J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

The Weaker and Stronger Brother Part 2 – Alcohol

Part One of this series can be found here and audio for this sermon can be found here.

3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Paul gives a command to the stronger brother and a command with an explanation to the weaker brother.  To the stronger brother, Paul commands them not to despise the weaker brother.  Paul wants to make sure that there is not a class system forming in Christianity.  The purpose of abolishing the food laws was to abolish the man-made class system.  People grow in the exercising of their faith, but they don’t get a seat closer to God just because they have stronger faith.  So if the stronger brother despises or looks down on the weaker brother, He is sinning and actually undoing what the abolishment of the food laws intended.

To the weaker brother, Paul commands them not to pass judgment on the stronger brother because God has welcomed the stronger brother.  Paul’s explanation to the weaker brother is this?  How dare you pass judgment on the stronger brother for eating?  The stronger is the servant of the his master, God.  God is the one who decides if His servant stands or falls, and God has upheld the stronger brother and has enabled him to stand.   Bottom line:  if the stronger brother despises the weaker brother, he sins.  If the weaker brother passes judgment on the stronger brother, he sins.

So how should affect us today?  Well, let’s understand a couple of things before we begin to make an application.  The argument between the stronger and weaker brother was about something that God said was not a sin that the weaker brother said was a sin.  They were not arguing about something in which God was silent.   This is not an argument about preference.  This is not an argument about the color of carpet or the style of music.  This not an argument about what you should wear to worship.  The argument between the stronger and weaker argument was about something that God had clearly said was not a sin.  The stronger brother is not sinning by eating and neither is the weaker brother sinning by not eating.  However, the weaker brother cannot tell the stronger brother he should not eat or pass judgment on him for not eating.  The stronger and weaker brothers are not classes or categories of Christians.  Paul just said that every servant is justified before his master and it is the master that upholds them.  No servant upholds himself.

It is not an insult to be a weaker brother and it is not a reason to be self-righteous or puffed if you are the stronger brother.  You see, no one can claim to be a weaker brother.  To claim it, you would have to say, “I know that God says eating meat is okay, but I call it a sin.”  Well, once you say that, you can’t claim to be the weaker brother because you know the truth.  Actually, if you know the truth but still call it a sin, that would be sinning because you are binding someone conscience beyond what scripture binds them, and then, you only authority would be…yourself.  Never a place you want to be.

Now we don’t live in that transition period that so many went through in the 1st century church.  We don’t have things that were once a sin but are now no longer a sin.  But we do have examples of things that God has declared as good that many people today feel is as sin that leads to these kinds of arguments?  I can think of one most clearly:  drinking alcohol.  Alcohol is legal once you turn 21.

God had declared alcohol okay.

  • Proverbs 31:6-7 –   Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
    and wine to those in bitter distress; 7 let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
  • Ecclesiastes 10:19 – read is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life,
    and money answers everything
  • Jesus made such good wine in John 2, that they wedding guests commended Him for bringing out the good stuff at the end of the party.  Usually, people would bring out cheap wine at the end of the party because people couldn’t tell the difference after a few drinks.  This is the same principle you see at a bar.  The first mixed drink is strong.  They get less and less strong as the night moves along.
  • Wine was used in the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians and we know this because Paul rebukes the Corinthians for getting drunk at the taking of the Lord’s Supper.
  • Paul even commends Timothy to drink wine for his upset stomach in 1 Timothy 5:23.

Scripture of course forbids drunkenness in over a dozen passages.  Because of this, some feel that any drinking is a sin.  That however, draws the line closer than scripture draws it.  Scripture forbids many things that are done in excess.  We are told not eat too much or be a glutton in several places in scripture.  God promises destruction to the person who eats too much in Deut. 21 and Proverbs 21.  We are told not talk too much in scripture.  Ecclesiastes 5 warns against using too many words and calls the excess of words the sacrifice of fools.  But in all of those areas, including alcohol, the believer is to exercise discipline.  That doesn’t mean you have to drink.  It just means that you can’t forbid someone to drink.  If you choose not to drink, that is perfectly acceptable.  Perhaps you do that because of history of alcoholism in your family or because you can’t exercise the proper discipline once you do drink.  Again, this passage clearly states that eating or not-eating, drinking or not drinking is acceptable.

What is not acceptable is two things.

  • Those who do drink cannot look down on those who don’t.
  • Those who don’t drink cannot tell those who do that they are sinning.

Obeying these verses would provide for an incredibly healthy and peaceful church even among believers who disagree.

Paul gives another example, and we’ll look at it in part 3.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

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.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments