE WEAK. The weaker man had his scruples; his strong judgments as to this or that mode of outward living being right, and this or that wrong. And he was quick to condemn the man whose opinions and practices were unlike his own. Not so, says the apostle.
1. He has another Master. Certainly he has yielded himself to Christ, and Christ, not another, must measure the fidelity of his service. If faithful, he abides his servant; if unfaithful, he falls. But he shall not fall. The heart is right, and even if the freedom of outward observance were a mistaken freedom, Christ is not such a Master as to cast him off for a mistake. No; "he shall be made to stand." Is not this the determining principle of the Christian life? Not the minute observance, right or wrong, but the motive, makes the Christian man. It matters nothing comparatively whether we eat or do not eat, whether we observe days or observe them not, whether we live or die: "none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself." The aim of the whole life is Christ-wards, and the aim, not the details, determines the life.
2. He has another Judge. This follows from the former. If Christ be the Master now, he shall judge the service itself at the last. And if we may not measure the fidelity of another's servant, neither may we pass sentence on his deeds. No; "the day shall declare it, and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Corinthians 3:13). For it is true that the details of the life will be taken into account, but not by our brethren: "Each one of us shall give account of himself to God."
II. THE DUTY OF THE STRONG. So, then, the weak are warned not to judge the men of liberty; and the men of liberty, men of strength as they thought themselves, are to show their strength by gentleness, and their liberty by self-sacrifice. For the conscience of the weak, if erring, was to be respected, and neither were they to be grieved by a needless exhibition of the liberty of the strong, nor above all led to sin against their convictions by the example or ridicule of the preponderant party.
1. They were not to be grieved. Could the stronger ones ruthlessly cause pain to the scrupulous ones by their own seeming unscrupulousness? That was not walking in love. And for the sake of showing that they could eat meat! Away the thought: this was not God's kingdom. Let them rather know that, eating or not eating, to respect the rights of others, to have peace with all, and to rejoice with a common joy in God, - this was God's kingdom. So also would their spirit commend itself to men and to God. Christians then indeed; as Christ died for the weaker ones, so they sacrificing their liberty for them.
2. They were not to be made to fall. Let them know that, innocent as their eating of flesh might be, it was not innocent to the doubting man, and each one's conscience must approve his own deeds, or he is condemned. Nay, he falls! Oh, surely they were not prepared for that? For this was, not merely to destroy the weak brother's peace and charity of heart, but to overthrow the work of God in him! And all for the sake of meat! Better sacrifice all your liberty than this. Have your faith to yourself; have all tender solicitude for your weak brother's conscience. Then receive the brother, care for him, sacrifice your freedom for him. For while faith, liberty, strength, are good, the best of all is love! - T.F.L.
Parallel VersesKJV: Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.