Now, before I am misunderstood, I should make something clear. Many areas that Scripture clearly defines are not debatable at all. It is always wrong to be drunk. It is always wrong to commit adultery or fornicate. Homosexuality is always forbidden. As well as murder and theft. These things are clearly wrong. In both the Old and New Testaments, God has spoken, he has judged in these areas. Christians are exhorted to rebuke and exhort and reprove one another, and, if necessary, even discipline one another according to patterns set out in the Scriptures. This is not judging each other in those areas. The Word of God has judged; it has already pronounced what is wrong.
However, there are all those other areas that are left open, and amazingly, and what is significant here, is that Scripture always leaves those issues open. Paul will not give a “yes” or “no” answer about some of these things because God does not do so. There is an area, in other words, where God wants to leave it up to the individual as to what he or she does. As we will see later, he expects it to be based on a deep conviction of that individual. But it is up to them. This is what Paul is talking about here. It is also clear that he calls the “liberal party” strong in the faith, while the “narrow party” is regarded as being weak in the faith.
I use many translations in these studies and my personal favorite is J.B. Phillips. It is indeed a translation and not a paraphrase, but I just appreciate the way Phillips phrases things. I did find it interesting that the New International Version, is wrong in Verse 1 where it translates: “Accept him whose faith is weak.” It has nothing to do with the strength or weakness of the individual’s faith. It is not talking about someone whose faith is weak. It is talking about someone who is weak in the faith. I know that just sounds like verbiage, but the actual problem has nothing to do with the words, it is doctrinal here. The problem is he does not understand truth. Remember, Jesus himself said, “If anyone continue in my word, he shall be my disciple indeed and he shall know the truth and the truth will set him free,” (John 8:31-32 KJV).
The mark of understanding truth is freedom; it is liberty. That is why Paul calls the person who understands truth clearly, someone who is strong in the faith, while those who do not understand it clearly are weak in the faith. They do not understand the delivering character of truth.
I think William Barclay in his commentary on Romans has handled this well. He says:
Such a man is weak in the faith for two reasons:
(i) He has not yet discovered the meaning of Christian freedom; he is at heart still a legalist; he sees Christianity as a thing of rules and regulations. His whole aim is to govern his life by a series of laws and observances; he is indeed frightened of Christian freedom and Christian liberty.
(ii) He has not yet liberated himself from a belief in the efficacy of works. In his heart he believes that he can gain God’s favor by doing certain things and abstaining from doing others. Basically he is still trying to earn a right relationship with God, and has not yet accepted the way of grace. He is still thinking of what he can do for God more than of what God has done for him.
That is what is going on here. It is referring to a Christian who is not yet fully understanding the freedom that Christ has brought him. They are struggling with these kinds of things, and feel limited in their ability to do some of these things—while others feel free to do so. The one person is called strong in the faith; the other is called weak in the faith. Every church has these groups. I see it all the time.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome