Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 38. Strong and Weak Faith
Rom 14:1,2 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
It is interesting that I set the structure up for where we will go in the next week’s worth of meditations several days ago, starting with this one, and only yesterday found myself in a conversation with a young man, zealous for God but frustrated with the pace of change in his church. I found myself saying, “It is funny. Ten years ago I was like you, frustrated with people not going on with God and felt I wanted to start up a new church with only people who were all out for God. I remember the Restoration Movement of a number of years ago and remember putting up one of the famous names in the early charismatic movement who was also a big mover in the Restoration movement, a godly man, a gentleman and yet a man who took no captives, a man who took a cold shower every morning and a man who spoke against a ‘mixed congregation’. I used to be like that but the Lord has so worked in me that I want to serve and minister to any age and any level of spiritual maturity.”
And that’s where we come to our verses above. Sometimes we hear it said that faith is just about believing but as we’ve seen before and now see in these verses, it is more than that. It is doing as a result of believing and the believing is because we have heard from God – but not everyone has ‘heard’ the same. To start with our two verses state three important truths: first, that not everybody has the same level of faith; second, it is possible in some things to have weak faith and still be a Christian and, third, it must be implied that God still loves us and accepts us even with weak faith. Paul is talking about Christians, Christians with weak faith, acceptable to God.
As I carried on explaining to my young zealot friend, the truth is that in any church there will be all levels of maturity. Maturity I would like to suggest, , comes only with time, (plus a few other things!) and so in your church there may be people who have only come to the Lord in the past year, and others who came to the Lord forty years ago – and all shades between. But faith isn’t always linked to how long you have been in the kingdom. Some people come bounding into the kingdom full of faith from the word go – “Give me some water to walk on” – and they do! Other people come into the kingdom with what I can only describe as a softer faith; it is good for everyday life but not yet ready to do miracles (who is?). My mother was like this. She came to the Lord in her late fifties and was as gentle and sincere a Christian as you could find, but ‘walking on water’ would not have been her sort of thing.
I realise that I use that expression as shorthand for big faith stuff, you understand, from Peter’s example of walking on the water in the middle of the night – Mt 14:28,29. So yes, there are many of us who are not yet there, but the Lord still loves us just the same. Does He want us to stay there? No, because He would love His children to be stepping out with His resources more and more. I also realise that as we worked through Hebrews 11, the writer there seemed to take us deeper and deeper in, putting before us examples of people who stepped out in the face of almost certain death, and so we confronted serious issues, which may have left some feeling nervous. The lesson from those stories is that whatever the Lord allows us to face, His grace will be sufficient to handle it – when or if it comes – and we need not worry. That may not be the path that you and I have in front of us, so we should not allow the enemy to scare us.
Let’s expand the reading including our two starting verses: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” (Rom 14:1-4) It appears to be all about what people eat. In those days they had the problem quite often, that meat that turned up for sale had first been placed before idols in worship and so some believers felt they could not eat any meat just in case it had been used in idol worship. Others said that it didn’t matter and so were quite happy to eat meat even if some superstitious people recited silly words over it. God is bigger than that, they would say, so it’s fine to eat it. No problem. So, two groups of people whose behaviour is dependent on what they believe right teaching would be, what they think God has said – but they are still both Christians and God accepts them both. Look, says Paul, we are all of us God’s servants if you like, so leave it up to God to sort out, and He will. Leave it in His hands, and in the meantime operate in the level of faith that you have.
You know the funny thing? If that had been the Corinthian church you might have had a vegetable eater moving in the gifts of healing and a meat eater moving in the gift of knowledge. Being limited in one area does not necessarily mean we will be limited in all areas. I know of people who are strong in God’s word, operate gifts of mercy and are a real blessing to the church, but when it comes to matters of the Holy Spirit generally, they question and they doubt and dip their toes in gingerly into the waters of Spirit-faith. They are not there yet, but God loves them. Other people move in gifts of prophecy but struggle in their giving; their level of generosity has not caught up with level of faith to prophesy. Do not let the enemy put you down in you feel you are weak in faith in some area; you are probably strong in another area. Just let Him work in you in due time to raise your faith levels across the board and in the meantime, just rejoice in His love for you.