Lesson 7 – The Weak and the Strong

The Weak and the Strong

Lesson Aim:     To show that because judgment belongs to God, fellowship can be maintained “in Christ” with Christians who are on different spiritual levels; as well as people from different cultural backgrounds and with different abilities.

Scripture:         Rom. 13:8-15:7.


Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Rom. 15:5, 6

The old adage, “birds of like feathers flock together” appears to be words of wisdom in the world; however, it is not the condition for fellowship in our Lord’s kingdom.  The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17).  This peace is enjoyed by people with backgrounds of Greek, Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, and freeman (Col. 3:11).  There is neither slave nor freeman.  There is neither male nor female in terms of fellowship (Gal. 3:28).

The “in Christ” realm is a realm with an environment where Christians can learn to live with different classes of people in perfect harmony and peace.  In other words, it is possible for “birds of different feathers to flock together” in God’s kingdom.  God’s plan calls for “no schism in the body.”  I Cor. 12:25.  The kingdom of God is a kingdom where “the brother of humble circumstances glories in his high position, and the rich man glories in his humiliation” (Jas. 1:9, 10).

The church of Christ is a church in which God expects the weak and the strong to enjoy fellowship together.  We have been called out of the world into Christ’s kingdom, the future plan is for faithful Christians to inherit God’s kingdom eternally.  Everyone who lives true to his or her calling will live eternally with all others who are true to their calling.  Christians have been born of an imperishable seed.  We can see the importance of the Apostle Paul’s advice to learn the art of sociability with all fellow citizens of Christ’s kingdom now.  Peter stated the theology:

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.  I Peter 1:22, 23

Christians sometime move their membership from one congregation to another simply because they do not like Christians of this or that church family.  They do not want to learn to love them, they just leave them.  This is a display of spiritual blindness in regard to the eternal kingdom.  We can be certain the situation God has set up in time “in Christ’ is to allow Christians to learn to get along with other members of God’s eternal family.

One of the most fundamental concepts of child psychology is to allow a child to learn to fellowship and love others.  God’s program “in Christ” has within its framework a project to rectify the failures of previous training.  The activities in the body of Christ are therapy for those of us who have not learned to fellowship people with other backgrounds.  We must take advantage of this opportunity now if we expect to have eternal life in heaven with them.  Organizations developed by mankind are unable to remove the lines promoting “groups.”   In fact, most organizations plan to have fellowship on different levels.  It is not so in God’s kingdom.  We need to keep in mind Paul addressed a potential fellowship problem in all the new churches because their fellowship involved both Jews and Gentiles.  It was not a specific problem with the saints in Rome.  Paul thought they were doing just fine but the potential for a clash of civilizations existed in the churches (Rom. 15:14).  This is the main reason he wrote this letter.   


Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.        Romans 13:8

And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.  The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand.  Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Rom. 13:11, 12

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.  Rom. 15:1

Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.  Rom. 15:7

The fruit God wants from His creation of mankind is a family for Himself in heaven (Heb. 2:10-13).  The fruit God wants from the church are Christians who are prepared to function in His eternal family.  Christians are in the re-socialization process of putting off the deeds of darkness and putting on the armor of light.  Peoples’ “deeds of darkness” are the results of having been socialized into the world culture.  The processes required to put on the “armor of light” is the re-socialization program happening in a healthy church. 

In the Lord’s church, “none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.”  Rom. 14:7.  We live and die for the Lord because we are the Lord’s.  God sent Jesus to die and to live again “that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”  This is the spiritual view of the church Paul gave to the saints in Rome.  Christians must view the members of the church as citizens of God’s eternal kingdom.  It is not a kingdom of “eating and drinking.”  It is a kingdom of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Rom. 14:17.  It is a place where one Christian builds up another.  It is nothing less than the work of God (14:19, 20). 

The quantity and quality of God’s fruit from His creation is deeply rooted in the success of a local congregation of believers.  Their success is determined by how well they maintain righteousness, peace and joy among all members.  It does not merely pertain to the “faithful few.”  These terms are inclusive all the members of the body of Christ – be they the weak or strong.   See Romans 14:7-13. Although the scenario Paul addresses in our text may seem trivial in relation to all the other issues in this great letter, it is ironic how the success of God’s program to have children in His kingdom depends on the fellowship of the church. 

There are two groups of people who habitually have trouble developing a healthy fellowship in the body of Christ.  They are the strong and the weak.  The weak have a tendency to judge the strong.  The strong sometimes treat the weak with contempt.  In our scripture text the weak refers to a person who is weak in understanding about what is good and what is evil (Rom. 16:19).  They were ignorant of certain freedoms offered to God’s people (I Cor. 8:7-12).  However, they were zealous for the right thing.  Whatever they observed they observed it to the Lord.  They were wrong but they were serious (V. 6).  They were being obedient to the faith they possessed (Rom. 14:23; 16:26).  God did not look on them as sinners.

These weak Christians were different from some who take a legal approach to God’s word.  Legalists suffer with a problem of self-righteousness.  These are neither the weak nor the strong in this text.  Self-righteous people are those who have decided on certain do-s and don’ts.  They assume the position of judge and condemn their brothers and sisters “in Christ” when they do not abide by their rules.  They may not judge to be mean, or even think of themselves as a judge, but since a particular knowledge is their righteousness, they feel they must make judgments (I Cor. 8:1).  We remember Israel had this problem, especially the Pharisees.  It brought about their downfall.  They did not accept God’s righteousness by faith; therefore, they sought to establish their own (Rom. 10:4).  This type of attitude destroys fellowships.  It has, at times, made physical Israel the most hated people on earth.  It has at times brought upon them extremely cruel treatment from those they have judged. 

