Do you feel weak, or do you feel strong?
It probably depends exactly what I’m asking you about – physical strength? Emotional strength? Mental strength? Paul adds another area to the list in Romans 14 – we might call it spiritual strength. We’ve been looking at it over the last few weeks in the evening services. Paul identifies two groups in the church – the strong and the weak. Both groups are Christians, both groups are just as much members of the church as the others. But there is a difference between them. ‘The Strong’ are so called because they have a strong grasp on their Christian freedom. They understand that their faith in Christ has released them from the endless need to please God through rituals such as observing special holy days or avoiding unclean food. ‘The Weak’ on the hand, have yet to grasp this.
Now what is very striking is the way Paul instructs the ‘The Strong’ to handle this situation. He does not say, “You strong, you need to show these weak guys how to really live as a free Christian – get them round to dinner and serve as much ‘unclean’ food as possible and show them it doesn’t really matter.” Instead, he says, “You strong, use your strength to serve the weak, and if necessary – even though you and I know you are free – give up your freedom and be gentle with your weaker brothers.” That’s the way of Christ!
But it’s not the way of the world – in the world (just as in nature) the strong ‘eat’ the weak. They pushthem around and get their own way. Paul was addressing a specific issue but the principle behind it is that in the church we use our strength to serve people weaker than ourselves. It is a shame when we fail in this, or when church is seen as just a place for ‘strong people’ who have got their lives together. Barbara Brown Taylor was a minister in the US. She decided to leave her position in part because of the church’s failure in this kind of area:
I rejoice to see the culture that the gospel has created at St. Andrew’s. The gospel tells us that Jesus, the glorious Son of God, the treasure of heaven from before time began – the ‘strongest’ person you could possibly imagine – this Jesus left all that behind to serve the weak, to come and be our Saviour! This is the Jesus we worship, this is the Saviour we follow.
No doubt we have a long way to go and have failures to confess. But let us go on striving to create a gospel culture and seeking to serve those weaker than ourselves – both inside and outside the church.
‘For even Christ did not please himself…’
With love in Christ,