'Uphold the Weak'

One of my favorite memories from our daughter's childhood is the year she played baseball in the “pee-wee” division of five- and six-year-olds. I’m glad I volunteered as an assistant coach, because to this day it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

It was a comedy of errors (no pun intended). Many of the kids had never played baseball before, which meant we had to teach them how to do everything. They didn’t know how to put on a mitt. They didn’t know how to hold or swing a bat. They couldn’t throw. They couldn’t catch. Believe it or not, some of them couldn’t even run. But they wanted to learn.

And so they tried. Batters fell in clumsy spirals as they missed the ball. Runners wandered all over the field as coaches frantically tried to direct them. Infielders trampled one another chasing the ball while outfielders picked dandelions. The third baseman was everywhere but third base. We wondered if any of them would ever get it. But they kept trying, so we kept teaching them. Even­tually, they did get it. And their smiling faces made it worth every excruciating minute.

Is it very much different when we try to lead others to Christ or strengthen those who are new in the faith? It’s easy to get fru­strated when people struggle with Biblical concepts that have be­come second nature to us. It takes great patience to walk someone through fundamental Bible stories that we may have known all our lives; to help someone overcome misconceptions, bad habits, or poor attitudes; to help someone see things with spiritual eyes for the first time. But seeing that person grow in faith and knowledge makes it all worthwhile.

In Romans 14 Paul commands those who are stronger in the faith to be sensitive to those who are weaker. If the matter is of no consequence, he says, then make allowance for their convictions. Better to forgo something that is acceptable than to cause a weak brother to stumble. However, this deference to weaker disciples is not to encourage them to remain weak, but rather to patiently help them grow stronger. “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength…” (Romans 15:1). To what purpose? “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (verse 2). “Edification” is building up, making stronger. Our common goal is unity and growth. “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (14:9).

I’m afraid some Christians simply don’t want to grow. They want to remain spiritual babies, and they think everyone else just has to live with that, because, after all, God tells us to “uphold the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). But God also tells us He is not pleased when we don’t grow as we should (Hebrews 5:11f; Reve­lation 3:1-2,15-16). Bearing with the weak is one thing; coddling the lazy is something else entirely.

Consider our baseball analogy. Why does a coach patiently bear with the inept playing of a five-year-old? Because it’s an es­sential part of training him to be a capable player. A coach wouldn’t expect that same child to be just as inept when he’s 15, would he? Likewise in the church, the purpose of bearing with the struggles of weaker brethren is not to make them complacent. Spi­ritual weakness isn’t supposed to be a permanent condition. We bear with one another in order to help one another grow. We do it because we want each other to be strong — because we love each other.

God has provided the means whereby we can “all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man…As a result, we are no longer to be children…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-15). We will get there, if we help each other.