The World According to kcillini77

March 7, 2008

The Weaker Brother…

Filed under: America,Christianity,Ethics,Family — kcillini77 @ 11:23 pm

Recently I had a discussion with a friend regarding Romans 14.

I’ve heard this passage used many times to suggest, for example, that even though Christians are free to consume alcohol (and it is mentioned multiple times in the Bible as a gift from God), discretion is necessary in public. The thought is that because a “weaker brother” may see us, we shouldn’t order that beer with our dinner at Applebee’s, though we might consume it at home behind closed doors.

My friend posed the scenario of a music pastor who believes that certain modern styles of music are inherently sinful. Though my friend believes music genre to be amoral, he contends that in this instance, he should consider the music pastor a “weaker brother” in regards to this issue. While he feels free to listen to the music he desires on his own time, he believes if he were to give the pastor a ride in his car he should not play a Casting Crowns CD out of deference to the pastor. He also contemplates whether he should take the added step of hiding the CD under the seat so that it is a non-issue.

I’ve spent some time reading and rereading that passage as well as some other writings of Paul and actions of Jesus in the gospel trying to come to my own conclusions. So far, here are my thoughts:

In Romans, Paul is speaking to a community that consists mostly of Jewish Christians. The Jews had lived their whole life learning and following the law, which included dietary restrictions, and so naturally there was some distress among new believers in Christ when they were told – hey, now you can eat this meat. The “weaker brother” is a Christian young in the faith who does not yet have a full understanding of the freedom that is in Christ. The implication is that as the weaker brother grows in his faith he will learn not to call that which Christ has declared clean unclean. But as the new Christian grows, the stronger brother is not to flaunt his freedom, and should not raise a huge stink over dietary issues, because they pale in comparison to the gospel.

There are lots of applications in today’s world. We should not drink in front of a brother we know to be an alcoholic or someone who has a past they don’t want to relive that was centered on alcohol. We should be careful with how we relate to someone coming out of a legalistic upbringing. If someone has been taught all their life that rock music is sin we shouldn’t crank up the volume and try to make sure they know what they’ve been missing out on.

From Romans 14: 16Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

At the same time, we should gently nudge someone who holds legalistic views toward the truth that they ought not to judge someone who partakes. We should also encourage them to go deeper in the Word and discover whether the particular action or item they are against is truly forbidden. Often, it could in fact be a gift from the Lord, and the fear of abuse has prompted the prohibitions they have depended upon.

I do not see my friend’s pastor as the weaker brother. As someone who has been a Christian long enough to go through seminary and be elevated to a position of authority, he is accountable for his understanding of the gospel. He has chosen to take a moral stand on an issue of little consequence. I am not saying he is not a brother in Christ, but I am saying that from his position of authority he may be imparting unnecessary guilt and shame to his brothers in Christ who are merely exercising their Christian liberty. In fact, many of those people are experiencing the joy of Christ through the music they listen to, and he may be drawing them away from that joy by his insistence on this principle. I don’t mean to suggest this man needs to be accosted and be brought to an understanding, but that in truth and love the issue should be gradually addressed by people he comes in contact with.

Now, while I wouldn’t suggest my friend pump up the volume on his pastor in the car, the thought of hiding anything strikes me as a very misconstrued interpretation of Paul’s meaning. Anything we do for pleasure that we hide has connotations of being shameful. And if we hide our actions from a brother and he later discovers the truth about us, where does that leave us? We’re in a lurch trying to explain deception, when the action should have been a non-issue to begin with.

So, what are we to make of Paul’s exhortation in Romans 14? Be conscientious. Enjoy what God has made without abusing it. Accept those who haven’t fully comprehended the Gospel of Christ and its freedoms. Don’t flaunt your freedom in front of those who are still learning. But continue to encourage them to learn and grow. And if they are truly growing, they will eventually realize that the legalism they cling to is a crutch, and they will one day throw it to the side and walk alongside you, unencumbered.



  1. I recently taught Romans 14 along with 1 COrinthians 8-11 and they all make the same point: if anyone has a problem with what you do, stop doing it. I’m not sure it’s even a private/public issue. Paul said if someone has a problem with me eating meat, I will not eat meat as long as the world stands (1 Corinthians 8:13). It’s not, I won’t eat meat until I get home.

    It’s a tough issue. Elsewhere Paul says if he lived his life to be approved of men he wouldn’t be able to be an apostle (Galatians 1:10).

    I find it ironic that in all Paul’s teaching on freedom and liberty, his conclusion is: liberty causes you to do less! It would be nice if his conclusion were: make the immature grow up. But he never tells the younger to do anything for the more mature, he always tells the mature to bend for the younger.

    Good thoughts. I’m not trying to argue, I’m just adding my own thoughts that your thoughts triggered!

    Comment by jeff — March 8, 2008 @ 8:40 am | Reply

  2. Jeff – thank for stopping by. I agree that the onus is on the stronger and more mature. But the main point I’m trying to get across is that it’s a misapplication to brand the legalist as the weaker brother. The text does not say that we should avoid an activity because someone “has a problem with it.” It says we should avoid it if it would cause that person to violate their own conscience. The person who declares openly that eating meat is sinful for all people is in very little danger of violating their conscience and indulging in succulent meat when they have come to view it as vile and make a habit of judging others for their consumption. If that type of person wishes to pass judgment, I say bring it on, and God will deal with them.
    One aspect of Paul’s teachings that puzzles me though, and I did not address in the main post, is his notion that anything that violates the individual conscience is sin. We as Christians tend to think of sin as black and white, and this seems to border on the “what’s right for one may not be right for some” mentality we are continually attacking in our society. I realize he’s not abdicating murder, lust, greed, the ten commandments, etc. But these passages do seem to set up kind of a subjective relativism for people already within the church that I can’t quite grasp. Any thoughts on that?

    Comment by kcillini77 — March 8, 2008 @ 10:05 am | Reply

  3. I agree with your statement that the issue is whether you are causing another to sin, not just a hurting the feelings kind of deal. Christ certainly ticked off the Pharisees enough, yet never caused them to stumble! They would never “violate” the law like He did!

    There is a bit of situational ethics in Paul’s teachings. Paul relies on the Holy Spirit a whole lot more than we do. We like to hand out legisltation on people, where Paul tends to let the people work it out. Philippians 3:15,16. Until all are brought into agreement we bend, keep teaching what the Bible says and letting people follow the Lord.

    The intriguing thing to me is that Paul says the younger brother forbids things and the elder brother allows things. Isn’t this the exact opposite of your experience with Christians!!?? Seems to me the younger believers allows everything and the more experienced have scruples about everything that moves! I’m speaking in broad generalizations, but so is Paul.

    Comment by jeff — March 8, 2008 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

  4. i am gonna show this to my friend, man

    Comment by Genesiseg — March 26, 2008 @ 8:51 pm | Reply

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