By Pauline Daniel
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. – Rom 15:1-2
Why is it our obligation to bear with the failings of the weak? If what I want to do is not sinful, don’t I have a right to do what pleases me? Why should my freedom be restricted because of someone else’s disapproval?
Paul tells us that such an attitude is selfish and tells us to consider the example that Jesus has set for us. Though he was divine and had the right to be worshipped and treated as a god, he humbled himself and came in the form of a man. Rather than exercising the power he had to crush all his opponents, he allowed them to torture and kill him because that was what God the Father wanted him to do (Phil 2:4-8). With that kind of an example in front of us, we shouldn’t grumble about having to forego some privileges because it bothers others.
Does that mean that the naysayers get their way all the time? Not really. Paul tells both the strong and the weak that they aren’t to judge each other. Both are allowed to hold on to their ideas of what is pleasing to God and neither is to impose their opinion on the other (Rom 14:1-6).
In fact, in certain situations, it may be right to take a stand, as Paul did when he opposed the Jewish Christians who didn’t want to eat with Gentile fellow-believers. In that scenario, the Jews were being the weak believers but Paul didn’t humour their hangups.
However, what Paul says to the strong is that if their actions are having a harmful effect on the faith of the weak, then they should be willing to place some curbs on their freedom. Building people up should me more important to us than pleasing ourselves. We shouldn’t drive people away from Christ just because we want to exercise our freedom to the fullest. We have to consider the good of the community and not just our individual rights.
So Paul is not saying that the strong should always give in to the weak. Rather, his point is that the kingdom of God should be more important to us than our individual rights. Winning people to Christ should be more important to us than doing as we please. That was the principle by which Paul himself lived. As he says in 1 Cor 9:19-23
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Can we follow the example that Paul and Jesus have modelled for us?