Treatment of the Weak

by Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)
(Chapter 3 from the excellent book, How to Treat Different Types of Church Members)

Romans 14:1, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations."

The word, "weak," in this passage means "without power" or "little power."

I have often said that there are four groups of people in the First Baptist Church of Hammond. Group # 1 is composed of those who accept what the preacher says because the preacher says it. Group #2 is composed of those who believe what the preacher says and accept it because they already believed it. Somewhere else they were grounded in the faith, and then to their surprise they found someone who agreed with them years after they thought such preachers were extinct. Group #3 is that group of people who listen to what the preacher says, consider the pros and cons and decide whether or not to accept it. Group #4 is that group of people in the church who believe nothing the preacher says, but they love to hear him say it. Now it matters not whether these four groups comprise the membership of a local church, but one thing is for sure: There are different degrees of strength among our church members! Some church members are strong. Some have fallen, some are heartbroken, and, yes, some are weak. The Bible does not leave us in wonder about the treatment of these weak ones.

Notice again Romans 14:1, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." Notice especially the words, "in the faith." These are saved people about whom the Apostle is speaking. Yet, they are weak Christians.

1. We are to receive them. Notice the words, "receive ye." God is telling us to receive the weak in the faith. This means that we are to welcome them. We are to have special interest in them. We are not to remind them of their weakness, but we are to accept them as brothers in Christ and make them feel as one of us, for, of a fact, they are.

2. We are not to receive them to "doubtful disputations." We are not to engage in arguments with them about our differences. This is what preaching is for! This is what Bible teaching is for!

This is explained in Romans 14:2 and 3, "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him." Here we have one Christian who eats meats and another who is a vegetarian. They are not to engage in doubtful disputations.

We find another example in verses 5 and 6, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks: and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks." One Christian observes a certain day; another Christian does not. They are not to engage in doubtful disputations concerning this. One Christian observes Easter as a holy day. Another strong Christian who knows the Bible knows that Easter is not a holy day. Colossians 2:14-17, "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." God is telling us that we should not get with the weaker brother and argue with him about such matters.

I preach all over America. Nearly every week I am with someone who would disagree with me on some matter that could be called a doubtful disputation. For example, I do not believe a church choir should wear robes. I go to many churches whose choirs are robed. I do not engage in doubtful disputations with the pastor concerning this matter.

I go to churches whose music is different from ours. It is not sinful music; it is just not what we prefer here at First Baptist Church. I do not engage in doubtful disputations concerning this matter.

3. We are to withdraw ourselves from every weak brother who has a disorderly walk. II Thessalonians 3:6, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." This does not mean that we are to be unkind to anyone. The Bible is very plain concerning our grace and kindness to all, but it is also very plain concerning the fact that we are not to engage in social life or in regular fellowship with some Christians. I do not believe for a second that this is talking about church membership. I do not believe it is talking about the weak person or the disorderly person not being welcome in the church services. I think God is telling the individual Christians to watch the crowd with whom they run and to associate with strong Christians. The word "withdraw" means to "bend away." Though we are to be nice to people who walk disorderly, we are certainly not supposed to run with their crowd.

The word "disorderly" here is a military term which means "out of step" or "out of rank." Of course, in the light of all Scripture we are to be gracious and kind, forbearing and patient with these weak ones, but we should not walk with them, spend long seasons of time with them, unless, of course, we are helping them to become stronger by teaching them the Word or explaining to them the Christian life.

This is explained again in II Thessalonians 3:14, "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." Note the words, "have no company with him." This means we are not to mingle with them. Sure, we see them at church. We shake their hands. We welcome them. We try to strengthen them, but we do not enter into social activities with them. Often Christians attempt to do so in order to strengthen the weak, and inevitably such a relationship weakens the strong!

We have the same teaching in I Corinthians 5:11, "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." Notice especially the words, "not to keep company" Once again we have the idea of not mixing, mingling, or socializing with them.

Some of the sins of these weak ones are mentioned in verse 11. Of course, we all know what a fornicator is. We all know what an idolater is. We know what a drunkard is. We know what an extortioner is. The word "covetous" means "greedy" The word "railer" means "an evil speaker" or "critical." It is very plain that with people who criticize, people who are greedy, people who are fornicators, people who are drunkards, people who are extortioners, etc., we are not to keep company!

