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Monday, July 26, 2021

A Valid Question

Recently I wrote about the biblical concept of welcoming one another. Based on Paul's command to "welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God," (Rom 15:7) which is predicated on the notion that we should welcome those who are weak in faith (Rom 14:1), I said we should be the most welcoming people on the planet. If we are to "welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you," we're looking at arms spread wide to embrace.

The premise is to welcome those who are "weak in faith" (Rom 14:1; 15:1). I think it is a valid question to ask just what that means. Does that mean, as some take it, to include only those in your small inner circle who agree with you on everything? Or does it mean, as the other side would have us believe, that it is inclusive of all people, regardless of their views, personal sanctification, etc.? As you know, I'm not one to stand on opinion. We need to ask how Scripture describes this "weak in faith" concept.

First, in reading the text, I think I should make it clear that Paul's "weak in faith" is intended as a relative term. In the Romans 14 passage Paul referred to the "weak person" as one who "eats only vegetables" and the strong in faith "may eat anything." (Rom 14:2). You see, then, it's from the perspective of the one doing the eating. The one who eats only vegetables "because I'm trusting God to supply my needs" isn't weak in faith, but he might conclude, "The brother who feels the need to add meat to his diet is." In this case, written from their perspective, it would be the carnivore who is weak in faith. Paul's "weak in faith" here, then, means, "Those whose faith is different than my own."

Here's what it does not mean It does not mean the one who has faith to commit adultery when everyone else is so weak in faith that they won't. It does not mean those who believe they can be saved by works when everyone else is weak in faith and has to rely only on Christ's completed work. Nor does it mean "whatever -- just welcome them all." Those kinds of things are not in view. How do we know this? Well, we know that Jesus had no problem rejecting people ... like the Pharisees (Matt 23:2-36). Jesus had no problem telling those people in Matthew 7 who thought they were His own, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." That is, Jesus didn't "welcome everybody." It would be unreasonable for us to assume that we should "welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you" while ignoring how Christ welcomed us.

What, then, are the characteristics we're looking for in this "weak in faith" category? First, they are believers. We know it because "in the faith" requires faith. Second, these issues are specifically not issues of sin or essentials. Paul had no problem handing a brother in sin to Satan (1 Cor 5:1-5) and warning believers not associate with a so-called brother immersed in sin (1 Cor 5:9-11). And when Peter exhibited legalism rather than faith alone, Paul didn't embrace him as weak; he took him to task (Gal 2:11-14). Not matters of sin. Not matters of essentials. So these issues termed "weak in faith" issues would be observing a day or not observing a day or whether or not to eat meat served to idols (Rom 14:5-6) or other items not specifically addressed in Scripture. Indeed, Paul specifies that whatever these "weak in faith" items are, they are intended to be done with gratitude to honor the Lord (Rom 14:6). "I'm honoring God by sinning" doesn't work. "I'm bringing glory to God by ignoring His truth" isn't reasonable. "I love Jesus, but not as the Son of God" isn't a part of this "weak in faith" concept. It is talking about genuine believers who are seeking to be obedient to God and consistent with His Word even if they differ with your version. It is talking about disputable matters, not sin, and not essentials of the faith.

"Welcome those who are weak" isn't so broad that we embrace sin or heresy. Jesus didn't; neither should we. On the other hand, it is certainly much broader than our common practice, as evidenced by the numbers of Protestant denominations that exist out there. There should absolutely not be racial or social or economic or ethnic or other artificial divisions which Christians have allowed to their shame. The important question is not "Are they doing it right?" The most important question is "Am I?" It is, biblically, possible to be too embracing, but I'd argue that most of us are guilty of not being inclusive enough for matters that are not issues of sin or essentials. Before we start pointing fingers at the "too-inclusive liberals" or the "too-narrow right wing conservatives," perhaps we ought to check our own hearts on the matter.

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