Who really is the Weaker Brother?

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” [Romans 14:1]

If a fellow Christian were to approach me and ask me whether or not Christians should watch secular films, I will strive to answer the question in his heart, not his mind. I will not respond to him with a definitive “Yes,” or “No.” I will answer him with a question: “Why do you ask?” and then we’ll move on from there…

I have observed with great sadness, among the Christian circles (especially in social media and other forms of online broadcast media), that Christian liberty or freedom has been grossly misinterpreted and misapplied. Nobody, I included, seems to care about the weaker brother anymore. Equally sad, is that nobody seems to care about the stronger brother anymore (you will find out why I’ve equated this second scenario soon). Nobody seems to have the time to slow down and wait for those who “they consider” slow in understanding. The weaker brother is now regarded as a stumbling block, forgetting that, ironically, it is the stronger brother who is referred to as the stumbling block by God. (Rom 14:13).

The weaker brother is now regarded as a nuisance that should be ignored in our attempts to flex our spiritual muscles and exercise our freedoms. The weaker brother is treated like the slow student in classroom who should be ignored for the class to continue. This, I have observed both in my own interactions with those I would consider weaker brothers, along with those I would consider stronger brothers.

However, the saddest observation in all this, has been the fact that we actually consider weak to mean intellectually and theologically immature.

First of all, let me explain what I mean by a weaker or a stronger brother in this particular context. A stronger brother, according to Romans 14, is (allegorically) the person who BELIEVES that it is inconsequential whether you go to church on Sunday or Saturday. A weaker brother, on the other hand, is one who BELIEVES the opposite – that people should only go to Church on Sunday (or only on Saturday) and that anyone going to church on any other day is blaspheming against God. I hope you get the drift. The difference between a stronger and a weaker brother in this post is one of theological opinion regarding “disputable matters” (Rom 14:1). ((There are matters that are indisputable, we’ll address this in a later post)). This means that the brother who considers one day more sacred than the other may actually be considered strong. It just depends on what the prevailing theology is at that place and time.

I have interacted with several “stronger” brothers and disagreed with them over various issues. For instance, a stronger brother might BELIEVE that it is ok to play secular music in church. He believes that all music, just like food, belongs to God. But I, as the weaker brother, am not comfortable with this. I still BELIEVE that some music is a form of sacrifice to the devil. I still BELIEVE that playing that music (even after refining the lyrics) in church is still blasphemous and offensive to God. I believe that doing such a thing is a sin and offering a sacrifice to the devil. So, how is the stronger brother supposed to address me? The Bible provides a rather straight-forward answer:

“If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.” Romans 14:15

The Bible clearly states that the stronger brother should stop doing what he is doing because it is distressing his weaker brother. God seems to give preference (if not priority) to the weaker brother, not because the weaker brother is right, but because he is weak. God wants to strengthen his faith rather than shatter the little faith he has. But this isn’t always what happens in the church today. This isn’t what happened to me. The stronger brother in this case told me that I should “stop listening to the music” if I think it will stumble me. That’s not right. The Bible says the opposite! You stop playing the music because it will stumble me! If a weaker brother believes that listening to secular music is a sin, you, the stronger brother should stop listening to secular music for his sake.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (1 Cor 10:24)

However, in trying to weave our way through the whole strong vs weak brother issue, we often overlook a more important party, our individual hearts. Yes, it’s true that the stronger brother should not tell the weaker brother to stop listening to his secular songs. But it is also true that the weaker brother should indeed stop listening if he believes that the music will stumble him. Do you see the fine print? (Or rather, the bold print? 🙂 )

I’ll put it another way. Yes, it’s true that the stronger brother is supposed to stop playing the music because he is now aware that it will stumble the weaker brother. But it is also true that the stronger brother should tell the weaker brother to stop listening to such music if it will stumble him. Confused? I hope not.

The stronger brother should indeed tell the weaker brother to stop listening, but that should only be because He is echoing God’s Word – the command that one should avoid whatever he doubts (Rom 14:23). The stronger brother should not be saying this in an attempt to get himself out of the hook so that he can keep on playing. He should be saying this out of love and concern for the faith of the weaker brother. This means that, above stopping his own music, he should go the extra mile of helping the weaker brother avoid similar music by others until the day he will come to the light regarding the music. That’s what love does. It doesn’t get us off the hook, it actually gets us hooked to each other for the sake of Christ. Who knows, it may end up being that it was the stronger brother who was wrong all along! Or even stranger, that the problem was not music to begin with…

When our focus is each other, neither of us ends up doing the right thing, even though we are both “obeying” the Bible. But when the focus is Christ and our relationship with and in Him, the stronger brother stops playing for the sake of the Gospel and the weaker brother stops listening for the sake of the Gospel. Righteousness is never relative, unless God is the standard, not each other.

Until we realize this, we will always be ineffective and unloving Christians. The issue is not whether playing secular music in church is wrong or right (who knows for sure?). The real issue is that;

The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

You may have realized by now, that it doesn’t matter what the correct interpretation of the Bible is, regarding the playing of secular music in church. What matters is whether or not love takes precedence over this knowledge.

Knowledge puffs up, but loves builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)

The right answer coming from the wrong heart is still a wrong answer.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Romans 14:19

Grace & Peace

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