If asked, most Christians will way they want to see people born-again and gathered into the church. But when those newly-saved actually arrive, some with rough histories and much brokenness, few seem to want to be involved in healing and teaching them. Most long-term Christians prefer to gather with others like themselves and have warm fellowship, and theres certainly nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong when thats all they we want to do, when weve lost our love for the newly-saved or troubled, for those Paul calls here the weak in faith and those Jesus calls His little lambs (Jn 21:15).
People come into Gods family from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are still very wounded, some are fresh out of addictions or demonic control or abuse. Its these Pauls talking about. Hes telling mature believers Be gentle with these people, dont bully them, dont criticize them. Receive them into your gatherings and into your hearts. Yes, of course, there are moral boundaries that cant be ignored, though there are early seasons in a new believers life when we may patiently wait for the Holy Spirit to speak to them before we do.
In this passage Paul addresses both the strong in faith and the weak in faith telling them to love each other. He tells the strong not to despise the weak, and the weak not to judge the strong. But as we might expect he focuses his attention on the strong because unless they choose to welcome the weak and be part of their healing the church in Rome will stop growing.
The situation in Rome
In this section (Ro 14:1-15:13) Paul is teaching a diverse and growing church how to walk according to love (v15). God was bringing in people from very different backgrounds. Some were Jews learning to stand firmly in the righteousness of faith and to reject legalism. Some were Gentiles learning to live obediently to Gods righteous laws instead of the lawlessness they had known before. If the church was going to reach that city it would have to maintain a wide-open door and a warm welcome for all sorts of people. Those who were mature in faith needed to roll up their sleeves and help care for the steady stream of new faces coming in. It was a good problem to have, but it was a problem none the less because some had begun looking down on those less knowledgeable or those with a painful history to overcome. And to make matters worse, some of the new believers were shocked at what they saw long-time believers doing.
What does Paul say?
(v1) Draw close to those who are new believers or still wounded. But when you do make sure you enter into a true friendship with that person, not just watch for an opportunity to criticize them because you think theyre doing something wrong.
(vs2-3) Be patient with those who are less knowledgeable than you or have a painful history to overcome. Sincere believers vary widely in what their consciences allow them to do. And thats okay. Some peoples faith is still weak in areas but that doesnt give those of you whose faith is strong the right to look down on them or push them out of the church. Nor should those of you who see another believer doing something your own conscience would not permit you to do, judge that person deciding they are a sinner or to question whether theyre even saved. God has drawn close to all who believe in His Son.
For example: many in Rome have strong feelings about whether or not to eat the meat sold in the public markets because, as you know, most of that meat comes from the animal sacrifices conducted in the pagan temples scattered throughout the city. That animal was presented as an offering to those gods or goddesses in a service filled with demonic spirits (1Co 10:19-21). Many of you Gentiles have only recently come out of that environment. Youve felt for yourselves the dark enchantments in those ceremonies, youve watched curses implored by pagan priests strike people down, so you know demons exist and want nothing to do with meat left over from those terrible ceremonies. It stirs old memories and feelings you want to forget.
Others of you have been out of those temples long enough that in your minds its just meat, and by the time youve given God thanks for it there are no demons still attached. And some of you Jews dont want to eat any type of meat that hasnt been slaughtered according to Biblical guidelines.
(v4) Lets keep this fact before us, that what really matters is what Jesus thinks about us, not what other people think. He knows whats inside each persons heart, we dont. And remember this, Hes totally committed to that person. He never abandons anyone because theyre weak. He patiently works with us to remove our fears and build our faith until each of us stands firmly in Him.
(v5) I also hear theres arguing going on about which day to gather for worship. Of course, many of you Jews prefer Saturday since its the Sabbath, and you Gentiles prefer Sunday since its the day Jesus rose from the dead. And some are arguing about whether a Christian can still observe Sabbaths and new moons and special feasts that are part of Israels yearly calendar (Col 2:16). Frankly, it doesnt matter whether you do or dont. What does matter is that you follow whats in your conscience. To the best of your ability do what you believe to be right.
(v6) If one of you wants to worship on a certain day go right ahead, with the understanding, of course, that you are in no way earning your righteousness or that you are somehow better than those who dont. And you who feel free to eat meat sold in the markets go for it! And you who dont, dont. But whichever course you take, do what you do as an act of worship.
(v7) Real Christians do everything they do for one reason: to please Jesus. Its actually a great sin to be guided by what others think rather than what God thinks.
(v8) As believers, our greatest desire is to please Him, even if His will leads us to death. Issues like what we eat or what day we worship become opportunities to express our submission to Him.
(v9) By His death and resurrection Jesus became Lord over everything in this life and the next.
(vs10-11) Dont forget, Hes the Judge. It wont be up to us to decide who belongs to Him and who doesnt.
(v12) He will evaluate everything weve done. He will reveal to us our true motives. This fact should cause us to examine our own hearts rather than judge others. Hell look to see if we have selflessly loved people, especially those who are weak.
What Jesus says (Jn 21:4-17)
(vs4-14) guidance in fishing
(vs15-17) if you love me
(v15) feed my lambs (young converts)
(v16) shepherd my little sheep
(v17) feed my little sheep
1) Throw the net where I prophetically direct you.
2) Diligently care for the young and new converts. See that they are spiritually nourished. Dont lose any.
An important truth
Most people arent able to grow spiritually by themselves. In fact, if left uncared for many will function at a level of being barely saved. Their character and morals remain mostly unrefined. Their faith stays weak and if they take no self-initiative it can actually die out altogether. Yes, God will fight to keep us spiritually alive, but the primary way He intends to do this is through His church. He needs loving communities of believers willing to care for the weak and wounded. But sadly, many who grow strong in faith also grow impatient with those who are weak. Instead of helping, they demand more care for themselves. They dont take to themselves those who are weak and help raise Gods family.
Questions for reflection
How many am I willing to love?
Do new believers, children or broken people annoy me?
Who is being healed or growing in faith because of my influence? Who am I mentoring?
Do I know what its like to come to church spiritually thirsty because Ive poured out all I had on others?
Theres a natural life-cycle to this. There are seasons when each of us needs intensive care, and then there are seasons when we start pulling our own weight. We grow selfless. Its not about us anymore. Its about how I can help others. I start teaching others whats been taught to me. And then, I keep doing that for the rest of my life.
1) Who nurtured you as a young believer? How did they do that?
2) Describe a time God used you to heal someone broken, or teach someone.