A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 14:1-15:13. Our relationship to the weak: 1). The positive principle (1).
The positive principle is in two parts. First, *Accept him whose faith is weak* (1a). We note that there is no attempt to conceal or disguise what these brothers and sisters are. They are weak in faith (here meaning ‘conviction’), immature, untaught, and (as Paul’s unfolding argument makes clear) actually mistaken. Yet on that account they are to be neither ignored, nor reproached, nor (at least at this stage) corrected, but rather to be received into the fellowship. *Proslambano* means more than to ‘accept’ people, in the sense of acquiescing in their existence, even in their right to belong; more even than to ‘receive or accept in one’s society, into one’s home or circle of acquaintances’ (BAGD). It means to welcome into one’s fellowship and into one’s heart. It implies the warmth and kindness of genuine love. Thus, it is used in the New Testament of Philemon giving to Onesimus the same welcome that he would give to the apostle (Phm.17), of the Maltese who welcomed the bedraggled, shipwrecked company after they had swum ashore (Acts 28:2), and even of Jesus who promises to welcome his people into his presence in heaven (Jn.14:3).
‘Acceptance’ is a popular word today, and rightly so. Theologically, God’s acceptance of us is quite a good contemporary term for justification. But we should be cautious about modern talk of ‘unconditional acceptance’, as when the concept of an ‘open church’ is canvassed, in which membership is offered to everybody, with no questions asked and no conditions laid down. For though God’s love is indeed unconditional, his acceptance of us is not, since it depends on our repentance and our faith in Jesus Christ. We need to bear this in mind when we consider that we are to accept the weak (14:1) since ‘God has accepted him’ (14:3), and to accept one another ‘just as Christ accepted’ us (15:7).
Secondly, having reflected on the principle of acceptance, we need to observe its qualification: *without passing judgment on disputable matters* (1b). Both Greek words have a range of meanings. *Diakriseis* (translated *passing judgment*) can mean discussions, debates, quarrels or judgments, and *dialogismoi* can mean opinions, scruples or ‘the anxious internal debates of conscience’. Paul is saying, then, that we must receive the weak person with a warm and genuine welcome, ‘without debate over his misgivings’ or scruples (REB), or ‘not for the purpose of getting into quarrels about opinions’ (BAGD). In other words, we are not to turn the church into a debating chamber, whose chief characteristic is argument, still less into a lawcourt in which weak persons are put in the dock, interrogated and arraigned. The welcome we give them must include respect for their opinions.
Tomorrow: Our relationship to the weak: 2). The negative consequences.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.