Who Is the Weaker Brother?

(Romans 14)

Lesson 8 -- second quarter 1995
April 23, 1995

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 1995

I have discovered an amazing fact (but then perhaps it isn't so amazing since we are quite human!). Some people (including Mark Roth) at times do not mind considering themselves weak...so they can try to manipulate other people. They know that the Bible expressly commands those who are stronger to "put up with" those who are weaker...and they want to take advantage of that. That may not strike you as so amazing; the amazing part is that these same individuals will take deep offense if others refer to them as weak! If I am indeed weak in a certain area, then it should make no difference who calls me that.

Who is the "weak brother" the Bible refers to? In a broad sort of way, a weak brother is one who has not matured into spiritual strength, vigor and resilience. This lack of maturity may reveal itself in legalistic bondage, in an overly sensitive conscience, or in outright carnality. This shows that "weak brother" is not a label which a child of God will wear with glee or pride.

Furthermore, it is also very important that we realize that not every weak brother is totally weak. As long as we are in the flesh, we will struggle with immaturity in some areas while we exhibit great maturity in other areas. If we focus only on our weaknesses, we will succumb to depression...and we will allow our strengths to atrophy and go unused for the King. On the other hand, if we only concentrate on our strengths, we will succumb to pride...and our unaddressed weaknesses will eventually make us of limited use in the Kingdom. So let's be open and balanced in our view of ourselves...and of our brother.

What should be our response to the weaker brother? Our memory verse (which is directed to the strong brother) makes the strong one at least partially responsible for the spiritual success of the weaker one. I should always be vigilant lest my areas of strength become the rock over which my weaker brother will stumble into spiritual disaster. Verse eleven of our printed text probes, "And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" The natural response to that question is, "Why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience" (1 Corinthians 10:29)? An answer rings forth from Romans 14:15 -- we should not be guilty of undoing the Lord's redemptive work in another's life! But my flesh revolts at having my liberty limited by the "problems" of another person! But if I am as strong, mature and free as I think I am, then I will not live after the flesh!

Galatians 5:13 supports the view that our Christian liberty comes from God Himself. That verse just as clearly states that we have the privilege of forgoing some liberties so that we might "by love serve one another." Romans 15:1 commands the strong not to please themselves, but rather, to bear the infirmities of the weak. And the verse after that calls on us to please our neighbor so that we might be able to edify him. Romans 15:3 reminds us that "even Christ pleased not himself."

"Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus" (Romans 15:5). The context of this verse begins at 14:1 and has as its theme accepting, getting along with and bearing the burden of the weaker brother. Therefore, Romans 15:5 is a call to cheerfully submit ourselves to another person's spiritual limitations.

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