Are You a "Weaker Brother" or Do You Know One?

Part 2 of the "Developing a Healthy Conscience" series describes the positive changes that happen in our consciences at conversion, but why the new baby conscience still needs to be strengthened, and what happens when it isn't. Dr. Kayser expounds Paul's teaching on how to both make sure weaker brothers are protected in their conscience, *and* that the church be protected from the legalistic doctrine of the weaker brothers. He shows what happens when the three functions of the conscience become sensitized to man's opinions rather than to God's opinion, how to help rather than hurt brothers with weak consciences, and also how and when weaker-brother-ism becomes Phariseeism.

Categories: Man › Nature Of Man › Conscience


Before we continue in our outline on the conscience, let's do a little review. Last week we saw that Adam and Eve had a conscience even before they sinned. The conscience is not a result of the fall; it is not a curse; it is part of the image of God in man. Now that image has been marred and distorted by sin, but to destroy our conscience is to destroy part of God's image in us. We likened it to a light on the dashboard that does not work properly, but it is supposed to continue to have a good function. You don't smash the light when its not working. You realign it.

We also saw that there are three parts to the depraved conscience: the legislative, the judicial and the executive. Those three parts correspond to the understanding of law, judgment and the sense of punishments or rewards. Now here is the problem. Because of sin, all three parts of the conscience have become distorted. That is so important to understand. We think of the legislature as the side that makes up laws, but James says that we are not allowed to make up our own laws like American legislature's do. We are to submit our hearts to One law, One Judge and the fear and assurance of the Lord, not of man.

So, if your conscience makes you feel like you have broken an ethical standard, you need to ask "Whose ethical standard? Whose law? God's or man's?" The moment we substitute man's law for God's law as binding the conscience we begin to develop a social conscience that's oriented only towards man, and that becomes very sensitive to the approval of man, but not at all sensitive to the approval of God. And man's conscience can be bound by the most bizzarre things. I pulled out my College Cultural Anthropology book from Covenant College and refreshed my memory on some of the bizzarre moral codes in other countries. There is a tribe in Ghana where everyone feels great guilt if they own anything. Private property is seen as a great sin. The Etoro tribe of Papua New Guinea has strict prohibitions against marital relations on as many as 260 days a year as being a sin, and on other days it is only allowed far away from house or gardens because they believe it will make the crops fail. And boy is there social pressure from the neighbors who want to protect their crops. Homosexuality on the other hand is urged on all days since it is believed that it makes crops flourish. People in that tribe feel no conscience over homosexuality, but if they violate the heterosexual taboos, they feel great pains of conscience. Now that may be an extreme example, but the point is that we always have to ask the question, "Whose law?" when our conscience has a sense of right or wrong. Men act like legislatures, annuling God's laws and inventing new ones. And the conscience many times follows suit. Exodus 12:49 says, One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you. The moment we multiply legal codes for our conscience it begins to be confused.

The same is true of judgment. The passage we read from James tells us that there is only one lawgiver, and if we start judging people because they don't submit to our preferences, we are competing with God's law. It can't be God's law plus our law. James says, Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. HE who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. Why is that true? It is because if we judge people independently, we are automatically judging by a competing standard. For example, if you judge someone for their fashions, or for failing to wear a coat and tie to church, you have elevated a preference to the level of a law. And it automatically becomes a competing law. But if we bring God's Word to judge an action, then God is the judge. When you rebuke your child using the Scriptures, you are not the judge - God is. And that's what we want. We want our children to have consciences sensitive to one judge. Anyway, James goes on: But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another. God allows no competition. It is either His law or our law that binds the conscience. So when our conscience feels judged by a sermon, you need to ask, "Is it simply Phil Kayser who is judging, or is this the Word of God? The Westminster Standards say that none but God, speaking in the Scriptures can be the judge of the conscience.

