The Dietary Laws
I am always constantly amazed when I search out modern Christian commentaries concerning the subject of food or diet. Rarely, and I do mean rarely, is the background of the controversy ever consulted. We have discussed before that much of what Sha’ul says is assumed and not explained in the text. Phrases like: letter of the law, in the spirit, the old man, in the flesh, the cup of blessing, sons of light, fulfilled, hidden with Christ, the middle wall of partition, adoption, and hundreds of others are already understood by Sha’ul's audience. So it is with Romans chapter 14. Sha’ul uses several terms here that are not defined in the text. Much of what he says here he already taught in Corinth, and the context is similar.
In 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 Sha’ul is dealing with young, immature believers who are seeing more mature believers eating FOODS offered to idols at the market place. The older believers are not eating unclean things, they are eating FOOD offered to idols. The subject, as usual, is not an issue of a change in what God has declared unclean to eat. The subject is FOOD offered to idols and causing a WEAKER brother to stumble at this. Sh'aul explains that idols are nothing, i.e. they are impotent, and that the food is not changed by the offering. If a weaker brother sees this and does not understand, then their conscience can be wounded or damaged. The FOODS that are mentioned here are FOODS that have been offered to pagan gods and then sold at the market place. Weaker brothers would see these FOODS being bought and were concerned that the brethern were being cursed and defiled by these foods, and so we are immediately reminded of what Yeshua said about someone being defiled by eating FOOD. We have already defined from the Old Testament what FOOD is. Sha’ul recommends that if a weaker brother is offended by this, then it is better not to eat these FOODS. There is no defining of what a WEAK brother is, or any reference to the dietary instructions.
In 1 Corinthians 8:9 Sha’ul says, "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak". What liberty is he talking about? In context these are more mature believers who have been set free from their old or previous life. To sacrifice and partake of FOODS offered to idols was believed to be taking on the nature of the idols and becoming one with them and bound to servitude. These older or stronger believers were not sacrificing to the gods, for they are now serving the one true God, which Sha’ul reminds them of in verses 5 and 6. The FOOD they are buying in the market place is just FOOD. The weaker brothers however, have not this knowledge (vs. 7) and when they eat they still eat as if they were offering to idols. The ones who have liberty are not those who have been freed from obeying the one true God! They have been freed from their pagan practices, and the weaker brothers are those who have not come to that knowledge yet.
Before we address the context and background of Romans 14, let's define some of the words. What we are going to address is the fact that most modern Christian commentators define a weak brother as one who is still struggling to obey the commandments of God. The strong brother is one who, through Christ, has been set free from these burdens. This is how they are defined today and this is what is brought back into the Romans text. But is this what the scriptures teach? We know from the record of the gospels that Yeshua obeyed His Father perfectly. He lived His life according to Torah and observed all of the Lord's feasts and sabbaths. According to modern definitions, Yeshua was weak in the faith. We know from the accounts of the early disciples in the book of Acts, that Sha’ul, Kefa, Yochanan, and Ya‘aqov were still faithful to Torah and observing the feasts and sabbaths of the Lord. Were these weak in the faith? The gospel, according to Romans 1:16, went to the Jew first and then to the Greek. Was this order given so that the gospel would begin with the weak in the faith? Are we to believe that Moshe, Avraham, David, Elijah, or Daniel were all weak in the faith? I believe that this doctrine has it's roots in the erroneous teaching that faith is simply an intellectual assent to certain propositions ABOUT God and not in trusting God. I believe this teaching has led to it's natural conclusion: that the evidence of a "new life" is comprehending this new found freedom from obedience to God. The more that one does what is right in his own eyes, the stronger and more mature the believer is. The strong in the Lord are those who are now made free from God's demands. Oh really!
