As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand (Rm. 14:1-4).
What is an opinion? An opinion is a belief or conviction that does not have substantial support. When spoken of with regard to the church, it is a matter that is more often than not rooted in a particular culture and that has found its way into Christian practice but does not have Scriptural mandate. The examples of opinions are many, and it is opinions, not biblical doctrine, that has caused the most divisions within the church.
What are some of these opinions? In this particular passage, the example given is the opinion that eating certain foods are dishonoring to God against the opinion that all things may be eaten to God’s glory insofar as they are taken with thanksgiving. And though this is the particular example of our present passage, it is by no means the only example. The apostle goes on to include in the matter of opinions the esteeming of particular days and feasts, the drinking of wine, etc. And while that is the scope of the apostle’s examples, this instruction can go on to include a host of other opinions–e.g. the use of tobacco, the clothes that one wears, the playing of cards, etc.–all of which are opinions that are rooted in the culture in which our church finds itself.
What is not opinion are those things which are clearly rooted in Scripture, i.e. doctrine. These things are to be discussed and enforced within the church without question, and they range from the right teaching of the Gospel to the practice of homosexuality to a host of other things. The difference between doctrine and opinion are quite clear when the Scriptures are taught and meditated upon, and the Scriptures are the only basis upon which division and discipline can rightly take place within the church.
Regarding opinions, it is the stronger in the faith who bear the greater burden over the weaker. For it is the strong who know the Scriptures and the decrees of the Lord well, and it is they who have the greater understanding as to what is opinion and what is doctrine. However, the burden that the stronger bear is not the burden of capitulation, but it is the burden of hospitality. For the apostle’s instruction is not for the strong to find the smallest common denominator with the weak, but it is to welcome them with genuine love and respect and not to judge or to criticize them for a conviction based upon opinion in their spiritual infancy. The great hope in this is that the weak through love and instruction will become strong in the faith, and that they will one day stand on their own and discern for themselves what is opinion and what is doctrine in their own hearts. Until that point, the stronger are to bear the weaker in love and put opinions where their belong–behind personal doors.
In this particular matter, what the apostle is not speaking about is the opinions of Pharisees who seek to ruin the church by their legalism and false teachings. For there are many in the church who know the Scriptures well, and yet they propagate their traditions in spite of what they know. These, rather than being loved, are to be loathed by the church. For it is they who distort the Gospel, and it is they who cause divisions within the church for the sake of their own appearance of piety, and it is they who despise the weak and do not welcome them in love. For their greatest concern is not the clear teaching of the Word of God, but it is their man-made traditions that they hold in higher regard than the Scriptures. It is clear who these are, and they are to be rebuked and cast out of the fellowship of the saints rather than suffered.
However, it is possible for those who are strong in the faith to hold to particular traditions and opinions insofar as they know that they are traditions and opinions and treat them as such. For a strong person in the faith might abstain from certain foods for the sake of opinion or preference, but he recognizes it as opinion or preference and does not hold his standard over others in the church, but he loves them and welcomes them in spite of his tradition or opinion. He might entertain questions as to why he does one thing and does not do another, but he never holds that standard over others, and he never esteems one less for not holding to his own particular practices. Therefore, he recognizes, as the apostle intimates in this section, that love and unity are essential and that the only grounds for faithful practice are the Scriptures.
Categories: Fridy Night Bible Study