Updated: Feb 3
“Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.”
This is the Epistle selection for the Episcopal Lectionary readings for Year A, Proper 19, the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read in church on Sunday, September 17, 2017. This is an important lesson that can be summarized as a notice to all true Christians that they are not to judge their brothers or sisters in Christ.
The first verse of this reading, as translated by the New International Version (and similarly by other versions) has English syntax pull the Greek word “proslambanesthe” (meaning “receive, take aside, take to yourself,” thus “welcome”) to the front, so we think an instruction is given to “Welcome” those who have “weak faith.”
This can be confusing if one assumes (which many people readily do) that Paul was asking you (the reader) to greet some newbies. Instead, as I see it, it addresses all of the Christians of Rome (Romans) who had not yet fully welcomed the Holy Spirit. That is the majority of Christians today, so modern Christians can read Paul telling them (all who are weak in the gifts of the Holy Spirit) to “receive.” Once that is grasped, those true Apostles are to welcome those who are struggling with the letting go of the ego and the opening of the heart to God, so others can increase and strengthen their faith.
In John 20:22, Jesus breathed upon the disciples-in-hiding and then said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The word written there is “Labete,” which means “take hold of” or “get.” The difference between “proslambanesthe” and “Labete” (or “welcome” verses “Take hold of”) can be seen as relative to the different states of the disciples.
When Jesus “breathed into them” (or “blew upon them”), his followers had been stricken with fear, afraid they would be the next to be crucified, if they were to be identified as followers of Jesus. His “breath” was then akin to someone telling a panicked child, “breathe … slowly … in … out.” In other words, Jesus calmed the disciples before he then gave an order to God that those in that upstairs room were his to be saved. As such, Jesus made a prayer to God, for those present to be given his approval to “Receive the Spirit of Sainthood.”
In Paul’s case, he was writing to those who had been presented the revelation that the promised Messiah had indeed been delivered to them, in the person that was Jesus of Nazareth. Those Jews (and a few Gentiles possibly, other slave citizens in the slums of Rome) had “welcomed” that Good News. Certainly, some had believed and readily acted upon that belief, such that they full-heartedly were filled with the Holy Spirit. Others were not so able to be so self-sacrificing, which hindered their progress to sainthood. Therefore, Paul was telling those filled with the Holy Spirit to help those who still had doubts and questions, while also telling those who were struggling to stop thinking so much … and just let the Holy Spirit come into you.
“Breathe … slowly … in … out.”
Giving birth to a new you requires some labor.
When one is able to see that significance that comes from looking deeper at just one word written, one then needs to understand the second half of verse 1. It is translated above as, “but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.”
This seems to be a clarification as to why one has “weak faith,” as they are using their brains too much (“quarreling opinions”). As such, one of true faith should “welcome” those who like to argue about faith. That actually leads one to missing the point of what Paul wrote.
The Greek of the letter has verse 1 saying, “mē eis diakriseis dialogismōn.” This literally states, “not for passing judgment on reasonings.” It could also be translated to say, “not for discernment on deliberations.” This means a new disciple who, for example, believes Jesus was the Messiah, but struggles with the concept of resurrection and ascension, should be aided in that struggle (‘welcomed, received”) but not for the purpose of “setting them straight” on what to believe.
This is why Paul went into the example of foods. Some meats and vegetables are seen by some as acceptable to eat, but by others as forbidden. Because new disciples are seeking God in their struggles to understand (“discernment by deliberations”), they are seeing ways that faith can be weakened by outside influences. (“Hey, I ate pork and nothing bad happened! What’s up with that?”)
These become confusing at first; but because new disciples have been “welcomed by God,” this is part of their “discernment” towards stronger faith. This means it is not for an Apostle “to pass judgment on servants” other than themselves, as their “reasonings” [the Apostle’s] may not be where God will lead another [the weak-faith disciple] to conclude. Therefore, “Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.”
This means that following someone else’s brain will never lead one to ownership of an idea. Each disciple must be convinced of the truth alone, with only God’s whispers being the breath that one’s mind follows.
Since Paul was an Apostle, one who never personally knew the living man that was Jesus of Nazareth, he had to have a metaphysical experience of Jesus Christ to find his own way to receiving the Holy Spirit.
In Acts (9:9) we read, “For three days he [Saul] was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” Remembering that, see how that parallels Paul writing to the Romans about food and eating.
A new disciple has “blind faith,” which is “weak faith.” Paul was stricken blind by his encounter with Jesus Christ, which is a symbolic statement that Saul was no longer able to see as he had seen before – as a Jew who condemned Jesus and those Jews who believed he was the Messiah. Saul had been totally influenced by one view prior to encountering that Holy Spirit, which was that view the Pharisees preached to him.
