The weak Christian is not just the one who believes something which in fact is a Christian liberty is prohibited, but he is one who is inclined to go ahead and follow the example of the strong in spite of his scruples. The weak Christian, then, is not just the one who heartily condemns drinking wine, but who also might drink wine against his conscience because you or I do it. In my estimation, those who preach on the evils of wine so vehemently are not weaker brethren.

The ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’ have several distinct characteristics.

(1) They are weak in faith. Literally, they are weak ‘in the faith’ or ‘in their faith. I suspect that both elements are true. That is, the weak are those who have not yet come to the full realization of the freedom and the liberty which is a part of the faith. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

(2) They are correspondingly weak in their personal faith. A limited understanding of the nature and extent of grace limits subjective faith.

(3) The weak are prone to condemn the actions of the strong. As they have not yet come to understand Christian liberty, they do not accept it in others. The weak can be immediately recognized by the frown of contempt on their faces, and the “Oh, no!” look in their eyes.

(4) The strong are those who are more fully aware of the nature of grace and of the teachings of the word of God. They have a greater grasp of the faith (objective-doctrine) and so their faith (subjective-personal) is stronger.

(5) The strong are susceptible to the sin of smugness and arrogance. They can easily find contempt and disdain for those who cannot fully grasp grace. On their face can be seen the lofty, yet condescending, smile of contempt. Their eyes betray an expression of “Oh, really.”

A Word of Warning. To each of these groups, the strong and the weak, Paul has a word of warning and instruction. The instruction is to stop passing judgment on the convictions of the other, and to welcome them into warm fellowship and acceptance. “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (Romans 14:1).

In verses 1-12, Paul gives us several good reasons why it is wrong for Christians to attempt to correct the convictions of other believers.

(1) Personal convictions are private property. Paul wrote in verse 5: “Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.” Again in verse 22 we are told: “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God …” Paul’s point is uncomfortably clear. Mind your own business! Christian convictions are private property. We are responsible for our own convictions, but not those of our brother.

(2) Our acceptance of men into fellowship should be no more restrictive than God’s. The strong were apparently guilty of getting together with the weak only to ‘straighten them out.’ The effect of the matter was that strong and weak Christians were not associating with one another, or accepting them. We cannot demand the other brother to conform to our convictions before we will fellowship with him simply because this would be inconsistent with the acceptance shown by God. “Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him” (Romans 14:3). If God has accepted our brother, as he is, then we must do no less. We should not try to change the one God has accepted as is.

(3) A servant is accountable only to his master.

That is precisely what Paul is trying to get across to us in verse 4: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls, and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4). If we busy ourselves in judging our brothers, we are taking upon ourselves the prerogatives of God, for He alone is their master.

In verses 6-12, the emphasis of Paul’s words is that the life we live, we live before God. When Paul says in verse 7, “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself,” he does not refer (here) to the impact we have on other men by our actions. Rather he stresses that nothing we do is done independently of God, that whether we live or die, we do so as to the Lord.

He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. … for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:6, 8).

If we wish to busy ourselves with the work of passing judgment, let us concentrate upon ourselves, rather than upon our neighbor, for at the judgment seat of God we will be judged for our own actions: “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10).

The force of Paul’s argumentation is irresistible. The Christian has no business trying to conform his brother to his own personal convictions, since convictions are private property, since God has accepted him as he is, and since every servant is accountable only to his own master.