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Who are the strong and who are the weak among the church?

Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in blog links, books, discipleship | 8 comments

Who are the strong and who are the weak among the church?

Arthur at “The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia” recently wrote a short review of Dave Black’s new book Paul, Apostle of Weakness: Astheneia and Its Cognates in the Pauline Literature. Arthur’s review is called “Book Review: Paul, Apostle of Weakness.”

Last week, Arthur published another post called “The Strong Must Accept the Weak” in which he responds further to Dave Black’s new book. While his review is really good, I appreciated this post even more.

Arthur begins by reviewing his own history with the “strong” and the “weak”:

I have always gravitated toward traditions in Christianity that focus on “being right” and often those traditions made “being right” a lot more than just an honest attempt to live faithfully. Instead they all too often became a way to lord over the “less mature”, uninformed or just plain ignorant among the Body.

Arthus ends with some new thoughts after reading Black’s new book:

The church is not set up to be a place where the strong dominate the weak but where the strong love the weak.We tend to naturally gravitate to a hierarchy where we place the strongest at the top and the weakest at the bottom. The strong are recognized by title and prestige. There is of course nothing wrong with recognizing the more mature among us but they should be noted for their service and exemplary lives, not for dominating and demanding.

The church is only as strong as it treats the weakest among us. If we see the weak as people to be ostracized and avoided lest they infect us or as fools to be corrected by our superior knowledge, perhaps we are not quite as strong as we think we are.

As I read through Arthur’s post and as I thought about this topic (i.e., Paul’s use of the term “weak” – astheneia), I realized something.

There are times when Paul counts himself among the “strong”:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1 ESV)

And there are times when Paul counts himself among the “weak”:

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30 ESV)

So, is Paul “strong” or “weak”?

Typically, today, when people talk about the “strong” and the “weak” among the church, they point to some as being the “strong” and others as being the “weak.” The strong are always strong, and the weak are always weak. (By the way, I’m not suggested that either Arthur or Dave Black are saying this. I’m simply relating the way I’ve typically heard these terms used.)

However, it seems that Paul thought that he could be strong at times and weak at other times. And, I think this is the right way to think about this. I can be strong at times, and I can be weak at times. Sometimes, you are strong; at other times, you are weak. This is true of any followers of Jesus Christ – male or female, young or old, mature or immature.

And, it also seems that the “weak” rarely recognize their weakness, but often they see their weakness as a strength.

If we recognize this in ourselves and others, we would accept that we might be the “weak” and our brother/sister might be the “strong” in any particular situation. We would treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with more respect and honor, even when we disagree with them.

I think this would greatly improve our ability to relate to one another, to disciple one another, and to be discipled by one another.

What do you think? Would it be beneficial to treat someone with whom we disagree as “strong” instead of “weak”? How would it benefit our relationships and ability to disciple one another if we recognized that we may actually be the “weak” party?


8 Comments

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  1. 2-6-2013

    This goes right along with your post about who we allow to speak in our churches. Do we really believe the Holy Spirit can use anybody – young, old, new in relationship with Christ or mature in relationship with Him? It will show in how we listen to/label people.

    If we label those who are young or new as “weak” based on knowledge or information in their brains, then we are totally missing the whole walk, really. The christian faith is not about information/knowledge predominantly. I have found that God can input revelation, insight, knowledge into anybody’s mind quite quickly —- and can change that information or perspective or interpretation quite quickly — so He really can use anybody to speak His Truth. My point is that knowledge shouldn’t be the deciding factor on who we see as weak/strong/who we listen to.

    I do believe that love (true genuine love-when-it’s-really-not-easy type love) & faith (to trust in His sovereignty, trust that all things can be for our good) are things that take a lot longer time to be nurtured & matured in the heart – since they are relationship based and relationships take time. It won’t be the same amount of time for everybody. Some quickly grow close to the Lord, some take a lot longer…. so again we can’t necessarily judge them by “years spent walking with the Lord”.

    And yes – those who are most aware of their dependency on Him, and His sovereignty – are the most “strong”, mature. So I definitely agree with you & Paul about weaknesses seen as strengths.

