To be weak in faith is not the same as to be weak in the faith. There are two kinds of "weakness" involved, and they are to receive different treatment from those who are stable in Christ. The first kind of weakness is that which afflicted the man in Corinth who had taken his father's wife. It was a sin of the flesh, a yielding to temptation, a stumbling in moral character. This man is to be severely rebuked, even to the point of being "turned over to Satan" in the hope that such discipline will restore him to sanity and to a proper evaluation of his life. Such did indeed happen with the Corinthian adulterer. He repented of his sin; and Paul admonished the church at Corinth to forgive him, to comfort him, and to confirm their love toward him.
The second kind of weakness is discussed in Romans, chapter 14. It has to do with a man whose moral character may be above reproach, and whose convictions as to right and wrong may be as firm and adamant as unyielding granite. But he is, nevertheless, "weak in the faith." This simply means that he holds some idea, opinion, or persuasion which grows out of previous religious training, family background, or illogical thinking and reasoning, and is not a clear product of the gospel. He is "weak in the faith" in that he confuses his opinion with "the faith" the gospel, the system of revealed truth. He may be (and usually is) a man who is deeply sincere. But he is confused.
For example, in Paul's illustration of the principle, he may be a man who is sincerely convinced that he should restrict himself to certain rigid rules in his diet. He eats no meat but rather confines himself to the eating of "herbs." He is a vegetarian not simply for reasons of health, but for reasons of sincere religious conviction. He believes it would be sinful and displeasing to God for him to eat meat. Is this brother sinning in confining himself to herbs? Not at all, says Paul. Indeed, having the conviction he has, it would be a serious breaking of God's law for him to eat meat. "To him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." (Verse 14.) He is a man who is "weak in the faith" (whose understanding of "the faith" is weak), but the church is to receive him, and to hold him in honor and esteem.
What, then is the sin that the man who is "weak in the faith" may find himself committing? He sins when he seeks to force his persuasion, conviction, "weak faith" on other Christians. . . "let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." But whatever "faith" he has, he should "have it to himself before God." (Verse 22.) A classic example can be found today among those brethren who, for whatever reason, are sincerely convinced that it is right and proper for churches of the Lord to support secular schools and colleges out of their treasuries. So long as a man holds this conviction to himself, and does "not try to force it upon others, he should be given every assurance of brotherly love and acceptance. He is truly to be "received" into the life and fellowship and association of the congregation. But when he happens to have enough influence in a congregation as to persuade those in control (whether elders or others) to start making church contributions to the colleges, then he is clearly trying to force his "weak faith" on his fellow Christians. This compels other Christians (a) to violate their conscience in participating in that which they believe to be wrong, or (b) to with-hold their contributions and send them to some other congregation, or (c) to with-draw themselves from that congregation and seek to establish an assembly which will not be engaged in that which violates their conscience.
If the clear teachings of Romans 14 had been faithfully followed these last one hundred years, there would have been no "split" in the ranks of those who were seeking to "restore the ancient order." And if the clear teachings of this chapter had been faithfully applied during these past two decades, there would be peace and harmony today among thousands of congregations where tension and bitterness and division have developed. - F.Y.T.
Tant, F. Y. "Weak in Faith vs. Weak in the Faith." The Gospel Guardian. 24 Sept. 1970: 4
This editorial by the late Fanning Yater Tant, published in The Gospel Guardian in 1970, contains much needed information for our own time as we still struggle with the question of how to handle differences of understanding "the faith."
Internet edition © Ferrell Jenkins 2002. Visit our Biblical Studies Info Page and Bible World for additional Bible study materials.