Author: Ron Graham
We Who Are Strong
—From a Weak Faith to a robust faith
We begin this lesson with a trivial puzzle, simply to direct your attention to the theme of this lesson.
What common word in the English language has eight letters, but only one vowel?
Answer to puzzle: STRENGTH.
The answer to the puzzle above expresses what should be a characteristic of your faith. In this lesson we think of the expression "from faith to faith" (Romans 1:15-17) as it relates to the development from a weak faith to a faith that is strong.
In the Greek, there is a word ασθενης (asthenees). This word means "weakness" although more literally we could render it "unstrength" if there were such a word in English. In the Greek there is even a double negative "being not unstrong in faith..." (Romans 4:19-20).
Starting with that verse, we are going to look at the nine instances where "asthenees" (in various forms) is used in Romans. It is instructive to look at these nine instances in the order they occur, and grouping them under three headings.
1 Abraham Our Exemplar
"And not being weak in faith... Abraham did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God"
We are to walk in the steps of the faith which Abraham had. He is the spiritual father of all who believe in Jesus Christ, and who are "unstrong" in that faith (Romans 4:12,16, Galatians 3:7,29) .
2 The Solution to Our Weakness
"When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly".
Without the death of Christ, we would be unable to stand justified before God. We were wretched and weak. But the "power of God for salvation" came through the gospel of the crucified Christ, enabling us, in our weakness, to be made strong (Romans 1:16-17).
"the weakness of your flesh"
It takes time to overcome our lack of strength. But the power of Christ's sacrifice enables us to bring our bodies into subjection to him, and to present our bodies a living sacrifice pleasing to God (Romans 12:1-2) . When Paul saw his own wretchedness, he asked, "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" The answer was Christ our Lord.
"...what the law could not do because it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son..."
The law said, "He who does these things shall live by them" (Romans 10:5) . That sounds like a blessing, but it turns out to be a curse. For what happens when, through weakness, one forgets or fails to do one of those things? He becomes a transgressor, and he dies, for "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
Thus, "by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified" and one must be "justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:20,28).
"...the Spirit helps our weaknesses..."
In Romans 8:34, Paul tells us of "Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." As if that were not enough, Paul has already said (in verse 26) that "the Spirit also helps our weaknesses... the Spirit himself makes intercession for us..."
It's an overwhelmingly wonderful thing, isn't it, that, in our weakness, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit intercede for us?
3 The Obligation in Our Strength
We now consider the following three verses...
"He who is weak eats only vegetables"
"It is good neither to eat meat or to drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak"
"We who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak"
The mention of vegetarianism here is just an example of thousands of "scruples" we meet up with among those weak in the faith. Those of us who are strong may have got over our scruples. But we are obligated to be considerate of those who haven't.
When Paul says, "We who are strong" (in Romans 15:1) , there may be just a hint of chiding. For the truly strong are not those who tread on the weak, but those who bend down to lift them up. The strong do not overcome the weak, but shelter and nurture them —not to mollycoddle them of course, but to help them also to become strong.
We started this series of lessons in Romans, by quoting from the first chapter, where Paul speaks of the gospel as the power of God to take us from faith to faith. We end the series by quoting from the last chapter where Paul says the same thing again: "God is able (has the power) to establish you (make you strong) according to my gospel ...revealed and made known... for the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:25-27).
That leads me to remark that we are only as strong in our faith as we are obedient to the faith. Think about that. Also in the last chapter of Romans, Paul mentions several men and women who were a strength to him in his ministry.
Notable among Paul's companions was Priscilla. This is the same Priscilla who was so sound in her faith that she could instruct a man in the way of the Lord more perfectly, even though he was already mighty in the scriptures (Acts 18:24-26) . Here in Romans 16:3-4 another side of Priscilla's strength is revealed. She risked her neck for Paul. Her partner in life, Aquila, was a man of the same mould.
Not only was Priscilla strong in the faith, but she was strong in the flesh --she had the courage to put her body where her heart was, and put her own physical life at risk, when necessary for the sake of the faith. Her body was disciplined to become a living sacrifice.
May we be able honestly to say that we have grown "From faith to faith" and to call ourselves "We who are strong".
[Answer to puzzle: STRENGTH]