J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

The Weaker and Stronger Brother Part 1

The audio for this sermon will be up this week here.

If you have ever been involved in a theological discussion or even a conversation about the interpretation of a particular passage of scripture, you have probably wished that God had given a guideline or instructional manual about how to do so without getting into a big fight.  I guess if God had given us those things then people would fight about what the instructional manual meant.

All joking aside, God really has taught us how to discuss the interpretation and application of scripture.  We mention these things all the time.

  • Philippians 2:3 – Consider others better than yourself.
  • Romans 12:16 – Never be wise in your own eyes.

Application of those two principles would more than likely eliminate the majority of theological and interpretative debates or at least change the volume of them.

One of the things that we did when Fight Club was hashing out theological discussions more often was set up a few guidelines for debate or interaction.  I thought as we prepare for this sermon, offering them again would be helpful.

First and foremost, theological discussion is never, and I repeat, never about winning an argument.  Theological discussion is about Biblical faithfulness and ultimately the glory of God.

Second:  It is not communication if one person is allowed to dominate the discussion.  James 1:19 “Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger”  Remember it takes 2 people to have a discussion.

Third:  No personal or ad hominem attacks.  1 Peter 2:1 “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”  Things I have heard said in a theological debate, “Well, you are just an idiot if you believe that,” or “That’s just stupid.”  At times, we might disagree on a theological point.  When that happens, we respond to the theological point and we do not impugn the character of any person.

And finally, this might be the most important point:  when discussing opposing viewpoints about scripture, unless it is an area that God leaves to freedom or conscience, two people cannot both be right with opposing viewpoints of scripture.  When that happens we have 3 options.

  • I’m right, and you are wrong.
  • You are right, and I am wrong.
  • Neither is right, and both are wrong.
  • But never, and I am mean never, are we both right.

These guidelines don’t cover every possible area of contention, but they do help us figure out how to have a discussion.  The larger picture about theological debate or scriptural discussion is creating a community of peace, even when we disagree.  Fortunately, Paul is going to take this discussion up for us in Romans chapter 14, so in light of what we just spoke of, let’s ask this Big Picture Question and explore the issue in greater depth:

Big Picture Question:  What guidelines does God give so that the church might be at peace?

14:1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables

Paul is continuing here to explain what the life of personal sacrifice as worship to God looks like.  Last week, Paul encouraged us to reflect an urgency for Jesus’ return by living out a debt of love to one another.  But to truly love one another and reflect Jesus’ love, we need to live lives of personal holiness in faithfulness in our marriages and contentment with what we have and in our other relationships.  Paul’s encouragement last week was that the only way in which we are going to live this life to which we are called is to put on Christ daily.  I encouraged all of you to pursue either the notes or the audio from last week as putting on Christ is a discipline in which we all need to grow.  It involves the complete abandonment of self and complete dependence on Jesus Christ.

With that thought in mind, Paul turns his commands towards the life of the church and how believers should interact with each other.  So if you do not profess to be a believer in Christ or you are just not sure, what you are going to see here is the biblical instruction about how the church should get along.  Sadly, what Paul commands here is rarely the example and illustration of unity that the church should present to the world.  For the rest of us, this is Paul’s very practical commands as to how this church and every other should live in peace even if we don’t agree with each other.

What Paul does is set up a common example of disagreement within the church and then explains how each party is to act.  Paul describes two people:  one who is weak in faith and subsequently, one who is strong in their faith.  The weaker in faith is described as one who feels that he can only eat vegetables while the strong in faith feels that he can eat anything he wants.  The argument about vegetables was a common one in Paul’s day as Jewish people began to grow and understand what it meant to live in light of the grace of Jesus Christ.  It was a common practice for a Jewish person to abstain from all meats if they lived in a town that was not controlled by Jewish authorities.  That way they could avoid eating any meat that was unclean.  They took this example from Daniel when he served in Nebuchadnezzar’s in Daniel 1.  Daniel and his men asked if they could just eat vegetables, they did, and they were healthier than the other servants of Nebuchadnezzar.  Because of that, many Jewish people refused to eat any meat in Rome.

Well in Acts 10, Peter has a vision where a sheet descends out of heaven and on it are all kinds of animals.  God tells him to eat, and Peter refuses because he has never eaten an unclean animal in his life.  God tells him not to call unclean what God has called clean essentially overturning the ceremonial laws surrounding food.

So as some of the Jewish people came to faith in Jesus Christ, they struggled with the idea of eating something that had always been ceremonially unclean.   This new freedom that they have in Christ is difficult for them to walk in.  Paul describes the believer who cannot walk in this freedom as weak in the faith or the weaker brother.  Typically what would happen is that these new believers did not have the faith to walk in these new freedoms.  Salvation by grace alone and faith alone in Jesus Christ they understood.  Eating whatever they wanted, not so much.  In fact, what the weaker brother struggles with here is not whether or not to enjoy the freedom.  Where the conflict arises is whether or not it is sinful to eat whatever they wanted.  The weaker brother would tell the stronger brother that it is sinful to eat non-kosher.  Obviously fights would occur.

Ironically in the early church, the stronger was typically the Gentile because he didn’t have a built in preconception about what to eat.  The Jews did.  So often the Jewish believer was the weaker brother.  This is important to understand.  In the context of Acts 10, one of the reasons for the overturning of the food laws was so that Jews and Gentiles could hang out with each other without there being obstacles like what to eat because right after Peter’s vision, he is instructed to go eat at a Gentiles house.  Prior to Acts 10, it was impossible for a Jewish person to eat with a non-Jewish person without being ceremonially unclean.  Removing the food laws was intended to bring harmony among all types of believers irrespective of their background.  You can see now why Paul uses this example.  Food and drink is not meant to keep believers from associating but actually enable them to hang out.

So what is the command here to keep peace?  Part 2 coming soon.

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February 22, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. […] Weaker and Stronger Brother Part 2 – Alcohol Part One of this series can be found here and audio for this sermon can be found […]

    Pingback by The Weaker and Stronger Brother Part 2 – Alcohol « J. Gordon Duncan | February 23, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] and the Stronger Brother Part Three – Holy Days Part One of this series can be found here.  Part Two can be found here.  The audio can be found […]

    Pingback by The Weaker and the Stronger Brother Part Three – Holy Days « J. Gordon Duncan | February 24, 2010 | Reply


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