Notice the last eight words of I Corinthians 5:11, "with such an one no not to eat." Here we have a simple explanation. Eating is a sign of socializing, a symbol of sharing pleasures and fellowship. 'Ibis means that if someone is critical and asks you to go out to eat with him, you are not supposed to go. You are supposed to be nice to him and courteous to him and kind to him, but you are not supposed to have time to accept his invitation and go out to eat. What God is saying is that He does not want us to sit down and socialize with the weak Christian, whether he be greedy, a fornicator or a critic. Now, of course, in our Christian society the fornicator is in a class far beneath the critic, but in God's economy they are in the same class, and though we are to be kind and gracious to both, we are not to keep company, mix, mingle, socialize or sit down to eat with them.

About the same thing is mentioned in Psalm 1:1-3, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Notice that we are not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly We are not to stand in the way of sinners. We are not to sit in the seat of the scornful. In other words, we are not to run or walk with the weak Christian (that is, the fornicator, greedy, idolater, drunkard, gossip or critic). We are not to stand around with him. We are not to sit down to converse with him unless we are teaching him spiritual things.

4. We are to support the weak. I Thessalonians 5:14, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men." Acts 20:35, "I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." This verse implies that we are to be like an anchor. We stay the same. We are not supposed to be pulled away from our position by them! This, in many cases, will happen if we socialize with them, but we are to be the anchor, the unswerving, unwavering, unchanging rock to which they can hold. We don't sip cocktails with them so we can help them! We don't go mixed bathing with them so we can let them know we are "good old boys." We don't use their language in order to attempt to straighten them. We stay solid. We believe what we always believed. We stand where we always stood. They can lean on us for support.

This does not mean that we are to support their weakness; it means we are to support the weak by our being strong and unwavering. The word, "support," here is used concerning a foundation. We are to be the foundation on which the weak can stand, the rock on which they can lean, and when they decide to come back, they will find us where they left us, living in the same Book, walking with the same God, standing on the same truths, living with the same convictions. If they come back and find us gone, we cannot support them.

5. We are to bear the infirmities of the weak. Romans 15:1, "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." This means patience toward their weakness, but not acceptance of it. This means that we should be longsuffering with them while they are in sin, but in no way leave the impression that we condone the sin.

In summary, the Christian is to receive the weak, support the weak, love the weak, be kind to the weak, help strengthen the weak and do all within his power to lead him back to Christian strength. On the other hand, he is not to socialize with him or mix and mingle with him in a social manner.

As a young preacher in east Texas many years ago I got to thinking one day, and I realized that I was chasing off the people who were not full grown. I expected everyone to carry the load that I carried. I was not willing to get anything from those from whom I could not get everything. I was destroying the people who did not give all. It was sort of an "all or nothing at all" situation. I distinctly remember the day when I decided to accept Christians as they are and do my best to make them what they ought to be.

At that time I sought some answers concerning my weak people, and I came up with several reasons why they were weak, as follows:

1. Some were carrying too light a load. They could not become strong because they did not carry a heavy enough load to make them strong. I read Galatians 6:1-6, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." I then read Matthew 11:28-29, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls."

Recently I was talking to a young man. He shared the burden of his heart with me, and believe me, he did have a heavy burden! After we had talked for awhile, I suggested that we pray together. He prayed first. He started off by praying, "Dear Lord, take away my burden." Before I knew it, I had interrupted his prayer, and I said, "Lord, don't do it." (This is so unlike me. I do not ever recall doing such a thing before.) He looked up and said, "Brother Hyles, don't you think God ought to take my burden away?"

I said, "No, I don't."

He then bowed his head and began to pray again. He prayed, "Lord, then don't take my burden away. Give me strength to bear my burden." To my surprise I interrupted again and said, "Lord, don't do it!"

He stopped praying again and asked me why I had asked the Lord not to give him strength to bear his burden.

I told him, "Son, you don't get strength for your burdens; you get strength from your burdens. The burden is what makes you strong. The strongest Christians are those who have the most burdens, and they did not get strong in order to bear their burdens; they got strong by bearing their burdens."

