Jan 25, 2011

Weak Brethren XIII

In this chapter an analysis of Romans 14: 1 - 15:1 will be presented. It will be shown that "the weak," in this section, is a reference to the class of the unsaved, to unbelievers, or to non-Christians, as in I Corinthians, and that "the strong" is a reference to the class of the saved, to believers, or to Christians.

"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." (Rom. 14: 1)

"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." (15: 1)

The Greek word for "weak" in 14: 1 is "astheneō," the same word as Paul used in I Corinthians, but the word for "weak" in 15: 1 is "adynatos." Both words denote the impotent or powerless, the sick, impaired, or infirmed. As has been shown in previous chapters, such words are uniformly used to describe the unsaved man, not the saved man. This is clear in verses such as Romans 5: 6 where Paul says "when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly." "Without strength" (asthenes) is clearly a term for the ungodly, for those lost souls for whom Christ died. The word "infirmities" is from "asthenēma," the plural form for "asthenes." It should be translated as "impotencies."

The question is - "what is meant by the impotencies of the impotent?" Those who affirm that "the impotent" is a descriptive term for immature Christians, must explain what are the "impotencies" of such Christians. As has already been seen from the Corinthian epistles, the weakness, impotency, or infirmity of this class of people is in several areas, including knowledge, conscience, creed, and nature. In Romans 14: 1 the same are "impotent, or without strength, in the faith." Surely this cannot be a description of a genuine Christian who possesses "that knowledge" that confesses that there is "one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things..." (I Cor. 8: 6, 7) Paul defined a Christian, or believer, as one who is healthy, who does not possess these impotencies. He is not "weak," but "strong," in knowledge, conscience, creed, and faith. A Christian cannot be described as one who is "impotent in faith" or "in the faith." A conscience that possesses "that knowledge" cannot be categorized as "impotent" in knowledge and faith.

It cannot be inferred that "impotent in the faith" affirms that the one who is impotent is "in the faith" of Christians. As many Greek scholars have stated, "in the faith" means "with regard to the faith." It does not imply that those who are impotent are in fact "in the faith." Those commentators who think that "impotent in the faith" implies such are mistaken.

The use of the definite article "the" before "faith" is significant, not only in Romans 14:1 but elsewhere in scripture. Sometimes "faith" is written without the definite article, while sometimes it is written with it. In fact, in the last verse of Romans 14, "faith" is mentioned without the definite article, where Paul says "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." As a general rule, when the definite article is used, the reference is to the object of belief, to God, Christ, or the body of Christian truth. For instance, Jude wrote: "...it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." In this verse "the faith" does not refer to an inward state of mind, to belief or confidence, but to the object of belief. Thus, "the faith" alludes to that body of Christian doctrine or to the gospel. This is also seen in Galatians 1: 23, where Paul wrote: "that he who persecuted us once, now announces the glad tidings--the faith which once he ravaged." (Berry's Interlinear) "The glad tidings" is equated with "the faith."

If commentators came to Romans 14 without a bias, without the spectacles of others of the "consensus view," they would not attempt to make "him that is impotent in the faith" a description of Christians. To make such words descriptive of Christians extremely weakens what it means to be a Christian. By such a definition of things, Muslims could be called Christian, for they certainly are "impotent regarding the Christian faith."

Non-Christian religious people, by scriptural standards, are impotent in both aspects of "faith." They are infirmed as regards confidence and conviction of the truth of scripture and as regards the object of their devotions. Appropriately, therefore, are non-Christians styled "unbelievers" in scripture. In fact, as was shown in previous chapters, "unbeliever" was a term that Paul connected with those he called "weak" or "impotent." (I Cor. 10: 27)

Sometimes the word "faith" simply denotes "religion." Thus, one may speak of the Muslim "faith" as well as the Christian "faith." Those who are therefore "impotent in faith" are those who are believers in and adherents of a false religion. The religion itself is impotent.

It is important also to notice how Paul addresses all the members of the church at Rome as being "strong." But, this he could not do if the church was composed of both "impotent" and "strong" members. The pronoun "you" ("ye") demonstrates this fact as does the pronoun "we" where Paul includes himself in the class of the "strong." These pronouns are in the first and second persons. However, when Paul speaks of "the impotent ones" he speaks in the third person, of a class of people distinct from the members of the church of Rome.

