1Receive into your circle of fellowship one who is weak in faith. And don’t do it to dissect his viewpoint. 2For one person believes he can eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. — Romans 14:1-2
I have had a lot of fun with this text. You see, I’m a vegetarian, out of preference, not out of religious conviction, yet I love to read verse 2, and see people react. It’s always good for a laugh.
Part of the laugh is because they know I’m a vegetarian, but the other part of it is because I’m identifying myself, even in jest, as weak in faith, or perhaps just weak. Somehow we have the feeling that this is not the way to do it. I’m supposed to be doing the receiving into my circle, and some other, unidentified brother or sister is the weak one. Calling oneself weak sounds like a sort of self-deprecating humor.
Why is it that we always identify ourselves with the strong ones? Well, in many ways it’s a very good thing that we do, because if most of us saw ourselves as the weaker brother or sister here, who would be doing the receiving? Now I translated Paul’s Greek idiom into â€œdissecting his viewpoint.â€ You could also translate â€œniggling and nitpicking.â€
You see, Paul is trying to get at all of us and the way we receive people that we think need to be corrected and fixed. The guy who eats only vegetables could quite easily take the role of the strong in the faith. In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in which I grew up, most people are vegetarians. It’s not a rule, but at least in the United States it’s a very strong custom. The person who eats meat is often looked upon as â€œnot quite there yet.â€ We could reverse the text for their fellowships, and one would say to accept the person who just has to eat some meat, and do so without picking his viewpoint apart. They would claim that the strong have the courage and will power to be vegetarians, while the weak go ahead and eat some meat.
I reversed that to help us break free from the specific issue Paul was addressingâ€”eating meat offered to idols. When I pick up a steak for Jody at the store, I don’t have to check the label to see if a portion has been offered to idols in the local temple. That’s not my issue.
But accepting a brother or sister who differs with me is very much my issue, and I think it’s an issue in the many churches. There’s a key element to Paul’s command to accept. He tells us to do it without picking the person’s views apart. Very often we accept someone because we believe that they will become acceptable to us over time. We accept them into fellowship, but only on the basis that they become more and more like us. We accept, with a side order of criticism.
If we could just see ourselves in the place of the weaker brother or sisterâ€”and I suspect we are all there from time to timeâ€”perhaps we would learn to be more gentle. We would know that our own views and our own behavior are not always better than everyone else’s.
Read the story of the woman who was taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), then ask, â€œDo I see myself in the crowd standing around? Am I holding a stone? Or am I on the ground, looking up into the face of Jesus and hearing, â€œNeither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more!â€