Summary: How do we handle people who disagree with us? Paul gives us some good advice on how to listen actively, respond prayerfully, and watch circumspectfully when dealing with the less mature in Christ.
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There is an interesting time period when raising kids – last week we talked about that point at which they realize they are not children anymore. Later there comes a time when they think they are adults – but aren’t really.
I’m not thinking of any of my kids, of course, but I’ve heard from many parents about this stage where the son or daughter has a lot of chutzpa – a lot of confidence – without necessarily having the knowledge and experience to back it up.
It used to be that daddy was always right – at this stage, daddy is always wrong. This is the point where parents need a great deal of patience – because if not handled well two things can happen – if you tell your child that they “don’t know the half of it – wait till you grow up” you can discourage them tremendously. But if you don’t provide them with any guidance they won’t have the tools to successfully navigate adulthood.
I’m not saying I have the answers at all – and I know none of us are perfect – but this concept is what Paul is getting at in chapter 15 – that we as mature Christians need to have great patience with the less mature. In context he’s talking about mature gentile Christians getting along with less mature Jewish Christians – but the concept applies to us as well as we deal with those who are not as mature as us in the faith.
1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Paul’s continuing the thought from chapter 14. There Paul urged us to understand that just because we are free doesn’t mean we can ignore the immature when it comes to spiritual things. Some people think that Christianity means a bunch of rules and regulations to follow – when in reality it is a relationship that bears fruit – and that fruit is love – love toward the weaker brother. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – don’t make a big deal over small issues – this is how many churches have been split. We need to major on the majors – the things of salvation.
Here Paul introduces another concept – not only understanding, but the idea of “bear(ing) with the failings of the weak.” The idea is not to just “put up with” but “bear with.” The Greek word means “to support as a burden.” It’s the same word used when Christ “bore” our sins on the cross. Our sins weren’t just a passing weight – but He supported us by bearing our sins. He will bear the marks of that burden for all of eternity on His hands and feet.
Now I’m not saying that we should suffer physically for the weakness of others – but if someone’s got a problem on spiritual grounds of eating meat, then we need to bear with that brother – it may cause us some physical discomfort by eating tofu burgers – but we’ll support him. We’ll get a lot farther by showing love, than by showing contempt.
Instead we should “build them up.” Instead of criticizing, we should find ways to encourage – instead of arguing about some minor point of Scripture – share a positive verse about the Lordship of Jesus, or how He’s borne our burdens – like Romans 15:3, for instance: