Stumbling your brother

Discuss your walk and aspects of the kingdom of God here with fellow brothers in the Lord.
TruthFinder
Posts: 5
Joined: Sun Sep 18, 2016 11:16 am

Stumbling your brother

Post by TruthFinder » Thu Aug 31, 2017 11:51 pm

Long time lurker, first time post (I think)....

I'm hoping some of you can help me understand the intention behind Romans 14 and (and 1 Cor 8, but I will stick with Romans for brevity) where Paul talks about a brother who is weak in faith or weak in conscious being more restrictive in his activities and our duty to essentially be as restrictive as he is (when around him) in order that we don't cause him to stumble. There seems to be a relativism in Paul's words that I don't understand. In Romans 14 after encouraging the carnivores and vegetarians to stop judging each other, Paul says he knows that in Christ nothing is unclean in itself but it is unclean to anyone who thinks it is unclean. Then further after admonishing the reader to pursue peace, joy, and edification rather than destroying other [weak] Christians he says in verse 22 and 23:

22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

I have SO many tangential questions on this topic. First - does Paul mean that sin is relative to the person's conscience? If you feel ok with it, it's actually ok? Or if you have a hang up about it, it's definitely sinful for you to do it? I mean can that weaker brother ever get stronger? If everyone is walking on eggshells around him and only eating whatever he eats, will he ever understand the freedom in Christ? Why doesn't Paul tell the reader to explain to the weaker brother that idols are fake? Go ahead and eat the meat if you want - it's all make believe. Maybe more importantly though - are weaker Christians facing more sin than stronger ones because they misunderstand stuff?

Second - Every time I have heard this passage taught the teacher seems to focus on alcohol being a stumbling block and it becomes a sermon about godliness through restriction. That an alcoholic will see you drinking and then go on a bender and it will be your fault at some level. The last part of this chapter might support this, but there is no indication here that the weaker brother has issues with self control or over-indulgence. On the contrary the weaker brother is the one abstaining unnecessarily... a closer illustration might be for a track star to skip dessert in front of his portly friend in order that his friend doesn't give himself permission to overeat since it is unhealthy for him to do so, which it might not be for the track star.

dwight92070
Posts: 615
Joined: Sat Dec 10, 2011 12:09 am

Re: Stumbling your brother

Post by dwight92070 » Fri Sep 01, 2017 9:03 am

Verse 2 seems to give the context here, i.e. Paul is talking about some Christians who chose to be vegetarians, and others who feel free to eat meat. He describes the brother who doesn't feel the freedom to eat meat as being weaker in faith, apparently because, in Christ, he should have that freedom.

A side issue here, but a very important one as I understand it, is the fact that some meat sold in the meat market, had been offered to idols. So, some Christians, knowing this, did not feel comfortable eating meat at all, not knowing for sure whether that meat had been offered to idols. Paul describes these believers as being weak in faith. He says in 1 Corinthians 10:25-26: "Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience' sake; 'For the earth is the Lord's, and all it contains.'" So basically Paul is saying that, as believers, we should have the freedom in Christ, to really not care whether that meat had been offered to idols or not, and to go ahead and thank God for it, and then eat it.

But even though Paul had given his opinion on this issue, some Christians still did not feel that they could eat meat with a clear conscience. So the much more important issue here is that Paul tells the Christians who had the freedom to eat meat, to not judge those who don't, and he tells those who don't feel that freedom to eat meat, to not judge those who do. In fact, that judgment apparently had reached a harsh level, to the point where each group would regard the other group with contempt. Paul is telling each group to stop it! No matter what side a Christian was on, Paul allowed him the freedom to eat meat or not eat meat, without being judged by another brother.

Also, when Paul describes some Christians as being weak in faith, there is a temptation, even today, on the part of those who have stronger faith (to eat meat), to look down their nose at their weaker brothers. Paul is telling us even today that we should not do that. If a Christian today chooses a specific diet, in his mind, to honor the Lord and to take care of his body, then we are not to condemn that man. He is simply following his conscience and thanking God. Leave him alone and don't judge him.
Also, to continue to refer to that brother as weak in faith and yourself as being strong in faith is demeaning and not showing Christian love. Paul does not say that the vegetarian brother is weak in faith in all areas of his Christian walk, so we should not brand him "Weak" either.

TruthFinder
Posts: 5
Joined: Sun Sep 18, 2016 11:16 am

Re: Stumbling your brother

Post by TruthFinder » Fri Sep 01, 2017 11:29 am

Thanks Dwight!

While I agree that Paul is instructing the two groups to stop holding one another in contempt, the passage goes beyond this. Not only should the meat eater not judge the vegetarian, he is instructed that he ought not to eat meat either if it will cause the vegetarian to stumble/fall. This is the aspect that seems perplexing to me. There is freedom....unless you happen to have a weaker brother around, then it isn't loving to exercise your freedom, which essentially negates the freedom for the loving Christian. Is the stronger Christian to abstain entirely or just when vegetarian is near (and continue eating meat in secret)?