But we also looked last week at the third part of the conscience - the sense of shame or approval. And we saw that guilt or peace is meaningless unless we ask if our conscience is at peace with God or at peace with man? Does it live in the fear of God or the fear of man? We saw last week that the conscience is quite capable of feeling at peace with evil and quite capable of feeling shame over good. It may seem bizzare for the Etoro tribe to feel shame over marital relations but no shame over homosexual relations, but if our conscience in all three parts is oriented toward man and his approval, then it is capable of anything.

And so we saw the effects of depravity upon the conscience.

Today we want to answer the question, "What happens when a person becomes a Christian? Does his conscience suddenly become reliable and perfect? Does it function just like it should function?" Well, there is a change. I think that is clear.

The Conscience Of Believers

Is Cleansed And Restored In Sensitivity (Tit. 1:15; Heb. 9:14; 10:21-22)

On your outlines you will see that the first change that comes to a believer the moment he is saved is that his conscience is cleansed and restored in sensitivity. Let's read a couple of verses along these lines. Hebrews 10:21-22 describes what happens at conversion: and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. That's what happens at conversion. The sprinkling of the heart is the baptism of the Spirit and the washing of the bodies is the baptism of water. He is saying that when a person becomes a Christian, he is cleansed from an evil conscience. There is a change that occurs.

Heb. 9:14 says something similar. It says, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. The conscience is purged, which means it is purified or cleansed from its bondage to dead works, to legalism. One last passage on this point. Titus 1:15 says, To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. God renews the inner man in regeneration making it pure. Now if you had previously had a very hardened conscience, God now makes your conscience soft and sensitive to His word. Whereas it before suppressed the law of God, it is now sensitive to and receptive to the law of God. Even though the conscience may still get fooled, it's desire is to God's law so that it can say with David, O how I love Your law, it is my meditation all the day. So regeneration gives man a new conscience.

Does that mean that it is perfect? No. It is a baby conscience. Even though it has been given a new direction, and a new love and a new sensitivity, it needs to grow. And even the apostle Paul was still developing his. He said, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense (Acts 24:16). In Hebrews 5 it talks about having our conscience exercised so that our senses can discern both good and evil. Just like you develop your body by exercising, you develop your consience by exercise. We need to work at it. And if we do not seek to develop a good conscience, if we don't work at it, then there are several problems that can develop. Your outline lists those problems, and we will continue on with the outline next week. But today I just want to look at the issue of the weak conscience.

But Unless It Is Developed It Can Be

Weak (1 Cor. 8:7,10,12; cf. Rom. 14)

What does it mean to have a weak conscience? Basically it is a conscience that has not yet been trained by God's Word. Just as our bodies are weak if they haven't been trained and exercised, our consciences are weak if they are not trained and exercised to discern good from evil. And a weak conscience can manifest itself in different ways. It can be troubled over things that are good, or it can fail to be troubled over things that are bad. It can be a legalistic conscience. But it can also simply be an immature conscience. Romans 14 (which is where we are going to park most of today) describes Christians who have conscience problems over things that are perfectly lawful. Look at verses 1-2. It says, Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. In verse 5 the weaker brother has conscience problems over Jewish days. In verse 14 the weaker brother feels a compulsion to keep certain ceremonial observances; washing himself in a certain way; not touching certain objects. In verse 21 he feels he would be sinning if he drinks wine. Where did they get these ideas?

There were teachers from a group called the Essenes who were the super spiritual in Israel. If you thought the Pharisees were holy, these were seen as being even more so by the Jews because of the degree to which they denied themselves in order to please God. And Josephus tells us that the Essenes were scattered throughout the Empire in almost every major community. And these Essenes insisted that men must not eat meat, must not eat oil because of the possibility of worms being in the oil barrels, must not marry because touching a woman made a man ceremonially defiled, must not drink wine and had a number of other legalistic regulations. And several of the epistles had to undo the damage that these Judaising Essenes had done to the church. They brought a lot of conscience problems to Christians.

