There are all kinds of people in the world and in the church. Some are physically strong while others are not. Some are emotionally sensitive and others are not. Some are very intelligent, while some are mentally challenged. When we come to Christ in salvation it changes our destiny, perspective, relationships but not necessarily our basic personality.
Glancing at I Thessalonians 5:14, we see that some in this church were characterized as unruly, some fainthearted and some weak. That described the basic makeup of these individuals, and the leadership was to respond differently to each of the personalities. If a person is fainthearted (fearful) does it mean they are spiritually immature? If they are weak (spiritually or morally weak) does it mean immaturity?
For example, say there is a man whose background was steeped in immorality and pornography. He comes to Christ and is saved and begins growing as a Christian. In doing so he concludes that he should not go to the beach on vacation because he would put himself in a place of temptation that has been a problem in the past. Is he weak or strong? He is weak. But there is evidence of maturity on his part. The converted alcoholic may wisely choose to avoid venues where alcohol is served.
Let’s review: What are “doubtful things?” These are issues that are not specifically commanded or forbidden in scripture. We are not talking about fundamentals of the faith, or basic doctrines such as sin, the deity of Christ, salvation by faith or clear commands against lying or adultery.
In 1 Corinthians 14:2, we see the marks of the weak. The weak are those who have a sensitive conscience because of background, personality or training and are not able to participate in some area of liberty that other Christians may be fine with. Never violate your conscience (I Corinthians 8:7)! The weak also tend to judge those who enjoy Christian liberties (v3b). If they are not careful, they will pigeon-hole other believers according to their checklists. To impose your personal (non-Biblical) restrictions on other believers is to go beyond the Word of God. Obviously, I’m not talking about parents with their children – sorry kids, parents’ rule.
First Corinthians 14:1 and 15:1 inform us of the marks of the strong. They are accepting of those who hold different opinions about non-doctrinal matters. They are not to argue or despise (look down their nose) at their weaker brothers who don’t have the same liberties that they enjoy. They understand, appreciate and enjoy the liberties God has given but they are not self-centered or reckless in the exercise of their liberty (14:15, 21).
Today we will examine the first point in our outline of this passage, receive one another without judging (14:1-12).
In the first three verses, we have two commands. First, the strong (those whose consciences allow them certain liberties) are not to reject, dismiss or argue with the weak, but instead receive them. Secondly, the weak (those whose consciences don’t allow them certain liberties) are not to judge or separate from those who have liberty. These are both commands and to violate them is sin! Yet that was going on in the church at Rome, and it is a problem today. The strong often look down their noses at the weak thinking, “You immature legalists, why don’t you grow up?” And the weak often separate from the strong thinking “Your standards aren’t high enough for me to fellowship with you!”
Who made you the judge? Jesus Christ is the Judge and he has accepted both the strong with their liberties and the weak with limitations. The reality is whether we are talking about diets (meat or vegetarian), holidays (Christmas trees or Easter eggs), going to the beach or the theater, or playing cards, any matter that is not forbidden in scripture is liberty. If an individual isn’t violating his conscience, then it is acceptable to the Lord. Paul’s advice is for every believer to use his mind, renewed by scripture, coupled with the Holy Spirit’s leading and then act accordingly. The indisputable point here is that people with opposing viewpoints on non-essentials can both be perfectly right with God. Another way of saying it is that God is blessing people with whom you disagree!
So what do we separate over? Doctrinal matters, not doubtful things! There are three things in scripture that we separate from: the ungodly world system (I John 2:15-17; I Cor 15:33); unbelieving religious leaders (II Cor 6:14-17; II John 9-11); unrepentant, sinning brothers (Matt 18:15-17; I Cor 5:9-13; II Thes 3:6-15). To apply the separation principles to doubtful things is a violation of these passages and it is sin! But that is exactly what many churches, institutions, and people of God have done. It grieves God, causes division in the body of Christ, and hinders our work and testimony to the world. God wants each individual to make his or her own choices (5-9). God will hold each accountable for his choices (10-12).
“Unless the church can find a clear warrant from scripture for a particular teaching or practice it may not speak or act. Otherwise, it runs the risk of binding the consciences of believers and usurping the Lordship of Christ.”
Two of the most famous preachers in England during the Victorian Era were Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker. Both men were mighty preachers of the gospel. Early in their ministries they fellowshipped and even exchanged pulpits. Then they had a disagreement, and the reports got into the newspapers. Spurgeon accused Parker of being unspiritual because he attended the theater. Interestingly enough, Spurgeon smoked cigars, a practice many believers would condemn. In fact, on one occasion someone questioned Spurgeon about this habit and he said he did not smoke to excess. When asked what he meant by excess, he waggishly answered, “No more than two at a time!” Who was right? Both were blessed and mightily used of God, and both believed they had liberty for their practice. It is important for us to realize they could disagree with one another and be in the will of God.
If we apply the separation principle to doubtful things (preferences and opinions), we will separate over things we should not separate over and that is sin. If we fail to apply the separation principle to areas of doctrine and godly living, we will become worldly, sinful and lose God’s blessing. Both scenarios are happening in the church at large, we must not allow it to happen to our church.