Often, when it comes to the issue of alcohol, it is only a matter of time before the inevitable point gets made of giving preference to the “weaker brother.” People pull this principle out as a trump card as if it settles the issue once and for all, but some serious thought needs to be given to the idea of the “weaker brother” and how it is that we are to interact with such a one.
First, it is worth noting that the whole principle behind the weaker brother is the issue of maturity. The weaker brother is one who in a specific area of life is by admission weak, lacking, or somehow deficient. Somehow, modern North American Christendom (yes, this is primarily a cultural issue) has allowed this to become the default position. But wait just a minute. Are we really okay with allowing those who are by their own admission weak, deficient, and by extension somewhat immature to maintain such a status? Should we not desire that these people grow in their maturity so they may be strengthened in the area of deficiency?
Paul certainly seemed to be concerned with presenting every man complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). The text seems pretty clear about how Paul and his entourage were accomplishing this task. The goal for Paul’s ministry was that everyone under his ministry would stand before Christ not lacking anything (having no weakness). The means Paul used to accomplish this are also clearly stated in Colossians 1:28: first by preaching Christ, and also by teaching and correcting those who are in error. An additional means by which we can address areas of deficiency would be to follow and imitate those who are mature. All of these things only happen in the context of relationships where believers are actually walking with each other and living life with each other so they can share one another’s burdens. When it comes to areas of weakness it should be noted that we all have areas of weakness and deficiency. The goal, however, is to grow in maturity and strengthen the areas in our lives that are lacking. The goal is never to stay in a state of immaturity!
Please understand, I am not claiming that maturity is equated with exercising liberties. I absolutely believe that some people should abstain from certain liberties even though the Bible may grant them freedom to participate. In some cases, a past circumstance or struggle with temptation/sin may prevent someone from partaking in a certain activity. I do not think such a person is weak or immature at all; in fact, I think this person could be very wise and incredibly mature.
To go back to the example of alcohol, the point is not to get everyone in the church drinking. All I am suggesting is that the “weaker brother” argument is sometimes used as a trump card. In other words, no one in the church is allowed to use their biblically granted freedom to drink alcohol because someone in the church is offended by it. Let’s certainly be sensitive to these weaker brothers, but let’s also help them mature in their understanding. If they believe that drinking is a sin—even though the Bible does not portray it as a sin—then let’s be careful not to offend them, but let’s also teach them what the Bible says about such matters and help them develop a Christian response to the issue.
Across the board, when we see someone weak, ignorant, or struggling in some area our goal is to help them grow. Why should it be any different with the “weaker brother”?