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.”
As we saw in Romans 14, Paul expects Christians to live at peace with one another when they disagree on matters not essential to salvation. Not everyone in the church has attained the same level of spiritual maturity, and some people do not yet understand the full extent of the freedom they enjoy in Christ. These “weaker” brothers may have scruples where God has left us free, and they may believe certain activities are sinful for them even though such things are in themselves not wrong. Although these believers may not bind the consciences of the spiritually mature where the Lord has not spoken, those who are stronger in their understanding of Scripture must be sensitive to the consciences of immature Christians. Mature believers may not beat the spiritually immature over the head with their freedom and incite weaker brethren to engage in what they sincerely believe to be sin. It is a sin to act against one’s conscience and do what one considers to be wrong even when the action is not a sin in itself. That is because when we act against our consciences to do what we believe is sinful, we reveal an attitude of rebellion against the Lord.
The answer to those with misinformed consciences who feel bound where Christ has freed us is not to shove Christian freedom down their throats. Instead, we must patiently and gently instruct them in the Word of God, trusting the Holy Spirit to make them understand the true extent of the liberty Jesus has purchased for His people. The Apostle teaches in today’s passage, that this involves bearing “with the failings of the weak” (15:1). With this statement, Paul encapsulates what he has just said in Romans 14, but he goes on in 15:2-3 to provide additional theological grounding for his instruction. Looking to Jesus’ example, the Apostle says we should seek to please our neighbors and build them up in the faith.
Paul does not advocate man-pleasing in the sense of compromising the faith to appease others. On the contrary, he wants us to act wisely—not to force our convictions regarding nonessential matters on others but to do what it takes to build them up in the faith. This involves a type of suffering—we will experience discomfort for having to exercise self-restraint where we are free. Yet this is nothing compared to the suffering of Jesus, who bore the reproach of men as He offered Himself up as the perfect atonement for our salvation. Nothing we endure for the sake of others can be compared to what Christ endured for our sake, so we should not complain about bearing with the weaknesses of others.
As servants of Jesus, we are not greater than our Master. In serving others, bearing God’s wrath to atone for our sin, He endured unimaginable suffering. We will “suffer” as well when we have to refrain from exercising the full extent of our freedom in Christ as we serve others. At such times we should look away from ourselves to our Savior, asking for Him to sustain us when we must bear with the scruples of others, praying that by our doing so they will grow to Christian maturity.