The Final Exhortation
Who are the weak and the strong believers?
The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome concerning the issues of eating meat and esteeming days. He divided the believers into two groups: the weak and the strong. But the weak believer was not one who was weak morally or spiritually. We know that his weakness was not a moral or doctrinal issue, because Paul told the other believers to “receive” the weak brother (Rom.14:1). Those involved in false doctrine or immorality were to be rejected by the congregation, not received (Rom.16:17). The weak brother was weak in “the faith” (Rom.14:1). Being weak in the faith meant that he was weak in his understanding of Christian doctrine. He did not yet understand the fact that he was not under the yoke of the Mosaic Law. He was not bound by the Levitical dietary laws or the Jewish ceremonial special days. He had the liberty as a Christian to eat meat or not eat meat. He had the liberty as a Christian to observe special days or not observe them. He was free in Christ, but the weak believer did not yet understand this truth. The implications of his freedom had not yet sunk in, and thus his conscience pricked him about issues that were perfectly acceptable before God. His conscience did not have all the information it needed to make the right judgment. Thus, he was weak in “the faith.”
A weak brother can be either carnal or spiritual. A weak brother was carnal if he judged a stronger brother, say, for eating meat (Rom.14:3). However, a weak brother could also be spiritual, if he practiced his Christian life according to his convictions and did not violate his conscience. He could “not eat” and do so for the glory of God (Rom.14:6). Being weak in the faith is tantamount to being ignorant of some truth, and it is no sin to be ignorant. It is far more important before the Lord to be spiritual than it is to be knowledgeable. Knowledge tends to “puff up” (I Cor.8:1). Of course the long range goal is for the weak brother to learn and to become strong in “the faith” AND to be spiritual (Spirit led and Spirit filled).
Interestingly, a strong brother can also be either carnal or spiritual. A strong brother was knowledgeable in Christian doctrine and he understood his liberties in Christ. But being knowledgeable does not guarantee that he would be spiritual. A strong brother was carnal if he looked down upon his weaker brother for not eating meat or for esteeming days. Paul condemned the strong believer for that in Romans 14:3. Some of the strong believers who “ate” meat were despising their weaker brothers who did not. Presumably the same carnal behavior took place with respect to the esteeming of days. Knowledgeable believers can become proud of their knowledge and Paul dealt with that sinful behavior in I Cor. 8:1-2. But of course a strong believer can also be spiritual, if he is Spirit led in the practice of his liberty and he does all for the glory of God, with his brother’s best interest in mind (I Cor.8:8-9; Rom. 14:6-8).
Thus, both strong and weak believers can be either carnal or spiritual. Being weak or strong in these contexts has nothing to do the moral character of the person. It has only to do with his knowledge and understanding. A brother is either weak or strong in “the faith”, the body of Christian doctrine.
Let’s relate this information to the issue at hand: celebrating Christmas. Who is the weak brother? Is it the one who celebrates Christmas or the one who does not celebrate Christmas? I hate to disappoint anyone who was looking for ammunition to use against the “other side”, but it is impossible to tell if a brother is weak or strong by observing his practice. In order to tell if a brother is weak or strong in this area one must know his motive and REASONS for his practice.
Those who do not celebrate Christmas are weak in the faith if their practice is based on a belief that the Bible forbids it, or that their walk with God depends upon abstaining from “esteeming the day.” Such an one is also weak in the faith if he does not celebrate Christmas because someone told him it was wrong, and he is basing his practice on what another man told him (Acts 17:11). However, if a brother knows that the Bible says nothing about Christian holy days (neither requiring nor forbidding them) and he knows that Christians have liberty to decide for themselves, as led by the Spirit, then he is strong in the faith, even if he chooses not to esteem a day that he knows he has liberty to esteem. A believer who chooses not to eat meat is strong in the faith if he knows that he has liberty to do so (I Tim.4:4-5) and chooses (for other reasons) to remain a vegetarian. Similarly, if after looking at the tainted history of Christmas traditions, a believer decides that the best way to glorify God is to abstain from “esteeming the day,” then he too is strong in the faith. Some believers who do not celebrate Christmas are weak and some are strong in the faith. You simply cannot tell by observing their practice. God sees the heart. The particular practice isn’t all that significant to God, but the REASONS for their practice is of great concern to the Lord.
Those who do celebrate Christmas are weak in the faith if their practice is based on a belief the Bible requires it, or that their walk with God depends upon it. If a believer esteems the day because he had been taught in his former religious life that Christmas is a mandatory “holy day of obligation,” and that is still his thinking, then he is a weak brother. However, if a brother knows that the Bible neither requires nor forbids it, and his conscience does not forbid it, then he has the liberty to esteem the day as unto the Lord. He is a strong believer. Timothy chose to practice circumcision, even though he knew that he was not required by God to do so. He chose to submit to circumcision because he believed that if he did not get circumcised, it would hinder his ability to reach Jews for Christ (Acts 16:3; I Cor.9:20-21). Similarly, many Christians today believe that by not celebrating Christmas, they might hinder their ability and lessen opportunity to reach others for Christ. At this time of year the religious unsaved (who come to church on Christmas and Easter) are more likely to accept an offer to come to church and hear a gospel presentation. Those believers are strong in the faith if they know that they don’t have to celebrate Christmas, but chose to do for other reasons.
Thus, some believers who celebrate are weak in the faith and some are strong in the faith. You simply cannot tell by observing their practice. Motive and reason for the practice are paramount. And if I recall, we are not to judge others on the basis of motives or the intents of their hearts (I Cor.4:5; Rom. 14:10).