It is also important to notice Paul's instruction for the members of the church, the "strong ones," to "receive" those who are "impotent regarding the faith." If the church at Rome already had members who were "impotent regarding the faith," then his instruction is unnecessary as it was already the practice of the church to "receive" them. The instruction implies that the church had not been previously in the practice of "receiving" them, however. Further, seeing that Paul indicates that "the impotent ones" were not members of the church, he places them in the category of those "without," and not in the category of those "within." (I Cor. 5: 12, 13)

What does Paul have in mind when he instructs the Roman Christians to "receive" those "impotent in the faith"? Some believe that Paul alludes to receiving into church membership such people. But, if this is so, it clearly implies that this was not being done and shows that, at the time he is writing the epistle, there were no members of the church at Rome who were "impotent." This fact would be opposed to the view, however, that the early apostolic churches were composed of both "weak" and "strong."

Further, if Paul is instructing the church of the strong ones to "receive" into church membership those who are "impotent regarding the Christian faith," then he is putting his stamp of approval upon the practice of baptizing those who have not yet fully turned away from polytheism. He would be instructing the church to receive those who are impotent regarding the Christian creed, who do not yet have full conviction "that the idol is nothing," and "that there is none other God but one," etc. He would be countenancing the practice of churches receiving into their membership those who are "impotent" in faith, creed, conscience, and knowledge.

Clearly "receiving" the "impotent ones" does not mean "take into church fellowship," but means simply to "welcome" into their meetings, to show them all fraternity as beloved human neighbors and brothers. This kind of "receiving" is intended to counter the practice of the Roman Christians to "despise" (vs. 3) the "impotent ones." Christians should practice such "receiving" of non-Christians, just as Paul practiced. Near the end of Paul's life, while in Rome, awaiting his trial, Luke says:

"And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him." (Acts 28: 30)

Paul welcomed into his home "all," both weak and strong, and this is the kind of "receiving" that he would want the Christians at Rome to emulate in their associations with unbelievers.

There is, of course, a kind of "receiving" that ought not to be practiced by Christians. John speaks of this in these words.

"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed." (II John 1: 10)

Christians are to practice discrimination in who they "receive." Those who are avowed enemies of the Christian faith, or are heretics and apostates from it, are not to be "received" as others. Such Paul says "don't eat with them." (I Cor. 5: 11)

What is meant when Paul commands the Christians, or "strong ones," to "receive" the unbeliever, or "impotent one," without "doubtful disputations"? Some commentators think that the mental doubts and disputations reside in the mind of the "impotent" and argue that Paul is advising the Christians "not to pass judgment upon the scruples of the impotent ones." But, this is clearly not the case. Paul is rather referring to the mental state of Christians while in the act of "welcoming" unbelievers to their meetings and homes and to their general worldly associations with them. He wants Christians to not act in doubt about the practice of associating with non-Christians. Rather than "despising" their lost heathen neighbors, he would have them to show them all "brotherly kindness."

As has been observed in previous chapters, the first Christians were in doubt about how they should interact with their non-Christian, polytheistic, neighbors and family members. Some thought that there should be absolutely no filial relations at all and Paul countered such thinking in several of his statements in the Corinthian epistles. He argued that there are extremes on both sides of this important question. While Christians are to "come out from among them (unsaved people)" and to be "separate," he nevertheless did not mean that this separation was absolute in every respect, for says he, this would be impossible, "for then must you needs go out of the world." (I Cor. 5: 10) Paul would not have Christians to have inordinate associations with unbelievers but also not to become hermits.

The thing Paul wants to impress upon the Christians is the manner of this "receiving" or "welcoming" of both non-Christians and fellow Christians. "How" should such persons be "received"? Notice these words from the apostle.

"Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God." (Rom. 15: 7)

Here Paul would have Christians to "receive" each other as fellows, or equals, to not discriminate among Christians. They were to "receive" each other as Christians.

"I say again, let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little." (II Cor. 11: 16)

Here Paul speaks of the manner of "receiving" others. Do we "receive" one "as" a fool? "As" one who is "wise"? "As" one who is "weak" or "strong"? "As" one who is a Christian or non-Christian? Though some may have "received" Paul as a "fool," others, he said, "received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus." (Gal. 4: 14)

In concluding this look at Romans 14: 1 it is clear that Paul is not instructing one kind of Christian in how to conduct themselves in their associations with other kinds of Christians but in how Christians, the "strong ones," should conduct themselves in their associations with non-Christians. Nearly every congregation of Christians have "visitors," unsaved people who attend their meetings, and these are to be heartedly "welcomed." That is Paul's teaching in this opening verse of this most important chapter.

In the next chapter a continued analysis of this Romans 14 will continue.

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