Pentecost 15 “The Strong and The Weak”
September 13, 2020: Romans 14:1-4
May you receive from God the good you have note deserved, not get the bad you have, and may you have peace with God because of the blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
It is easy for us to forget things. I know this because I too forget things all the time. Even when it comes to what we are doing here this morning it is easy to forget what we are supposed to be doing. It is my job for us to remind you. We have heard God’s Word read, and yet, it is often difficult to take what it is saying and connect it to our lives. Right now, I am about to preach to you God’s Word. By God’s power, it will be explained to you, it will be applied to you, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, it will take root in your heart and bear good fruit in the life you live. So let me remind you to actively listen this morning. As you are listening to this sermon, apply these things to your own life. Challenge your thinking. Redirect your focus from yourself to God and to your neighbour. Listen, and may you receive from God again what you need to live as His child.
Giving up Convictions
What are you convinced of? For example, are you convinced that slicing an onion with the root end down and then along the edges is the only way to cut an onion finely? Marion is.
Or, are you convinced that driving the speed limit of 90km along our highway is dangerous because most people go 100km?
Are you convinced that the Toronto Maple Leafs are the best team?
What else in your life are you convinced of?
How good are you at giving up your convictions?
If somebody cuts an onion a different way than you think is best, how do you react?
If you come up behind somebody going 90km/h how do you treat them?
If somebody’s favourite team is not the Leafs, what do you think of them?
Do you attack people who think different than you? Do you engage them in debate? Do you think less of them? Do you pity them or passive-aggressively attack them? While you are convinced in your own mind of something, how do you react to others who are convinced in a different way?
Perhaps this question is hard for you to answer. Maybe it entirely depends on the “thing” you are convinced of whether you are willing to give up your conviction or not.
Now, I do not want you to think I am advocating for blindly giving up your convictions to please others. In fact, when it comes to the Gospel, our conviction about God’s love for us in Jesus should never change. “Giving up” our convictions is not even really what is in mind here. What is in mind is how you treat, and think, of others whose convictions are different – especially your brothers and sisters in Christ.
I am, of course, focusing us on the Epistle Reading from Romans 14. We are talking about the strong and the weak in faith who are present in our church.
Story of Brothers
Let us look at the theology presented in the text as a made-up narrative.
Let’s say there are two brothers, Jeff and Stanley. Jeff is 8 years old and Stanley is 6. Jeff and Stanley are going to be left at home for an hour in the afternoon while their parents go out. Before their parents leave the house, they turn to their kids and tell them “While we’re gone, help yourself to the things in the fridge, don’t make a mess, okay?” “Yes, mom and dad” say the boys in unison – perhaps a little apathetically.
Jeff and Stanley’s parents leave. The kids wander into the kitchen.
Jeff, a very mature and capable young man, reaches into the fridge to grab the big 4 litre jug of milk; and, after plunking it on the counter, goes into the cupboard to grab a glass. “What are you doing?” asks little Stanley. “Pouring myself a glass of milk” says Jeff. Stanley stops for a moment and thinks to himself: “Pouring a glass of milk from that big jug would definitely end up in a big mess. Would I try to pour myself a glass of milk, too? No. I would not risk it just to be safe.”
Jeff, confident and strong, grabs the big jug of milk. Stanley watches intently. Jeff’s arms shake slightly, but he successfully pours himself a glass of milk, spilling a single drop but quickly licking it up. No mess.
Jeff, proud of grabbing something from the fridge as his parents allowed AND not making a mess proudly smiling looks over to his little brother, “Should I leave the milk out for you to pour yourself a glass?” “No thanks” says Stanley. Jeff thinks, “I bet he could do it in a few months. Mom and dad did say it was okay for him to have something from the fridge. That’s okay. Maybe we’ll go in the backyard and throw a baseball around to help get him get stronger. I’ll let him know how impressed I am with his arm strength and maybe later he’ll be able to pour himself a glass too.”
“Let not the one who [pours milk] despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who [pours the milk], for [the parents] have welcomed him.”
The brothers do not quarrel. Stanley does not say to Jeff, “You big dummy! You’re going to spill and make a big mess!” And Jeff does not say, “You weakling! You should be up here pouring yourself a glass, too!” Each one is fully convinced in their own mind about their own abilities. Each one respects the other. Yet, Jeff still desires his little brother to be stronger and subtly works to strengthen him without forcing his own convictions on him. And maybe, just maybe, if Stanley expressed his fear to Jeff, Jeff would opt out of pouring himself a glass of milk and grab them both a couple of juice boxes from the fridge instead.
Each child has to give an account to the parents when they return about any mess they would have made. Jeff’s punishment would not come from his little brother, but from his parents. Stanley’s too would be from his parents when they returned.
Strong and the Weak
The strong in their faith are those who know their Christian freedom, and know in Christ, they are free. “To the pure, all things are pure” Titus 1:15. They live their lives to Christ knowing His commands and loving God and neighbour. In matters of opinion, the strong always work to use their freedom to avoid causing a stumbling block for their weaker brother.
The weaker brother in their faith will often feel bound by all the laws around them. Their conscience will be bound on any decision they make. They are not to look to their stronger brothers around them and pass judgment on them for living out their Christian freedom.
Each, both the strong and the weak, ought to look to the needs of the other and not to their own. The strong in their faith, especially, ought to use their freedom for the sake of their weaker brother. Remember the sermon last week about caring for the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven? The weaker brother is the one Jesus calls the greatest. That the weaker brothers’ faith would not be damaged but be given room to grow and flourish.
In all the things we do, weak in faith or strong, we do them to God. We all live not for our own wants, needs, or desires, but we live for Christ’. And we do not die for our own desires either, but for Christ’s.
We are His. We are not our own. Because Jesus lived and died, he can be Lord of the living and the dead. Which is good news for us now and for when we die. Jesus is still our Lord in death and He has resurrection power. Jesus calls the strong weak and the weak strong. He calls those who rely on themselves and their own power weak in faith and those who know they have no strength in them apart from God He calls strong. God humbles the proud and uplifts the needy.
He forgives massive debts. He forgives your debts of sin. He forgives your pride. He forgives your judgements of your brothers and sisters. He forgives your weakness of faith. Be forgiving. Be humble. Esteem your brother and sister. Be strong in faith.
You are not perfect. Yet You are forgiven. Jesus paid that debt you owe.
May he continue to be merciful to you as you live your life to Him.
Thanks be to God for His mercy.