Romans 15:1-3. We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
By far one of the greatest gospel truths is our freedom in Christ. We have the Spirit of Liberty. We are free from sin and death. In Christ, humanity is free to choose for the first time since the Garden. But our liberty in Christ will always be bounded by Christ’s love in us. Therefore, in Christ, we must choose love. We will choose love. We will choose to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves.
The weak? The strong? What is Paul talking about here?
Because every Christian is free and walking by faith, every Christian is different. We aren’t “Jesus clones.” We aren’t being puppeted by God. Each of us is growing by God’s grace, and each of us is growing by our faith in that grace. But each of us is also growing within our own ever growing conscience, convictions, and scruples. And yes, you are free to live within those convictions. You SHOULD live according to your conscience. Here’s how Paul describes it in Romans 14:
Romans 14:1-3. As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
And so here is yet another thing that makes church life so hard. Not only are we all different according to race, and gender, and socio-economic background, on top of all those differences, we each have a difference in conscience and in convictions. Some have a conscience that allows them to live in more freedom – the strong. Others have a conscience that limits what they can do – the weak. This isn’t an issue of right and wrong. Both the strong and the weak are doing what’s right if they are following their conscience and obeying their convictions. Both are living by faith. The strong have a faith that allows them to see all things as being from God and for us. Whereas the weak have a faith that tells them to avoid things that might bring corruption. Two very different looking Christians – both pleasing God with their faith.
And so here’s the whole point – because both weak and strong are in Christ, both need to welcome each other, accept each other, and pursue peace with each other. They need to love each other. And especially the strong (who are more likely to lose patience with the weak) need to bear with the weak and not seek their own pleasure.
And so the strong must not despise the weak in faith and rather must welcome the weak.
And the weak must not pass judgment on the one who eats (the strong).
Because the gospel has declared that we are all welcomed by God in Christ. We have been accepted based on what Christ has done, not on the basis of what we do or don’t do. Eat or don’t eat. Drink or don’t drink. Celebrate or don’t celebrate. Sing or don’t sing. Wear or don’t wear. Watch or don’t watch. What matters is what Christ has done for us.
Our mundane arguing over opinions, traditions, and preferences is overruled by the Lordship of Christ. Christ didn’t live and die so that we would be divided by these non-essential arguments. He lived and died to unify us in his life and love. Yes, he lived and died to free us. But he lived and died to free us to love.
Galatians 5:13. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Yes, union with Christ is indeed liberty. It is freedom. But real freedom in Christ is the freedom to NOT exercise my freedom. Real freedom is the ability to put love above liberty. To bind my liberty with love’s demand – the demand of the life of Christ that calls for self-sacrifice and submission to the conscience of my brothers and sisters. This is the law of love. This is Christ in me. This is “to live is Christ.”
Have you been living to please yourself, or others?
You in Christ
In Christ you are free to put aside your freedom and pursue love. How did Christ do just that for you?
Christ in you
Are there any “weaker” Christians in your church community that you have not been patient with? How could you change your response to them?
Playlist: The Sacrifice of Christ