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Romans 14

Weak In Faith

So, what does Weak in Faith mean? At first, it appears obvious. It’s similar to weak in math. It carries the idea of having trouble with something. Compare weak in math with strong in math. What thoughts come to mind? One makes us think of someone struggling with math – not being very good at math. The other evokes the image of someone who finds math easy and who is very good at math. But is this the correct interpretation of Weak in Faith?

One approach might be to study the use of the word weak in the Bible – particularly the Greek word ασθενέω, which is the word translated weak in Romans 14. From identifying the sick in Matthew 10:8 to the poor in Acts 20:35, ασθενέω always has a meaning that conveys an undesirable condition – sick, feeble, poor, powerless – weak.

But even if we’re satisfied that the obvious meaning of weak is the correct one, how does our understanding of weak in math help us make sense of Weak in Faith? I think the answer can be found by looking for other occurrences of the phrase Weak in Faith. It turns out that there is only one other instance of the phrase in scripture, and it is also in Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

In Romans chapter 4, Paul describes the history of Abraham’s justification and how it was the result of Abraham’s faith alone. Instead of looking at the circumstances he understood (his age, Sarah’s age and barrenness), trusting these circumstances, and becoming weak in faith, Abraham was fully persuaded that God was able to do what He had promised, and Abraham became strong in faith. In Romans 4:19-21, strong in faith is equivalent to belief and weak in faith is a synonym for unbelief.

My opinion is that the phrase Weak in Faith refers to someone who still has trouble believing that their old ideas about earning salvation are completely false. They struggle with their faith. They accept salvation by grace through faith, but they can’t quite shake the idea that they must also abstain from something (meat) or observe some ritual (celebrate special days).

There is one more thing that I think supports my opinion on this: Paul admonishes the not weak to protect the weak, but nowhere makes a plea for the reverse. The poor are never asked to take care of the rich. The sick are never asked to care for the well, nor the blind to care for the sighted. The weak are never asked to help the strong.

All this to say, I believe that the phrase Weak in Faith means what it first appears to mean, and identifies an immature Christian having difficulty letting go of man-made traditions.

Categories
Romans 14

Romans 14:1

Romans 14 begins with the imperative, “accept the one who is weak in faith” [NASB]. The first thing to notice is who this command is given to. This command is given to those who have authority to decide who is accepted into the church and who is not, i.e., the leaders of the church. Paul is telling the church leadership to accept the one who is weak in faith into church fellowship. This tells us something else about those who the command is given to: they are not weak in faith. Notice, also, that there is no command addressed to the weak in faith to accept the one who is not weak in faith.

Paul’s instruction in Romans 14 assumes that church leaders are not weak in faith and that those who ARE weak in faith will not be in positions of church leadership. I think this conclusion is strengthened by Paul’s admonition to those who are not weak in faith to refrain from activities that might harm someone who is weak in faith. The weak in faith are never given a complementary admonition. The weak in faith are to be protected, taken care of, etc.

In my opinion, whatever weak in faith means, those who are in that category should not be in positions of church leadership.