Have you ever had someone that just didn’t see eye to eye on a certain issue with you? It wasn’t a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, it wasn’t a ‘black’ or ‘white’ issue, it really amounted to a whole lot of nothing! There was no principle or doctrine at stake. No one’s life was at stake. Nothing of any great consequence of itself pertained to the whole matter; but they didn’t leave it alone and they turned a mole hill into a mountain. And because of their reaction; not the issue itself; there is now a problem either at work, at home, or unfortunately at church.
There’s an old saying, which says; “if you ever find the perfect church, then don’t join it; because once you do; it will cease to be perfect!” That has some amount of truth in it; but not the whole truth. That is certainly true of ever church because no one is perfect! There’s no perfect church because there’s no perfect people; boil us all down and you will get the same basic matter, sin! However, whoever said that saying didn’t know any about church; because we don’t come here because we are perfect, but because Jesus is perfect! If we were perfect we would be worshipping ourselves instead worshipping God! So if your’re not perfect this is still the place for you.
There was no perfect church of the New Testament because there were no perfect people. Besides all that God was doing of calling Gentile and Jew together into the body of Christ; something absolutely brand new mind you; still the age old problem of getting along simply just didn’t go away. People; even saved people had to work at getting along in the house of God over things that we can call non essentials things.
Remember essential things of the faith are doctrine, principles, philosophy of ministry. Things that we have to be in agreement on for to fellowship under the same roof. No agreement on the essentials things then there’s no unity, fellowship.
But there are also non essentials things, like what color your like, what type of car you drive, what type of sports you like if any, how you part your hair, what news channel you like, what side of town you live on, whether you went to college or not, things that I think really aren’t going to matter in eternity.
You would be surprised how many folks lay out of church because for no other reason than what we could call a non essential reason. “Well, I don’t like that way the church looks from the road.”
That in our time the non essentials have replaced the essentials when people consider a church for their church. It should be that way, but it is to some extent.
But dealing with non essential issues have always be a dividing point in churches. Paul address the problems that non essentials cause in the church. Paul says also who has the problems with the non essentials.
The Apostle Paul devoted nearly five chapters in two of his letters to the problems caused by people who have a weak conscience: I Corinthians 8, 9 and 10 and Romans 14 and 15. God wants us to develop a strong conscience because Christians who have a weak conscience can create problems for themselves and for other believers. In fact, I am convinced that many of the divisions and dissensions in churches today and across the evangelical world are caused by people who have a weak conscience.
Let's consider this matter of a weak conscience by looking at three important points.
I. Characteristics of a Weak Conscience
First, let's consider the characteristics of a weak conscience. How can I tell whether or not I am a Christian with a weak conscience? There are at least eight characteristics of the person with the weak conscience.
A. Saved and in the Church
First of all, he is saved. Let's make this very clear. He is saved, and second, he is in the church. In Romans 14:1 Paul said, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." In other words, this person is a Christian, and he is in the church. He's not supposed to be kept out of the church because he has a weak conscience. It’s a sad fact about churches; but folks in churches are just like folks out there in the world; they gravitate to others that share the same views and bias that they have about non essential things to the point that they exclude others. You have heard them called by another name, ‘Clicks’. The strong click was excluding, or wanting to exclude these folks who had as Paul called it a weak conscience.
B. Lacks Knowledge
Third, he lacks knowledge. In I Corinthians 8:7 we read these words: "However, there is not in every man that knowledge; for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it [this food] as a thing offered unto an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled."
The problem in the Corinthian church was "Should a Christian eat meat that's been offered on the altar of some idol?" The cheapest meat in Corinth was available from the butcher shops at the temples. The strong Christians said, "An idol is nothing, and meat offered to an idol is not defiled; so I'll buy that meat." The weak Christians said, "Oh, no! We were saved out of idolatry, and that meat has been defiled!" And so the weak Christians did not have enough knowledge to understand spiritual things. They were still living, as it were, in infancy, and they didn't realize that food itself is neither good nor bad in relation to the spiritual life.
They lacked what Paul called “Knowledge.” Now where do you think that this knowledge that Paul refers to comes from?
TV Guide, newspaper, or the Word of God?
(We will come back to this point)
C. Easily Wounded and Offended
A fourth characteristic is that the person with the weak conscience is easily wounded and offended. First Corinthians 8:12 says, “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ." Romans 14:15 says, “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. ."