For background turn to 1 Timothy 4 which deals with some of the same conscience issues. It's 1 Timothy 4:1-6. We looked at this last week briefly. Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron [and remember that we saw last week that it is possible through prolonged contact with false teaching to have a conscience that is very insensitive to God's law; it is seared to God, but at the same time to be extremely sensitive to the doctrines and convictions of false teachers. The first aspect of the law that senses obligation to law has been instructed with Satanic teachings rather than God's teaching. And he goes on to describe two of the teachings of these Essenes] forbidding to marry, [They said, "If you are spiritual, you are not going to marry. And if you are already married, you are not going to have marriage relations." So that's one issue. And then he mentions what we just read from Romans 14 that some of the weaker brethren had latched onto some food laws] and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. When he says that it is sanctified by the Word of God he means that it is God's Word that allowed for the eating of animals.

Now Timothy knows the liberty that Christians have. He knows that they can eat meat if they want to. But Paul doesn't tell him to force this liberty upon the weaker Christian. He doesn't tell them, "Command those weaker Christians to eat meat for their health sake." That would make them go against their conscience and end up hardening the conscience. And last week we saw what a dangerous thing hardening the conscience can be. That's like having a faulty light on your dashboard that keeps going on for no reason and smashing it with a hammer so that it is no longer on. But even though that fixes the problem in a sense, you are deprived of a valuable light that could tell you when there is a real problem. So you ought to fix the light, not smash it. And you fix it by instruction from the word of God. And so Paul says in verse 6 If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself rather to godliness. There needs to be a deliberate aligning of the conscience to God's Word.

Now with that as a background, let's go back to Romans 14. And I decided that I needed to devote an entire sermon to this chapter because there are so many different views on it. And even if you don't end up understanding or agreeing with everything that I say, if the main things that are on the outline can be absorbed, you will do well.

Verse 1 says, Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. The literal rendering has it, "Not to judgment of thoughts." It doesn't specify whether it is the weaker brother who is doing the judging or the stronger brother. NASB takes it as judgment of the weaker brothers scruples. The New King James leaves it general as do some other versions. And it really doesn't matter which way you take it. Paul just does not want these Essene doctrines to be debated in the church. He makes it very clear in this chapter, 1 Timothy 4 and in other places that Essene doctrines should not bind the conscience.

The point is this: Paul had room in the church for the weaker brother, but he made no allowance for the tyranny of the weaker brother. So verse 1 sets the tone for the whole chapter. There are two extremes that need to be avoided. The first extreme is fail to receive the weaker brother and the second extreme is to allow the person with these doctrines to teach, judge, or argue in favor of Essene doctrine.

Look at your outlines. First sub-sub point 1, under c "How do you deal with a person who has a weak conscience?" It says, Though false teachers (1 Tim 4) are not to be received, we are to receive a disciple [in other words, a new Christian who is willing to be discipled, who is willing to learned. "Receive a disciple] who is a weaker brother (Rom. 14:1) without despising him (v. 3), judging him (v. 4) tempting him (v. 10), making him stumble (v. 13,21), grieving or destroying him (v. 15). In short, if the practice is not of itself evil (vegetarianism, abstaining from wine, etc), the stronger are to have patience with and full acceptance of them.

But the list of Scriptures under point 2 gives the other half of the equation. It says, However, the weaker brother is there to learn, to re-train his conscience and to grow strong (Rom. 14). Therefore, he should not dispute with others by promoting his legalism (v. 1), nor should he despise those who exercise their freedoms (v. 3), judge them (v. 4) or call their liberties evil (v. 16). In short, he is not to impose his legalism on the church. Nor should he make his conscience the final arbiter (v. 7-9,12). Paul wants the conscience of the weaker brother to be realigned to Christ so that he becomes a stronger brother and so that he no longer condemns himself (v. 22b [which says, Happy is he who does not condemn himself...] continuing to read from the outline-) and so that he can enter into the peace and joy that comes from God's standard of righteousness (v. 17).

In other words, if the weaker brother sought to impose his weaker views on the church; if the weaker brother sought to dispute or argue over the issue and to try to win church members over to his position, then he was not to be recieved because his doctrines would be divisive and they would be imposing the doctrines of demons and of men upon the people of God. There would be the danger of the whole church having their conscience oriented toward's man's laws, man's judgments, man's approval and the fear of man rather than oriented toward God.

