Summary: The problem is believers do not agree about many aspects of the faith; the solution is to accept each other and bear with each other.
Accepting Each Other
14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
According to a fable, one day Abraham was sitting by his tent door when he saw coming along the way a very old man. With true Bedouin hospitality, Abraham invited the old man to a meal. At the meal, he asked the old man about his religion, and the old man said that he was a fire-worshipper. At this, Abraham grew angry that the man could be such a fool and an infidel and thrust him out of his camp. Then God called to Abraham, and said, "Where is the old man that came to you?" "I thrust him out," replied Abraham, "because he did not rightly worship you." God said, "I have put up with his foolishness for almost a century. Why could you not put up with him one night?" Thus, Abraham learned hospitality even toward those who do not have correct beliefs.
In Romans 14 and 15, Paul is dealing with divisions in the church. The church at Rome was divided over diets and days. The ones that Paul calls “weak believers” would eat only vegetables, because the meat they could buy in the marketplace was generally leftovers from offerings to pagan idols. The ones that Paul calls “strong believers” said that they could eat anything because idols were not real and meat was just meat. Again, the weak believers kept special holy days whereas the strong believers said keeping special days does not save you, only faith in Jesus can save you. But both sides in this church argument agreed on one thing. Both sides agreed to judge and despise each other.
Now it is obvious from the names that Paul gives them, which side he favors. He calls them the strong and the weak. Obviously, his sympathies are with the strong. Paul did not believe that there was any religious merit in eating certain foods or keeping certain days. However, he emphasizes that is not the point. The major point in any religious disagreement is that we should not put down those who disagree with us, even when we know that we are right. Thus, Paul says, “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak” (15:1).
Paul recognizes in these chapters the unpleasant truth that believers do not agree about many aspects of the faith. So, what do we do about our disagreements? We accept each other and bear with each other.
Many Christians are unwilling to take Paul’s advice. It has always amazed me that people in the church will fight over the least little thing.
Let me tell you a story, true story—I could name names but I won’t. There was a large church with a great ministry for God. One Sabbath, as morning worship began, the church organist was not there. The minister was taken aback by this, but he thought, all is not lost, because another lady could play the organ and that lady was there. So the minister asked this other lady to play. And she did. They did the first hymn and went on with the service. About ten minutes into the service, the regular organist arrived.
But the minister thought this other lady is already up here playing, and I will just let her finish the service. It is no big deal, right? Wrong! Over the next several weeks, controversy erupted; factions arose. One faction was the “Regular Organist” party—they said that when the regular organist came in the minister should have asked her to take over the organ and the other lady to step down. Another faction was the “Substitute Organist” party. They said the minister did the right thing; the regular organist was late and should not have been asked to play. The two parties got so mad, they had shouting matches in the church. The minister got so disgusted that he not only left the church, he left the ministry. Also, about half the church membership left, and that church has never recovered to this day.
They should have consulted the Apostle Paul. I suspect Paul would have told them to get a life and get over it.
In Romans 14, those that Paul calls "the weak in the faith" were all wrapped up in rules and regulations. They were Christian Pharisees and they said that if you were a "real" Christian, that you would keep all of rules that the Pharisees derived from the Law of Moses. Now Paul does not say that these people are not Christians. He says that they are not mature Christians. The mature Christians, the strong believers, realize that in Christ, we have freedom from Old Testament law. They realize that we are not saved by keeping the law.