I thought I would take the time and compile a list of commentaries on the weaker brother in hopes that we would reform out thinking about him. In post-prohibition times, the weaker brother is seen as the guy everyone needs to be walking on egg shells around. He’s on the brink of just jumping off the cliff into hell and we need to be very sensitive around him. Though it is true we don’t want to be jerks, we also don’t want to hold the weaker brother up into some sort of idolatrous state of Christian perfection that places fear on the entire Church.
A legalistic brother is not a weaker brother. A weaker brother is not someone who has his mind made up come hell or high water. It is important to remember that the true weaker brother is a brother who is in young in the faith, or new in their devotion towards a certain theological position. They are never supposed to remain weak in the faith, but they are to grow to be strong.
With that here is a sampling of famous preachers thoughts on the weaker brother:
“Now this passage is often abused in some conservative circles. So, it’s less so today than 30 years ago, but today still in some circles, “I don’t think you should drink any alcohol and if you do, you will be offending me. So I Corinthians 8 says you mustn’t do it because you would be offending me.” Now most of the people who have said things like that to me really don’t have weak consciences. They’re control freaks. They’re legalists in the worst possible sense. And so I inevitably say in that case, “Do you think that no Christian can drink? That a person who drinks is not a Christian or can’t be a Christian? Do you think it’s essential to be a teetotaler to be a Christian?” And if they say, “Yes.” I say, “Pass the Port!” And I’m not being a smart aleck. Because the Word of God will not allow anyone or anything to jeopardize the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus. It’s not Jesus plus being a teetotaler. Now, in fact, in this country I wander around as a teetotaler. When I go to France I’m not promising anything, but in this country I’m a teetotaler, unless somebody tells me I must not drink or I cannot be a Christian and then I will gladly have some Bourgogne. You cannot jeopardize the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus.” – D.A. Carson
“Use your freedom constantly and consistently in the sight of and despite the tyrants and the stubborn so that they also may learn that they are impious, that their laws are of no avail for righteousness, and that they had no right to set them up” – Martin Luther, Treatise on Christian Liberty
“The Classical understanding of Christian Liberty is this: we are not to try and force somebody with a scruple against something, as uniformed as that scruple may be, to violate his conscience. The basic principle that unfolds here is one of loving sensitivity. If my brother believes that drinking a glass of wine is sin, I ought not to try to coax him into drinking a glass of wine. That would be an attempt to entice him to violate his conscience, . The violation of one’s conscience, even if it is a misinformed conscience, is a serious matter. That does not mean that we should stand back and allow our weaker brother to make his scruple the law of the Church. Paul makes clear in his teaching that though we are to be sensitive, loving and kind to the weaker brother we ought never to allow him to exercise tyranny over the church” – R.C. Sproul Sr Commentary on Romans 14
“But what happens when weaker brothers want to elevate their personal scruples to a level of a moral standard for Christianity or when they want to require it of all those who want to be members or officers in the church? Here the weaker brother becomes the legislative brother and begins to take a personal scruple and bind the consciences of people, destroying Christian liberty. The question is what do you do and how do you discern the identity of the weaker brother?
We have to be very sure that the standards we impose on others in the church are biblical standards and not our own scruples. Some ministers have required their elders to sign a pledge never to consume alcohol for any reason, even wine. But this would violate the qualifications of Paul and Jesus, who both drank the beverage. The same minister will say that they can make the rule because first-century wine was not alcoholic, but that is a false assumption. Jesus was not called a wine-bibber (Matt. 11:19) because he drank Welch’s grape juice. To assert that first-century wine was not alcoholic is the imposition of an American cultural norm out of a desperation to maintain a non-biblical position on alcohol. There is no doubt a vehement prohibition of drunkenness in Scripture, but not a condemnation of the proper consumption of alcohol.
Can a minister be the weaker brother? Ministers should not be weaker brothers, and they should know how to handle the Scriptures rightly. Still, we have some ministers who are weaker brothers, and we are not the first generation to experience this reality. Galatians 2:11–14 shows the conflict between Peter and Paul wherein Peter, an apostle who should have known better, was clearly the weaker brother. At first Peter ate with the Gentiles freely, but then he later separated himself and would not dine with them as they ate their non-kosher food. Paul did not have a private word with Peter, he withstood him in public. Peter should have known better because of his encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10. Here the weakness of the weaker brother escalated into the serious Judaizing heresy of Galatia. The imposition of the law that many found a justification for in Peter’s moment of weakness was threatening the gospel itself, for soon the Galatians were adding other works of the law as requirements for salvation, including circumcision. Jesus gave us liberty not only out of kindness but out of profound theological concerns related to the way of salvation. If you impose circumcision and other laws after their fulfillment, you are putting yourself under the same old covenant terms symbolically. You are leaving the new covenant. What was a matter of the weaker brother’s scruples become a threat to the very understanding of the gospel” – Robert Rothwell via Ligonier