15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

As far as referring to the vegetarian as weak - this is taken entirely from the scripture. In general one would probably think the more restrictive party is stronger in faith or holier. For example most pastors that I know won't drink a beer - the flock often attributes this abstinence to his being a "stronger Christian", when this chapter might indicate otherwise. (Though I'm not making a case for this - I'm still trying to determine what it means.)

Why do you think Paul calls the non-meat eaters "weak in faith"? Is it that they don't fully trust Christ's redemptive power to make everything clean?

1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.

TruthInLove
Posts: 100
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2014 12:35 am

Re: Stumbling your brother

Post by TruthInLove » Fri Sep 01, 2017 1:25 pm

Hi TruthFinder.

I think Paul's words here imply that the extremes to which we should be willing to go will depend on the extremes to which our weaker siblings in Christ react to us exercising our freedom. If we have regular interactions with a brother or sister where a particular bone of contention provokes them or ourselves to not be at peace with one another, we should do everything possible to keep peace in such circumstances. That may mean abstaining from the behavior or from avoiding interactions with the person.

How that impacts our behavior when we aren't interacting with such siblings probably depends on each particular sibling's level of obsession with our behavior and our ability to avoid interactions with them.

If we have been burdened with a true yet weak believer whom we can't so easily avoid and they interrogate us about our private behavior everytime we interact, we should perhaps be willing to somewhat temper even our private behavior, for a time at least. At some point though, this abstenance itself could become enabling.

An important thing to remember here is that, according to the Greek manuscripts, these are fellow believers Paul is talking about here. If they are truly wanting to serve Christ, we'd eventually expect to see some maturity or growth on their part as well with respect to their perception of sin and how they compose themselves around people of a different opinion on disputable matters. These passages apply equally well with regard to their behavior toward stronger siblings.

If you are making your best attempts at peace given the resources and knowledge you have, these passages themselves say that you are not sinning. You are acting in accordance to your faith. Presumably, the same standard applies to your brothers and sisters. If they aren't willing or show no signs of softening their demeanor to grant us that same freedom of faith without causing some sort of upheaval, it may be cause to consider that the person is not bearing the fruit of a believer, indicating that they may not be a true disciple at all. Paul is not prescribing how we should interact with unbeleivers here.

TruthFinder
Posts: 5
Joined: Sun Sep 18, 2016 11:16 am

Re: Stumbling your brother

Post by TruthFinder » Sat Sep 02, 2017 10:40 am

Thanks TruthInLove (these names are great). Your response seems very reasonable to me.

Singalphile
Posts: 892
Joined: Sun Apr 22, 2012 12:46 pm

Re: Stumbling your brother

Post by Singalphile » Sat Sep 02, 2017 10:57 am

Lots of good questions. Too much to try to respond to all. I agree with what others have said.

I especially agree that we are all immature in some area(s) of life. I cringe a bit when someone is labelled "immature" over one particular opinion or behavior. That person might be immature about that one area, but he or she may be very mature in another area or areas. There are different gifts.

So I think we have to give people time sometimes without distressing or stumbling anyone. I have to think that God will not leave a humble, sincere person in Christ in the dark about a particular sin for very long, if there is sin.

.... and yet, there are issues that are not disputable, and there's clearly a time for discipline and even putting a person out of the church.

Lastly, it's hard to see that Greek word for "weak" as anything but negative. It does sound harsh to me, though Paul's overall message is otherwise extremely conciliatory and unifying. I suppose Paul knew more about the dynamics of his particular audience.
... that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:23

User avatar
Paidion
Posts: 4901
Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:22 pm
Location: Back Woods of North-Western Ontario

Re: Stumbling your brother

Post by Paidion » Sat Sep 02, 2017 11:02 am

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Paul seems to say that if one has doubts whether or not eating meat is sin, but still eats it anyway, is sinning—that any act that one cannot do in faith, but is an act that he thinks might be sin—is in fact sin. Why is it sin? Paul does not say. Sin is that which harms oneself or others. Could it be that a person who does something he thinks is wrong is harming himself because he is acting against his conscience? How is he condemned? He condemns himself.
Paidion

Man judges a person by his past deeds, and administers penalties for his wrongdoing. God judges a person by his present character, and disciplines him that he may become righteous.

