by Mike Johnson
Paul closes the book of I Thessalonians with some very important and practical exhortations. In I Thessalonians 5:14, he "exhorts" (NASB — "urge") the brethren to, among other things, "uphold the weak."
Christians have a responsibility to "uphold the weak." The weak are those who are spiritually weak. Most churches have those who are immature, and they need to be "upheld." The fact they are to be "upheld" does not mean we are to uphold these individuals when they are wrong, nor does it mean we are to make excuses for them. Instead, we are to "help" (NASB) them spiritually. We are to do things for them that will help them to increase their spiritual strength.
Churches having immature members is not necessarily a bad sign, any more than it would be to say that some families have physically weak members. Children, for example, are physically weak family members, yet having children in a family is not maligning. Churches also might have immature members for various legitimate and acceptable reasons. One converted to Christ, for example, usually will lack strength at first. It is a good sign when a congregation has many new converts because it shows the church has been bringing people to Christ—they have been working. The Bible refers to immature Christians as "babes" in Christ who are on the milk of the word. I Peter 2:2 says, "... as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby." It takes time for the new Christian, the babe in Christ, to grow into a mature Christian.
Those who are new Christians are weak and need help. An infant is not left by his parents to feed, clothe, and care for himself; neither should the new Christian be left to himself spiritually. Matthew 28:18-20 records the Great Commission given by Jesus. The commandments are to "teach," "baptize," and then "continue to teach." However, often, we do not continue to work with the new Christian. We need to encourage them, continue to teach them, listen to their problems, and advise them. Frequently this does not happen as the new Christian is by himself to face the temptations of the world without teaching and encouragement. Soon, he may miss some services, and he eventually falters. At this point, many excuse themselves by saying, "Well, I figured he wouldn't last; he probably never was truly converted, to begin with."
While some are spiritually weak because they are new Christians, others may be weak because they have not made an effort to grow. These have had plenty of time to grow, but they have not. In Hebrews 5:12, we read of certain ones who should have become teachers, but instead, it says, ". . . For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food." These people need teaching; they need the first principles again; they need to be encouraged to have zeal and to grow — they have gone backward.
All Christians need to "uphold" (help) the weak. We should have concern for others. In conclusion, Philippians 2:4 states this important principle "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (NASB)