The person with the weak conscience is very easily wounded, very easily offended, and he's bothered by the freedom practiced by those who have a strong conscience. This leads to the fifth characteristic: He's very unstable, and he stumbles very easily. Romans 14:13 says, " Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way."
Little children who are immature stumble over the smallest things. But adults, who have learned how to walk and balance themselves, are not usually troubled by those things.
Unstable in relationships, there in love one day and our of love the next. Unstable in church, always in and out of church. Unstable in life; their jobs, their parenting, their marriage.
E. Critical of Others
A sixth characteristic of a person with a weak conscience is this: He is very critical of others. Romans 14:3,4 says, "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him who eateth not judge him that eateth; for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be held up; for God is able to make him stand."
In the Roman church the problem was what you should eat and on what day you should honor God.
They had problems with diets and days. The weaker Christians said, "Oh, we cannot eat this meat! We cannot eat these things!" The stronger Christians said, "You can eat anything." The weak Christians said, "Certain days are very special, and we must commemorate these days." The stronger Christians said, "Every day is a good day if you're walking with the Lord." The result was a divided church because the weaker Christians were critical of the stronger Christians.
The Christian with the weak conscience is legalistic. He lives by rules and regulations because he fears freedom. He is like a child. A child enjoys being smothered by Mother's love—he enjoys the protection. Then one day Mother says, "OK, you're going off to school." The child says, "I don't want to go to school." So he runs home from school, or he hides when he should be going to school. Why? He's afraid of freedom. It's dangerous to cross the street; it's dangerous to be thrown into a crowd of people you don't know. Mature adults don't worry about that. In fact, as we mature in the Lord we are happy to have new experiences, to meet new people, to face new challenges.
The person with the weak conscience is legalistic. He follows many rules and regulations. Please understand, I am not opposing standards. Mature adults must have standards. There are some things we will not do because we know better. But that's not what we build our lives on. We have standards because we love the Lord, because we love one another, because we've learned to appreciate the things that are good and holy and right. But the person with the weak conscience is very legalistic. He measures everybody else by his rules, and he is very easily offended if you do something different from the way he does it.
G. Confused Priorities
Finally, the person with the weak conscience has his priorities confused. He focuses on the externals and not on the internals and the eternals. Romans 14:17 says, "For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." The weak saints have a list of rules and regulations concerning what to eat and what not to eat, where to go and where not to go. But Paul said that these external things are not the important things. They are the by-products of what God is doing in your heart. Therefore, don't get your priorities confused.
Some people have the idea that the person with the rigid rules and regulations is the one with the strong conscience, and the person who exercises freedom in the Lord has the weak conscience. But it's just the other way around! The person with the strong conscience is tolerant of the differences he sees in other people. The person with the strong conscience does not stumble or become easily offended because of what somebody says or does. The person with the weak conscience is the person who, when he sees one thing in a magazine that he doesn't like, cancels his subscription. The Christian with the weak conscience is the one who, when he hears a piece of music he doesn't like, either leaves the church or stops supporting the radio ministry.
The weak conscience person judges with his feelings and what he thinks; not by what the word of God says and teaches. The strong conscience puts aside what they think and feel; and let the word teach them and guide them!
II. The Cause of a Weak Conscience
This leads to our second thought: What is the cause of a weak conscience? Why are people in our churches easily offended, critical, unstable and legalistic? What causes this? I think basically it is lack of growth. I think these people are afraid of freedom. Perhaps they were raised this way. Some people are raised in very legalistic homes, and they don't have the confidence of the Lord in their lives. Some people need constant support. They have to be propped up to be assured. They have to be affirmed constantly. They are, in a word, like children.
It's one thing to be childlike, but it's quite another to be childish. It's a marvelous thing for a little baby to cling to Mother. It's a terrible thing for a 40-yearold man to cling to a set of rules and regulations. Basically it boils down to a lack of spiritual knowledge.
In I Corinthians 8 Paul made it very clear that knowledge, love and conscience go together. As we grow in knowledge and as we practice love, we grow in the Lord and develop a strong conscience.
Hebrews 5:12-14 pretty well summarizes this situation: " For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." In other words, when the child of God feeds on the Word of God (the food) and obeys the Lord (the exercise), then he grows. Conscience grows as it is exercised.
How do you hinder conscience from growing? Depend on other people to tell you what to say and do. Have a list of rules and regulations, some external standards (other than biblical standards) that guide you in making your decisions.