Avatar shows me at 75 years old. I am now 81.

dwight92070
Posts: 615
Joined: Sat Dec 10, 2011 12:09 am

Re: Stumbling your brother

Post by dwight92070 » Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:07 pm

It seems inconsistent. Paul tells us not to judge our brother, but then he labels certain brothers "weak". However, in context, the word "judge" here seems to mean "condemn" or to "have contempt for". So we can make a judgment about another brother without hating them. It does not appear to me that Paul here is using the term "weak in faith" to mean a brother who is immature, as if later, when he matures, he will agree with Paul, and accept the truth that he can now eat meat. Rather, it appears to me that we are talking about a brother or brothers who have a certain conviction about what they can or cannot eat, and that this conviction is probably not going to disappear as they become more mature. But Paul seems to be saying, "That's okay, we should accept this brother, even though his convictions are not the same as ours."

To me, it's unfortunate that if a brother goes to his grave, holding fast to his conviction, even though it contradicts Paul's opinion, that Paul might consider him a brother "weak in faith" for his whole life! That's why I don't like that label. If Paul gives us the freedom to have our own convictions, without being condemned, must we take on the label of being "weak in faith" our whole life?

User avatar
mattrose
Posts: 1909
Joined: Fri Aug 22, 2008 11:28 am
Contact:

Re: Stumbling your brother

Post by mattrose » Sat Sep 02, 2017 10:07 pm

I have 6 thoughts based on the opening post and the good discussion that followed...

1. There is a 'relativism' in Paul's words here, but only because, in context, he's speaking about a 'disputable matter' and not an essential aspect of faith. This relativism does indeed have a lot to do with our conscience. Paul does not believe anyone should go against their conscience, but he recognizes that different Christians will have different convictions at the level of conscience on disputable matters.

2. Keep in mind, truthfinder, that there is no individual 'reader' of Romans 14. The letter was written to the entire church in Rome. Both sides of the 'meat' debate would have heard the entire chapter, which included Paul's 'fully convinced' opinion on the matter. So I don't think Paul's intention is to leave the 'weak' brother in their weakness. His main concern seems to be how the various parties relate to one another until a unity of practice is obtained. Furthermore, I'm sure Paul envisioned the freedom that we have in Christ to be a continual theme of the church's teaching.

3. Paul's priority is simply not in our 'right' to practice the freedom that we have in Christ. Paul's priority is love. Love is willing to lay aside 'rights' in order to serve a brother or sister.

4. I personally think Paul's use of the terms 'strong' and 'weak' in this context are not original to him. We should keep in mind that, though Paul had likely never been to Rome when he wrote this letter, he does seem to be very aware of many of the people in the church and some of their current issues. I think he was made aware of the fact that some (mostly) Gentile Christians were using the 'strong' adjective for themselves and the 'weak' adjective to describe their (mostly) Jewish brothers and sisters. Paul is willing to use their language to enter into that discussion and subvert it away from thinking 'up' or 'down' about each other and toward the theme of other-oriented service to one another.

5. I actually think the alcohol analogy is fitting. I pastor in The Wesleyan Church. It has been (up until recently, and still partially) an abstinence denomination when it comes to alcohol (we abstain). In the context of this chapter, we are the 'weaker' brother because Christians do have freedom to drink alcohol. But I know for a fact that many people in my congregation (especially long-term members) have been taught for years (wrongly, I'd say) that alcohol is inherently evil. It would be un-loving, I think, for me to flaunt my freedom in front of them. What I should do, in love, is continue to teach well and have patience that they may come to learn the freedom that we have in Christ in this area. But even if they don't, I must consider their convictions and respect them.

6. As a practical matter, I don't think Paul is suggesting the 'strong' brother totally abstain from meat. He is only saying make an honest effort not to be confrontational about your freedom because peace among the family of God is more important than a piece of meat on the table of fellowship.

User avatar
Homer
Posts: 2597
Joined: Sat Aug 23, 2008 11:08 pm

Re: Stumbling your brother

Post by Homer » Sat Sep 02, 2017 10:40 pm

Matt wrote:
5. I actually think the alcohol analogy is fitting. I pastor in The Wesleyan Church. It has been (up until recently, and still partially) an abstinence denomination when it comes to alcohol (we abstain). In the context of this chapter, we are the 'weaker' brother because Christians do have freedom to drink alcohol. But I know for a fact that many people in my congregation (especially long-term members) have been taught for years (wrongly, I'd say) that alcohol is inherently evil. It would be un-loving, I think, for me to flaunt my freedom in front of them. What I should do, in love, is continue to teach well and have patience that they may come to learn the freedom that we have in Christ in this area. But even if they don't, I must consider their convictions and respect them.
Many years ago I loved to have a cold beer. I did not care at all for being intoxicated, but I gave up my cold beer when I became a Christian. I long remember a man I worked with years ago. His wife was a devoted church-goer and one day I enquired of him why he never went with her. He replied that the men at that church drank from the same bottle with him during the week. And that is why I gave up my beer. What you are allowed to do may not be what is best to do.

Post Reply

Return to “The Kingdom”