Romans 15:1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
The chapter begins with an exhortation toward a particular subset of believers: “We who are strong.” In the 50’s there was a Superman television program staring George Reeves. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s much more wholesome than today’s Superman movies. But there is another difference. The superman of the 50’s wasn’t very strong compared to later versions of Superman. I watched an old rerun of the 50’s Superman the other day. In that show, after knocking out the bad guys, he dragged them, one at a time, with obvious difficulty, to an awaiting police car. The Superman of recent movies catches airplanes in mid-crash. The point is this: The worldly idea of what strong looks like has changed over the years. But the Apostle Paul tells us that strength is something more than muscles and superpowers. Who does Paul say is strong? Well, last week, Paul talked about strong and weak believers and we realized our definition of strong may not match God’s. So, let’s remember what we learned last week about who Paul says is the strong believer.
The stronger believer is not the most knowledgable one, or the most opinionated, or the most “observant.” He’s not the one who knows all the reasons that Christians shouldn’t do this thing or that thing. She’s not the one who fasts 40 days or who can tell you all about the blood moons and the feasts of the Lord. (I’m not saying that knowledge or interest in those things are bad, just that they are not the defining point of a strong Christian.) The answer is this: Those who’s strength is in God are strong … meaning those who readily cling to grace. But Paul is not simply pointing out who is strong in the faith, but what the strong in the faith OUGHT to do.
The ESV translates this verse better, using “have an obligation” rather than “ought.” It’s the same Greek word used in chapter 13, when Paul said, “Owe no one anything except to love one another.” In our context it speaks of an obligation of good will. First, Paul says the stronger believer, the one who more readily clings to God’s grace, has an obligation to bear with the scruples of the weak. That means through their vacillating, their dithering, their going back and forth the strong believer bears with the weak. In other words, God is gracious toward us, we are gracious toward others. Secondly, Paul says that we are not to please ourselves. Paul tells us this because bearing with the weaknesses of the weak will not be fun, but frustrating. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Corinthians 10:24). We may be weary and exhausted by the double mindedness of a weaker brother, yet we bear with them.
Perhaps we might think of how Jesus bore with the disciples, or the long-suffering that He shows toward us. Once, there was a little boy who, frustrated with his older sister, went to his room and slammed the door shut. A short time later, he came out and said to his sister, “I was thinking about things and I said a prayer.” “That’s fine,” she said, but added, “If you ask God to make you good, He will help you.” The boy frowned back to his sister and said “Oh, I didn’t ask Him to help me be good. I asked Him to help me put up with you.” And his sister replied, “Then I will pray that God helps me put up with you.” The point is that though we may feel as if we are the stronger putting up with a weaker brother or sister, they are probably thinking the same about us. There is a mutual putting up with to be done; graciousness for the sake of unity. We all find agreement – not in prideful assumptions and demanding opinions, – but in truth. We find agreement in that which is common between all Christians, that is our relationship with Jesus and our mutual, desperate need for grace.