But there’s more: I think the weaker person is actually affected by the things he believes have power over his life. He is drawn toward, tempted by, those things he is afraid of. What that means is that he will be more likely to act on them, more likely to be hurt by them, than the strong person. The strong person has no fear of those things and is, therefore, less attracted to them.
It seems to me that it is because of this attraction that the stronger brother ought to be careful around the weaker. The weaker brother is more open to damage and addiction, simply because he believes these things have power. The stronger can have a glass of wine at dinner, for example, but he must remember that his weaker brother sees the alcohol quite differently.
The real teaching of weaker vs stronger is surprisingly simple, I think. The weaker person is the one who believes that his spiritual security or progress is affected by the outside world—the things he touches, sees, eats, hears, etc. As long as the world can affect his spiritual life, he is at risk. He must be very careful all the time. The strong person, on the other hand, is the one who knows that he is absolutely secure in the love of God; that nothing earned him his salvation and nothing can take it away or damage it.
When the weaker person accidently drinks alcohol that has been mixed into a punch, he becomes afraid and angry. The same thing happens when he flips a television channel and sees something he believes is wrong. He worries that what he sees will defile him and he suffers. When the strong person experiences these things he can simply move on in freedom and peace. He knows that these things cannot touch him spiritually.
There are still consequences, of course. When either of these people drink too much alcohol and become drunk, for example, they can suffer or inflict physical harm. But, even then, the strong believer knows of God’s continual forgiveness and continues his walk. The weak believer suffers shame and guilt. This is not freedom to sin, as some would accuse, but freedom from sin’s effects in the spiritual realm. In the physical/temporal realm, sin continues to have serious effects.
I recently received a question that opened my thinking to the whole “stronger vs weaker” teaching in the church. Identifying who is stronger and who is weaker has been a matter of strange ideas and viewpoints. Because many are confused about this, I offer some thoughts. This will take a few posts.
This whole teaching about the weaker and stronger brethren was twisted and warped until it was grotesque in the legalist circles I was in. People would come to me, as the pastor, and tell me that the church had to adopt certain restrictions or they would be offended by something. They took some kind of pride in being the weaker brethren. At one point we were asked to label the ingredients of any hotdish brought to a potluck supper, not for allergies or health concerns, but for Old Testament dietary restrictions. Some were concerned that they might accidently eat pork. We were expected to edit videos shown in Sunday School and sing only certain kinds of music. It was all done under this “don’t offend the weaker brethren” dogma.
The fascinating thing was that when I confronted them with the idea that the people who were able to eat ham or drink alcohol or watch tv would then be the stronger Christians, they balked. They didn’t really like that. No one wanted to be seen as weaker unless it gave them power to make others change! They also didn’t seem to like the idea that the weaker brethren should seek to become stronger. Bottom line: it was just another one of their deceptive techniques.
Have you experienced this? Comments?