Summary: We who are strong, meaning here strong spiritually and doctrinally are obligated to bear the weaknesses of those who are without strength. And not to please ourselves.
When I was coming up with my preaching schedule for these few weeks of Summer I simply asked God to lead me to a few different passages, and they actually came from the little devotional day planners that many of you have. The first is our passage today from Romans 15 and I’m calling it “Leave no one Behind”.
When I read the first verse I immediately thought of war movies, you know where there is a wounded soldier stranded on the battlefield usually wrapped in barbed wire, and this big tough soldier that nobody can ever seem to hit with a bullet, rushes in through the enemy fire to rescue the wounded guy. Why does he do this? Is it to please himself, to be a hero? Not likely right. More likely he’s not even thinking about himself, maybe not even thinking at all, just reacting because he sees a brother in trouble.
I think that is the spirit of this passage. We who are strong, meaning here strong spiritually and doctrinally are obligated to bear the weaknesses of those who are without strength. And not to please ourselves.
Let’s put this in a little context. We have a pretty, shall we say provocative culture, but even with all the sexual immorality in our culture, much of it remains hidden. Not so in Roman culture, it was all out there, various rituals and so-called spiritual worship practices out in the public that would repulse some of the most liberal people in our day. It was very difficult for believers not to be sucked into these practices, just as it is today with all the temptations we have.
In the previous chapter 14 of Romans, Paul sets this up for us a little. He starts the chapter by saying, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions”. He goes on to talk about what you can and can’t eat. Of course it has already been established that nothing God has made is dirty, and they can now eat anything. But it all has to do with food that has been sacrificed to idols.
The idea here is that like the alcoholic, some people may be weak with regards to alcohol and therefore need to abstain. So do we judge them for being weak, do we tell them to suck it up and be strong, don’t be such a wimp, do we sit there and rub it in by drinking right in front of their face?
He says in chapter 14, “why do you pass judgement on your brother, or why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For whether we live or die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he may be Lord both of the dead and the living”.
So he says, “let’s decide to stop judging and never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother or sister”. He ends with “never do anything if you have doubts about whether it is right or not, for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
So Paul is calling those believers who seem to be having victory over these sinful practices, to stop thinking about themselves and their own happiness, stop judging those who are not doing it right, and bear with those who seem to be struggling with their faith and temptations.
This is not just to tolerate or put up with those who are weak, but that the strong should like Christ, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ” as we read in Galatians.
In essence he’s not saying that we need to join them in what they are doing obviously, but that we should sympathetically enter into their world, their thoughts, refrain from criticizing and judging them, and do what love would require toward them. In other words not just tolerate them, but treat them like real brothers or sisters. And I believe this refers not only to believers, but unbelievers as well.
And we are not to do this to please ourselves. We are to be like Christ who carried our infirmities to the cross for our sake to glorify the Father. Verse 2 expands on this by saying, “Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up”. By using the term neighbour, Paul is reminding us of the love command that Jesus gave, implying that the strong believer walks in love when they please rather than pain the weak believer or their neighbor. They don’t need more burden, they need building up for their spiritual profit.