Paul says, you are to receive him, but not if he is going to be disputatious about his doctrine. Verse 3, not if he is going to despise the strong. Verse 4, not if he is going to judge you with his own opinions. Verse 16, not if he is going to speak evil of the liberties that the strong engage in. HE tells the stronger brother there: Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil. It's one thing to be tender with those who are legalistic. We must. But it is quite another thing to allow people to speak evil of what God calls good.

The irony of the modern weaker brother teaching is that anything that a person may be offended by is imposed upon the stronger, and the stronger brothers are told that they are living in sin. That's not weaker brother ism, that is Phariseeism. And it falls under the condemnation of the passage in 1 Timothy 4. You see, the only difference between Romans 14 and 1 Timothy 4 is that the weaker brother has a conscience that is bound by legalism and is trying to outgrow it, whereas the people in 1 Timothy are teachers trying to impose their scruples on others.

But neither does Paul want the stronger brothers being disputatious about these things with the weaker brothers. If they want to be vegetarians while they are maturing, that is perfectly all right. The church is not to be a place of disputes over freedoms. If it is a freedom for the strong brother to eat meat, then it is a freedom for the weak brother to not eat meat.

And this shows the gentle pastoral heart of Paul. He recognizes that many Christians have conscience problems over things that they ought not to have. And as they grow in the Lord, it is important that these weaker brothers be protected in their conscience, but it is also important that the church be protected from the doctrine of the weaker brothers. Do you see the balance in this chapter? Both sides are important. And so in verse 3 Paul says, Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat [be patient with him. God is not finished with him yet], and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats [It's not the place for the weaker brother to judge the stronger. In fact, the last phrase indicates that Paul is making no bones about the fact that the stronger brother is the one that God has approved of]; for God has received him. It's the weaker brother who needs the instruction, not the stronger one.

And yet Paul also recognizes how dangerous it is to the inner life for a person to violate his conscience. Until the weaker brother can eat in faith, he shouldn't eat. It is important that he not harden his conscience. And so in verse 14 Paul tells the stronger brethren, I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. He insists that our liberty must not be imposed upon the weaker brother. Instruct him yes, but don't force him to eat the meat. You will destroy his inner life; you will deface the image of God in him by defacing his conscience. Verse 20 says, Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. What is causing the weaker brother to stumble? It's saying, "Here. Go ahead! Eat some meat! It's not going to kill you." And you force them to eat against their conscience. It is making him do what his conscience tells him not to do. When he violates his conscience (what he believes to be right) he has stumbled; he has sinned; and his conscience becomes even weaker than it was before because now it is not only misinformed, but it is beginning to be hardened. So you have double the problem that you had before - two parts of the conscience being hurt.

And actually, what Paul attempts to do in this chapter is to realign all three areas of the conscience. First, he realigns the sense of law. And many evangelicals totally miss this point. They don't bother educating the weaker brother in anything. They just let them indefinitely continue to be weak. In fact, on some issues, the weaker brother's viewpoint is accepted by the whole church. And we'll get to that. But right now I want to quickly go through those three areas of the conscience that he reorients: First is the law. Paul instructs the weaker brother in verse 2 that the moral law allows a person to eat anything or to be a vegetarian. The law gives freedom. But verse 3 instructs his conscience that we cannot make up new laws by which to judge men. Verse 4 says that God is the only one who can judge or impose a standard. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls.

In verse 5 Paul instructs him on God's present view of the Jewish Calendar. If people want to keep following the Jewish Calendar, it is not a sin - so long as he does not impose it. But because those ceremonial laws all pointed to the coming of Christ, it is a weaker position to not understand why they have passed away. Verse 6 says, He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. It is precisely the stronger brothers understanding of the changes to the ceremonial law that makes him not observe any Jewish day. He has his own New Covenant day to observe. It is because of the Lord that he does not observe every Old Covenant day. And Paul does the same for cleanliness laws in verse 14, drinking in vesre 17. So that is reorienting the weaker brother's understanding of the conscience. He's saying, "God's law makes clear that we have liberties here, but we don't have liberties there."