This means the symbolism of food and drink are those words and beliefs that one consumes, which come from external sources. This is where those who are not filled with the Holy Spirit will preach what to eat or what not to eat, with opposing viewpoints on religious matters being that which further weakens faith [contradictions]. Thus, Paul wrote of his personal experience of going without food and drink for three days (three is a symbolic number that denotes a period of initial completion), simply by saying in his letter to the Romans how someone else’s views do nothing to strengthen the faith of new disciples. Without external influences, Saul became Paul.
From this understanding, one is then led to understand the deeper meaning that caused Paul to write, “Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord.” The only light of day one observes that matters is that of God’s, which is absorbed like photosynthesis and nourishes the new disciples (young vines) inwardly. This inner growth of awareness is then what leads one to stronger and stronger faith, such that one cannot owe honor to another human being, as all honor and thanks is due to the LORD.
When Paul posed the question, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?” he asked from personal experience. Saul held the coats for those who stoned Saint Stephen to death, when his “brother” Jews had cast their judgment on Stephen, for proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. Paul, as Saul, it was written: “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” That action brought on his spiritual encounter, where the Spirit of Christ asked Saul, “Why do you persecute me?” Thus Paul (the name of the converted Apostle) knew not to judge others, and by the Holy Spirit he advised those Christians of Rome, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
True Christians stand together as fountains of water of eternal life. They support one another by offering a drink of the Spirit, when another may become thirsty. But Apostles do not judge others, as they known no human can get any soul to Heaven, other than their own; and that means supporting others in their own individual relationships with God.
This is why Paul quoted Isaiah, who wrote: “Before me [the LORD] every knee will bow; by me [the LORD] every tongue will swear.” (Isaiah 45:23b) In that way Paul reminded those Christians of Rome to lead by example, with the Holy Spirit being the only motivation for tongue-wagging.
[Isaiah 45:23 – “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”]
“Each of us will be accountable to God.” When each individual has found his or her judgment coming from within, knowing there are no secrets kept from God, where every heart is truly known by the Christ Mind, then total commitment to God lead each one’s knee to bow to Him and an oath of love is sworn to serve only Him [engaged to God].
Accountability leads to repentance, which means one is able to gain a clear idea of where all false influences come, leading to the severance of loyalties to those who offer opinions that weaken one’s faith. We become “accountable to God,” which means we are each “expected or required to account for one’s actions.” One is then able to receive the Holy Spirit and then ACT for God, “in the name of Christ.”
The moral of this part of the Epistle to the Romans is directed at those human beings who claim to be Christian, but really have “weak faith.” I like to use the Forrest Gump analogy, where a true Christian sits at the bus stop meeting strangers. Strangers are those of all varying degrees of faith, most very weak in their devotion to the One God.
Weak-faith Christians often will “go to battle” for Christ, as if humming the tune to “Onward Christian soldiers” in their heads (an external influence). Many follow the mega-church superstars of cable television as their teachers, who tell them what to eat and what not to eat (or what trinket to buy for a “love offering”, so in return Pastor [fill in the blank] will have God bless them).
At the bus stop encountering the “Forrest Gump” Christian, those of weak faith open their mouths and insert their feet. Time and again Forrest asks them a question they have never been told the answer to. Those so-called Christians hop on the next bus or run away with their tails between their legs. All atheists (those of faith in science, not God) are left scratching their heads, with no learned retorts of biblical quotes they have memorized as examples of contradiction. The “Forrest” Christian explains all of that seeming inconsistency for them, using the tongue of God (not his brain … he’s not a smart man).
Like Forrest, Paul would not be judging any of the varying opinions that show up at the bus stop. When one is fishing for souls, you still have to put bait on the hook. The elderly woman that was enthralled by what Forrest was saying, offering, “Oh, there will be another bus. Please, go on.” was like the Romans. The ones who want to hear the truth have weak faith, but they want their faith strengthened. An Apostle has to speak for God, because God will have it no other way.
“Silence is not the way. We need to talk about it.”
The Israelites made lots of commitments to God, through Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, but they really had weak faith. They eventually went to Samuel and told him to go tell God they wanted to be led by a king, to be like other nations. That meant they were tired of being personally responsible for their own souls. They wanted to put all the guilt of a nation on one scapegoat, and then catch the bus into town so they could do wicked deeds for self-advancement. They lost everything in that process.
Paul was writing letters to lead the lost sheep back to the One God. The picture in Sunday School for children shows Jesus carrying a lost lamb to safety. In the adult word of true Christianity, the picture is you doing the carrying of your little lamb ego, while you can barely make out the Jesus Christ Mind that is behind your face. The moral of that picture is you must bow your knee to the LORD. After you make that commitment, then you go to bus stops and let God speak the truth. Forget ever getting on a bus and getting lost again.
“Each of us is accountable to God.” I know that is a fearful concept. So … breathe … slowly … in … out. Receive the Holy Spirit.