Bearing with the weak

Sam Petitfils

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)

The Apostle Paul often employed diplomacy in treating problems in various churches. Here he admonishes the “strong” to consider the “weak” and not simply please themselves. Let’s take a look at these two groups.

The strong in this passage refer to well-travelled Christians who have matured in their faith and come to appreciate their liberty in Christ. They have discarded their legalistic past in favor of the freedoms we share in Christ. They know and recognize God is not pleased with outward appearances, but with the motives of our hearts (Romans 14:13-23).

The “weak” in this passage refer to newer believers who have just entered the faith or who need to mature. They probably came from religious backgrounds that placed great value in their traditions. These traditions led these people to embrace certain scruples, such as eating certain foods and observing certain days. They needed to move beyond such bondage, and enjoy the freedoms purchased by Christ.

Apparently, the strong group berated the weaker group and insisted on exercising their full liberties, but in so doing, they slipped into immaturity. Paul exhorts them to follow the example of Christ who did not please Himself, but instead endured reproaches (Romans 15:3). His point is quite clear: Mature believers must be willing to part with certain liberties in order to help those newer in the faith. He also spells out the means to do this: not to please ourselves.

While we enjoy great liberty in Christ, we do not exercise all of our rights. Paul surrendered his right to accept to collect a salary in order to maintain his testimony before the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:12). God might call us to surrender certain rights, too. If it helps the weaker believer, we should be quick to do it. When we blatantly parade our liberty before others, we tempt them to stumble and defile their conscience. We must not live our lives simply to please ourselves. Instead we must consider the needs of others, particularly the weak.

We can effectively do this only when we consider who we belong to. We belong to Christ and must recall how others once bore with our own weaknesses. We need to recognize that weak believers will one day grow strong. Then they, too, will need to bear up with the weak in order to see them grow stronger. The strong must help the weak and not insist upon their rights.

We conclude with a final word to the weak. Do not stay where you’re at, and do grow stronger. Consider some of your practices and beliefs. Do they find support in Scripture? When you insist on certain views, could you be mistaken? Yes, the strong need to put up with the weak, but the weak need to listen to the strong in order to grow stronger themselves, then one day you will help others.

Though we enjoy many privileges in Christ, we need to be sensitive to others. If something we do causes another to stumble, then we must part with it. It’s far more important to facilitate the growth of another than to insist on our rights. Pray for wisdom and insight as you ponder what rights to exercise. Consider who you might cause to stumble. In the future, God will reward your sensitivity with the knowledge that your sacrifice helped others grow in their faith.


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