The second area that he reorients is who can be judge of the conscience? In verse 3 Paul doesn't want weaker brothers despising the stronger nor the stronger to despise the weaker. The moment you have those kinds of attitudes you set each other up to seek the approval of man rather than God. He wants the stronger brothers patiently instructing, not despising. Verse 4: Who are you to judge... Only God's Word can judge. That's why I keep telling you, "Don't believe it because Phil Kayser says it. Search God's Word and see if it says what I say it says. If it's my approval you live for, I will let you down. If it is God's approval, He will never let you down. But I want you to notice in verse 5 that Paul doesn't say "there are no right views of days." Instead he says, Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. Convinced by who? It's got to be the Lord. And that's exactly what he says in verse 6.

Nor can you ignore what others say and ignore what God's Word says? Some people think that freedom of conscience issues are issues where we decide what is right or wrong. We saw last week that this is just as humanistic as allowing others to bind our conscience. And so verse 7 says, For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord and he ends verse 8 by saying, we are the Lord's. In verse 9 he says, For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that HE might be Lord... So it's not enough to say that God alone is Lord of the conscience. We must also say, "God is Lord of the conscience." I am not lord of my conscience. Others are not lord of my conscience. Only God is, speaking in the Scripture.

Now let me clarify something. When Paul says in verse 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore... he does not mean that we cannnot speak God's Word to one another. Otherwise he has contradicted himself because he has brought God's Word to bear on the weaker brother to show that he is indeed a weaker brother. Isn't that a judgment - calling him weak? Yes it is. But it is God's judgment. He is trying to teach him of his liberties without forcing him. But on the other hand, when he says in verse 14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself..., it doesn't cause him to judge those who don't understand that yet. He leads them gently and doesn't want them believing it because he says it. He wants them to be Bereans who check everything he says according to the Scriptures. So you are not judging the conscience if you bring God's Word to bear upon a person's life. You are introducing them to what God says.

Now let's assume that they don't understand the Scripture yet. You've explained it to them, but they respond, "Well, that's not what it seems to say to me." What do you do? You trust God's Holy Spirit to convict them. You see, the Roman Catholic Church came up with the idea of implicit faith. You had to trust the church's interpretation as if it was God. Paul doesn't do that. The church does not have a coercive power. It has a pastoral power to teach and seek to convince. And so in these areas of liberties, there are rights and wrongs. But we must have patience in the Holy Spirit's abilities to convince people.

Another clarification is that the command, do not judge, does not mean we have to be silent when the so-called weaker brother starts insisting that everyone is sinning by eating meat, or drinking wine. Look at verse 16. He tells the stronger brother, Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil. So there was an official church position. The official church position was that it was OK to eat meat, and even though they did not force others to eat meat, they did not allow weaker brothers to teach on the subject either. The irony of the modern weaker brother teaching is that anything they are offended by is imposed upon the stronger, and the stronger brothers are told that they are living in sin. That's not weaker brother-ism, that is Phariseeism. There is only one judge - Scripture, and if it can't be proved from the Scripture, your conscience is free to do or not to do as you please. And so Paul has sought to realign their conscience on 1) their understanding of the Law, 2) on who can judge their conscience.

The third area of alignment was the inner sense of peace or discomfort; the sense of being judged or being approved. Verse 20 for example says in the second sentence, All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. And the margin says, "a feeling of giving offense." So Paul is helping them to wrestle with this strong sense of shame; this false guilt that they had because of the offense it was cause to the Essenes. But there is also the sense of self-condemnation that verse 22 talks about. It's not just other people we can feel condemned by. We can condemn ourselves even when noone else is around. And so verse 22 says, Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. We are especially going to look at how to get to that place in a future part of the outline. But here I am just showing that Paul is encouraging these people to realign this subjective feelings. The positive side is seen in verse 17: for the kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Paul doesn't want the peace and the joy of Holy Spirit to be robbed by legalism. And let me tell you, in years past I had a legalistic conscience that was constantly tied up in knots and robbed of that peace and joy. When I finally entered into the liberties that the perfect law of liberty gives to us, I had incredible joy and freedom in God. It's wonderful. And that's why I am not hurrying through this series. I want to make sure that you guys understand the process of realigning the conscience.

