What is a weaker Christian? (part 2)

Christians are, by definition, people who follow Jesus Christ. What He says, we obey. But what about those topics where His word doesn’t give clear direction one way or the other? What about areas of belief and behavior like music styles, tattoos, R-rated movies, alcohol, public education, vaccines, clothing styles, and marijuana? The list of so-called disputable matters changes with place and time, but there have always been and will likely always be subjects about which Christians disagree.

Paul acknowledged that the problem existed even in the earliest days of the church: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Rom 14:5-6).

In last week’s column, I explained that, when it comes to disputable areas like these, stronger Christians have a responsibility to protect weaker ones—that is, those whose weak faith and weak understanding causes them to hold to a higher, more restrictive standard. Stronger Christians must act in such deferential love that they would prefer to set aside their liberty rather than to embolden one of their weak-willed siblings to follow that example and thus sin against their own weak conscience. To do otherwise would be to lead a fellow believer into sin—to “make my brother stumble,” as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 8:7-13.

But sometimes when you exercise your liberty in Christ, other Christians don’t “stumble”; they just get offended. Your behavior doesn’t lead them to violate their conscience; they just don’t like what you are doing. What then?

First, recognize that these people should not be considered weaker Christians. You’re not obligated to restrict your liberty for them, specifically because they’re not tempted join you in your behavior. They are sufficiently strong in will and conscience—if anything, they are weak in love and graciousness! Simply explain your reasons graciously, but proceed with your Christian liberty intact. Next, do everything you can to show love to them. Pray for them. Serve them in practical ways. Strive to build them up in the Lord. And finally, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with them.