Weak in the Faith
So what does it mean to be "weak in the faith"? We have already defined the word "faith" in previous lessons. I would suggest that you might want to go back and reread that lesson when you get an opportunity. The word "weak" comes from the greek word astheneo. This word is translated in the New Testament as weak, sick, disease, or without strength (Mattityahu 10:8, Yochanan 6:2, 1 Corinthians 2:3, Romans 15:1). This word describes one who is without, or lacking, whether physical or spiritual. This Greek word, of course, is taken from several Hebrew words in the LXX. The most used word, however, is the word raphah. To some of you this word may be very familiar. One of the Lord's titles is YHVH RAPHAH, or the Lord who heals. These words are cognates, that is, they are related to each other. The word raphah means to be sick, diseased, weak, or feeble. It is very interesting and typical that virtually the same word that means sickness is the same word "to heal". This concept was understood by the physician Maimonides, which led to the vaccines used today. It was discovered many years ago that some diseases can be cured by actually giving the victim the disease. This, of course, is how you and I are delivered from sin. Yeshua had to actually become sin for us in order to heal us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Is that not awesome?
In Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 6:24 we have a typical use of the word for weak;
"We have heard the report of it; our hands grow FEEBLE; anguish hath taken hold of us, and pain, as of a woman in travail.".
In D'varim (Deuteronomy) 31:6 we have a contrast of strong and weak used;
"Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them; for the LORD thy God, he it is who doth go with thee; he will not FAIL thee, nor forsake thee."
In Mishlei (Proverbs) 24:10 we have the use of weak as being faint;
"If thou FAINT in the day of adversity, thy strength is small."
In every occurrance of this word the idea is that of lacking, or wanting. Is this a word used to describe those who trust and obey God? Remember that obedience is better than sacrifice.
In Mishlei 4:13 we have another use of the word for weak;
"Take fast hold of instruction; LET HER NOT GO. Keep her; for she is thy life."
Does it sound like the weak are those who are free from God's laws?
Strong in the Lord
Let us see who the strong in the Lord are. The Greek word for strong is enounamoo.
Romans 4:19-20 says;
"And being not WEAK in the faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was STRONG in the faith, giving glory to God,..."
Avraham trusted in God and listened to him. Avraham was strong in the faith because he trusted in God's way and not his own, in spite of what those around him were probably telling him. Listen to what Luke says in his gospel, chapter 1:80;
"And the child grew, and became STRONG in spirit, ..."
and again; "And the child grew, and became STRONG in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him."
Yeshua was raised in the scriptures. His wisdom and understanding would have come from his learning and clinging to the words of His Father. In Acts 9:22 we are told that Sha’ul increased in strength. In Acts 24 and 28 we are told that Sha’ul kept Torah and observed the Lord's feasts. Sha’ul was not increasing in strength by turning away from Torah! In Ephesians chapter six we have the well known verses dealing with the armor of God. In verse 10 we are told to be STRONG in the Lord and in the power of HIS might. Verses 11-18 are symbolic images that are taken from the Old Testament. All these images are references to the word of God. It is God's word in all its facets that protect us from the enemy. To be strong is not to be free from his commands, but to trust in them for they are our life according to the Psalmists. See also Philippians 4:13, 1 Timothy 1:12-13, 2 Timothy 2:1, 2 Timothy 4:17-18, and Hebrews 11:34.
The Hebrew word for strong is primarily chazak. This word means to be strong, mighty, or to hold fast. This word is used over three hundred times in the Tanakh. It is usually used of physical strength, but as we have continually observed, the physical things are given to us to describe spiritual realities (Yochanan 3:12). One of the most revealing uses of being strong in the Lord is found in Y'hoshua 1:5-9;
"There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee; I will not FAIL thee, nor forsake thee. Be STRONG and of good courage; for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land which I swore unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou STRONG and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses, my servant, commanded thee; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper wherever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is writtin therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be STRONG and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the LORD thy God is with thee wherever thou goest."
What a beautiful, simple promise. No wonder Yochanan (John) said in 1 Yochanan 5:1-3;
"Whosoever trusts that Yeshua is the Messiah is born of God; and everyone that loveth him that begot loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and KEEP his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not burdensome."
Next time we will continue to define who is strong and who is weak according to the scriptures.