Let's bring this from the first century to the present and make this practical. Are there any people who feel guilty eating meat today? Absolutely, yes. I read a so-called Christian health book that a friend lent to me, perhaps in hopes that I would become a vegetarian, and this book strongly said that eating meat is not good for your health. Now if I really believed that it defiled my body, then I would have to quit eating it. Scripture commands us not to defile our bodies. But the problem is, the science in this book contradicted the statements of Scripture. Scripture indicates that meat in moderation is good for you. I had another health book that said honey was bad for you and you shouldn't eat any of it. It was a Rodale book that claimed if you followed his diet you would never get cancer. He died of cancer. But anyway, on honey, he contradicted the Scripture. Scripture says, My son, eat honey because it is good, And the honeycomb which is sweet to your taste (Prov. 24:13). God gave honey to his people. And the same can be said of salt in moderation and other things. So if you were convinced that these things were bad for you, abstain until you are convinced from Scripture. Don't let a person talk you into violating your conscience just because he thinks it is ridiculous. Make him prove from the Bible that it is ridiculous. And once he does, change immediately. That's making the Bible Lord of your conscience. Now the Scripture doesn't have any problem with vegetarianism or not eating honey if that is your preference. This discussion only comes to play when it comes to the conscience.

But let's just play that situation out a little bit further. Let's say we have someone in the church who is a conscientious vegetarian and thinks that salt and honey are bad, and so is milk. But you want to invite them over for dinner. What should you do? Well, first of all Paul indicates that it is critical that you not despise or judge such people with your own opinions. Christ has accepted them and we need to accept them and to love them in the Lord. It would be wrong to destroy their conscience. If they are invited to dinner, it is important that they be told that they need not eat the meat; that you have done a little research and have provided some extra food that would be appropriate for them. Don't dump a hamburger on their plate and force a choice between embarrassment and violating their conscience. In love we need to accomodate such until they can be instructed more perfectly in the freedom that they have in Christ. While we want all such people to study the issue, we want to receive them where they are at. Paul told Timothy, instruct them we must; at least Timothy the pastor must. If you as a member are instructing them at the table, it may force a conscience issue before they are ready. That is not the way to handle the problem.

Let's say that this person thinks that honey damages the body and must be abstained from by all Christians. You have read them several passages that say that honey is good for you. But they are still trying to bind people's consciences. Then the situation has switched from Romans 14 to 1 Timothy 4. It has become more serious because now they are willfully not only rejecting God's Word, but are trying to impose man's word upon the consciences of others. Tell such a person that if he wants to avoid honey, that is his freedom. But his freedoms cannot rob others of Biblically given freedoms either.

Now I don't need to take this much time on the other issues. Let's just quickly go through them. Verse 5 talks about another issue that comes up in every church. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. Paul indicates that the weaker Christian felt compelled to keep all the Jewish festival days; he was subject to Jewish day keeping rather than the weekly day keeping of the Lord's day. And by the way, Paul was talking about every day of the Jewish calendar has now become alike, not every day of the New Testament calander. The new testament clearly teaches that we are commanded to gether together on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16). That is not treating every day alike. Wednesday is not a legitimate substitute for Sunday worship. So don't apply this outside of the context of Judaising. They thought that they were sinning if they didn't keep Passover at Easter time, or Hanukkah on December 25 or the Day of Atonement, or the Saturday Sabbath. Was there room for them in the church? Yes there was, but not to disputations or arguments over their doubts (verse 1). Not if they despised or judged those who didn't keep the day (vv 3,4). Not if they started calling the change from a Saturday Sabbath to a first day Sabbath evil (v. 16). They were not to impose their compulsion to celebrate days upon the stronger brethren who felt no need to observe any Jewish days. Every Jewish day is now no different than any regular day.

