This Sunday’s passage for the sermon is 1 Timothy 4:1-5. As I was going through it in the original language and some different commentaries dealing primarily with the original language, something one said concerning the last 3 verses caught my attention because it reminded me of something Dr. Hoch, my advisor and main professor in seminary said numerous times. This is from the Expositor’s Greek Testament commentary: “Paul had come to realize how tyrannical the weak brother could be and he had become less tolerant of him.”
I remember Dr. Hoch talking about the weak brother and strong brother, specifically in connection with Paul’s words to the Corinthian church. Dr. Hoch talked about how the “offense” of which Paul spoke by the stronger believer against the weaker believer was misunderstood. The typical use was when someone did something allowable in Christ (like consuming alcohol in moderation, for example) that somebody else didn’t like, but would never actually do, that was an offense. “I’m offended that you did that” would be the common statement. The idea was that the “weaker” believer would now become the standard for what was appropriate to do or not do.
Dr. Hoch said that he had never actually seen a “weaker” brother, for just saying, “I’m offended,” didn’t qualify. If a person didn’t drink alcohol because s/he thought it was a sin, but didn’t start drinking because of seeing another believer do so, that person has not been offended, biblically. Therefore, s/he is not a weaker believer. Dr. Hoch told us numerous times that he had never truly seen a weaker believer. When confronted by someone who didn’t like what he did but he knew to be permissible in Christ, saying, “Well, I never!”, his response was, “Well, then don’t!”
A weaker believer is one who, at his/her current spiritual maturity level, believes any consumption of alcohol to be a sin, observes another believer more mature in the faith who understands that drinking alcohol in moderation is perfectly acceptable in Christ, and then drinks him/herself and is convicted in his/her conscience of having sinned. It is only at this point that the more mature believer has truly offended a less mature believer and only if s/he is made aware of it. The more mature believer cannot be restricted from the activity because there MIGHT be a less mature believer around somewhere who just MIGHT be offended. That’s not how it works, but I have heard that as an argument for not participating in certain activities, like the consumption of alcohol.
The less mature believer is not to be the standard for what is acceptable in Christ. The more mature believer is to teach the less mature believer why it is acceptable for a certain demonstrated behavior or activity, like the moderate consumption of alcohol and, thereby, helping that less mature believer become more mature, growing in the truth.
Some may find this harsh, but there are Christian groups still today who espouse views about what is or is not acceptable that mimic those Paul teaches against in 1 Timothy 4:3-5. I can only imagine what Paul would write to them if he were still alive today.