Paul wrote to help the Christians who were weak in faith by helping them understand some deeper issues were involved in the fellowship of the church.  He sought the help of the strong to arrive at a healthy solution for the sake of the fellowship of the church and for the salvation the Christians who had clashed.  If the weak members did not receive the proper help they might have been in danger of joining the ranks of the legalists.

Now let us consider the strong brothers in our text.  They enjoyed freedom in the things they practiced because they understood sin is lawlessness.  They were concerned with the law of life which results in righteousness, peace, and joy.  Of course, they themselves were not perfect.  In the case in our text, they appeared to suffer from a lack of patience.  Strong members are prone to be impatient with the weak and look down on them with contempt.  This would certainly break up a peaceful fellowship.  Victims of attitudes of contempt have very little defense against those who hold them in contempt.  Weak brothers and sisters who may not have developed love might feel defenseless in regard to those who look down on them with contempt.  They might try to defend themselves by using legalistic tactics.  Paul believed they would be prone to set themselves up as judges.  He wanted both parties to understand God is the judge and each person individually will be judged by Him (14:10). 

The stronger brother has the greater responsibility in maintaining the fellowship of the church (Rom. 15:1).  They must not destroy the weak brothers with their freedom even if it necessary to give up certain things.  The strongest possible premise upon which to appeal for fellowship is this; our brothers are not our servants.  They are the Lord’s.

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.  Rom. 14:9

There is a strong tendency within mankind to make and keep things right.  Moses killed an Egyptian because he thought everyone should understand he was to correct the wrong done to the Israelites (Ex. 2:12).  Jesus did not come into the world to judge the world but to save it.  There will be time enough for judgment.  Now is the time for training in righteousness.  Each member of the church will individually stand before the judgment seat of God.  We do not have the responsibility of correcting our brothers’ every wrong.  We do have a responsibility to stand for truth; however, we need to maintain fellowship with the other servants of Jesus – as far as it depends on us (Rom. 12:18).

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.  Rom. 14:13

How shall we not put an obstacle or stumbling block in our brothers’ way?  For those of us who are prone to judge our brothers we must stop it.  We will be able to stop when we accept the fact; our brothers and sisters belong to Christ.  We do this, even though we believe he or she is wrong in the things they allow.  Jesus Christ is able to make them stand (Rom. 14:4).  What we do is called “bracketing.”  We temporarily “set aside,” or bracket, what we believe is correct for the sake of accomplishing something else.   Paul practiced “bracketing” to win souls for Christ (I Cor. 9:19-23). 

If we consider ourselves to be the strong brother, then we will be willing to accept the fact that our brother can have weaknesses and still be pleasing to God.  We will accept him in fellowship but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinion (Rom. 14:1).  We will accept him as another potential son of God in training.  He is a person with whom we expect to have an eternal fellowship.  We will want to learn to love him fervently.  We will accept him as the Lord’s servant and not ours.  We will not do anything to cause our brother to stumble, even if it causes us to give up a physical blessing (Rom. 14:21).

Not only will we accept their weaknesses, but we will even bear their weaknesses.  We will not cause them to violate their faith by talking them into doing things we know are right within themselves; however, things they believe are wrong.  We are aware that any act committed from a motive other than faith cannot have God’s blessing.  When we start operating outside the realm of the faith system of righteousness, we are in trouble.

But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.  Rom. 14:23

Let us summarize the benefits in a church where the weak do not judge the strong and the strong do not regard the weak with contempt.  First of all, a very unique fellowship will be maintained.  There will be peace between classes who normally are at odds.  The world needs to see a program function like this.  The strong will have had an opportunity to grow stronger because they properly exercised spiritual strength and love.  The weak will have a demonstration of God’s spiritual laws in action.  They were the receivers of love, “agape.”  It will help them to respond with the same quality of love. 

God’s spiritual work will not be torn down for the sake of physical selfishness (Rom. 14:20).  People who are different are able to join together with one voice in praise to God.  Once again, God’s will will be proven by Christians who are willing to renew our minds to be “good, pleasing and perfect.”  Rom. 12:2.   It will happen every time Christians present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices.  The principles of this lesson are also to be practiced toward our neighbors who are not Christians.  They are to be used as tools of evangelism.  “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”  Rom. 15:2

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is it important for Christians to eliminate “groups” in the church?
  2. What does a Christian’s view of eternity have to do with the fellowship of the church?
  3. What will God’s program “in Christ” do for previous training failures?
  4. Why do the weak and strong have a problem with fellowship?
  5. Why does a weak member judge the strong?
  6. Why does a strong Christian avoid a legal approach to religious issues?
  7. What is Paul’s strongest appeal for the prevention of judging among members of the church?
  8. How shall we not put an obstacle or stumbling block in our brother’s way?
  9. Why must we be careful not to talk a weak brother into doing something he or she thinks is wrong, even though it is not?
  10. How can the principles taught in this lesson further the cause of evangelism?

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