And at Trinity we have had people in church who have had similar views. You may not have been aware of it because they were faithful in keeping Paul's command in Romans 14. They celebrated the days in private. In fact, one couple kept all day Saturday as a Sabbath and then came to church on Sunday. Paul insisted that the stronger brethren should not command the weaker brothren to cease and desist, even though the weaker brothern were wrong. If Demetrius felt it was sinful not to celebrate Hanukah, then by all means let him celebrate it. Don't forbid him to do what his conscience tells them he must. That will further weaken and destroy the conscience.

Now let me make an aside here on the matter of Easter and of Christmas. On each of the four issues that Paul deals with in this chapter a stronger brother could just out of a matter of preference participate in a way similar to the weaker brother. If you are a vegetarian just because you don't like meat, that may be O.K. It is not sinful to be a vegetarian. Likewise, though Paul felt no compulsion to keep Jewish days, Acts tells us that he did celebrate particular feast days when he was with the Jews. There was nothing wrong with doing that since it was a matter of liberty. However, the moment the Judaisers imposed the days as a matter of conscience, or of law, or of obligation, Paul insisted in Galatians and Colossians that their consciences were not to be bound by the observance. That was legalism and Paul would no more tolerate addition to God's law than Christ would. Christ said, "You make null the law of God by your man made traditions." If you are a vegetarian, a tee-totaler or an observer of days, be sure that you are doing it out of liberty rather than out of compulsion.

So if Christmas and Easter are celebrated without the compulsion of conscience before God or a social conscience before others, there is nothing wrong with such celebration.

Now here comes an interesting question that has come up for me before: I have had people who have been influenced by the seventh day adventists argue about the day but still want to be in fellowship with a given church. And Paul would say, "No way." If you want to keep a seventh day sabbath on your own, you can do that until I can convince you that Sunday is the Sabbath of the new covenant. I will respect your conscience on that issue. But the moment you seek to dispute in the church (v. 1) and to despise the New Covenant Sabbath (v. 3) or call the change evil (v. 16), then you may not be received." You see that would be imposing the views of the weaker brother on the church and subjecting members of the church to legalism. If he wants to celebrate it in his living room, that is fine, but Galatians and Colossians begin to take effect when it goes beyond that.

And this is where many Christians get confused on Romans 14. The moment the words "weaker brother" get mentioned, the stronger brother thinks it is time for him to shut his mouth. Not at all. The weaker brother is not to carry the day, and when he tries to, he is to be treated exactly like the Judaisers. It is one thing to be affected by the Judaisers, and it is another thing to be a Judaiser yourself. In Galatians 4:9-11 Paul says to a church that was becoming turned to the doctrines of the weaker, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? [God's law is liberty, anything else is bondage] You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. (Gal. 4:9-11). They were making it a law. They were binding their conscience by the traditions of men.

Turn to Colossians 2. In verse16 Paul says, Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, [we are going to be getting to drink in Romans 14, so keep this in mind. Don't let your conscience be bound by anthing except the Scriptures.] or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. And remember that Paul celebrated those festivals in Acts. Was he a weaker brother? No, he did not do it out of compulsion or because of conscience. Look down at verses 20-23. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to [that's the key. A liberty item has become law.] regulations - do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, [you see, that's language of law] which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Though we have liberty to do many things, we must only be bound by, be in subjection to God's law And though we have not gotten there yet, in a future sermon we will deal with the difficult task of bringing a weak conscience to the place where it can become strong. Maybe you've got an oversensitive conscience. If so, keep on coming. Don't give up on us. God can bring you to the place where your conscience can be excercised in its senses to discern between good and evil (Heb. 5).

Let's go back to Romans 14 and finish quickly with the last two items that Paul touched upon. In verse 14 we find an indication that they were submitting to all of the ceremonial clean and unclean distinctions, and perhaps even the Essene additons to the ceremonial law. The Essenes had conscience problems about being made unclean by sexual contact, by touching a Gentile and many other things. And I have talked to Christians who have had similar feelings about being defiled by what God has declared to be holy and good. If you feel guilty about God ordained sex within the marriage, then you need to align your conscience which may have been turned around earlier in your life in a wrong direction. Actually, that's not even an area of liberty because God commands us to have such relations, and so we need to work double time on changing our consciences. And you may need to have counseling on how to do that. But Hebrews 13:4 makes clear, Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Certain things are defiling, but sex within the bounds of Scripture is honorable.