We have had the joy of raising four children. When they were little, we had to have rules and regulations. We had to say, "You don't go near the highway. You do not leave the back door open—the baby may fall down the stairs. You do not leave a knife on the table—the baby may pick it up and get hurt." But as the children grew older, flexibility moved into our home, and we started operating, not by rules and regulations but by love and principles.
We live by certain principles. We want our children to grow. We want them to be able to exercise discernment. We can't constantly be making their decisions for them. How terrible it would be if God handed us a little rule book that told us what to watch on television, what to read in the newspapers and what to do here and what to do there. We would never grow. We would never exercise our muscles.
The cause of a weak conscience is lack of knowledge (the window is not letting in the light), lack of exercise and a fear of freedom. Some ministries keep people weak so that they might be able to manipulate them and make them do what they want them to do. My task as a minister of the Gospel is to help you grow, which leads us to our third thought.
III. The Cure for a Weak Conscience
What is the cure for a weak conscience? I'll tell you what the cure is not. It's not scolding, and it's not beating weak saints over the head!
If your little child is lying in bed saying, "Daddy, there's a bear under my bed," you know very well there's no bear under the bed. But scolding won't solve the problem. What do you do? You go in, you turn the light on, you put your arms around the child, you assure the child that Daddy and Mommy are there. After a while the child laughs and says, "Well, I guess there's no bear under my bed."
The "little children" in our churches with weak consciences need love, truth and exercise.
Ephesians 4:15 gives us the recipe: " But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ."
Love without truth is hypocrisy, but truth without love is brutality. We don't want either extreme. If you have knowledge without love, that's tyranny.
If I know something you don't know, I can intimidate you with what I know.
But love without knowledge could be anarchy—allowing you to do whatever you want to do.
Knowledge and love must be balanced.
In I Corinthians 8 Paul made it very clear that we must never deliberately offend a person's conscience. Conscience attaches itself to the highest standard the person knows. We don't blame the person for not knowing more; we help the person to know more. We open the Word of God and teach him.
Romans 14 and 15 give us three instructions for helping those who have a weak conscience.
A. First, receive them.
"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye" (14:1). Don't argue with them, receive them. Don't argue about music, translations or worldliness, just receive them. And receive them in love! Don't judge one another. Don't condemn one another. Learn to be tolerant of one another. A mature person understands that other people can be different. Being different doesn't mean being worse or being better, it just means being different. So receive them.
B. Second, edify them.
Paul told us very clearly in Romans 14:13-23 to edify them, to build them up, to help them grow.
And third, Romans 15 says we should please them. "We, then, that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (v. 1). A little baby is catered to. The baby is pleased (not pampered, not spoiled), and the parents give in to the baby. Why? The baby lacks understanding and needs a time of transition, an opportunity for growth.
Why do we receive the person who has a weak conscience? That we might be able to edify him. Why do we please him? That we might be able to edify him. Why do we share the truth in love? That we might help him grow out of a weak conscience into a strong conscience.
I think the mistake we're making in our churches today is that we receive people who have a weak conscience and then we keep them that way! That is unbiblical! We must help them to grow. Romans 14 makes it very clear that our task is to love them, to please them and to receive them—not so that we can argue with them and judge them but to help them grow so they, in turn, can help other Christians grow.
I think that many of the problems in churches today are caused by people who have a weak conscience. They are critical, they are easily offended, they are unstable, they lack knowledge. It's tragic when these people get into places of leadership because then they make everybody else remain babies.
In the home, the older children help the younger children grow up. When we have in our church a Christian with a weak conscience, it's our job to help that person to grow up. It's a marvelous thing when we have this mixture of strong and weak in our churches because those who have the weak conscience remind those who are stronger not to be arrogant and proud but to be tender, loving and patient. Those who have a strong conscience are to help those with a weak conscience grow up.
Remember that the problem Paul was addressing here wasn’t over sin. When sin is the issue its cut and dry! Don’t think for a minute that you can excuse yourself in sin saying that you have a strong conscience. When the bible says its sin, its sin whether you believe it to be or not! When you thin and act like that you’re heading for a train wreck, and there’s going to be a lot of damage to yourself and others.
The problem here was over non essential things, that could become sin to someone else.
The take home message is that our conscience grows. Paul placed himself with the ‘strong’ but he didn’t start that way, because nobody does. His conscience grew with his knowledge of the word of God.
Has your conscience grown since you were saved? Has your knowledge of the word help grow your conscience?
May the Lord help us not to have a weak conscience but to grow in Him, to have a strong conscience and to help others grow and be strong in the Lord.