11 Jun 2021
A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 14:2-15:13. Our relationship to the weak: 2). The negative consequences.
a). Do not despise or condemn the weak person (14:2-13a).
It may be helpful, in order that we may grasp the drift of Paul’s argument, to highlight each particular theological truth on which his exhortations are based. There are four.
(i). Welcome him because God has welcomed him (2-3).
Paul chooses the dietary question as his first illustration of how the weak and the strong, the fearful and the free, should behave toward one another. *One man’s faith allows him to eat everything*, his freedom in Christ having liberated him from unnecessary scruples about food, *but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables* (2). This is probably not because he is a vegetarian on principle or for health, but because the only foolproof way of ensuring that he never eats non-kosher meat is not to eat any meat at all. How are these Christians to regard one another? *The man who eats everything* (the strong) *must not look down on him who does not* (who is weak on account of his scruples), *and the man who does not eat everything* (the weak) *must not condemn the man who does* (who is strong on account of his liberty).
It is uncertain why the strong are forbidden to ‘despise’ the weak, and the weak to ‘condemn’ the strong. Perhaps it is that, whereas the strong might be tempted to pity the weakness of the weak, the weak might regard the strong, who have abandoned Israel’s time-honoured traditions, as having committed apostasy and therefore as deserving condemnation. Whether this is correct or not, the reason both the despising and the condemnation of a fellow Christian are wrong is that *God has accepted him* (3). How dare we reject a person whom God has accepted? Indeed, the best way to determine what our attitude to other people should be is to determine what God’s attitude to them is. This principle is better even than the golden rule. It is safe to treat others as we would like them to treat us, but it is safer still to treat them as God does. The former is a ready-made guide based on our fallen self-centredness, while the latter is a standard based on God’s perfection.