The last conscience problem in Romans 14 is alluded to in verse 21, drinking alchoholic beverages. The Essenes forbad it, even though God's word allowed it. And Paul said, sure you have the liberty, but when you have a weak brother whose conscience has not yet been instructed, and you have him over to your house for dinner, don't offer him any wine. If he violates his conscience and drinks his conscience will be made even weaker; the very opposite of what you want to happen. And so there needs to be a gentleness and a concern for the weaker brother.

Now let me point out again, just as in the other three cases, an individual may prefer not to drink just out of preference. That's no problem. That's not even a conscience issue. But your conscience is too valuable a thing to just assume that your abstenance is for reasons of preference. You need to be sure that your conscience is not being held captive by the doctrines of men or the fear of what others might think.

Christ knew exactly what alcholol would do to the body, and yet he partook. Scipture says it is good for you in moderation. Actually, modern science is finding that it is good. Scripture condemns drunkeness. It never condemns alchohol and I am afraid that our conscience has been more affected by our society than it has by the word of God on this issue. Psalm 104:14-15 says, God "causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man's heart glad. God brings wine forth to make man's heart glad. Solomon said, "Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart." (Ecc. 9:7) Isaiah speaks of the new covenant in the following words, And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees. By the way, if you feel guilty about eating fat things, don't. It's the overindulgence, not the fat things that is bad. So come to our house today, and have a rich dessert. God delights in delighting His people with the fat things of the earth. Even strong drink is blessed in Deuteronomy 14:26 says, And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires; for oxen or sheep, for wine or for strong drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. And there are many other Scriptures which in the Hebrew and Greek use the words for mead, for beer, for strong drink and for wine, for mixed drink and for other drinks.

Now if someone listens to this tape, their emotions may be upset by what they have heard. And their preference might be to just let the stronger brothers stop drinking as a matter of liberty. But if that is requested, then it is no longer liberty, and you have taken the position of the Pharisees and of the Essenes in adding to God's Word. But the point of this series is that it is never good to substitute man's law for God's law, man's judgment for God's judgment or the fear of man for the fear of God. It's not a trivial issue.

The principle that men and women held dear in the time of the Reformation and that they were willing to fight and die for was that the conscience can be bound by God alone. Anything else is legalism; any other position will lead to Romanism or cultism. And unfortunately in America, it has been the weaker brethren who have done all the teaching, and the stronger have not only given up their responsibility to teach, but they themselves have bound their consciences in an ungodly way to these doctrines of demons and of men.

This is what the scotch drinking theologian John Murray referred to as the tyranny of the weaker brother. Christ has called our consciences to liberty; and if the son has set you free, you shall be free indeed. Galatians 5:1 says, Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. But on the flip side Paul adds in 1 Corinthians 8:9, But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours becomes a stumbling block to those who are weak.

Let me end with one more thought. The reason the law has been called by James the perfect law of liberty is that God knew what man needed for maximum freedom. He laid down railroad tracks that enable the train of our life to run smoothly and freely. The moment we remove a track, we become derailed, and lose our freedom. The moment we switch the size of our tracks by diminishing God's laws or by adding to God's laws, the engine of our lives becomes stuck on a scale of track that it was not made for. God has called you to have a good conscience. Not just a sensitive conscience, but a good conscience that causes you to run on the steam of the Holy Spirit on the railroad of life. May each of us be determined to develop such a conscience. Amen.

Support Dr. Kayser

Biblical Blueprints runs on donations and coffee. You can help Dr. Kayser stay awake while working by buying him and his team more coffee.

Give Here


Want to know next time Dr. Kayser publishes?


Contact us at [email protected]

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This website designed for Biblical Blueprints by Tobias Davis. Copyright 2023.