    It is also amazing to me how the message I think I am saying with my knowledge I’m sharing is not the message the Holy Spirit inputs into somebody’s heart. So He really can take the seeds we are planting and have the listener hear something we didn’t even think we were communicating…. am I making sense? It’s just another example of how knowledge is just knowledge. YES it’s important we seek knowledge of Him from His Word, and become a student of His Words….. but it is secondary to relationship with Him. It’s a tool to be able to connect with Him – it isn’t the end – it’s the means to the end.

    So saying all that……..because we can’t judge by amount of knowledge/information…. because we can’t judge by years spent with the Lord…… and because God can use anybody at any point to give knowledge through…… then we should always be willing to listen & learn.. and worry less about trying to judge where people are in their walk…. worry less about who is above, below, next to, behind, ahead of us…. and just listen for the Holy Spirit who is in every brother & sister!!

    Anyway – lots of Randi rambling to say – yes I agree with you!!!

  2. 2-6-2013

    Yes, God will be God, and He will use whom he chooses, be it a “mature” believer, a 5 year old, or (in the case of Balaam,) a donkey. Personally, some of the most profound things I have heard have come from the lips of young children, perhaps the epitome of weakness. I suspect it is because they have a simple faith uncontaminated by pride or theology.

    And yes Alan, we all have our places and moments of weakness, as I read this I kept hearing Joel 3:10–“Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, I am strong [a warrior]!” Oh that we all would see ourselves as weak, that we might be strong in Him, and that He would be glorified in our weakness. 2 Cor 13:4 (especially the second half)– “For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He goes on living by the power of God. And though we too are weak in Him [as He was humanly weak], yet in dealing with you [we shall show ourselves] alive and strong in [fellowship with] Him by the power of God.”

  3. 2-6-2013

    Ouch! As I first started reading this, I was thinking of an incident where someone who would be considered weak was mistreated by someone who is strong and should know better. Then I realized that I, too, had mistreated that person by not validating the feelings. Instead, I tried to explain the motivation of the stronger person. The weaker person believed I was defending the stronger one. That made the matter worse.

  4. 2-6-2013

    When Paul talks about strong vs. weak in Romans 15, I think the analogue in our context for the weak would be the really loud, overzealous, spiritually immature believers who like to play orthodoxy police with other people.

  5. 2-6-2013

    Randi,

    You said, “If we label those…” That’s the key, isn’t it? If we label someone as “weak,” then that’s what we’ll expect from them. And, the opposite for those who we label as “strong.”

    Kevin,

    Yes. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone arguing for a position say that their position is the “weak” position… interesting, huh?

    Jean,

    What a great example! Thank you!

    Morgan,

    And, I’m guessing that “loud, overzealous” person would consider him/herself to be strong.

    -Alan

  6. 2-7-2013

    I wonder if Paul is deliberately blurring the strong/weak distinctions in order to knock the props from under ‘comparing ourselves with ourselves’.
    Also, it seems that ‘strong’ is measured by how much we ‘bear with the failings of the weak’, even if they think they are strong. Sometimes when I think about this scripture, it seems that Paul is saying “We who are strong (in our own estimation)…”
    I agree with Randi, “worry less about trying to judge where people are in their walk…… and just listen for the Holy Spirit who is in every brother & sister!!”
    Another great topic, Alan. Thanks for bringing it up.
    Nelson

  7. 2-7-2013

    Romans 14:1-5(NET) Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind.
    It has amused me to realize that the most judgmental folks I have known technically do not qualify for the ‘weaker-brother’ treatment because they are fully convinced they are the stronger brother and have perfect knowledge! True humility and acceptance should be the goal, but it sure is difficult when you interact with a ‘strong’ brother who has missed the admonition of Romans 14!

  8. 2-7-2013

    Nelson,

    “…blurring the strong/weak distinctions…” I think that’s a great way to look at it!

    Tom,

    It almost seems that if someone considered him/herself to be “strong,” it is very likely that person is truly demonstrating him/herself to be “weak.”

    -Alan