Suppose a young man asked his parents for a set of weights for Christmas. Sure enough, he receives them as a gift from his parents. The young man doesn't look at the weights and say, "Lord, take my burden away." No, he asked for the burden; he requested it because he wanted to be strong. Neither did the young man say, "Lord, make me strong enough to lift these weights." Not at all! The very purpose of the weights was to make him strong. If he were strong enough to lift the weights before he got them, he didn't need them.

It seems that almost every time a Christian has problems, he attributes it to the Devil. Preachers say to me often, "The Devil sure is fighting." Now it just may be that God is giving you a set of weights for Christmas in order to make you strong.

In cities all over America football players are in weight rooms. They are not enjoying the perspiring, the groaning, the grunting that they are doing, but they want to be strong. They have a battle to fight on football fields across America. If they win the battle, they must be strong. If they are strong, they must have burdens to bear and weights to lift.

There are battles that the Christian must fight. In order to win, he must be strong. If he is strong, he has to lift some weights; he has to pump some iron; he has to have some burdens. The more the weights and the bigger the weights, the stronger is the man. The more the burdens and the bigger the burdens that the Christian bears, the stronger he becomes, but many of our people are weak because they bear too light a load.

2. Many are weak because they bear too soon a load. A few days after someone is converted, we approach him about teaching a Sunday school class, and before long he is so burdened down that the load is too heavy for him to bear. Bear in mind, the weight lifter starts off with the light weights first and gradually increases the load that he lifts.

3. Some are weak because they carry too heavy a load. A novice weight lifter does not start by bench pressing 300 pounds. That is too heavy a load for him. Many Christians have taken up a load that was too heavy instead of gradually coming to that load, and they have been unable to lift the weights. A young man who is given a set of weights cannot get strong by trying to pick up a weight that he cannot lift. It is the lifting of the weight that makes one strong, and the weight lifted must be one that can be lifted! No one gets strong pulling on a weight that remains on the floor. Care must be taken not to overload the Christian and give him too heavy a load. This will cause him to be weak.

4. Many are weak because they have the wrong kind of load. Each Christian should know what type of a load he can carry. For example, I have many assistant pastors. Their load levels are different. Their talents and gifts are different. I must be careful not to place them in areas where they are not capable. Many Christians have been given tasks for which they were not suited. They became discouraged and later, weak.

"Weak" is a relative term. There are degrees of weakness and degrees of strength. It is easy for someone who is strong to become impatient with one who is weak. It is also easy for the strong ones to become critical of the weak and even to disdain them. Some in our churches look at the weak with disgust. On the other hand, others choose the weak as fellow socializers and best friends. Neither of these positions is the wise one. The wise and Scriptural position is for the strong Christian to encourage, to support, to receive and to be kind to the weak. On the other hand, he is not to expose himself to unnecessary interaction with him, lest the weakness become contagious and the strong becomes weak instead of the weak becoming strong.

Now read Romans 16:17, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." The word, "avoid" here does not mean "to shun." It does not condone the action of the Pharisee. It simply means to "bend away" from them.

There is no doctrine in the Bible any more plainly presented than the doctrine of separation, and the Word of God is filled with examples of people who did not practice this separation. Consequently, they were led to ruin. Balaam sold a nation into intermarriage with idolaters because he ran with the wrong crowd. Jehoshaphat destroyed his nation by running with the wrong crowd and associating with the wicked King Ahab and his rebellious wife, Jezebel. This association led Jehoshaphat's son to marry Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. What Jezebel did to the northern kingdom, Athaliah did to the southern kingdom. Before Peter cursed, swore and denied the faith, he was warming at the wrong fire and following the Lord afar off with the wrong crowd. Choosing to run with the wrong crowd ruined Lot, turned his wife to a pillar of salt, and wrecked the lives of his children and their children. Running with the wrong crowd caused Abraham to father a heathen nation begun by his illegitimate son, Ishmael.

The Bible is very plain. We are not to run with the wrong crowd. And, yes, there is a wrong crowd in every church and every Christian school! We are to love them, to support them, to receive them, to be kind to them, to be gracious to them, to be patient with them, but we are not to keep company with them, according to I Corinthians 5:11. When we embrace their weakness, we do not strengthen them; we meet them on their level instead of on ours. We strengthen them by holding our position and remaining strong so they will have an anchor that is firm and a foundation that is solid when they return. Hence, they become strong because of our strength. This is God's plan concerning our treatment of the weak.


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