We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” Romans 15:1-3
The last chapter (Romans 14) concludes that the compliant Christian’s agenda should be Christ-centered; summarily, we need to care less about the nonessential components of our faith. Recognizing that judging others in these supplementary matters is divisive, frees us up to love on one another and spotlight the mission of bringing the Good News to a lost world. Why does the Apostle Paul pick up the subject matter again? I suspect it’s because most Christians are guilty (myself included) and therefore the message is worthy of a do-over.
We’re reminded that the weak referenced in this chapter are frequently (but not always) the legalistic ones who strive to ram their personal convictions down the throats of others. Paul stipulates that in response to this rhetoric we should not thrust our contrasting convictions upon them, but rather yield in tolerance, demonstrating loving patience towards their principles and/or their insecurities. Additionally we should not exercise our liberties in a fashion that we might cause a weaker brother to stumble.
Case in Point
There was a man who enjoyed an occasional drink. He was not a drunkard or an abuser of alcohol, but enjoyed a glass of good wine with his meal. One day he left his home to purchase a bottle of wine and as he walked the snow-lined sidewalk he took notice that his 5 year old had followed him out of the house. He paused and said lovingly to his boy, “Where are you going mister?”
Looking down at the snow the child replied, “I’m just following in your foot steps.” Discerning the negative inference to his boy’s remark, the man turned and went back into the house, realizing that his liberty could adversely affect his child. This is how Paul proposes we regard our freedoms.
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
Paul has just concluded emphasizing the importance of dealing patiently with those weak in the faith, but then follows it up with the need to educate them for their own good. This is not a contradiction, nor is it some kind of temperance with teaching balancing act, but an inspired prompt to pursue the leading of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, led by the Spirit, rarely if ever let someone wallow in ignorance, but rather corrected folks in such a way that was both edifying and enlightening. In this, Jesus never snubbed an ignoring soul, but chose to continue about His Father’s business.
And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go. Then He answered them, saying, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” Luke 14:3-5
Likewise, we should walk by the Spirit’s leading and allow the Father to determine how and when we make these applications. There is a time to bear patiently and there is a time to gently and lovingly instruct—those are the only two options we’re given. The stronger in the faith is the one who is connected to the Lord and who determinedly follows His commands.